Byron Bay, and the Return to Sydney

I took a fast bus from Brisbane to Byron Bay early in the morning. My Ausrail pass would have let me take a train and then a connecting bus, however the journey would have been five hours rather the the bus’s two, so the extra cost (A$36) was definitely worth it. As has become my habit, I spent my first few hours in Byron having an aimless wander about – finding the nearest shops (both food and bottle) is always a priority, as is getting the rough lay of the land. Unfortunately I managed to completely exhaust the sights of Byron Bay during this walk, so needed to reassess why I was there. Byron is mainly a surf resort, having a wide main beach with predictable waves, and lots of places renting gear out. I wasn’t planning on surfing at all – my sense of balance is abysmal – so I would need to find something else to do instead. Fortunately I met a great group of girls in the hostel who, in exchange for me taking their photo, gave me food, beer and conversation – an exchange which only benefitted me, I’m sure! I then met up with Chris, the itinerant party animal, and headed out for a night on the town. Partying is clearly Byron’s second draw card, as a very entertaining night unfolded, even if I did end up abandoning my companions and heading home early – at 2:30am!

The beach at Byron Bay Nimbin
Minyon Valley

I’d been told that a trip to Byron Bay wouldn’t be complete without visiting Nimbin – a small town about 50km inland which was the location of the 1973 Aquarius Festival. Many people stayed behind to form communes after the festival, turning it away from being a purely farming community to a hippy haven. Since then it has become a popular tourist trap, with visitors trying out the ‘special’ cookies on organised trips, and visiting the psychedelic museum. To be honest, the whole place left me cold, and I only actually spent about twenty minutes in the town. It felt strained and tired, and the less-than-subtle drug sellers all seemed to be visitors themselves – perhaps the stashes of hypodermic syringes in the toilets illustrated the way in which the town had declined since its heyday. Never mind, I thought, there’s an amazing 100m high waterfall to visit on the way back… Except after months of drought, it was a 100m cliff. No problem, there’s another waterfall down this road… Which was fenced off as private land. Meh. Overall, not the most successful of day trips, although it ended with an evening drinking increasingly strong Bloody Mary’s (significantly more vodka than tomato juice) with a couple of Aussies which really brightened up the day.

I went for a dive the next morning at the Julian Rocks Marine Park, just 3km off the beach. This was the first dive where I had had to help drag the dive boat into the sea, which was interesting. It was also the first time that I saw Eagle Rays and turtles – so despite limited vis (and hangover), it was a great dive, and really perked up my last day in Byron. I caught the bus, then train the next morning and reached Sydney by late evening.

Sydney Harbour Bridge Sydney Opera House and visiting cruise ship

So, I was back in Sydney again. I had already circuited the centre on my previous visit, so what would I do this time? Fortunately, Chris was staying at a hostel a few minutes away and wanted to do a walk, so I took him on the same route that I’d taken previously (albeit marginally shortened). It was interesting to see the same sights with a different viewpoint (and in sunlight this time) – and to have someone to share a few drinks with afterwards. Naturally, the few drinks became more, and another night on the town developed with the addition of a Maltese and a German traveller. Several hours (and several beers) later, I discovered the strictness of the Australian licensing laws (and their implementation), which are very strict on serving drunk people. Popping out for a quick… breath of fresh air… I was denied re-entrance to the pub based on the bouncer’s judgement that I was, in his words, inebriated. Being me, I naturally accepted his verdict and proceeded to have a good natured debate with him about the severity of the punishments that the local government can levy against bars that violate the code in any way. I may, of course, have been talking absolute rubbish, but it seemed as though I was making sense.

Fish market produce Dugong
Daleks in Sydney

The following day, and remarkably clear headed, Chris and I headed to the main fish market for some breakfast. The actual commercial market isn’t open to the public, as it is in some cities, but on the same block as the market are a number of fishmongers and seafood restaurants where I bought a large BBQ platter, and then some tuna and salmon sashimi to take away. A minor lack of foresight saw me buy about 400g of sashimi and, not carrying a cool bag, it all had to be eaten right away. I was starting to exude a significantly fishy odour from my pores by the time we went into the Sydney Aquarium (discounts for YHA cardholders). The aquarium was all-in-all quite impressive, particularly the large shark and dugong (The Dugong Song) tanks which were partially submerged in the Darling River. The Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay was also a good visit, despite several of the galleries being in the midst of exhibition changeovers – I will definitely be visiting again once the Anish Kapoor sculptures are in place.

After several active days (and nights), I welcomed a relaxing day of doing very little before packing my gear and heading down to the car rental depot to pick up a car for my next leg – to Melbourne via the Blue Mountains and Canberra.

Sydney Sealife Centre

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