Road Trippin’: Byron Bay & The Gold Coast

Byron Bay… The self proclaimed hippy and surf capital of Australia. Maybe I am just critical, but I am of the opinion that anything that is self-proclaimed is usually bullshit, but I must confess Byron Bay’s self proclamation is at least half right – they do love to surf. On the hippy front, however, I do feel it is all a bit too clean, and bit too chic, to be of real hippy foundations. Granted there’s plenty of drum circles and the pitter-patter of bare feet on the concrete pavement, but I think Byron Bay-ers like to think they are more hippy than they actually are. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe they are true eco-warriors, but I suspect much of it is just a fashion façade.

Ok, enough hippy bating. Apart from the terrible weather that had been following us south from around Brisbane, Byron Bay was nice. It was slightly more developed and much more expensive than I remember from my visit 9 years previously, but that’s life I suppose. The home of the Stone & Wood brewery, a name that is widely known across Australia, our first port of call was the bar to sample the range of different beers from this prestigious brewery… no need to say too much more about that; we both woke up the following day feeling pretty damn shady.

What’s the best way to get rid of a hangover in Byron Bay? You may ask… A spot of sea kayaking, of course. Continuing the trend of graciously accepting invites to sample some of the East Coast’s best activities at minimal costs, we joined the Go Sea Kayak team for a spot of “Dolphin Kayaking” in the bay. This was far from plain sailing; that is for sure. The wind was strong, the waves were high, and the swell was a bit on the stomach churning side. Nevertheless, into the ocean we went. The first challenge was to tackle Byron’s famous waves to get beyond the break and into the relative calm “out back”. We thankfully made it without getting launched from our vessel (unlike a few others in our group), a bit flustered from some impromptu waves breaking on our heads, but we made it relatively unscathed.

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The kayaking, after the initial battle with the waves, was excellent, however the Dolphin’s were unfortunately nowhere to be seen. Byron Bay is home to a pod of approx. 300 dolphins, year round, so not seeing 1 was a bit of a disappointment, but no worries maaate the trip was still a fantastic experience. We paddled around the bay for a couple of hours, before the next challenge, getting back to shore. This proved to be even harder than getting out. You would think that riding a wave back in would be much easier… wrong. The blasé guides just told us to “keep an eye on the waves bro, just when it feels right ride it in, if you turn just try to right it, all good, sweeeet!” We got fucking annihilated. Flipped within seconds of “riding” the wave and rolled god-knows how many times, until we washed up on the shoreline. I think the word is elegant.

As well as flopping around in the ocean, whether that is on kayak or surfboard, Byron Bay has a few other popular activities – the Byron Bay Lighthouse walk being the most accessible. The lighthouse stands on Cape Byron, the most easterly point of Australia, providing nice views of the bay as you meander along the coastal walking track – a good way to kill a couple of hours.

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For getting out of town, most people will make the 2 hour drive to the original hippy town of Nimbin. Again, I visited the place 9 years ago and had memories of a slightly dusty, ramshackle high street awash with tie-die, with everyone from grannies to children selling ganja and hash-cakes. This has changed a bit (not a huge amount) with the increase in tourism in the area. The high street is still pretty rife with tie-die and shops selling smoking paraphernalia (although there is definitely more now!), but again everything is just more developed and notably less free-spirited than I remember. But still, a great day out, especially as we included stops in some of the nearby national parks, at Rocky Creek Dam and the impressive Minyon Falls, before returning to Byron Bay.

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After another night in the pub watching rugby, followed by playing drinking games with the teenagers staying in our hostel, we awoke with another stinking hangover. We checked out and made the decision to head back north to the Gold Coast and go to Dreamworld theme park. This was maybe not the best idea with a hangover, but it did the trick, with all that excitement our thick heads were quickly forgotten. A couple of highlights from Dreamworld; The Giant Drop – a 120m free fall drop – I genuinely thought I was going to die; and The Tower of Terror – firing you at 160km/hr along a tube before a 100m free fall. Enough said about that the better.

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To end our little foray onto the coast, we found a “campsite” on our trusty camping app on my phone called Mike’s Retreat. If you have ever seen a film called Wolf Creek, this place is just like that. We were the only people camping there, surrounded by broken down cars, old shipping containers and run-down buildings. Thankfully the guys staying in the house were great and invited us in to cook and watch TV, but the setting could not be any stranger.

Next stop… back to Springbrook National Park.

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