Byron Bay, May 29
Brisbane is a very large, modern city that is not easy to drive through with a huge campervan. We circled the city a few times and crossed many bridges before finally finding a parking spot that would fit our house on wheels.
We spent the afternoon strolling the beautiful city and both felt that we could easily live there. It has a great, vibrant feel about it and gets two thumbs up from us! Unfortunately, with our tight timelines we had to jump back into the monster truck and say goodbye to Brisbane and hello to the Gold Coast.
Now when I think of the name 'Surfer's Paradise' I envision a small, bohemian, chill town that is littered with new age hippies living out of beat up campervans blasting the sounds of Bob Marley. So you can imagine our surprise when we rolled up to Surfer's Paradise and were greeted by a huge, glamourous city with high rise five-star hotels and swanky oceanside condo towers that get lost in the clouds.
The banks of the river inlets were dominated by ridiculously large mansions, each fitted with a long dock that housed their 20 meter yachts parked out front, similar to a car parked in a driveway. Think Miami Beach meets West Van. The city has money. And lots of it! Surfers Paradise is definitely not the most ideal spot for a backpackers budget.
We parked the camper and headed straight to the beach to see if this was to be the surfing day we were looking for. It definitely was not. As stated in a previous blog, the region had been hit by some major storms that caused flooding and washed out many of the beaches. The Gold Coast was hit pretty hard and the winds were still very strong, making it unattractve for a play day in the surf. Later in our trip we showed our pictures of the Gold Coast to friends that live in Australia and they were shocked to see how much of the beach had been damaged.
Although the conditions were not the greatest, the Gold Coast is very easy on the eyes and looks to be a fantastic place to vacation (and a great place to park your yacht!). After a brief stay on the beach of Surfers Paradise, we carried on with our daily routine of finding a cheap place to park the campervan, cracking a cold local beer, and cooking up a modest meal inside our party wagon.
Next stop - Byron Bay! We were excited to hit the infamous Byron Bay not only to get into the water but to meet up with an old friend, Sam. When travelling on the road for as long as we have, it's very refreshing seeing a familiar face from back home. It's always fun hanging out with friends on a picture perfect sunny day at the beach, but it's even better when it's on the other side of the world!
Byron Bay is a small, funky town filled with transcient locals and backpackers. It was exactly what I envisioned Surfers Paradise to be like. Lots of beards, dreads and tatoos. The long sandy bay is the perfect place to loose yourself for days, weeks, and months (it currently has Sam held hostage, but he's not putting up much of a fight!).
We spent the day relaxing on the beach and exploring Byron Bay with Sam as our local tour guide. On our hike up to the Byron Bay lighthouse we stopped at a place that is said to be the furthest eastern point in Australia. It was here that we saw a large group of dolphins playing in the waves. This was an amazing surprise, especially for Cameron who had never seen a wild dolphin before, let alone twenty!
We spent the evening dinking local beer (surprise, surprise) and chatting with Sam's roommates while he responsibly put in an evening at work. It's always interesting swapping stories and talking to locals about their homeland, unfortunately these types of insightful conversations often take place while being slightly intoxicated, which limits my level of retention!
After a comfortable night in the campervan parked on Sam's driveway, it was time to get in the water! Luckily Sam has roommates that surf, which translates into extra surfboards that we can use instead of hiring them. We packed into Sam's car and set off for a day of epic wave riding. But on arrival at the beach we were disappointed to see calm waters with little to no swell. The weather and timing was perfect though, so we refused to settle for the ideal sea-kayaking waters.
We jumped back in the car and checked out a few other beaches before settling on one that had a relatively good swell coming in. It seemed that most of Byron Bay felt the same way! The waves were slow and tame and the water was filled with great surfers showing off their talents and years of experience (humbling to novice surfers such as ourselves). The water was warm and refreshing, the sun was shining bright without a cloud in the sky, and the waves were the perfect size and pace for us. It was the chilled out "Aussie surf experience" we were looking for. Thanks Sam!
As with everything that is good, it must come to an end. So we said goodbye to Sam and Byron Bay and kept trucking south to Sydney. A lengthy section of the Pacific Highway was completely washed out from the storms so we had to detour to a highway further inland. We drove down steep, windy, beat-up roads in eerie darkness until we finally found another free campground along the deserted highway, south of Tenterfield in NSW. The stretch of 75 km's took nearly two hours and seemed to never end.
We had one of those "I pray nothing breaks down" moments. In certain sections of the road you couldn't see a light for miles in either direction, total darkeness except for our headlights. And the Australian wilderness is not a place you want to be lost and alone in complete darkness!
We couldn't help but think of the classic Australian horror "Wolf Creek"!