As we drove down from the tablelands, the countryside began to get greener again. We stopped at the Gwydir River National Park, camping the night at Boundary Falls, in the heart of the rainforest. It was a lovely spot, despite the leeches, which made it up our legs and into the van overnight. We finally arrived back on the coast and were dying to get in the water. I’d highly recommend any of the following places to camp and surf!
Yuraygir National Park: Red Cliff Campground
Situated in the Yuraygir National Park, this is one of a number of campsites in the area. National Park fees apply and a ranger will issue you a pass on the night. It was here that I stood up for the first time on my surfboard – the surf was a bit rough and there weren’t many people out, but we still had a great time. It gave me that first taste of riding a wave and I couldn’t be happier! That was until I stood on some kind of animal in the ocean – maybe a stingray or a fish, but enough to make me leap and shriek in terror!
As we were in the water, we saw the most amazing thing! There on the sandy beach, below the red cliffs, were two kangaroos. They hopped away after a few minutes, disappearing into the horizon, but it was a magical sight, as I’ve never seen kangaroos on the shore line before. It was something you would expect to see in a movie, or an advertisement for Australia!
Ballina: Flat Rock Tent Campsite
This was a wonderful place to stay. Just North of Ballina, past the Big Prawn, we found a campsite right by the beach. Prices were up for school holidays, around $20 each, but this was cheap compared to Byron Bay, plus you had a lot more space and shade. We surfed both days here, hovering around the surf schools and learning some great tips! I can make it to my feet at last and ride the wave! Woohoo! After spending years struggling and thinking it was impossible for my poor, weak arms to push myself up, I can now get up straight away and sometimes even ride a small wave in. I’m officially addicted!
Byron Bay is just what every backpacker wants – it has the beach, great shops, a chilled vibe, surfing, diving, hippies and palm trees. People casually stroll down the streets in their boardies or bikinis, sipping on fruit shakes, carrying guitars and walking half speed. There are travellers from all over the world, accents galore and great weather.
It’s wonderful here, but unfortunately everybody knows about it. The traffic is slow, parking fees are high and accommodation prices are outrageous. I decided to make a list for how to cut costs in Byron Bay, so that you can enjoy this chilled surf town without being sucked into the money funnel.
- Camp in unpowered sites – we booked into the First Sun Holiday Park. I almost didn’t book it just on principle, as their prices were so ridiculous ($68 for two people on a tiny, unpowered site), but there weren’t really any other options, as it was the weekend before Christmas and the start of Summer holidays. Nonetheless, camping here in an unpowered site was a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel.
- Camp midweek to avoid weekend and holiday mark-ups.
- Buy takeaway meals and eat them at the beach – Sit down cafes and restaurants charge a lot more than the cheap take-away cafes. Better still, stock up at the supermarket and make your own feasts.
- Instead of paying for surf lessons, do some research, buy yourself a surfboard and hover around the surf schools to secretly listen in to some tips!
- Pre-drinks – buy your own beers and start the evening at your campsite before heading into town. After some pre-wines, we enjoyed a night out at the Beach Hotel! Great live music and a buzzing atmosphere.
- Look for free wifi in cafes – we found a place on the main street, called ‘The Eatery’ – free wifi and delicious halloumi burgers.
- Take your own bottle of water everywhere. It is very hot here and buying cold water all the time will start to add up.
- Talk to the locals to discover the cheaper eats/lodgings in the area. After already paying for our campsite, we discovered that you can camp your van for a lot cheaper at the old Arts Factory, though they don’t take bookings, so maybe call up on the day to check if they have some available sites.
Aside from the expenses in Byron Bay, it is a lovely spot to stay. We really enjoyed surfing at Shipwrecks Beach. This is the main beach in town, though there are plenty of others to choose from if you stay longer. We ended up buying a second surfboard so we didn’t have to keep swapping in the ocean.
Shopping was also a highlight of this town. There are loads of clothes shops, surf stores and eateries. On Sunday, we took a trip to the markets. They are huge and well-established, with loads of food, craft, jewellery and clothing stalls. We found some great Christmas gifts here and sipped on ice-cold, freshly-squeezed lemonades, as we sweltered in the hot sun.
Finally, I was thrilled when I discovered that one of my good friends from Perth was also here for the weekend – what a coincidence! We enjoyed catching up for dinner one night, just like the good old days.
We arrived in the colourful village of Nimbin on Sunday. Nestled in the mountains, this town is full of rainbow colours – rainbow houses, rainbow flags, rainbow art works, rainbow clothes!
We strolled the streets, browsed the shops and enjoyed watching all the interesting characters, floating around in their hippy pants and crazy hats. Then, we made our way up to the Nimbin Rox YHA, located just out of town in a beautiful position, overlooking the mountains.
The hostel has a very relaxed atmosphere. The place is covered with lush, rainforest gardens and plenty of shady trees. You can stay in one of the teepees or dorm rooms, or camp in your van/tent and still use all the facilities.
We relaxed by the pool for a while and later, sunk into the hammocks to do some reading, as soft tunes of a travelling guitarist wafted across the cool breeze. It is still hot up here and the cicadas are deafening, but the mountain breeze is refreshing and peaceful, compared to the crowded, sweltering coast.
After Nimbin, it was down to Cabarita Beach for our last stop before Queensland. Here, we had a surf at Cabarita Point, but it was short-lived, when out of nowhere, I was stung by a blue-bottle jellyfish. It wrapped its long tentacle all the way around my lower leg. I leapt out the water and into a shower, before googling the first aid response. For future reference, rinse the sting with salt water, remove any remaining tentacles with tweezers and have a really hot shower for twenty minutes or so. Of course, I had no access to a hot shower, so used the next best thing and held ice onto the sting for a good half an hour. The stinging subsided and I was left with a slightly itchy rash on my leg, but I’m sure it will disappear with time!
Well, that’s the end of our adventures in New South Wales for now. Highlights so far have included:
- Visiting lots of friends and family.
- Canyoning in the Blue Mountains.
- Buying surfboards and learning to surf, from Sydney to Byron Bay (plus standing up for the first time)!
- Camping with lots of kangaroos, wallabies, snakes, goannas, lyrebirds and kookaburras.
- Surfing with the dolphins at Smokey Cape Lighthouse campground.
- Reminiscing over childhood memories up the Waterfall Way.
- Discovering some beautiful National Parks, beaches and rainforests.
We are about to head into Queensland for Christmas and New Years, so until then, have a wonderful festive season and see you in next year!