Surfing in a cyclone (kind of) in Byron Bay

After a 13 hour night bus we arrived in Byron Bay a little dazed and confused. Who’d have thought that you’d get more sleep on the night buses in Southeast Asia with their fully reclining seats? Amazingly there was someone from the hostel waiting to give us a lift so we didn’t have to walk to the hostel – result. They gave us a mini tour of the town along the way which was handy, even in our tired state. The three of us checked in and managed to book two extra nights which was really lucky; if we’d headed further north we’d have been stuck in cyclone Debbie! This ‘surf n stay’ was our first experience in our Oz experience cruiser package so we got one night accommodation for ‘free’, a surf lesson, breakfast and dinner. So we booked our surf lesson for the next morning and walked into town to explore and get some food supplies.

I really liked the atmosphere in Byron, a small and vibrant surfer town, with lots of hippy clothing shops and cute independent eateries. Like the typical backpackers we are however, we headed straight to Aldi to get lunch and other supplies instead, including an ice-cream for the walk back to the hostel in the sun. As the hostel was right on the beachfront, we made sandwiches and headed out onto the beach to eat them and soak up some rays. Below is a photo of the lovely beach. That evening we had a barbecue provided by the hostel, made some friends with some German backpackers and played cards.

IMG_2820
Byron Bay isn’t too shabby

The next morning we had our included surf school breakfast of toast and cereal and got into our swimmers ready for our surf lesson. If you’re wondering what the conditions were like for our lesson, our instructor described the waves as ‘teachable’ and the pouring rain that accompanied this was in fact the tail end of cyclone Debbie. Great. We were all first time surfers so we were daunted by this but still determined to have a decent go at it anyway. We plodded down to the beach with the boards and had a pep talk teaching up how to stand up on the board. I can safely say it’s a lot easier when you’re stationary on sand! As I couldn’t wear my glasses I had to leave them on the beach but because it was pelting it down with rain nobody else could really see that much more than me. It was fun but a lot of work – if I want to be a professional surfer I’d need probably 90% more arm strength than I currently possess! I sadly didn’t get to stand up fully, more of a crouch, but Rhianna did and I think Katie did too. Though for me the hardest bit was battling against the waves to get back into the sea! I definitely want to try again in calmer weather though.

When we got back to the hostel, everyone else was sheltering undercover or inside and looked at us like we were mad! Strangely it was warmer in the sea than on the beach (only in Oz!) so we all really needed a long hot shower to warm up. Funny story, I did get stung by a jellyfish on my hand (if you’re wondering no-one had to wee on it! 🙈), all it needed was to be run under really hot water in the shower to bring out the sting. It was a bit sore for the next couple of days but I survived to tell the tale.

That evening we went to get our free meal from the surf school. Usually the hostel put on a food option like the barbecue we had the previous evening, but tonight it was a meal out in a bar called Cheeky Monkeys. It was still raining so we got the shuttle bus (yes this bar had it’s own shuttle bus) and we got to order what we wanted off the menu and the surf school paid for it, and we got some free drinks vouchers too. I had a huge basket of calamari and chips, Katie had a massive burger, and Rhianna went big with a steak. We were all happy and pretty full in no time. We headed back to the hostel to make ourselves more presentable before getting the bus again to make the most of our free drink vouchers. At this point the wind was picking up and the rain wasn’t stopping either. We carried on with our evening, having some free fizz and a bit of a dance.

When we decided it was time to go back to the hostel, we got our raincoats from the cloakroom and headed out into the deluge. Debbie had definitely arrived! It was raining so hard that by the time we were under shelter a few metres down the road, we were completely soaked. The main crossroads in the town centre was flooded, so to cross we had to wade through the shin-height water to get to the other side! It was crazy. The funny thing was that the next day everything had drained and you’d never have know it was flooded at all!

 

Wading back to the hostel
So much water!

However, flooding further up the coast in meant we were having difficulty booking our experiences, particularly Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. So as there was a Greyhound office in Byron, we headed there to try and get things sorted. It turns out that the head office in Brisbane was also shut due to flooding so we had to make a few trips to get everything booked when the office re-opened. We used the rubbish weather to our advantage and sorted out as many buses as we could using the computers in the office and eventually we managed to get our Fraser Island trip and Whitsundays trip for the dates we wanted – phew!

 

We also made use of the cinema that doubled/tripled up as a brewery and an arts centre! We went to see Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams; whilst it definitely wasn’t a laugh a minute film, the acting was good and it was poignant and well executed.

Our last night in Byron was a more relaxed affair. We made spag bol and chilled out in front of the telly. Katie and Rhianna went to the beach for a walk but weren’t out for long as it was apparently pretty scary in the pitch black. The next morning we checked out of the hostel but we still had a few hours to kill before our coach up to Brisbane. Luckily this wasn’t cancelled because they’d just re-opened the highway. As it wasn’t pouring with rain we went on a walk up along the coast to the lighthouse.

Heading back to the hostel to pick up our bags, we walked into town and stopped by the bakery on the way to the bus stop. I had a delicious carrot cake slice, yum. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed Byron Bay, despite Debbie paying us a visit!

IMG_2830
To the lighthouse

Chapter two: arriving in Aus!

A long day and night of travelling and a delayed flight behind us, we arrived in Sydney! After being in Southeast Asia for the past month it was strange to be somewhere that seemed familiar – there was a WHSmith in arrivals and a big poster with the Queen’s face all over it! We headed into the city on the train, getting ourselves an Opal card (Oyster card equivalent) so we could get about for the next few days. Our hostel ‘790 on George’ was just around the corner from central station, funnily enough on George Street, so it wasn’t too difficult to find. We couldn’t check in yet as we were there too early so we dumped our bags and went for a wander. All three of us were pretty tired from our overnight flight and all we wanted to do was sleep, but we needed to power through to make the most of our time in Sydney.

The weather wasn’t particularly nice considering we all thought Aus was going to be gloriously sunny all the time! Instead the skies were grey, the temperature cool and accompanied by the occasional drizzle of rain. Safe to say Katie in particular was not happy! We walked through Tumbalong Park (great name) where there was a festival going on – lots of food stalls, music and people soaking up the atmosphere. We went to see what was going on and it turned out to be a Thai festival which was hilarious considering that’s exactly where we’d just arrived from! I couldn’t even comprehend buying anything from the food stalls knowing how much cheaper the food was in Thailand. Continuing towards Darling Harbour we walked along the waterfront. We had a few things to pick up so we went to the Harbourside Shopping Centre for a bit of retail therapy. It was here that we discovered the a clothes shop called Cotton On and the amazing Typo (a shop that is basically Paperchase and therefore I wanted everything they sold). After a while looking around the shops we got peckish and looked for some lunch. I settled on some yummy chicken pittas from a place that was similar to Nandos. It was strange going from the dirt cheap prices of southeast Asia as everything seemed like too much money, but obviously we just had to get used to Australian prices. It also felt strange to not stand out as much as tourists (apart from the accent) and not be approached by people trying to sell you something every five seconds.

The following day was more like what we expected from Australian weather as it was hot and sunny again. Thankfully the weather was nowhere near as humid as Southeast Asia so the heat was a lot more bearable. After a nice lie-in we took this opportunity to take the ferry over from Circular Quay to Manly Island, which my lovely mum recommended as you get the best view of the Opera House. Moreover we picked the right day to go because on Sundays all travel using Opal cards is capped at $2.50 which included the ferry journey, brilliant. Evidently everyone else had the same idea as us because when we got to the ferry terminal there was a huuuge queue stretching on and on – we were very lucky as we were the last people to be let on the boat. Here’s the fab view of the Opera House I snapped from the boat, with not a cloud in sight:

IMG_2747

We spent a lovely day on Manly Island perusing the craft market, choosing new sunglasses for Katie, walking along the promenade looking at the sea, getting ice cream and picnic things from the supermarket and eating under a tree with the beach right in front of us. The weather was brilliant so Katie was happy again! On the way back we caught the ferry just in time to see sunset as we were heading back into the harbour. I was so lucky to get the beautiful picture below, it really looks like the sun is coming out of the bridge:

IMG_2757

The next day in Sydney was also a glorious one, and today we had decided to head out of the city to the Blue Mountains, getting the train out to Katoomba and walking through the town to see the Three Sisters. Along the way we did a supermarket stop to pick up some fruit snacks and sandwich stuff for lunch. It was about a half an hour walk from the train station to the Queen Elizabeth lookout, but it was certainly worth it for the views!

IMG_2796

Here you can see the Three Sisters and a tiny stretch of the national park. The eucalyptus gives the trees the blue colour you can see, hence the name of the mountains. We took in the view and had our lunch looking out across the mountains – lush! We then did a cliff walk along to the funicular (I think that’s what it was), pausing at different viewpoints  along the way for photos and to look at the amazing views. At the end of the walk the sun was starting to set so we decided to head back to the train, but not before we payed a quick visit to this pretty waterfall we found.

IMG_2811

So it was our final day in Sydney. We did a quick look around the shops in the town centre, getting a jumper for Rhianna before using our Opal cards once more, getting the bus out of the city to Bondi Beach. To be honest I’m not sure why it’s as famous as it is. Although the weather wasn’t the best, it was a little grey and chilly, it looked like a beach that could have easily been in the UK. There were lots of surfer shops and cafes: we went for a coffee in a cafe called Swell that had old silver teapots on each table with cutlery and napkins – super cute.

IMG_2817

We headed back to Sydney city centre and went straight to an area called Newtown for dinner. We had heard great things about this vegan restaurant called ‘Lentil as Anything’ from someone we met on our travels in Vietnam (shout out to Bianca!) so we had to go and try it. There was a queue outside and everyone dined together, squeezed in whatever space possible, and that the menu changes daily depending on who is in the kitchen. The idea is that you pay what you can afford, supporting the refugee community – great stuff. Here’s a slightly blurry photo of the scrummy curry plate I had:

IMG_2818.JPG

We had time for a quick drink at a rooftop bar, where I also learned what a schooner is (essentially a half pint), before we got the train back into the centre in time for our night bus up the coast to Byron Bay.