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May 21st 2015
Published: May 24th 2015
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Nick: It's been a few days since our last blog update, five to be precise (I think). A quick glance at our last entry sees us digesting our fish curry in Port Macquarie and contemplating another stint on the pool table. Well, from memory we never did get around to playing pool and hearing out the end of the Eighties it turned out, the Saints game was playing out a bit earlier than I'd anticipated (not for the first time getting my time zone conversions muddled up), and idly perusing the football news on the BBC website, Sarah was pleased to report that (a) the game was about half an hour underway, (b) Southampton were currently 4-0 up against Aston Villa, and (c) our striker had just scored a hat-trick in two minutes and fifty eight seconds, a Premier League record! All thoughts of pool abandoned, we made haste to the TV room and found a channel showing the game. As an aside, I must have seen my team playing on TV more times in three months travelling than I have in three years at home, and for free to boot. They certainly do know how to milk the cash out of us for the privilege of watching footy back at home, but then I suppose someone's got to pay those overinflated wages...Anyway, we watched the rest of the match whilst finishing our wine and generally enjoying the rare spectacle of seeing the Saints turn over another team quite comprehensively (it finished 6-1) before heading to bed.

The following morning we were soon packed and ready to crack on to our next stop, Byron Bay. I must admit that I hadn't really given much thought to exactly why we were including this place on our itinerary, other than the fact that it was on our way to Brisbane, and that it was one of those names I'd vaguely heard of via word-of-mouth "you've gotta go there" kind of advice. So we we were on our way. It was a five hour trip further north along the Pacific Highway, which, as previously described, is an effective if somewhat dull road to drive - five hours of tightly controlled, sparsely populated dual carriageway; in short, it was an exercise in self-control not to break the heavily enforced and very conservative speed limit! We split the driving two ways, Sarah doing the first three hours, and me finishing the last two, stopping for lunch at a nondescript picnic area in between. Lunch consisted of some cheddar and smoked ham rolls, lovingly prepared by the CSO (1st Class) that morning, and were of the usual high standard expected from such a distinguished Sandwich Officer. We arrived in Byron Bay that afternoon in our trusty car, which had as ever shown no problems whatsoever other than an inclination to over-rev the engine for a good five seconds with no appreciable increase in speed every time I encouraged it to 'pull its finger out'...I'm not a fan of automatic cars, I've decided. Our room was literally the best yet, with a great bathroom en-suite, loads of room and lots of cracking little extras such as a kettle, air-con and a decent number of plug sockets (which perhaps speaks volumes about the standard of some of our previous accommodation). They also had a really nice bar/restaurant place next door, in which we had a couple of beers to wind down. Dinner consisted of leftover fish curry from the previous evening, which had joined us on the long drive from Port Macquarie having been kept fresh in our cool bag (did we mention the cool bag? We'd bought a cool bag). The kitchen itself was pretty big and well equipped, but clearly we'd hit rush hour - in fact it later turned out that pretty much every hour was rush hour - and, being a big hostel, it made for a fairly hectic scramble for pots, hobs and everything else. We managed with no major issues, although it was a clear indicator of the general manicness to be expected at mealtimes for the coming days.

Much as we'd have liked to get out exploring first thing the following morning, we needed to take care of some of the usual practicalities first, and drove to the supermarket to pick up some supplies for our coming meals. Only when we were back at our room, with the provisions suitably stowed away (we even had a fridge in our room - told you it was good) did we head out to see what was going on. Before hitting the beach, though, we decided to take a punt and book ourselves in for another two nights. We were very much taken with the room, and we had a couple of days left 'in the bank' before the hire car needed to be in Brisbane; despite not having actually got around to going out and exploring yet, we had a good feeling that this would be a relaxing place to spend a few days, and wanted to nail down the room for ourselves before it went to someone else. With our travel dates now firmed up, we also finalised some future flights from Brisbane to Townsville, much further north in Queensland, which would be our gateway to 'Magnetic Island'...details will follow in due course! But for now, we remained in Byron Bay and, our jobs taken care of, it was time to get out and hit the beach!

Our hostel was located a mere stone's throw away from the beach, so we made a beeline for the sand and surf. Byron Bay has a reputation as a go-to place for beach-lovers and, in particular, surfers. It's easy to see why; from where we joined the beach opposite our hostel, the wide bay curved away in either direction, with wide, sparsely populated golden sand there for the taking and the clear blue Pacific ocean crashing big breaking waves against the shore. The beach was as clean as a whistle, and the softest sand I'd been on - it was gorgeous! We walked along the beach in the direction of the town, a walk of some fifteen minutes or so. Whilst it was warm, the sun was hiding intermittently behind some clouds, and we decided to limit our excursions into the water to paddling, tempting though it looked. For the first ten minute's walk down the beach the water was surprisingly devoid of people, but as we got closer to town, clusters of surfers, body-boarders and general revellers appeared in the water. We continued walking to the end of the beach, and pushed on further outwards and upwards, to see the lighthouse that was located on Australia's most easterly mainland point. It was getting on for mid-afternoon, the sun had decided to join the party and the landscape had started to get some 'up' involved in things, so by the time we reached it we were decidedly hot and sweaty! But the effort turned out to be well worthwhile; the panorama out over the ocean was pretty breathtaking, and the violence of the waves against the rocks was something made sense why they stuck a lighthouse here! It also explained the big, rough waves we'd seen along the beach further upstream of the jutting promontory on which we were now stood.

Having reached our target destination, we turned and began for home. Wandering back along the arcing stretches of sand, cooling our feet in the retreating surf and enjoying the setting sun painting a palette of pinks and oranges over the ocean ahead of us , it was easy to see why so many people raved about coming here, and we were glad we'd nailed down our two extra nights accommodation. With dinner approaching, we anchored a place in the kitchen and got cracking. Before long we were sat munching our way through some - dare I say - truly excellent lamb kebabs. We'd marinated the meat earlier on, using our increasingly-handy set of spices previously acquired in Sydney...a top tip to anyone going travelling for any length of time and who anticipates cooking for themselves: a cheap set of four or five good spices goes a loooong way to keeping mealtimes interesting! Fed and watered, we whiled away the rest of the evening in our room, happy with our first full day in Byron Bay.

There's not really a huge amount to say about the following day - after brekkie, we hit the beach straight away, picking up a frisbee from reception on the way past. We wandered up the beach towards where we'd seen people frolicking in the surf the previous day. For some reason, we'd not seen anyone playing in the water for the first ten minutes of our walk, which equates to rather a lot of beautiful, unspoiled water...Sarah took the sensible view that if no-one else was willing to swim there, there was probably a darn good reason for it! Having picked out spot, we whiled away most of the day relaxing on the sand, reading, playing some frisbee and splashing about in the water. The sea was by no means the warm bath that we'd had in Costa Rica (although I remained mildly concerned about sharks) but it was far from cold and absolutely fine once you took the plunge and immersed yourself. It may not have been as warm as Costa Rica, but the waves were certainly a match, coming in thick and fast and occasionally knocking us off our feet. All good fun, until the point at which we ventured ever so slightly too far out and both found ourselves struggling against a very strong rip tide to get back in to the shore (and believe me, this was NOT very far out at all!). Whilst the big waves clearly make for good surfing, we'd both learned our lesson and stuck to playing about in the shallows for now; indeed, it was only a day or two later that we spotted the big sign warning of strong rip tides in the area - which I suspect also explained the complete absence of people in the water on the stretch near our hostel...good thing we stayed clear of it ourselves, then, on Sarah's sound advice. I'm thinking of having her promoted to Senior Aquatic Safety Advisor.

During the evening, we cooked and ate some spicy stir-fried vegetable rice topped with some delicious garlic-marinated prawns; it was supposed to be an effort at 'nasi goreng' (a traditional Malaysian dish and personal favourite) but despite my best efforts (and tantrums) it fell some way of the mark...fortunately saved by the absolutely superb marinated king prawns which we'd picked up the previous day. After dinner we went back to the bar next door for a wee drink. To cut a long story short, it culminated in the purchase and subsequent despatch of two bottles of Sangiovese* over a couple of very enjoyable hours gassing amongst ourselves. It was excellent fun, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat, thought I, until the thumping head the next morning. Fortunately, though, we once again had little to do other than enjoy the beach. That's the great thing about Byron Bay: it really is about beautiful beaches - some of the best I've ever seen in fact - and there's no pressure to get out and about, seeing and doing other things. We were both truly enjoying having a few days just to switch off and relax (I am fully aware of the effect that the previous sentence will have on our beloved friends and family back at home, who do not have the benefit of a six month career break to travel the world...all I can say is: it's all about context / sorry!). The day was again spent playing frisbee, sunbathing and mucking around in the lively surf, albeit decidedly closer to the shore. Back at the hostel, we got stuck into preparing our final dinner in the kitchen-of-hasslingness. Inspired by our lamb kebabs of two nights previous, and with some of the Lebanese bread** (as well as assorted other leftovers) still to use up, we had opted for chicken kebabs. They were as delicious as they were easy to prepare, which was a blessing after the previous night's cooking trauma (of which I have deliberately steered clear in this blog).

I began this blog entry by saying there wasn't a huge amount to say, and technically I suppose that is true, although as ever I have somehow contrived to require several hundred, if not thousand, words to express this in my own inimitable, waffley style! Perhaps that is a fair way to represent the fact that although this place is pretty much just a 'beach town', we spent a longer time here than anywhere else in Oz (matched only by Sydney), and we wouldn't change that in hindsight. We would love to have spent longer still, but our short time in this country (and more pragmatically the car hire lease agreement) required us to push onwards and northwards, to Brisbane, and the next morning we packed our bags, loaded the car and said our farewell to Australia's most easterly point.

*As we go through the process of writing these blog entries, it does occasionally strike me that they read like the diary of a pair of old soaks; the phrase "well-earned beer" could itself be retired on full-pension. To any of our faithful readers who may remain concerned at the frequency with which boozing presents itself in our blogs, I would say this: we write this blog to capture the highlights of our trip, and it is probably fair to say that six hours of waiting around in a provincial airport lounge does not rank alongside, say, the ill-advised spontaneous forty-five minutes in the overpriced bar therein...nevertheless, it is those forty-five minutes that will probably warrant the most attention. And so it goes for much of the rest of our trip!

**I tried not to harp on about the special bread we found in the supermarket and used for kebabs...I really did...but to be fair, it WAS amazing!


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