The plan was formed over the years, as we grew up and grew into traveling. A road trip which manifested freedom, spontaneity and included a lot of stop offs to natural treasures – waterfalls, bays, secret beaches, look outs – Anything which caught our eye and spirit. But being separated for the last year – a year which for the both of us was filled with defining challenges, experiences and traumas – preordained this trip to be more than just a holiday. It meant a time to reconnect and rediscover each other, how we’ve changed, what we’ve learnt and what we have been through.
The plan was to get to Byron and home in 8 days – the gap in time between my sister’s wedding and Nicole’s return to work – yet we wanted to take our sweet time getting to Byron and returning. We loaded the car with a tent, camp beds, supplies and all the tie dye clothes we ever have owned and got going, singing old songs and chatting about anything and everything along the way. After looking at water falling down on to our windscreen for 3 hours, we decided to detour and look at some water in the ocean at Hawksnest for about 5 seconds before jumping back in our much warmer and drier car. I studied our map and saw that ‘Mango Brush Road’ would take us north, right next to the water and would eventually lead back to the motorway, so we chose this scenic route. Venturing on for about 30 minutes, we wondered why there were no cars on this seemingly ideal road and our answer came in a sign: ‘Car Ferry, 4km’. Oops. We were too far in to head back and channeled our adventurous spirit, hoping that this car ferry was fully functional, frequent and wasn’t going to cost us an arm and leg. Our scenic drive, by the way, was scenic less – trees and more trees and the parallel dune of sand which blocked all beach views. Craving some ocean, we jumped out of the car and trudged up the dune, expecting to see a beach on the other side. What we saw instead was a hilly, desert-like landscape of sand and more sand which seemed to stretch on forever. It must’ve been a kilometre wide and then continued on the entire way along the coast. So crazy. In the pouring rain, we ran around ecstatically towards the water, over countless hills of sand and through deserted vastness until we reached the water. By this time we were happily drenched, so we jumped in the beach which was without a hint of civilization as far as the eye could see and shared the feeling that this was the adventurous road trip we had longed for.
On a high, we continued towards the ferry which thankfully came every half an hour and literally transported us about 30m across the lake. Accompanied by a dirt road, the So Fresh CDs from 2003-05 and 5kg weights, we continued our journey up to our first stop, Forster.
Nicole’s parents had rented out an apartment in Forster where we crashed for the first two nights while it rained and rained. A morning pause in the downpour allowed time for a kayak which ended up being a workout (but a pretty one!). Luckily, we had friends also staying in Forster, so spent our time catching up with them over ice creams, card games, dune work outs and ten pin bowling. After our two night stay, we were off to our next destination – a destination we were yet to decide. As soon as we spotted some blue in the sky and the sun peeped out, we turned off the freeway and towards Crescent Head. It finally felt like summer as we jumped in the water and watched all the campers kicking back and playing games on the beach. The area which surrounds Crescent Heads is so refreshingly wild. I love seeing large properties and open land so close to striking beaches.
We decided to spoil ourselves and stay in a hostel at Coffs Harbour that night, knowing that all the campgrounds would still be wet and soggy. We ordered some Indian food and then checked in to our hostel, where we met many travellers from far and wide. It was so interesting to hear how foreigners would go about travelling Australia compared to my experiences backpacking Europe. Most seemed to be joining the trip with New Zealand and sometimes Asia and many were over for more than 4 months, a huge, but much needed time scale to tackle such a vast area. We played card games with some British and Brazilian guys and then made our plans for the next day and called it a night.
Venturing off early, we travelled a lot of miles and even more kilometres, aiming to arrive at Byron that night. Blue filled the sky and so we couldn’t not make a few stops on our way. The first was to the Angourie Blue Pool, a serene spot just past Yamba. It felt like we entered a tropical Fijian wonderland as soon as we stepped out of the car. Here we jumped off rocks and set up our very own picnic, eating mangoes, bananas and passion fruit while taking in the rays, experience and surroundings before hitting the beach.
It is so rare to find someone who you can travel well with. I have friends who I absolutely love spending time with, but the thought of travelling together – problem solving, cleaning, adventuring, budgeting, roughing it, making decisions and spending 24/7 together – I know wouldn’t result in the most ideal experience for either of us. Yet Nicole and I were compatible travellers, we worked in sync with our ideas, expectations and spirits. Most of the time we felt adventurous and energetic, wanting to go exploring, walking, swimming and meet different people. Yet there were times both of us were just tired and grumpy, so were happy to just sit and rest. We respected that whilst it was an adventure, it was also a holiday, which is exactly what we were wanting after a year of full time work for the both of us. So we had a mix of the two, and were able to slowly but steadily fill in the gaps of the story between January the 3rd last year and now, so we know how and what has shaped us. It was funny how easily we interchanged our conversations along the way. We’d be talking about what we’re having for dinner and then delve into our philosophical opinions about cultural assimilation as if this was just another item on the menu. A connection like that is so special, so comforting and so uplifting. It is nice.
Our last swim stop off for the day was half an hour from Byron, at the Killen Falls. This place required a little walk through a path which was beaten enough for ease, yet desolate enough to feel like you’re seeing something secret. We smiled as soon as we heard the whisper of the falls, which become a roar as we neared and then beamed when we saw the real thing. We began to take photos (the inner insta-addict in us) but then just sat there, absorbing and admiring the space we were in. It was a cove of tranquillity, where we exchanged smiles with others, sneaky smiles which exposed our joy at discovering the same secret. Such a special place. Maybe so special I should selfishly keep quiet about it. Shh… Don’t tell anyone.
Once we reached Byron, we set up our tent at a temporary camping ground which really was just a football field with a toilet block. It was cheap and close(ish) to town and a beach so it ticked all the boxes. I’m glad nobody saw us struggling to put that tent up, or if they did, I’m glad they kept their giggles hidden.
We ate on the beach and then feeling energised, suggested a run up the stairs at the iconic lighthouse. Such a beautiful night that it was worth the trek up. We were already entranced by the place.
Slept as much as the sun allowed and then ate our whole watermelon which we’d picked up from a guy with a Ute full of melons (why does that sounds naughty?) while we melted in the 9am heat. We got our walking shoes on (thongs) and walked to town, taking interest in all the cool little shops on the way. Our destination, of course, was the beach, where we stayed for most of the day, besides when we took a break to meet my gappy friend Sophie for lunch at a cool vegan buffet-style spot. Was so weird to see each other in a sun-filled place like Byron in contrast to our regular meet ups in England wearing coats and scarves and gloves and boots… Ah home. We returned to the beach and after saying goodbye to Soph, started walking back to our luxurious tent, via some cool night markets. 20 minutes into the walk, Nicole realised she’d left her phone in the public toilets at the beach. I thought it for sure would have been taken or gone. I can admit this feeling now but didn’t dare express it at the time – played it smooth. We hurried back and thankfully found it on the windowsill, where someone must have put it to hide it from future scavengers. Amazing. Go Byron.
Take 2, we walked back and decided on a celebratory dinner at the markets which by then had cool live music and yummy food. We ate some Indian curry, then some dumplings, then some more dumplings, and then still hungry, went to Woolworths and bought Turkish bread, hommus and a tub of ice cream. Mmmmm… we ate quite well that night and walked home very full and happy.
The next day Nikki was keen to go for a drive to another beach. On our drive, she randomly turned off the highway and so I asked where we are going. She had this sneaky look on her face and then said casually, ‘so.. umm… we are going sky diving today Kara’.
Well. I think the whole of Byron heard me scream, yelp, squeal and gasp. What. I didn’t believe it for a little bit. How did she hide that from me. What the hell. This is so exciting. This is so scary. Am I going to die? I yelped a little more and hugged her, and just sat there trying to take in that she had just surprised me and that we were about to jump 14000ft out of a plane. Two days before we needed a serious pep talk to jump the 5m off a rock. Today we were going to jump off something 4262m higher than that. I have the best and worst best friend ever.
Our session was at 1010am and they said we’d have to wait an hour or so. That ‘or so’ turned into 4 hours of painful anticipation, yet meant we made new friends and that we had clear skies when it was actually our time. A tiny little plane took the 8 pairs of jumpers up, I was squeezing Nikki’s shoulders in front of me as we flew further and further away from safe, solid ground. We could see the entire coastline and hinterland of Byron Bay and felt very high when we were only 4000ft above the ground. We had a lot of height to cover before the jump.
The door of the plane opened and a single, experienced jumper, climbed over us to reach the latch. With a smile and a wave, he jumped backwards and out of sight. I think this is the stage where I really began to understand what I was about to do. One by one, I watched the jumpers disappeared into space until it was my turn. my partner edged me along and I had my legs over the side of the plane, more than 4km above the ground. With no real signal he pushed us over and out. With only the green and blue in front of us, we fell, and fell, and fell, it was ridiculous. To be falling for enough time to consciously appreciate what you are doing and seeing was ludicrously awesome. I can see how people can get addicted to that feeling. For a minute we fell. I’ve heard that the only thing longer than a microwave minute is a treadmill minute. Well you should try a skydiving minute. Longest 60 seconds ever. The parachute then came and it was time to soak in all that I was seeing, that went for 9 minutes. I couldn’t believe what was happening and even after the landing, the energetic high remained. If you’re considering sky diving, just do it. It will be one of the best things you’ve ever done.
With our new, German, plane jumping friend, we road tripped to Whites Beach, a secluded beach just south of Byron which required a drive through a long, dirt road and a walk through the bush. Boy was it worth it, such a divine spot where we swam and sat and just elongated our feeling of bliss.
A celebration night was in order, so we freshened up at our tent site then went over to our new friends’ hostel to share in their festivities. We all hung out, playing games and then walking to the beach. I love meeting travellers. Hearing their stories, their background, how they got to be where they are and where they are going, both physically and perceptually. It is easy to dismiss travelling as a purely recreational activity, but it is so much more than that. Each new place and experience seems to reconfirm and strengthen the value of travel and how it is more enriching than any book or course. An individual’s understanding and knowledge is both limited and stretched by their experience. So in order to understand more, experience more.
Isn’t it funny how I came to that understanding whilst sitting on a beach in Byron Bay, drinking with a group of strangers. Maybe I will class that as an educational activity then as well.
That night we danced and we chatted, meeting people from the US, Austria, Germany, Sweden, and Canada. What fun.
We awoke the next day and walked to Main Beach for the last time, sad to be leaving but relieved that this didn’t mean the end of our road trip. We used a stop off at Port Macquarie as a chance for a swim and to change drivers. Another beautiful spot along the coast. Continuing on our way towards South West Rocks, Nikki had found a campsite online which looked like it’d be a good point on our route and also near the water. Well, near the water it was. It was on the water. We set up our tent literally 15m from a rock wall where bright blue water was crashing in. Counting our lucky stars, we picnicked right on the water, not believing what a score we’d just found – plus it had toilets, woo!
Sleeping blissfully thanks to the calming sound of waves crashing, we awoke still in disbelief what the last week has entailed. A morning work-out, walk, swim and watermelon left us feeling ready for a full day. We stopped off at Forster for a swim and to catch up with a friend before returning back to the road, heading for Caves beach where we stayed a night with my cousin Sophie who was house sitting there. We made pizza, went for a walk through the caves, watched the lightning show and then settled in for a movie night.
We woke up and found a cute café to break the fast with a deliciously big acai bowl each. So good. Our last day was spent at the beach, it was so hot that we couldn’t last long between swims. Said our farewells to Soph and took off, pausing at the Entrance for our last swim and surprisingly our first batch of hot chips of the trip (went to KFC to ask for free tomato sauce because you had to pay 50c per container of tomato sauce at the Fish & Chips #travellingonabudget).
We were in such a bad, grumpy mood on the last leg of the trip. Tired and sad that the holiday was over and dreading the eventual unpacking of the car which had housed our sandy selves for the last week. If there was an appropriate time for this mood, it was then so we relished and appreciated the sadness because it meant that the ending of the trip was something worth being sad about.
Well, it fulfilled and exceeded every expectation. It was the road trip and adventure which we had been waiting for, and what we needed. It has left us encouraged and eager for more and more. I’m already excited.