Life In Byron Bay – Beach Days, Attempting to Surf and Hippy Vibes

How to sum up living in Byron Bay? Byron Bay is a colourful place, with buskers filling the streets with music, boutique cafes, Mexican food, burgers bars, rainbow hippy shops, thrift stores and surf shops. It is not uncommon to see people doing their groceries or going about their day bare foot. There is a twilight market every Saturday and more scattered around town on different dates. Most people surf or at the very least are regulars to the beach and it is the perfect place to practice yoga and meditation. It’s chilled and built up and busy enough for there to be lots to do without feeling overcrowded or too touristy. We felt right at home straight away.

We had checked in to Wake Up hostel in a private room and it was lush. The hostel is right over the road from the beach, has free surfboard and bike hire, yoga lessons and is generally really pretty and clean. We could only afford to stay in our private room a week and then moved into dorms but even these were nice and the hostel is fairly chilled. There are definitely party vibes, especially on the pizza, free wine and cheese and BBQ nights but common areas close at 10pm meaning everyone is either out or in bed letting you get a good nights sleep, which is always a challenge in a hostel!

To begin with we struggled to make friends around the hostel, and the social atmosphere of being in hostels instead of the van had been what I was really looking forward to, but we quickly discovered most of the people we met were moving on while we were staying. So we had a few great nights out with people who were around for a few days but it wasn’t until some new hostel workers started and we met some other long term guests that we felt more like we had a group of friends here.

Day to day if we don’t have work we will laze on the beach (I finally have a tan so I can go home actually looking like I went somewhere hot!) or attempt to learn to surf. I try to go to yoga as often as I can and even enjoyed the local pool once. We like trying new places around town to eat; we loved the snapper burrito at Miss Margharitas, The Treehouse restaurant next door does amazing nachos and maybe the best calamari I’ve ever had and if you want burgers head to Main Street Burgers – their milkshakes are also amazing!

There are still a lot of Byron Bay activities we are yet to do as having opposite work schedules doesn’t make it easy to coordinate. We have checked out the lighthouse and hope to go back on a sunnier day to complete the walking trail that leads down to the beach. We also checked out Killan Falls, a beautiful waterfall just outside of the town. The water is cold and refreshing, with a nice area to swim after a short clamber over the rocks. There are a couple more waterfalls we want to check out, including Minyon Falls.

We’ve also taken two trips up the Gold Coast to Movie World and Wet ‘n’ Wild. The latter was Ashlie’s suggestion, we managed to cross paths with her again as she made her way down the coast and she messaged me to ask if we could go to Splash Park while we were there. I couldn’t find any mention of a Splash Park in Byron Bay or even up the coast, then she explained she heard about it on The Inbetweeners movie and I managed to connect the dots and find out they renamed Wet ‘n’ Wild for the film. We booked a pass that allowed us entry to four parks for less than the price of two entries and we could enter as many times as we wanted over the course of a year.

We met Ashlie at the park and had a great day floating down the lazy river, catching up on each other’s trips in the jacuzzi and screaming our heads off down the water slides. There was only one drop slide we chickened out off and one other we ran out of time to do but it made for a fun day out for sure.

The next day we drove up to Nimbin to check out this crazy little hippy town. It was raining most of the time so we had lunch and ducked in and out of shops selling rainbow clothes, crystals, books on tarot reading and witchcraft and of course plenty of marajuana paraphernalia. There were a couple of signs for hash cookies but whereas I remembered coming to visit and being offered cookies left right and centre it now seemed to be a lot more subtle. I was a little disapointed there wasn’t more to Nimbin, especially for the distance to get there from Nimbin but on a drizzly day it makes for an interesting thing to do.

We also made use of our pass to visit Movie World. I was super excited as I love rollercoasters but Joey… not so much. He is not a fan of heights or fast rides and unfortunately most of the rides were either big rollercoasters or small kiddies ones. I managed to convince him to join me on the Scooby Doo ride though, which was classed as a thrill ride but looked more family friendly on the posters so I figured would be perfect for the both of us.

It started out very serene with just a few bumps and very minor drops, then we went into a tunnel of screens and the whole track took us up to another level. I jokingly said, “what would you do if it suddenly dropped?” And Joey was like, “Don’t!”. We reached the next level and the cart started to move backwards, we figured it would swing round and start going straight again, then continue at the fairly sedate pace it had been at before but suddenly we speeded up, heading backwards and before we knew it the ground seemed to disappear for a moment and we were dropped backwards. I have never seen a funnier sight than the look of surprise and terror on Joey’s face! I couldn’t stop laughing and once he got over the initial shock, neither could he! The rest of the ride was a lot of fast twists and turns but nothing could beat that first backwards drop! It made our day.

We also checked out the very cheesey shows together but when it came to the DC Rivals Hypercoaster, the fastest and longest hypercoaster in the Southern Hemisphere I was on my own. I was scared while queueing but just tried not to think of it. I was terrified on the ride! But it was the most fun ever! My legs were like jelly afterwards from clenching them so much but wow it was exhilarating. I also went on Superman rollercoaster, which was just as exciting in terms of speed but this also meant it was over so quickly. Unfortunately three of the other big rides were closed for maintenance so we made note to come back another day to test them out too.

Other than our occasional side trips, nights out from the hostel and evenings listening to live music by main beach or hopping into town just for an ice cream fix, life ticked on in Byron Bay. We mostly enjoyed being at the hostel, especially for all the perks of living there but in the end we decided we had had enough of bunk beds, busy shared kitchens and people waking us up in the middle of the night and searched out a private room. We found an option in a share house with a German man, Tom who shared the house with his teenage son who visits on alternative weeks. The room was the cheapest we had seen to include an en suite, balcony and walk in closet – we were immediately excited for all the space we would have! We slept on the decision but felt good about the place straight away and signed up for it the next day. We’ve just enjoyed our last week at the hostel and check out today!

As we continue to explore Byron Bay and the surrounding area I’ll be able to share more tips and information. For now we are enjoying taking life slow with lazy beach days and saving some money through working again.

Coff’s Harbour and A Change of Plan in Byron Bay

The rain had started and did not look set to stop anytime soon. We packed up, said goodbye to Janet and family and drove through the rain to Coff’s Harbour.

There isn’t a huge amount to do in Coff’s Harbour and I had always thought I would skip it out if I came back to do the East Coast but we figured it might be better to wait out the bad weather somewhere where there wasn’t a lot going on than head to Byron Bay with the great beaches we just wouldn’t be able to enjoy. So we booked into the YHA and cosied down for the evening.

It turned out to be an interesting evening. I woke in the middle of the night to giggling and the person below me seemed to not be in her bunk and there were two people on the bottom bunk opposite Joey’s. I assumed one of the girls had got back from a night out and was having a catch up with the other girl who was on my bottom bunk. I groggily stumbled out of bed to the bathroom but when I came back to the room, thanks to the bedside light that was perfectly highlighting the activities going on on the bottom bunk despite the privacy sheet they had hung up, I realised these two girls were definitely doing more than just catching up! I scurried up to my bunk, plugged my headphones in and grabbed my phone to see the disbelieving messages from Joey who had unfortunately gotten woken up by their fun times a lot earlier in the night. This hasn’t been my first experience of this but hopefully it will be the last!

While we had been driving the day before I had commented to Joey how much the weather reminded me of rainy old England. I then flipped through my Instagram stories only to see a similar comment on a video of the rain by an old friend, Sienna, I worked with at Nando’s. After seeing a few more pics I realised she must be on the same route as us up the East Coast and dropped her a message. I suggested if she was passing through Coff’s Harbour we have a catch up so we met for lunch at SOMETHING down the road from our hostel.

It was really nice to share our travel experiences with someone I knew from home. She has also had some incredible adventures through Africa, Bali and more on her way to Australia and was very much at the beginning of her trip but already had some awesome stuff planned. We shared our experiences so far and swapped stories about camping and road tripping as this is how she was traveling the East Coast.

After lunch we said our goodbyes and wondered whether we would cross paths again at another point on the East Coast. The rain was easing off so we headed to the boardwalk for a look out to sea and were rewarded by spotting a pod of dolphins swimming and playing in the bay. It must have been quite a big group and some with youngster, popping up out of the water here there and everywhere. We even saw some turtles surfacing too. So glad we decided not to hide out in our hostel all day.

On our way out of Coff’s Harbour we passed the famous Big Banana there but as the weather was still not great we only snapped a quick pic from the car and continued on our way to Byron Bay.

I was excited to see Byron Bay again and whether it was as lovely as I remember it being. The sky was overcast but a little sun was peaking through so as soon as we arrived and got checked into a beachside hostel, Wake Up, we went for a walk on the sand, revelling in the beach time we would be sure to enjoy here.

While checking in I had noticed something else, a sign at Peterpans travel shop saying Staff Wanted. I had joked about us finding work to wait out the rain and we knew we needed to find work soon enough anyway that after speaking to the manager I decided to apply.

We didn’t have any plans for how long we would spend in Byron Bay, we thought we might stay long enough to enjoy some sunny days then continue up the coast. Within a day of applying I had an interview, got a call to confirm I had the role that evening and by the end of the week I was in training. It was exciting to have such a quick turn around and also to be doing something I had been doing back in the UK and enjoyed so much there.

The only downside was going back to working so soon into a travelling portion of our trip, but being on the East Coast means we can easily plan side trips to other areas and do lots of exploring in our free time. There was also a lot of worry and stress in the first couple of weeks of me getting the job that, as great as it was I had found work so quickly, it appeared there weren’t many jobs going for Joey. Byron Bay is such a popular place for people to stop and work that many businesses, especially in the low season, prefer to hire residents who will be there permantly rather than moving on after a month or so. Our accommodation was also not the cheapest and with only one wage coming in we had doubts about making this work, were we just stuck here now, too scared to risk giving up a job to find work elsewhere but slowly draining our money if we stayed?

Luckily things turned around pretty quickly. Joey found a job as a housekeeper for 28 Degrees, a luxury high end holiday guesthouse. Though it seemed he would only get a few hours to start with he has already ended up working more shifts than planned so it finally started to look like living in Byron Bay was realistic for us.

And so far we are loving it. I’ll talk more about living here in my next post but it is great being so close to the beach, having the time to go to yoga every other day, a cute hippy town full of interesting shops and great restaurants. Byron Bay was just as awesome as I remembered it being. It wasn’t part of the plan to end up staying here, but that is part of this up and down journey through Australia, everything is constantly changing and sometimes it all works out for the best.

Wine, Beaches and More Wine

After leaving our farm position we had a couple of weeks before our next opportunity working as au pairs in a small town called Tocumwal, three hours north of Melbourne. After looking into what we could do along the way we decided Kangaroo Island seemed right up our street. It is hailed as one of the best places in Australia to see wildlife so it seemed perfect for us. The ferry departs from Cape Jervis so we decided to take our time travelling there and stop off at a few places along the way.

Having not really experienced the beaches in Adelaide yet we spent the first few days after leaving the farm hanging out near Glenelg beach. The weather still wasn’t quite sunbathing standard yet but we enjoyed nosing around the shops, the small museum above the information centre that explained the history of Glenelg and how it is considered the oldest European settlement on mainland South Australia and spent the rest of our day sipping a cider and a beer, watching the world go by. It was nice to have a little extra time in Adelaide area but it wasn’t a place that grabbed us so we weren’t too sad to be moving on.

From here our next stop was the McClaren Vale, one of the best wine regions in South Australia. Our campsite was really pretty, an alley of trees leading to a secluded green spot amongst the fields of grapes. Almost immediately we ventured out to some of the local winerys. Within walking distance were two recommended ones, Oxenberry Farm Wines and Serafino. Both offered free tastings and funnily enough I preferred the wines at the first while Joey preferred the wines at the second. They might have only been small tasters but you could easily get tipsy from hopping from one winery to the other and though the tasters were little more than a sip or two for each wine there would be five or six tasters per winery so it never felt like your cup ran dry. At Serifino we decided to grab a full glass each though to truly relax and savour our favourite wines while looking out across the nearby pond.

The next day we headed to d’Arenberg Cube, a winery that is as much an art piece as a vineyard. The building is designed to look like a Rubik’s cube, representing the puzzle that is wine making. Corner balconies jut out, like the Rubik’s cube in motion, allowing for spectacular views of the rolling hills and grape fields for miles around. The winery has connections with art in other ways too and was currently showcasing a Picasso art collection. On the first floor there is also an art gallery full of weird and whacky sculptures from legs dangling from the ceiling to old wind up wooden fair ground toys. There was also a room featuring projections on every wall that showed just as whacky annimations with interesting names such as The Laughing Magpie and The Broken Fishplate. We couldn’t get our heads round it but took it to just be part of this eccentric aesthetic however when we got up to the top floor where the tastings are held we learnt the true meaning behind the animations. Each one was representing the wines on offer, which had the same unique names. We went for the classic tasting options but rotated in a Reisling to try too as it is a wine we enjoy back home and were curious what it would be like in Australia. The reds were a bit too dry for me but right up Joey’ s street. The white wines were fruity, crisp and delicious. Afterwards we grabbed a drink in the cafe to continue enjoying the laid back atmosphere and amazing views.

We had thought to end up there for most of the day but finished earlier than we thought and so decided to check out the nearby town and beach front. I imagined a beachfront pavilion with shops to explore and cafes to while away some time in but it turned out to be just the beach and one expensive restaurant. We didn’t really mind though as the beach was a really pretty spot and not too busy. Part of the joy of having the van with us meant that after a short walk to check it out we headed back to the van, changed into shorts, grabbed our camp chairs, some snacks and a drink to soak up the sun for the rest of the afternoon.

Being in no rush to get to our next campsite we returned to the beach in the morning and this time I even braved the water – cold but refreshing! We had a picnic lunch on the beach then set off for our last stop before Kangaroo Island. Joey had discovered a really cool campsiteto that wasn’t too far from the ferry port called Rapid Bay. It was cheap at just $9 per person per night and we got to park up right on the beach. This was what we had dreamed of when imagining our life in the van, being parked up so close to the beach we could take a dip in the water, walk along the sand to see the jetty at one end and the cave at the other then take just a few steps to our camp chairs to sunbathe the rest of the afternoon away. It was probably our favourite campsite yet.

Our ferry was departing in the afternoon the next day so again there was no rush and we enjoyed another swim and walk along the beach before packing up to go. It was only a short drive to the ferry port and super easy to get checked in and board the ferry. Joey drove on and any other passengers have to board on foot so I met him on board once the van was loaded on. It was just 45 minutes to Kangaroo Island and as we set off towards our campsite we were blown away by the beauty of this island and immediately knew we had made the right choice in going there. We would have plenty to see and explore over the next five days.

150 Days On The Road – Expectations vs. Reality

Strictly speaking not all 150 days were spent on the road. Some of those days were spent on boats, in aeroplanes, on beaches, on farms, riding bikes, travelling by foot, working in fields, swimming in oceans or swimming pools and a whole load of other places and ways to travel in between. But it makes for a catchy title and it is true that we have now been away from home for over 150 days.

This is the longest either myself or Joey has been away for and yet, though we have moments of missing home, friends and family, surprisingly neither of us feels ready for the trip to end yet. We’ve found that where the working holiday visa works really well for us is being able to stop and work when we are craving stability and move on when we are getting itchy feet again. In that respect the WHV has been what we expected and hoped for but in pretty much every other way it has not gone how I imagined it would at all. As someone who often has high expectations, a fantasy version of how I imagine everything will fall into place perfectly, it has been a steep learning curve to be more flexible and accept that I can only make decisions based on my current situation. In fact I feel like I’m still learning that there is no place for regrets on this trip, that I need to live in the present and accept that I can only make decisions for the next steps based on my current situation. That being said, I thought for 150 days I would run you through my expectations for this trip and what it has been like in reality.

Expectation: Australia is expensive.

Reality: Australia is expensive.

There are plenty of ways to keep costs down in Australia from free campsites, house sitting, work aways, cooking cheap meals for yourself and other tips and tricks but it is unavoidable that Australia is an expensive place to travel. There were definitely points of this trip where we could have travelled smarter or cheaper but I also know we have spent money on some amazing experiences that I wouldn’t change for the world, as well as finding plenty of free ones too. However, owning a vehicle, especially a camper van, has been the main expense. I didn’t expect so many repairs, I wasn’t adequately prepared for the costs of rego and insurance and general set up and I definitely underestimated not so much the price of fuel but just how often we would have to fill up because of the distances travelled. If you think you’ve saved enough for Australia, save more.

Expectation: We’ll find farm work easily and find something cool and unique.

Reality: Lots of terrible Gumtree ads, more experience needed than we thought and cool, unique places not being what they seemed at first.

There are plenty of ways to find farm work in Australia but finding something that doesn’t sound dodgey, isn’t impossible to get to or doesnt require farm experience was harder than we expected. We thought we had hit the jackpot when we got a position in the Adelaide Hills on a beautiful farm less than an hour from the city but the reality of being the only two workers there meant it still felt isolated. We had wanted to find something different from fruit picking if possible but at least fruit picking with other backpackers gives you a sense of community we felt was missing from our experience. Basically it had all looked picturesque and too good to be true on the surface and definitely didn’t live up to expectations. However I still enjoyed working outside, having time off to explore the local area and learning some new skills.

Expectation: We will spend the majority of our time on the East Coast.

Reality: Halfway through our visa and we haven’t even reached the East Coast yet.

The plan was always to travel through central Australia really quickly and end up working and spending the most time on the East Coast, when we accepted the farm work and backtracked to Adelaide this changed everything. The downside of this is we feel we have met less backpackers on the road than we thought we would as we have been travelling less popular routes. On the plus side we have been travelling less popular routes. We would never have ended up on Kangaroo Island if we hadn’t been looking for a way to fill our time being farm work and au-pairing. I never imagined that the little town of Hahndorf we admired while passing through on our way to the Red Centre would be somewhere we could pop into for lunch on our days off from the farm. At times it feels like we still have so much left to see of this vast country and other times it feels like we have already seen way more than we expected.

Expectation: We’ll meet lots of other backpackers in campervans.

Reality: Not so much.

We’ve met and seen plenty of grey nomads (retiree Australians with fancy campers and trailers) but not so much other backpackers. Maybe this is due to the places we’ve travelled to so far and maybe this is due to staying on paid campsites more often than we thought we would. It could also be the season we are travelling certain areas in. Whatever the reason we are often left thinking where are all the backpackers? Sometimes we like the time to ourselves and sometimes we crave company. Our recent trip to The Grampians did change things though when we got chatting to an Ozzy bloke traveling with his girlfriend who turned out to be from the UK, who in turn also got chatting to another van life couple from the UK. We spent a couple of nights swapping stories round the campfire and one very adventurous hike together and it did wonders for lifting our spirits.

Expectation: Freedom and Flexibility.

Reality: Constant decision making but also more opportunities.

I thought I had always wanted to do a trip that was completely open-ended with no plan in sight, however this trip has made me realise that I definitely prefer to have a plan. I might not always stick to it but I feel a lot happier and more secure if I know what our next steps are. One of the things I have found hardest about this trip is the constant decision making. Trying to judge whether we are doing the right thing or not is not easy. I mean I can’t even decide what to order at a restaurant let alone where, when and how we should travel the next part of our trip! Yet not having a plan, or at least not having anything booked ahead of time that we have to be somewhere for, has meant that when an opportunity has cropped up that sounds really good, we can go for it. There is no wondering ‘what if’ because we just move things around, reassess our current vague plan and make a new one. It is what led us to au pairing in Tocumwal, where we are currently at, a rural town three hours north of Melbourne we would never have expected to be but living with a lovely family and learning about the Australian way of life.

There are so many more ways I expected this trip to go but these are the big ones. At 150 days in it is hard to say Australia has exceeded my expectations as I still feel we have so much more to do, but it has certainly been unexpected in some of the best ways possible.

I have some major catching up to do on the trip posts so hang tight and expect a flurry of updates on what we have been up to. I’ll link them here as they come out too so all expectations and realities will begin to make sense.

My Epic South East Asia Trip

Ever since my 7 week gap year trip around Australia and New Zealand I have been dying to  go on a bigger, longer, even more awesome trip. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of my gap year trip but when I kept running into people who were travelling for three months minimum I started to feel like mine was a little more like an extended holiday. I shouldn’t have put myself down so much because I’ve come to realise it doesn’t matter the length of the trip but the experiences you have along the way. I crammed a lot into Australia and New Zealand and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. That being said, I’ve still always wanted to go on a longer trip for the simple reason that I can fit in even more great experiences!

One day I drop into an STA travel shop and tell them my budget and my ideas, now a couple of months on I have an epic itinerary planned! STA have been so helpful with putting together something really cool and also kind of complicated; I’d definitely recommend using them. Asian culture is so different from anything I have ever experienced before so it’s been a long time dream to visit Thailand and we built the trip from there. In the end I booked a 5 month trip around South East Asia!

My big trip starts ten days after my last MA assignment and I can’t wait. Here it is:

10th Oct – I’ll fly to Dubai to catch up with my friend Taylor. I’ll be spending four days here with Taylor showing me the best local places, doing some shopping (well maybe window shopping – I have got to save some money for the rest of my trip) and visiting swanky bars.

14th Oct – After this short stop over I’ll be heading to Sri Lanka for a week. I don’t know what I’ll be getting up to in Sri Lanka yet but I’m excited to start planning!da7bcabad41cdf7778311fbaf44d70f8

21st Oct – Next up is India. I’ll be on the Uncover India tour which will take me from Dehli
to Goa. Along the way I’ll be checking out the Taj Mahal, learning henna painting, bathing in Pushkar lake and visiting many temples.

6th Nov – Once I’ve lazed around on the beach in Goa for a few days I’ll be flying to Singapore where I’ll make my own way to Kuala Lumpa. I’m looking forward to this bit; a little taste of freedom to travel where I want, when I want and some independance to figure out how I’m actually going to do that!

16th Nov – I’ll be flying to Manila to explore the Philippines next. This is another leg of the journey I’m doing solo and also where I’ll be celebrating my birthday! I’m hoping here I’ll be able to do some diving as I island hop around Philippines’ 7,000+ islands! Swimming with whale sharks, visiting the chocolate mountains and the hanging tombs are also on my list of things to do.

28th Nov – From there I head over to Borneo for almost three weeks. I’ll fly into Kota Kinabalu and have five days to explore there, perhaps hiking Mount Kinabalu and visiting Turtle Island. Then it’s on to Kuching and my first volunteering experience: Orangutang conservation. I’m sure it will involve some hard work at times but will also be a lot of fun and gives me a chance to explore the rainforest and even stay in a traditional longhouse.

16th Dec – Finally it will be time to head over to the long-awaited Thailand. For this section of the trip I’ll be meeting up with my travel buddy Joey. You’ll hear more about a previous trip we’ve been on together in the next post but in the meantime check out his blog https://themichaeljoseph.com. We’ll spend a day or two in Bangkok before heading up to Chaing Mai where we will do one week of elephant conservation. Elephants are my favourite animal and one I’m currently writing my novel about so I’m really looking forward to this part of the trip. Being up close and personal to an elephant will be a dream come true! We finish just in time for Christmas and hopefully for a couple of other friends to come and join us; Ed and his girlfriend Becky. From there the four of us will head South to explore Thailand’s islands and celebrate the New Year.

IMG_23289 Jan – After I’ve said goodbye to my friends I’ll be joining the Stray Asia bus. This is a flexible hop-on hop-off service that will take me through Laos, Cambodia and end my trip in Vietnam. I chose to travel this way because I did a similar pass with the Oz Experience and New Zealand Experience, both of which were great. It’s a fun way to meet new people and do a wide range of activities with the ease of having a tour guide to help book them for you. They also offer unique experiences like remote homestays I might not otherwise be able to do if I were organising it on my own. This will be the most flexible part of my trip and I’ll be able move on when I like or stick around for a few extra days somewhere if I feel like it- as long as I’m back in Bangkok to catch my flight home on the 1st March that is!

So that’s it! This is my epic jam-packed trip and everything I’ll be doing along the way – or at least what I have planned so far. This will be the longest I’ve ever been away from home and the first time I’ll be travelling completely on my own. I am equal parts terrified and excited. Bring on October. Bring on South East Asia!