Byron Bay is a classic east coast surfer spot and a pretty town. It isn’t very big but offers everything one might need.
We arrived there after 4 hours on the bus and did not have to wait long for the shuttle bus to our hostel. We stayed at Wake up!, a two month old hostel on the edge of town and right across the road from a beautiful beach. After opting for the 12 bed dorm we were delighted to find that we had it to ourselves for the first night. We walked along the beach to explore the town and get some food. The soft sand along the beach was all squeaky (Australian sand is squeaky, anyone know why?) and nice. On our way to the supermarket we spotted a gelateria with a huge selection of flavours. The gelato was so delicious, that we ended up coming back two more times. We also found a lot of cute cafés and health food shops. That day was also market day. The market was surprisingly big and featured a lot of beautiful crafty produce as well as plenty of food. Many visitors seemed to be part of the nearby hippie commune in Nimbin. The proportion of vegetarian, vegan and organic stalls was the highest we had seen anywhere in Australia so far.
One of the big things to do in Byron Bay is a walk to the most easterly point of mainland Australia and the lighthouse. Of course we had to go there; especially as it was whale season and the sticky out headland was a good place to spot them. The walk there along the beach was nice and we were lucky enough to see quite a few whales; some of them even breaching! Only a few hundred metres further was the lighthouse with a little museum. We snatched up the last tickets for the last tour of the day (closes at 4pm). The museum shows various items from the lighthouse keeper’s lives, old light bulbs and is nice and informative. Our guide for the tour was one half of a very dedicated and lovely couple who volunteered there. We learned about the history of the lighthouse and that the gears run in a mercury bath to stop corrosion and bear some of the load. This mercury is still the same as when it was constructed around 1900.
With the whale migration in full swing, we decided to book a whale watching tour in order to see these gentle giants a bit closer.
Our hostel had a great range of activities including complimentary yoga and personal training classes. We both participated in the first yoga class together before going for a run along the beach. In the evening we joined the $10 all-you-can-eat pizza night with yummy pizzas being made on the bbq by two Argentinians.
The pizza merry-go-round
The next morning we had to get up early for our whale watching tour. After walking into town to the dive shop we discovered that the tour had been cancelled due to high swells and wind and we had missed the text notification while walking along the beach. The issue with boat tours in Byron Bay is the lack of any sort of harbour. Boats are launched from a trailer off the beach which is tricky to dangerous if the waves are too high. We kept out optimism and re-scheduled for two days later. This also meant extending our stay in town. Unfortunately, Matthias was forced to test the local dentist standards after an old filling fell out the previous day. He was well impressed by the eco-dentist but this was still an experience that he rather missed out on.
Some colourful tree cosies
The next day was yoga day again and while Zoë joint the half the other backpackers in the tent, Matthias was determined to run to the end of the beach; something we failed to achieve during our first run. It turned out that the beach was nearly 12 km long and by the time he returned he had finished his second ever half marathon.
A breaching humpback whale
A quick shower and lunch later we headed into town again for our first surfing lesson. We decided it was impossible to travel along the east coast of Australia without surfing. At the beginning of the class we did some dry exercises on the beach before walking into the water. We were amazed that we both managed to stand up at the second attempt and from then on could not stop smiling. Our great teacher helped us catching the waves (pushed us) and over the course of the two hours we had some great rides on the breaking waves. It was surprisingly tiring; especially the walking in and out of the water with the surfboard. We got on really well with our classmates and so we all went out to the pub afterwards. As a reward for all this hard work we tucked into the free cheese and wine that night while our legs recovered.
We had to get up early again the next day for our second whaling attempt, but luckily this time we got the cancellation message during breakfast. This time we decided to cancel it and try our luck in our next place. We had planned to make use of the free surfboard hire in our hostel to practice but other guests told us that the waves were too challenging for beginners so had an easy day after the personal training session. It is crazy how fast you lose fitness and muscles while travelling if you don’t train. We really need to do more of that….
Our last night in the hostel was also the busiest. A free bbq lured everyone into the common area and we met some lovely people, before everyone either went into town or their rooms.
Our last morning included an impromptu shopping trip to Aldi, who had a special camping sale. We snatched up a cheap camping cooking set and two down sleeping bags in preparation for our planned camping in New Zealand. All we then had left to do was waiting for our bus to Coffs Harbour, our next destination.
We really enjoyed our time in Byron Bay, even without going out partying at nights. Even in the winter this place has a cool vibe and and is a great hotspot for surfers and foodies. Our planned four day became a week and we never regretted it; even with the whale trip being cancelled. The area around it is also beautiful and the lighthouse is famous for sunrises. We did not go there because of the need for sleep, cloudy skies and the fact that we had seen many impressive sunrises in Indonesia. If you are looking for a relaxed place to have a break from travelling or for surfing, this is s food choice. Think twice about driving into town though: despite it being low season, traffic was always crawling through the centre.