Byron Bay

Goodbye Byron Bay by Marek Charytonowicz

We knew we were going to miss Byron before time came to say goodbye. It is a great place to stay for longer and no surprise it attracts so many people. It seem to offer a little bit of everything - great lazy beach time, surfing spots for beginners and pros alike, treks and walks around town, a few galleries, good restaurants and great cafes and some great musicians that busk on the streets.

We took it all in over those two weeks. We relaxed on the beach, jumped waves and just sun bathed on the sand. We did long walks to see the lighthouse with its spectacular views over the bay and discovered Beach Cafe with amazing mango smoothies on the way there.

We had a blast learning to surf with Gaz and Rhys - not only because we got to love the feeling of surfing a wave - but also because of the great easygoing and laid back attitude of those two dudes. Each time it was hard work paddling, frustration of trying to catch a wave and finally the ecstasy of riding one with nothing but a wobbly board under your feet. And although the whole experience was delayed three days due to weather conditions, it was worth the wait and we'll never forget it.

Byron for us was also hanging around town, visiting various local shops, trying food and coffee in some great spots around town and catching performances of local musicians - like Garrett Kato, a Canadian songwriter whom we discovered accidentally passing by his busking performance. He was very very good - and you can judge it yourself here on Spotify. He was also a nice chap and we chatted about common musical tastes and suggested visiting London for some performances. Who knows, maybe one day we'll listen to him on our side of the world.

We did yoga and tried delightful wood oven pizza at the Tree House and indulge in tons of ice creams at the Beaches & Cream. And we spent hours watching surfers braving the waves of the swell. It was epic.

So we packed our bags and boarded the Greyhound with heavy hearts wishing that we could stay longer. We didn't really know how much longer, a few days, a few weeks... just longer.

The Protesters Falls by Marek Charytonowicz

We have been in Byron Bay for almost two weeks now and have done nothing but the beach activities. We loved that but we thought we need a break and we rented a small Kia Rio  for a day to get out of town and see the area a bit more.

The ocean decided to take a break from people too - a massive swell, an aftermath of the Cyclone Winston that hit Fiji only several days before, brought large waves and turned the beach into a whirlpool of sea foam. It looked spectacular but unless you were a. good surfer, it was better to stay away.

So instead we packed a few things and headed to the other side of Cape Byron to see a few places that Rhys - our surfing teacher had recommended. We reached Broken Head and then Lennox Head - small seaside town with a few nice cafes and shops. Their beaches - facing directly east - were both a whirlpool of massive waves and a sea foam from the swell. Quite a view that makes you feel a bit of respect for the forces of nature.

After that we decided to head inland and check out one of the nearby waterfalls - the Protesters Falls - that one of the shopkeepers in Lennox Head recommended. It took around an hour of winding country roads. At one point we attempted to find a hidden waterfall that an ice cream parlour owner in Byron Bay suggested to us. He gave us a hand drawn map  that we tried to follow but after some time of following a gravel road we found only massive potholes and a concrete 3 meter dragon guarding a road cross. Yes, a dragon - beautifully sculpted from some sort of concrete or clay.

We turned around and went straight to Protesters Falls instead - deep into the forest. 

The falls bears its name to commemorate the first successful social protests held in 1979 to change the conservation laws to stop the extensive logging of the forest. These protests and their outcome turned out to be one of the most important moments in Australian nature conservation history.

The falls were a 10 minute walk through the dense forest that brought to mind Daintree Forest with its giant ferns, tall trees and rocky path weaving its way among the vegetation. From time to time you would hear aloud crack and a massive dried palm leaf would fall down on the ground tearing its way through the canopy. It felt like being Indiana Jones about to discover an ancient treasure.

The treasure turned out to be a stunning 30 meter thin waterfall falling into a small rocky pond surrounded by lush rainforest and rocks. There was only one more couple there, quietly enjoying the sounds of the forest. The pond and waterfall was cold and refreshing - but it's not a comfortable swimming place as the bottom of he shallow pool is very rocky with a few tree trunks so it's easy to slip and hit yourself. What we also didn't know is that it's actually not allowed to swim here because of the mosquito repellent and sunscreen dissolving in water and endangering the local population of Fleay's Barred Frogs down the stream. Too late a discovery.

We spend a couple of hours there, simply taking in the forest atmosphere, the water spray rainbows in the sun, the sounds and the solitude of this place. It was a refreshing change after busy Byron Bay and we needed it.

It was difficult to leave this hidden gem and go back. In Byron we went for a walk and it looked like the swell is finally going down so we were looking forward to two more days possibly on the beach. Waves or no waves - the ocean always looks so tempting!

Hanging loose - surfing with Gaz and Rhys by Marek Charytonowicz

After three days of waiting we finally got the call that our surfing lessons are a go. The water conditions improved and large waves were no longer pounding in the shallows.

We were excited. Byron Bay is well known for its surfing conditions. Here the Coral Sea to the north meets the Tasman Sea in the south. Cape Byron protrudes into the Pacific Ocean and forms the most easterly point of the Australian mainland with a white lighthouse guarding the rocky cliffs. On one side of the peninsula it's got the Tallow Beach with large waves coming straight from the open ocean and causing strong rips - the domain of the skilled surfers. On the other side though, it has The Pass where waves slide alongside gently curved shoreline and travel uninterrupted carrying surfers for a long period of time. This is where learning takes place and it's a beautiful place to do that.

We were picked up by Rhys - tall, rugged, hippie looking guy with piercing slightly creepy blue eyes and very laid back attitude. A few years earlier he won the Australian Masterchef title and now he spends half of the year teaching surfing and the other half cooking on a luxury yacht sailing around Australia. He arrived in an old noisy van with trailer loaded with surfboards and a few more people already inside. 

Fifteen minutes later we were at a parking lot, put on worn out red rasher vests and met Gaz - even more rugged and weathered looking older Australian with bleached blond long hair, dreadlocked in places and a great sense of humour. He was the owner of the surfing school that was his secondary activity after playing golf all the time. He's been surfing all his life and he had a straightforward non bullshit approach to learning. Basically - take the board and just do it. 

We picked the boards and marched to the beach where he gave us a 10 minute introduction to the surfing theory - quoting "you look up at the beach, you surf to the beach, you look down at fish, you swim with the fish" and "name your board, love your board, look at the wave and banana!". Armed with that in depth knowledge and hefty amount cheese of jokes from Gaz, we grabbed out surfboards and headed into the ocean. Very excited and slightly scared of waves breaking in front of us.

The idea was we stay closer to Gaz and Rhys, lie flat on the board and when the right wave comes they will launch us, we'll do a banana and stand up - hopefully surfing the wave to the beach.  Surprisingly this tactics seemed to work - we were standing on boards and surfing the waves!!! 

And what a feeling it was - you put a lot of effort into paddling, your arms turn into heavy blocks and every move hurts, you're flat on the board, you see a wave coming, nobody on it - you're good to go. You turn around, start paddling like crazy and just when you feel it on the end of your board breaking you lift your torso on your hands into a banana shape (this prevents the board from diving down and lifts up the end of it). Suddenly you feel the powerful kick of the water - the wave takes the board and sends you forward really fast. You jump up to standing position, look at the beach and.... you're surfing! 

And despite the fact that this is just a basic type - no turns, tunnels, jumps - the feeling is amazing, only you, water and a simple board, nothing more. Im nothing more than a beginner but I can feel that this makes you get to know water like no other sport. You're so close and personal with the wave and you forget about the world around you for a moment. A truly amazing feeling. 

We did three classes overall across the next week. Each time we were getting slightly better and were given a bit more freedom - to start paddling and try to catch our own waves. Each time it was great fun, we were leaving bruised, tired, wet and happy! We wanted to learn more, start turning, start feeling we can control the board. We loved it and we were looking forward to trying it later on during the journey. Perhaps the waves of Bali would be good for us!

The joy of nothing - the lazy days of Byron Bay by Marek Charytonowicz

As much as we were sad to leave the boat and Whitsunday Islands, Airlie Beach left no impression. It was a backpacker oriented gateway to the islands but for us it wasn't really a place worth staying for longer. So we gladly boarded a small Virgin Australia plane to get to Brisbane to see Ned & Kat as a stopover to explore the Gold Coast and finally immerse ourselves in surfing and beach life. 

Meeting Ned & Kat was awesome - I used to work with this guy back in London for a year and apart from being one of the best designers I've ever met, he was also probably the kindest guy on the planet. I haven't seen him for over three years and it was nice to visit him, his wife Kat and their 4 months old Rhodesian Ridgeback pup - Scout, in their new beautiful house in the suburb of Brisbane. 

This stay was short - only a weekend. We spent our time with them walking the dog and exploring their lovely neighbourhood. We had great time and they made us feel very welcome and helped with all the arrangements for the next leg of the trip. On Sunday we visited nearby waterfalls with a swimming hole and attempted to lit up a bbq in a Bear Grylls style - using a wet wood found in the forest around. Well, we did light it up but it was more of a meat smoking spot than a barbecue so we moved to a gas powered one and finally had the meal. Swimming in the waterhole was awesome - cold and refreshing - with an added excitement of meeting a half-a-meter local eel. It was a great weekend!

On Monday morning we boarded a Greyhound bus and headed to Byron Bay - an amazing little seaside town, known for its surfing opportunities and generally laid back lifestyle. It turned out - this kind of beach bum way of life was what we love and we spent almost a week simply lazying around before attempting any water sports.

We checked in into our apartment which was to become our home for the next two weeks and hit the beach - a spectacular many miles long stretch of golden sand with big turquoise waves crashing on the shallows and sending sea spray in the air.

Finally - contrary to Port Douglas - the ocean was cooling!   So... we spent most of the first week jumping the waves, lying in the sun or in the sun tent, observing people, observing surfers and bodyboarders braving the waves - and generally relaxing.

We tried morning yoga and afternoon massages that left us bruised and happy. We drank amazing coffee in the morning and ate breakfast at home or in one of the cafes recommended by our apartment's manager (a middle age British lady, clearly enjoying her Byron life and knowing all about everything worth knowing here). We went for long walks on the beach with the famous Byron Bay lighthouse sending long ray of light deep into the evening sky and we sipped amazing margaritas in Miss Margarita bar on the main street. We cooked dinners at home and found probably the best laksa we ever had at Red Hot & Green restaurant. 

The joy of nothing at its best!

At the end of the week we booked our surfing class. And I booked my PADI Open Water diving course. The next week was looking really busy in comparison already....