East Coast Road Trip -Part 1

After three weeks in the outback I was back in the big smoke and staying with my friend Kirsty on the Gold Coast. I had two weeks free before I needed to be in Melbourne so I decided to stay with her for a few days before making my way down the east coast of Australia to visit places I’d never been before.

An important part of any journey is deciding on a mode of transport. At first I tried to find a rental van that needed relocation from Brisbane to Sydney or Melbourne, but after my search proved unsuccessful I settled on bussing my way down the coast. I went on to the Greyhound website, bought myself a one-way hop-on/hop-off ticket from Brisbane to Melbourne, and started planning my mini adventure.

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After hearing so people rave about Byron Bay (hi mum!) I decided it would be my first pit stop on my voyage down the coast and my desire to see the Big Banana meant my second stop would be Coffs Harbour. My third stop (Port Macquarie) was a random choice and my fourth and final stop would be Canberra. Canberra was included as (a) I didn’t want to be on a bus for 20 hours straight, and (b) because I have never been to the ACT and I wanted to say hello to my friend Claire.

On Thursday morning I packed my bags, said goodbye to Kirsty and then sat around the house reading Robert Kiyosaki books until it was time to say farewell to Queensland. Kirsty’s mum Maureen dropped me at the Coolangatta Bus Terminal (aka a bus shelter) and I waited for my bus. As it pulled up I grabbed my bags, loaded them onto the bus and settled in for the one hour drive to Byron.

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Transit centre? I’d call it a bus stop.

One of my first thoughts after arriving in Byron was “I definitely don’t look hippie enough for this town”. Byron is a typical surfer and hippie town but despite not looking the part I knew that I would feel like I belonged. I spent the first afternoon venturing around the streets in the search for my mum’s favourite sushi place and after walking the entire length of the main street I finally found it – right around the corner from my hostel.

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There goes my idea of riding my pig naked along the beach.

Despite the overcast day I figured I’d venture down to the beach in an attempt to catch a glimpse of a sunset, but unfortunately the cloud cover had other plans. As I meandered along I noticed a group of people staring at the ocean and taking photos. As there was no spectacular sight in my peripheral vision I couldn’t think of what they were taking photos of. Then an older lady pointed in excitement and yelled “Look, a whale!” and as I looked over I noticed a whale about 400m offshore. It was only just sticking its fin in the air to wave hello, but even that small glimpse was special.

As I sat on a rock and waited for the non-existent sunset a man pulled out a wooden flute and started playing it quietly to himself. I was relaxing and listening to the music when I noticed three men setting up some fantastic looking drums and as the flute player continued the drums began. Smiles crept onto the faces of people nearby as they started nodding their heads to the beat. I started tapping my foot to the beat and did a little rock dance as an older lady started dancing up a storm. Not to be outdone, a guy started dancing with her whilst holding a VB in one hand and smoke in the other and passers-by stopped to enjoy the music being played.

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After a relaxing night’s sleep I awoke to yet another overcast day. Being Friday I was in good spirits and excited for the free walking tour that’s offered by the hostel. I had breakfast and did some writing before gathering with 9 others and heading out to the lighthouse with Todd, owner of the Cape Byron YHA. Todd told us to be on the look out for dolphins, whales, wallabies and brush turkeys.

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A few minutes into the trail hike we heard some high-pitched laughter coming from the trees where the kookaburras were making their presence known. They were probably laughing at the fact that we had to walk up 190 steps to get the good views whilst all they had to do was fly to the next tree. It was quite funny watching some people’s reactions to the laughter as they’d never encountered a kookaburra before. All it reminded me of was the Yellow Pages ad where the lady is looking for her husband who ‘Laughs like a hyena. No, not a kookaburra’.

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As we reached the lighthouse a few whales were spotted in the water and we all stared in awe of the magnificent creatures. Todd told us that when a humpback whale breaches it’s the equivalent of dropping 17 elephants in the ocean in one spot at the same time. In order to teach us more about humpbacks he referred to Finding Nemo when Marlin and Dory are trapped inside the whale’s mouth. While it may not be the most scientific explanation it’s one of the easiest to explain and remember.

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Our walk took us past the most eastern point of the Australian mainland so we all stopped to take photos (I previously visited the most western point of the mainland when I visited Exmouth in 2013 so now I just need to visit the most northern and southern points).

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During the walk we also spotted a pod of about 20 dolphins as well as a few wallabies, some brush turkeys, rainbow lorikeets and even a baby rabbit who was munching away on the grass. While the dolphins weren’t keen to put on a show, I managed to get a few snaps of some surfers as they rode the waves at Watego beach which is home to some of the most expensive houses in the area.

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After the walk I decided it was time to do something I’d been wanting to do for a year – get my nose pierced (sorry mum!). I figured Byron was the best place to get it done, so I went into the Tattoo shop, handed over my money and waited to ‘get stabbed in the face’ as the lady so eloquently put it. Being prone to fainting I laid down and closed my eyes as I waited to have a needle shoved through my nostril. The needle itself didn’t hurt much, but the clamp that was holding my nose sure did. Immediately after it was pierced I felt a wave of heat flowing through my body as my eyes watered, but I couldn’t help but laugh. After sitting up and downing a bottle of lemonade I realised that I’d left a huge sweat patch on the table. Clearly that hot flush was real!

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As I walked the streets with my new piercing I stopped by the tea shop and Byron Bay Cookie shop to get an afternoon snack and headed to the beach to try and catch a glimpse of a sunset. The mass of clouds meant there was no sun or sky to be seen, so I sat and watched the clouds go by as I enjoyed my delicious cup of tea. As it started to get dark after 5pm I headed back to the hostel when I heard some incredible singing coming from a bar called Lala Land.

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I headed across the road and up the stairs and saw a young guy playing on his guitar. The only people in the audience were the bar staff. I ordered a drink and decided to stay for a set and just chill to the music. The musician was Adam Harpaz, a 21-year-old from Sydney who moved to Byron to pursue his music dream. We chatted in between songs as I sat and swayed to the music and before long I realised it was almost 8pm. So much for just staying for one set. Every now and then a few other people would come into the bar, stay for a drink and then leave, but I sat there the whole time and listened to the entire performance. The only time I left was to run to the hostel and make up some dinner before returning to the bar with dinner in hand to listen to the last set.

After sitting and listening to Adam’s music for four hours I headed back to the hostel and smiled to myself as I reflected on the incredible day. One of the things I love about travelling is unpredictable adventures and a sense of spontaneity. In all the years I have walked past performers or bars with incredible music I’ve never really stopped to listen unless it’s been when I have been on holidays. I don’t know what it is about travelling but the relaxation of time frames means I can truly appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.

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The weather on Saturday morning looked slightly more promising than Friday’s so I decided to make the most of it and headed out to Belongil beach for a run. Before long I had a willie wag-tail following me along the beach and jumping around my feet. I told the little guy that I wasn’t interested in mischief so I wasn’t going to follow him. Instead I just upped my speed as ‘Eye of the Tiger’ came on my iPod and I ran until I hit the soft sand when my run turned into a walk.

I quickly got tired of walking in soft sand so I turned back and ran towards main beach. Along the way I spotted a dog that was part cavalier so I ran over and asked his owner if I could have a cuddle. He told me that the dog’s name was Oliver and he’s a 9 month old Cavalier x Toy Poodle. I sat in the sand for 10 minutes just chatting and patting the dog and stroking his gorgeous ears. I told the guy the story about my own dog who I lost recently and how now very time I see a Cavalier I have to stop and say hello.

Eventually I said goodbye to Oliver and his owner and as I walked along the path towards the carpark I heard a guy call out “snake!” I looked over and sure enough there was a 1.5m long snake slithering along the slope between the path and the houses above. I got a few snaps and thanks to my friend Phil I learnt that it was a Queensland Carpet Python. Some idiot tourists decided to touch the snake which caused me to run like hell away from the area. There’s no way I was going to stand there whilst they played with a snake. In that moment I remembered all the times people in the US have said to me that they don’t want to visit Australia because we’ve got heaps of snakes and spiders and realised that this is the first wild snake I’ve seen in the last 10 years.

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Once I was well away from the snake I removed my shoes and went to test the water. I’d had a few people tell me that the water was warm compared to the air outside but I was sceptical. I had every right to be because as I put my feet in the water I almost yelled out at how cold it was. I don’t know what their definition of ‘warm’ was, but it’s not the same as mine. I gave up on the idea of swimming and as I trudged up the sand I heard some beautiful music coming from the grass so I went to see who was behind the incredible voice.

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I saw a young woman, dressed in hippie style clothes and sporting a bald head, strumming on her guitar and singing. I sat down and listened to the amazing music she was sharing with all of us. She introduced herself as Sara Peyk, a 22-year old Danish girl who left home three years ago to share her music with the world through busking. As she sang her new song called ‘Don’t Cut Your Hair’ I started getting goose bumps and my eyes teared up as the words hit close to my heart. Her songs were all so personal and sung with passion and soul. It was a gloomy day but she was spreading light into all of our hearts and we returned the favour with claps and whoops after each song.

As it neared 1pm I started getting hungry so I raced off to grab my wallet and then headed to Beloporto Burger Bar for an amazing burger. I then returned to the beach park to listen to more of Sara’s music. I stayed for another entire set and by the end of I knew the words to two of her songs and was singing along. After she finished I went and gave her a huge hug and thanked her for sharing her incredible music with us.

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Saturday night brought some torrential rain so the hopes of watching the sunset were quickly dashed.

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When I woke on Sunday I looked out the window and it still looked miserable. The rain had stopped but it was still cloudy, but it wasn’t going to stop me from heading up to the lighthouse again. I grabbed my gear and off I went, alternating between a run/walk through the rainforest path to the top of the hill. After reaching the top I looked up and saw blue sky and a beautiful rainbow in the distance. Then the sun came out from behind the clouds causing a huge smile to creep across my face. I headed to the lighthouse for a quick tour and as I left the lighthouse I bumped into two women that I kept seeing around the hostel. We started chatting and before long were talking about journeys, dreams and inter-connectedness.

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As I walked back to the hostel I saw a dog in the distance being walked by a lady. As I got closer I realised it was Oliver so I started chatting to the lady about him. She asked if I was the lady who’d recently lost her dog and I told her that it was me. Before she said goodbye she let me give Oliver a big cuddle!

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The notion of inter-connectedness was brought up again when I later met the new girl in my hostel room, Steph. Hailing from Singapore but living in Hong Kong, Steph has also travelled to Hawaii and even runs a business in Hong Kong selling Poke. I joined her on a hike to the lighthouse to watch the sunset and as we walked we spoke about Hawaii and why the place is so special to us.

We stood at the lighthouse and waited for the clouds to disappear to watch the sun set. The clouds had a different idea of course and the sun wasn’t able to peek through one last time. As we started leaving I noticed the brilliant colours appearing in the sky. The clouds were turning pink, purple and orange, so I grabbed my camera and started taking more photos of the incredible post-sunset glow. For almost half an hour after the sunset the sky was full of beautiful colours and everyone nearby just stared in awe of mother nature’s spectacular show. I was so glad that I trekked back to the lighthouse as the walk was worth it.

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The next morning I prepared to say farewell to Byron Bay and head to Coffs Harbour for a 48 hour stopover. The sun was just peeking out from behind the clouds as I walked down to main beach with a cup of green pineapple tea in one hand and a fig and pistachio brownie in the other. As I drank my tea I watched the dolphins riding the waves with the surfers. Then the clouds parted and the sun started shining brightly so I took off my shoes and went and stood in the water. As I stood there I thought about all the things in my life that I’m grateful for and said a thank you to the universe before heading back to the hostel.

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You can read about part 2 of my trip here.

Byron Bay 13-18 Jul

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