On our way to Byron Bay we stopped off along the Gold Coast at Surfer’s Paradise; with the looooong stretch of cean and the height of the waves even when standing at knee level, you can see why it has this title. None of us chose to surf, but swimming wasn’t an option so much as getting a refreshing pummelling from the vicious waves. We spent a couple of hours on the beach, finishing the book I was reading (First They Killed My Father) and sobbing under the sunshine; it is such a beautifully written and moving book, although I tend to cry when a book ends anyway, which I think has something to do with endings for me – the end of something I am immersed in and have connected to. I honestly believe you create a relationship with a book, where you connect with, to and around it, with your mind and imagination filling in the gaps between the words and therefore creating something with that book that is unique for each individual as it has a piece of you that is part of it – when the book has finished it is like a relationship or something you have built is now over. I digress massively, but reading offers so much more than just a novel for me, so these two hours were perfect.
However it is such a long beach alongside a city and, as a British girl where beaches are in small towns, it always feels like a mental adjustment when there are industrial cities with high rise buildings and hotels adjacent to a long, sandy beach. It reminded me a little bit of Miami in that aspect, and we then drove past Miami High 15 minutes into our journey onto Byron, so it felt very Americanised for me.
We arrived at Byron Bay at around 2pm. It is more of a cute beach town than a city feel with low buildings, narrow streets with roundabouts, chic cafes, juice bars, boho shops selling clothes, jewellery and incense, plus hole-in-the-wall restaurants. You can get sushi, a Mexican wrap or a burger for $10 AUD up (expect to pay roughly the same, or just less, for a juice). We parked up and had lunch by the van, realised it was an hour later in Byron (New South Wales) than Surfer’s Paradise (Queensland) so had therefore lost an hour of our day, then went our separate ways for a few hours. I wandered the shops, perusing the boho goods, the jewellery being particularly dangerous as I could easily spend a lot of money on it but the clothes not being items I could ever pull off.
I had a Dirty Chai Latte at a hole-in-the-wall cafe than picked up a couple of cans of G&T from the Cellar before walking to the grassy area alongside main beach just next to the car park; people were sat relaxing and listening to live music, some with picnics for their families, some with friends, plus some solo doing hula-hooping or swinging those fire ball things. I found a spot to sit as the sun was slowly going down, taking in the waves.
Umbi, Matthieu and Tia joined me around 6pm and at about half 6 we could hear the sound of drums just down the road – we walked to a slightly rocky area at the edge of the beach and a group of people were creating music together using drums, tambourines, xylophone and maracas/shakers, with people dancing in the middle. After a while of observing I got over any sense of self-consciousness and jumped in, swaying along to the beat and letting go of everything. Half an hour later, exhausted, I retreated to join the others, watching and listening as the sun set across the beach. I don’t have a talent like that and I’m not at all “Bohemian”, so even though I really liked Byron as a place I couldn’t see it being somewhere I would fit in enough to stay – I’m just not cool enough.
We decided to treat ourselves by eating out; something I did every night in Asia and at times tired of, but has become a luxury in Australia due to prices and the nature of camping. It felt like we really needed it and was particularly nice here where al fresco dining is everywhere, creating a buzz and character to Byron. We eventually settled on Gourmet Fish Mongers, where you go up to the counter to order and collect your cutlery, offering an array of fish and seafood with various sides for around $15/17 AUD. Indecisive as ever, and unsure how hungry I was (or, rather, wanted to be) I eventually settled on marinated & grilled octopus with home-made chips for $15.50. It was a really good portion, both the octopus and chips, and well cooked but perhaps a little salty. We spent the evening chatting about our time together and all the various other travellers Matthieu and Umbi had picked up on their van trip around Australia.
We then drove 30km south of Byron for free camping at an overnight truck spot – the closest was 15 dollars per person and had dodgy reviews and the hostel beds were $30 AUD up (making it one our the most expensive stops so far) so this was our only other option. After the unsuccessful and cold night before, Tiia and I decided to try sleeping in the front of the van, curling up on the front seats, so that we would at least be warm. With our big bags rested in-between us and being sat 90 degrees it took me a while to find a comfortable position but, being warm and not laying in something that moves beneath me every time I breathe, I had a really good sleep for once; I woke up only with a slight creak in my neck, which, at almost 30, is pretty much a daily issue anyway!
We left the rest stop at around 10am and headed back into Byron. The guys dropped Tiia and I at Palm Valley Drive so we could walk up to the Lighthouse in Cape Byron, which involved some steep steps along the coastal path to reach a Lighthouse with views across the ocean and beyond Byron. We could even spot dolphins nearby and whales in the distance. We then walked back down and took the track that veered off near Watego Beach, with rocks you could climb for a polar view of the mountain we had climbed and of waves crashing into the rocks around us.; it was really gorgeous and peaceful (rediscovering my love for water and the ocean has been a wonderful thing from my travels). We then continued our walk back to where we were dropped off, then carrying on the walk to pass by Watego Beach, The Pass and Clarke’s Beach along the up-and-down coastal path before making it to the CBD.
We then split up and I went for another wander round the area before trying to find the Farmer’s Market, when I was beeped at by Toby and Rasmus passing by in Toby’s car (evidently there’s often little point in saying goodbye to people you meet when travelling, or people you travel with, as more often than not you will cross paths again!) whom informed me the market was closed (apparently it’s 8-11am, FYI). I then caved and splurged $8 on an acai crush, and then I also spent $10 AUD on 4 large pieces of sushi at a sushi shack; I took it with me to Main Beach where I spent 2 hours doing nothing other than lying down, listening to music and starting a new book (The Houdini Girl) – absolute bliss.
I met up with the others again mid-afternoon, where we then showered using the outside tap at the top of the beach; I probably looked like a complete idiot standing in my bikini and lathering myself with body wash but, hey, that’s the life of a backpacker who doesn’t know when they will next stay at a campsite with showers! Back on the road heading south towards Sydney, not quite sure where we will next set up camp…