Byron Bay

Saturday, 24 October 2015

We got a taxi to Sydney Central Station at 10pm ready for our 11pm departure to Byron Bay on a Greyhound bus. After waiting at the station since before half 10, we all literally ran to the bus that pulled in at 11.45, only to be told that it wasn't actually our bus. Fuming. The station had no means of communication so we had no idea whether our bus was even coming. The driver, who was the epitome of a stereotypical Australian in a sand short sleeved shirt, cargo shorts, boots and a Steve Urwin inspired hat with the dangly cork bits, kindly radioed the station to find out what was happening and it turned out the bus had broken down and a replacement bus was being organised. Finally, at 12am we boarded the bus an hour late ready for the overnight journey, however nobody was even remotely apologetic about the delay hence why our first impression of the Greyhound service wasn't a particularly positive one, despite having forked out £200 for the unlimited hop on hop off pass from Sydney to Cairns. The bus itself was spacious with leather reclining seats, plenty of leg room and clean toilets (although I did stub my toe which Kate then stepped on so I'm now in the process of losing my toenail - RIP). There was only 7 of us to start with so all three of us managed to get two seats to ourself. Equipped for the air con in leggings and a jumper, I slid into my sleeping bag liner ready to sleep. It took me a while to actually get comfortable but once I did, I pretty much slept for the entire 11 and a half hour journey, waking up every so often to adjust my sleeping position.

We arrived at Byron Bay which was exactly how I expected - a cute little beach surfer town and a complete contrast from the built up city of Sydney. After waiting 15 minutes our shuttle bus took us via the beach as the driver spotted whales earlier that morning, before taking us to our hostel called the Arts Factory where Inbetweeners 2 was filmed. I expected it to be pretty small and cosy but it was huge with chill out rooms, decking areas, hammocks overlooking a lake, a pool and a cafe/restaurant surrounded by woodland type terrain. Seeing as we couldn't check in until 2 and wifi wasn't free, we paid 12 dollars each for a week and got comfortable in the upstairs seating area overlooking the lake. The hostel and its premises had a really relaxed and peaceful feel about it with birds and water dragons hopping about freely. It was pretty hippie heavy which is what we expected, but after being in pretty small hostels it was nice to be in spacious surroundings.

If you're struggling to envisage what's so hippie about the place I'm describing, there was daily 10am yoga, didgeridoo lessons, healing massages, guided meditation walks and lots of high hippies in baggy trousers. At 2pm we checked in and our room was located on the first floor about three steps from the pool and the female bathrooms. We were in a 10 bed dorm and while the mattresses were super soft and squishy which was a nice surprise, there was 4 plugs between 10 people. I mean, I'm no mathematician but the logic is kind of confusing. Not only that, but the menu which includes toasties stops serving at 12pm which crushed my carbs dream into little tiny pieces. Toasties are classed as breakfast food, apparently. The facilities, location and surroundings were fab but we were hands down the most mainstream people in the entire hostel. The only thing remotely hippy about the three of us was Abby's patterned pyjama bottoms she didn't have time to change out of on the coach. 

We chilled round the pool for the rest of the afternoon on a plastic wave shaped sun lounger which looked like a giant banana and I nearly managed to tip myself off at least 5 times. In our room were two lovely Canadian girls called Jesika and Lisa who we chatted to for ages and were probably the two most normal people in the entire hostel - forgive me for heavily hippie stereotyping. The music played loudly around the pool all day was a mix of indie and 80s which was pretty nice and after soaking up some sun (I've got a pretty good base tan going on now), we decided to get ready and head to the night markets. After being handed a leaflet for a party which ended at 10pm we wasn't sure about how the nightlife worked in Byron, so we decided a wander around the night markets, food and a couple of drinks at Cheeky Monkeys (EVERYONE recommends this bar) was a good idea after our long overnight journey. 

One thing we've quickly learned while travelling is that plans fall through. A lot. Turns out the board we looked at in the hostel hadn't been updated for that day meaning there was no night markets and Cheeky Monkeys was shut because it was a Sunday. Instead we headed to a Mexican and then went to a place called Beach Hotel which was one third restaurant, one third dance floor and one third outside bar area. It was little bizarre as it seemed like three separate places in one venue but it was actually pretty good and it was nice to actually drink a cold glass of rose instead of buckets in abundance. It was pretty full by 9 and after a drink we decided to head back as we were all knackered. We should have really gone out at about 10 rather than 7, but that's Byron Bay amateurs for you. We were back by 10 and spent a couple of hours chatting to the Canadian girls again. It's so interesting learning where people are from, what their hometowns are like and we learnt that one of the girls lives in a place with a population of 300 people. Now I'd class where I live in Hemel Hempstead as a small town but after finding out that it actually has a population of 90,000 I actually count myself lucky to have everything on my doorstep.

Our lie in the next morning was our first in about ten days, I kid you not, and it was nice for my body to wake up naturally rather than by the most annoying alarm sound on the planet. Apparently while I was sleeping peacefully on my lower bunk there was a large bird wandering around our room so I'm kinda glad I was sparko for that. We grabbed lunch before heading to the beach and decided to walk up to the lighthouse which was meant to be situated along a beautiful route. Beautiful was one word to describe it and physically gruelling was the other. To start with we walked down the beach (which wasn't half as impressive as Bondi) and then climbed some stairs and crossed a bridge. We somehow managed to go the wrong way even though it was signposted and went to Wategos Beach which is the long way round instead of straight from Palm Valley to the Lighthouse. The trek was made up of steep terrain surrounded by rainforest overlooking the sea and a multitude of steps. When we reached Wategos Beach we were on the verge of giving up after thinking the Lighthouse was 20 minutes away and then realising we had an extra 30 minutes to walk after turning wrong.

But, we grew a pair of balls and got on with it. After all, we knew we'd have plenty of days to laze about on the beach. The most important part of being away is seeing and doing things you wouldn't get the chance to do back home so I think that kickstarted the motivation. After another sweaty climb we reached the most easterly part of mainland Australia which is a pretty cool thing to say we've done. We spotted whales and dolphins which was incredible to see and definitely worth the panting, frequent stops and moaning on the route up. We then walked the final 300m up to the lighthouse which overlooked the entire three beaches we'd passed as well as the rainforest and the sea. To be completely honest I was actually really proud that we'd done it and it was amazing to stand up there and see things I'd never ever seen before. 

Luckily we found a quicker route down and stopped for a well deserved ice cream halfway and a quick food dash to Aldi before heading back to the hostel. A 20 minute walk to the lighthouse resulted in us walking for over 3 hours and covering a distance of about 6km in 25 degree heat. Don't get me wrong I love lazy days on the beach topping up my tan, but there's nothing more satisfying than actively going and doing something you've never done before. After a couple of chill hours we headed over to The Brewery across the road where me and Kate had been drooling over the steaks and I'm pleased to say they lived up to our expectations. Pink and juicy in the middle with beer battered chips and garnish (which I obviously didn't eat) was what I'd been craving for ages. After that we drank some goon in our room with Jesika and Lisa before playing some pool. Turns out we were pretty good at it and between the three of us we managed to beat the girls twice. 

We then headed back over to The Brewery for Reggae night which was as we expected, hipster central. I stupidly requested UB40 because I did not know a single word the band was singing and he told me they went to their house, killed them (not literally) and stole their soul. I can only imagine that they found themselves during the whole process. It was fun for what it was but at quarter to 12 we were kicked out as The Brewery only had a license until 12am. Instead we went back over to the hostel, bought a chocolate bar and spoke to a hippie with 6 names - Nahele Elan Roni Skye Allen Moon (we checked his ID) - and speaks in an English accent when he's drunk. We also found out that he's a 20 year old Australian with a bipolar mum, 6 siblings and desperately wants dreadlocks but washes his hair 3 times a week which is where I think the problem lies. 

The following morning we decided to get up in time for yoga because why the hell not. Why not find ourselves in the middle of a hippie resort while engaging our bodies in a deep and a meaningful breathing process. Totally normal for a Tuesday morning. To be fair the location was pretty scenic as we laid our mats on the bare ground overlooking a lake. We were surrounded by nature in a relaxing and tranquil setting and while I didn't quite enjoy finding a bug on the inside of my top, I wore my most hipster outfit (patterned trousers from New Look and a creased white baggy top - sorry mum, I went out in public in a creased top but I promise you, hippies don't care) and tried to embrace the morning activity. The instructor called Pedro was clearly infatuated with the whole yoga meditation thing and kept telling up to be at one with nature, focus on the birds and the wind through our bodies. We were instructed to listen to the animals and the birds, find our focus point and use every second to meditate - whatever that means. Instead, I realised I'd lost the elephant off my anklet, got pins and needles in my hands and could only focus on my headache from the overpowering weed fumes invading my nostrils.

However we had to cut yoga short to get the bus for our day trip to Nimbin - the only town in Australia where weed is legal (although technically it's not) but we were a bit screwed over as we weren't told that for 30 dollars each we would have to spend 3 hours getting there and back with only 2 hours in the actual place. Note for all the parents reading this, we didn't go to get high (we could have done that passively at the hostel if we sat near the right people), we went because we knew it would be absolutely hilarious to watch a bunch of hippies in the most hipster, weed advocating place in Australia. The drive took an hour and a half on the most uncomfortable and rickety bus known to man. It looked and felt as if it hadn't been serviced in a good 12 years not just based on the fact that it reached a peak speed of about 27 miles an hour, although the driver did play a bit of Bob Marley and Abba. There is a big national park between Byron and Nimbin so we had to drive to a place called Lismore before driving up the valley and stopping at an original sacred aboriginal site called Nimbin Rocks. 

I envisaged it to be packed with hippies lining the streets and thought the atmosphere would be buzzing, when in fact there was no atmosphere in Nimbin or in Byron for that matter. It was a quiet remote village in the middle of nowhere with loads of colourful shops selling tie dye tops, dream catchers and humorous drug related postcards. Anything you could do or see took a minimum of 2.5 hours which we didn't have, so we resigned to walking up the street looking in all the shops, one of which was a Hemp Embassy Drug Education and Information Centre which had a figurine statue of Jesus and his disciples at the last supper but instead of eating bread and drinking wine, smoking weed in the 'last session' which was pretty hilarious, as well as the biggest joint hung from the ceiling of the store. 

The other stores sold jewellery, gifts and gimmicks and the clothes shops all seemed like second hand charity shops. There was quite literally nothing to do and once an hour and a half had passed, we could have quite easily hopped on the bus home. It just wasn't what I expected in the slightest and I wouldn't really recommend going out of your way to visit Nimbin because it's a bit of a nothing place to be honest. If you really want to visit Nimbin it might be worth doing the trip which is 55 dollars and includes the return bus, a BBQ lunch, a trip to the waterfalls and a dinner voucher which means you'd have more stricture to your day instead of aimlessly roaming around like we did. We'd already bought our lunch and dinner for that day so for us it was pointless spending another 75 dollars between us for the trip, but it would have been cool to visit the waterfalls and learn a bit more about Nimbin and its history rather than being left at the side of the road and being given a collection time. 

After getting back to the hostel around half 4 we did some washing and chilled for a bit before cooking some dinner (pasta and sauce - balanced diet) before getting ready. The daily talent show was on so after watching that with some goon, which was kinda good kinda weird, we headed to Cheeky Monkeys for our last night with three girls who moved into our dorm and have been travelling for over a year and a half - Leah, Lois and Tara. Cheekys was so fun as everyone as dancing on tables and benches, the music was good and we had this lime vodka slushy which was amazing. Plus, it was nice to experience some actual nightlife in Byron. Tired and hungry we went across the road for pizza before collapsing into bed.  I've enjoyed Byron Bay as it's been super chilled but there's not an awful lot to do because everyone is literally so laid back. The lighthouse walk was definitely worth it and if you're happy just chilling on the beach and going for dinner, definitely pay it a visit but it's not somewhere I'd necessarily rush back to. I actually really enjoyed the hostel for three nights and we were lucky enough to meet two groups of lovely girls. I'm glad we experienced yoga and the local hippie culture because the grounds were beautiful and while it was pretty nature-heavy, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt being out there in the open. But, as always, I'm looking forward to moving further up the east coast to somewhere new. And somewhere new for us is Surfers Paradise for three nights where I plan on laying on the beach and getting browner by the day. 

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