My early morning walk from the hostel to the bus stop was really nice. Despite the weight of my backpack during the hour long trek, I really enjoyed watching and hearing Australia wake up. Part of the walk took me along side some bush and the sounds were incredible. There was one bird song that was particularly enchanting, I’ve heard it since and still have no idea who is singing the song!
Byron Bay is definitely somewhere I could live. The place has such a cool, relaxed vibe to it. I know I sound like some washed out 70’s hippie but I don’t care. That’s kind of what Byron is anyway! There are so many cool little stores, most locally owned. I loved all the art galleries and bohemian shops. And, NO McDonalds. The locals campaigned against it opening, and won! Amazing. Although, there is a Subway there. Yes to global baguettes, No to global burgers (or something). I found a really nice little second hand bookstore. I must’ve spent an hour in there, but I did eventually buy a couple of books. I still have the brown paper bag they came in, although it’s a bit tattered now!
There is also a local brewery which is attached to a pub, producing some fantastic beers. It’s all ‘open plan’ so you can watch it being brewed. It’s even better between 5-7pm. Yep, happy hour!!
That’s a lot of words and I still haven’t mentioned the SURF and SUN! I’d love to show you some pics but, I HAVE NONE!! Haha, not sure what that says but I’ll settle for ‘having too much fun‘.
The hostel I stayed at, The Arts Factory, is totally my kind of place. I knew as soon as I saw the flyer for it that I wanted to stay there. It’s very alternative and so attracts the same kind of people I guess. Well, I’m far from alternative but the mindset is the same. I just don’t have any hemp clothing or rainbow jogging pants. Don’t mention dreadlocks. I do walk barefoot a lot though!
Linked in to this ‘alternative’ world is a local village called Nimbin. I’m being pretty crass, but if I told you it’s a mini Amsterdam without the canals then you might just get the point. They grow and sell cannabis in an almost ‘legal’ environment. Local guys run trips out there as it’s around 40mins or so from Byron. I’d heard good things about the trips and so booked on to one. Just to have a look, you understand. Bad move! I’ve really avoided the organised tours and things, but this one looked kind of fun. Some crazy colourful retro bus picks you up, takes you to a watering hole for a swim before stopping off at a park for a BBQ. The day ends with an hour and a half free time around Nimbin before heading back to Byron. Sounds fun? For me, it sucked. I forgot my boardies so the watering hole was a non-event. Even still, the fact that there were 30-odd others there at the same time kind of took the sheen of what was a really cool place.
The BBQ was a bit of a bun fight and Nimbin itself was a damp squib. Sure, there were a few rough looking characters out on the street selling hash cakes and in most shops you could buy papers and grinders. I guess, if you’re 18 and travelling abroad with your mates then this place will be like some kind of mecca. I’ve been there, done that and the place really didn’t interest me at all. I needed to see it the way Tommo did and really get involved with the locals. He ended up staying out on some guys farm and had a real blast! But, I didn’t have the freedom of my own transport. The time to leave slowly rolled around, as the heavens opened and really compounded what had been a washout day. No more trips. My promise to me.
In stark contrast, the night of the washout day was brilliant! The 6 bed dorm I was staying in consisted of me, and 5 girls. That’s the first and only time (to date) that I have been the only guy in the dorm (VERY careful with the spelling there). In amongst these dreadfully lucky lay-dees was Sabine. I’d met her the previous night when we shared some drinks with a few others in the hostel, including a chap named Jim who I really need to blog about. Jim is at the wrong end of 40 and has been travelling (according to his self publicity) for 19 years since winning a huge court case. He was not the defendant, nor the prosecution. Our Jim, from Liverpool, is a lawyer. I would have liked to have chatted a bit more with our Jim as he seemed very interesting and has been to a lot of places, but he was such a cock. Sorry, but no other way to describe him with my limited grasp of English vulgarities (haha!). His self-confidence was unbearable and his opinion of women, even worse. We were having fun sharing some real cheesy chat up lines, when I asked Jim about his. “Don’t use them” he said. I said “yeah, I don’t either but everybody knows some”. But no, not our Jim. I promise you, this is what he said. “I just stand there in a club. If a girl wants to talk to me, then she’ll come over and talk to me. I’m happy to listen. I’ve never had to approach a girl yet”’. Well, Jimbo, I doth my cap of disbelief in your general direction. Anyway I digress too much about him, back to Sabine. So Sabine is a very interesting, very pretty and very funny German. Yeah, it’s true, they do make them! She works as a film set designer and has worked on Mission Impossible and Inglorious Bastards.
After my crap day, I really wanted to go out for a drink. We went to the Byron Brewery and had a couple of beers and something to eat with an English guy Sabine had met. At some point, we lost him so decided to head in to town. We found a bar called The Beach Hotel playing some live music. The band was incredible! I described the music as a kind of ska/funk/jazz. Our Jim, who we spotted standing, alone, at the bar all night later corrected me that it was in fact New Orleans?! Whatever their style, they rocked. Sabine and I danced the night away before another HUGE storm hit Byron and totally soaked us on the way back to the hostel.
There was one last bottle of red in the stash when we arrived back that we teamed up on and soon demolished before retiring. All in all, a very pleasant and fun evening.
After the late night/early morning I slept in and almost missed my bus to Surfers Paradise. In hindsight, that would have been a much more acceptable outcome. It’s more commonly known as just Surfers, which makes way more sense as I’m not sure where the Paradise bit fits in? Sure, if skyscrapers on the beach and pink garish Hummers and Limo’s cruising around is your paradise then you’re in business. If more nightclubs then you can shake a cocktail at makes your feet dance, then book your ticket. If you’d like to go to Vegas but would rather go to Australia, then you get the picture. After my love affair with Byron, my heart was truly broken by Surfers. Haha, that’s a bit harsh. It wasn’t quite so bad, just not for me.
The only thing Surfers had going for it was it’s proximity to Southport. I had received communication from Woollacott HQ that a distant relative was looking forward to my imminent arrival and that I was to make sure I paid a visit. The said distant relative is a very special lady called Cathy Arbuckle. Now, here’s the science bit. She is my Papa’s cousin (or my Grandpa/Granddad if you prefer). I’m still not entirely sure what that makes her to me but as soon as I arrived we were like old pals! It was a mission to get there though. Opting to walk, I was soon regretting it as the heavens split wide open and poured down with some of the southern hemispheres finest. I could have jumped in the estuary I was walking beside and I would not be any wetter! Add to this the fact that I really didn’t know where I was going, except the general direction of Southport, and you might agree on the mission! I got to the CBD and managed to find some temporary shelter. Luckily, I’d made some sandwiches so was able to feed my rapidly developed hunger. Albeit with damp bread and soggy cheese – mmmmmm!!
With renewed energy, I wandered through the shopping precinct and came across a barbers shop. I had been looking out for one for a while as my ’hair’ was getting long (no sniggering at the back please!). I checked my watch, 7.30pm – damn, the sign on the door informed me they close at 7pm although there still seemed to be some life inside. I tentatively pushed the door, and it opened. Popping my bushy mane of hair inside, “are you still open?” I comically asked. “Sure” said the receptionist, “we’re open until 7pm tonight”. I double checked my watch, which by now was showing 7.32pm due to time never standing still. “But it’s 7.30” I half asked, half stated. “No, no” said receptionist, pointing at the MASSIVE clock above her head showing 6.30pm. “Have you arrived from the south” she enquired half friendly, half mockingly. “Yes” I exclaimed!! (haha, it’s like a play). “Well, we are 1 hour behind New South Wales in Queensland”. “Oh, I forgot” I said, lyingly. Anyway, thankfully caught up (or down?) with time the going rate for a simple no.1 all over was $20 – no thanks!! A student could have done it for less but they all went home an hour ago. For 10 bonus points, what time did the students go home at? 😉
I carried on and checked out 2 more places, getting as low as $15 before I found a gents only barber run by a British ex-pat. She agreed a fee of $10 for her services and commenced the chop! This was only after some banter with a lady who was leaving about something called ‘meter-maids’. In Surfers Paradise, young girls run around in gold hot pants and bikini tops dropping coins in the meters that are about to run out to save people getting fines. Such a brilliant service, and so well delivered too!
So, all this has happened and I still haven’t even made it to Cathy Arbuckle’s place! Nobody had heard of the address. My barber didn’t know either, but was able to point me towards the taxi rank. I was going to try the same trick as I did in Newcastle. I asked the first cabbie, and discovered it was quite a way out of town. In fact, had I taken a different route from Surfers I would have been there by now – and probably dry – but with long hair – and an hour ahead!! Anyway, he told me he could take me for $14. I asked if he could do it for $10 and he told me to get in. Sweet. I haven’t had much success bartering in Australia but that was two results in quick succession!
The area Cathy lives in would have been pretty tricky to navigate on foot so I was thankful for the taxi. The numbers don’t seem to have any pattern to them, it’s all very random! The taxi had a funky light on the roof that he could turn from inside the cab and point at the houses, illuminating the numbers as we went – genius! Eventually, we came to the right number. I gave him the 10 bucks and knocked on Cathy’s door. I have to admit slight apprehension, especially when she seemed very confused when I introduced myself. But then a huge smile broke out across her face as she said, “come in son, come in”. Her features reflect my Papa in many ways, and her cheeky personality did to. My family often say I’m a ‘Rae’ so maybe that’s another reason how we got on so well.
We chatted for a few hours, and looked through some old photographs before Cathy revealed that in fact she had no idea that I was coming until that morning. She had only just received a letter in the post from Scotland telling her that I was in the country and would stop by! She kindly invited me to stay, but I had already paid for my hostel back in Sufferers Paradise. We went next door to meet the rest of the family, including her daughter Carolyn, son-in-law Derek and their 3 children. She also has a son who works as a flying Doctor, just like in that Aussie soap The Flying Doctors. How cool? She’s been out there for 15 years and loves it. Inspirational. Derek kindly gave me a lift back to my hostel and I left promising to try my best to stop by on my way back south so we could go out for a meal.
My bus was booked for the following day to take me up to Maroochydore. This was something I’d been looking forward to since Sydney. Whilst staying at the Palmer Palace I had sent a speculative email to friends I had met whilst travelling Europe in 2005. Jason and Mel Zerner live in Bli Bli which is on the Sunshine coast not far from Noosa. Mel had replied with an open invitation to come and stay! We planned it for the weekend as Jason works during the week so this coming Friday was the day. I had to take the bus to Brisbane, which at this point was still struggling from the massive flooding suffered over huge parts of Queensland. The same floods that had convinced my friends back in Port Macquarie to abandon their plans. From Brisbane, I caught a connecting bus out to Maroochydore passing the Steve Irwin Australia zoo en route.
Jason met me at the bus stop with his two adorable children, Eva and Finlay. Back at the Zerner place it wasn’t long before Jason dusted down the Steins he’d bought back in Munich where we met and began to fill them with his home brew – laaavley! Mel had prepared a delicious curry and we reminisced into the wee hours. A wine bottle or two fell prey to Mrs Zerner if I remember correctly!
The next day after some awesome bacon and eggs we headed of to try our hand at wakeboarding. Some of you may remember the video I posted on facebook portraying my failed attempt (one of many) that day. In my defence I did manage one lap of the lake, although one lap during a 5 hour session is probably not much to shout about! Jason fared much better than I did!
That afternoon we had a BBQ at the park at one of the free grills that are provided by the local councils. I’ve seen these in use all over the place and they look great. I was loving hanging with the locals and cooking up some snags, bonza mate!
In the evening we hired out Inglorious Bastards so I could check out Sabine’s work. It was ace just chilling with snacks and some of Jason’s home brewed ginger beer. They have a really cool TV room, just for the adults. A little sanctuary, I love it!
Next day we hit Mudjimba beach for a play in the sea before heading to Mooloolaba Surf club for some tea. That has to be my favourite place name so far, it’s just fun to say it! Moo-loo-la-ba!!
I said my goodbyes that night as Jason was going to be up around 4.30am for work! We arranged to meet up the following weekend if I was still in the area. In the morning, long after 4.30am, Mel dropped me at the bus stop before taking a very excited Eva to her first ever day at Kindergarten. I made my way to Noosa.
I only planned a couple of nights there, but you know what happens with plans around here!