After a long overnight bus ride - the longest I had been on since that horrible crash in Cambodia - I was exhausted from being unable to sleep and glad to arrive in Byron Bay. As we arrived in the seaside town, the sun was rising over the ocean and gave us a stunning first look at the place that would be our home for the next few days. After a few hours passed out and recovering at our hostel, Backpackers Inn, we hit the beach and wandered up to the town. There are many great hostels to choose from in Byron, and so many go for Arts Factory or Aquarius, but to be honest, I loved our little hostel - it was the only one that led straight to the beach and it was small and cosy. The others were much further back in the town and meant a bit of a trek to see the beach or visit the lighthouse. It was great to be a two minute walk from the beach and we spent many hours laying out down there, sunbathing and swimming in the chilly waters. We even spotted dolphins right by the shore on our very first day there - I swear my heart stopped for a second when I realised what I was seeing and how close they were.There was so much to do in Byron, we had about four or five days which allowed us plenty of chill time and plenty of activities. My favourite day was when we did the walk up to the lighthouse and spotted countless dolphins playing in the surf, it was amazing and so beautiful up there. It's about a two hour walk to the top, but we took our time and stopped off a lot to watch the dolphins. When facing the ocean, you head as far down the beach to the right as possible then check out the first viewpoint and watch the body boarders and surfers for a bit. After, head up the path and keep on going through the woods, past Watego's Beach and up towards the lighthouse. There are lots of smaller beaches to check out along the way so take a towel and a book if you fancy stopping. You'll also want to take water, and we took a picnic for when we reached the top. We went back in July and if was still pretty windy and chilly at the top so you might want to take a jumper like I did, but also pack on the sunscreen as it does get hot. My favourite part was a path that led off the easterly point of Australia where you could go right down to the sea - this is where we sat and watched the dolphins at sunset.Another day was spent taking to the waves and attempting to stand up in our first surf lesson - it was booked through Backpacker's Inn and cost around $60 each - a bit pricey but worth it as we were really taught how to master the waves and could all stand up by the end of it. We had a great group and spent about three hours out in the water with wetsuits and surfboards included. Being a small group of eight, we had plenty of one-to-one coaching from the two teachers and were given loads of help and support along the way. We did our lesson in the afternoon which I was glad about as the sun had warmed the sea slightly - I was dreading getting in the water but it was much warmer in there than on the beach. After a 15 minute water break, we were begging to get back in the ocean to warm up! Don't expect to come back with no injuries - my whole body was aching the next day and I had bruises all over my legs and elbows from breaking my fall each time the waves knocked me down, but it was a fantastic workout and lots of fun. Especially when we got to watch the sunset from the ocean.We were both very keen to spot more wildlife after seeing so many dolphins, so we decided to go on a Go Sea Kayak trip which promised we would spot dolphins, whales or turtles or our money back. It was a great trip, despite us being very hungover, and we spotted so many more dolphins which swam just metres away from us. It was a great few hours spent out on the water and was so easy to paddle the kayaks - anyone could do it. Unfortunately, despite staring at the horizon we didn't see any whales and only one of the group spotted a sea turtle, but it was still worth the $60-odd dollars for the day, especially knowing that we had been on such an ecologically sound tour. Byron Bay is all about protecting the environment and the animals within it which I love. The town of Byron is beautiful - a great place filled with live music, great food and a fantastic chilled out atmosphere. It's not a party place which is nice, as it was so cold going out at night when we were there, but we still made it out for dinner and some fun. I loved going to the edge of town for the sunset drumming circle in the evenings, it sounds a but hippy dippy but it was great watching the beautiful sunsets with this musical background. We ate out a few times, at a cafe in the town, a Thai restaurant and a tapas restaurant - all delicious and I would highly recommend - especially the Thai restaurant which I believe was called Lucy's. It was definitely one of those places where there is so much more to do in the day and the nights are spent chilling and recovering. But one of my great memories from the nights had to be sitting with an aboriginal guy on the pavement at 3am, peeling oranges for him as he played me the guitar. Definitely not a place to be missed on your East Coast trip!
What was your favourite activity in Byron Bay? Where did you stay?
When it comes to planning a huge trip like that standard backpacker route up the East Coast of Australia, it can be a pretty daunting task. Taking anywhere between two weeks to six months to complete, and with such a huge range of trips, activities, adventures and sights to take in - where on earth do you begin? There are so many questions to answer - what will we do, where will we stay, how will we get there? And so many options from sailing trips and four wheel driving expeditions, to waterfall tours and white water rafting. It's no easy task, but one thing I've learnt since being in Australia is quite how much it pays off to plan your trip in advance. A complete contrast to Asia where it usually works out cheaper and easier to be spontaneous and just book everything individually as you go along. Here in the land down under its a much better idea to book all your transport, accommodation and trips as a whole to save big time on cash. It's a shame to take the spontaneity out of backpacking and I'm still not used to it, but booking our trip this way saved us a small fortune.
I didn't realise at the time, but our booking agent gave us huge discounts which seriously cut back our spending and allowed us to save our money for goon. After meeting and talking to so many other backpackers, many of whom booked things individually, we have now realised how good our deal was. All of our Greyhound buses from Sydney to Cairns, all our accommodation and all of our trips were included in a £1,300 package per person with several free meals thrown in and lots of upgrades. During our trip we stopped off at Byron Bay, Surfer's Paradise, Noosa, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, Whitsundays and Magnetic Island before finishing in Cairns. We stayed in fantastic hostels the whole way, met so many amazing people - you all know who you are - who had us laughing the whole way. We had the chance to take part in lots of amazing trips from kayaking with dolphins and surfing in Byron Bay, to driving four wheel drives around Fraser Island and whale watching, to cruising around the Whitsundays on a catamaran and swimming with sea turtles, to cuddling koalas and driving Barbie cars around Magnetic Island, finishing with white water rafting and a trip to the rainforest in Cairns.To say it was amazing is an understatement - with just two months of travelling together, Mark and I wanted to make sure we crammed in as much as possible and really made the most of our time. By heck we did, we were exhausted and broke by the time we finished the East Coast, but had the biggest smiles on our faces and made some amazing friends for life, some we're still travelling with now almost a month later in Darwin. My best advice? Research and plan everything - think carefully about your money and you can make it go so much further. By reading up about trips and talking to people before you book, you can be sure whether the trips are worth doing, whether they are worth the money, or if you can perhaps get a better deal elsewhere. It's boring to do, but worth it in the long run when you can party a few extra nights or afford an extra trip somewhere along the way. It's also worth thinking about whether you want to drive up the East Coast in a camper van or car, or whether you want to take the bus - in the end it often comes down to experience vs. efficiency - we chose efficiency because we wanted to be hungover on the buses and travel on the cheap but we had friends who travelled in a group in a van and had an amazing time.
There are so many choices and options, just be sure to make informed decisions and always shop around when booking! I'll be posting individually on each place we visited and each trip we took so you can get a better idea of what you might enjoy, but in the meantime I can definitely tell you our absolute highlights were our Fraser Island Trip, Airlie Beach and white water rafting trip - all were amazing and I highly recommend them. Other places we loved included Magnetic Island and Noosa because of the sheer natural beauty of the places, but we also had a blast in Surfer's Paradise thanks to an awesome hostel and crowd we met there.
Have you travelled the East Coast? What was your favourite trip or memory?