Dated: 16 Aug 18
Australia, it must be said that I have never had a great longing to visit the far flung dust bowl of a country yet here I find myself for a third time. It can’t be all bad. I must concede that if it wasn’t so far a field it would be appealing. The life style is dare I say it, rather pleasant. On arriving on an early Sunday morning I cycled the boulevard running along Cairns’ water front; it`s 8am but not all is quiet, walkers with sun dated visors stride past, lycra clad joggers moving slightly faster and bikers faster still. All out enjoying the mild morning with the entire day ahead of them. In London you are more likely to see dishevelled walkers this early on a Sunday morning, with untucked shirts or smudged makeup and bags under their eyes; the tell tale signs of a walk of shame.
So I do concede that it is a liveable place but it is not for me. I enjoy a good weekend on the continent but here I settle for a weekend in Byron Bay and I am treated to a touch of normality by a good friend. When I last saw Dirk Peters I was a groomsman at his wedding in Zimbabwe right at the start of my trip and I’ve sped down the Bruce Highway to have a good old fashioned boys weekend.
Down the coast of Australia there are countless sleepy beach towns with empty white beaches, with sand that squeaks on every foot step, clear waters with a good break, a fish ‘n’ chip shop, a cafe which turns into the bar in the evenings and a single road leading back to the highway. After school boys head to the beach on skate boards and bikes, surf boards under one arm. With their long golden locks, which would make most women jealous, they couldn’t look more Aussie if they tried. As you sit eking out a expensive coffee the occasional grown man will walk past wearing the same clothes as the school kids, board shorts, a vest and a cap; it would not be becoming of a British man but here…I still think it looks stupid, adults of my parents years should not wear caps.
I wont take you through my time in Byron Bay, needless to say it involved a fair bit of alcohol and a few groggy mornings. I ate my weight in food and have managed to put on a bit of energy reserves though I still have to hold my trousers up. Eating dinner in a beach side restaurant whilst gulping a beer is a rare treat and I relish in it. My road side diet of a baguette for dinner with a tub of cream cheese has gotten a bit mundane.
Byron is a bohemian and back packers retreat. If you have ever ridden the train to Plymouth to you may have noticed a number of people with pink hair, dreadlocks, baggy clothes, hands bejewel with trinkets and jackets which would make Josephs’ look bland. They are bound for the Devon town of Totnes and this ilk would not be out of place in Byron Bay. You cant shake a stick without strumming a ukulele, tapping a bongo or getting it tethered in a tangle of shaggy untamed hair. Its a town with a relaxed under tone but snobs need not fear you can crack a bottle of Australian sparkling wine on a balcony over looking the beach whilst slurping salty oysters or sit by a crackling fire drinking an old fashioned whilst beneath the table you tap your foot to the beat of live music.
A light house over looks the waters around Byron, warding off ships from the rocky crags of the most eastern point of mainland Australia. From the viewing point and coastal walk at its base you can peer out at the horizon, the Pacific seems endless. But not for long as your eyes will likely be drawn closer to shore, its a thoroughfare for humpback whales. In the winter they migrate north to sub tropical waters to feed and breed to and come the summer they commute south to the waters of the Southern Ocean. But here just of the cape they seem pause to put on a bit of a show. You might think the would be cumbersome considering the large mass but they are majestic, effortlessly gliding through the bay giving the occasional wave with a large fin to the on lookers. Their exhales seem like a great big sighs as they break the surface, sending geysers of salt water skyward; amazingly this breathe can be heard from the cliffs above. We stand and watch their great forms make a circuit of the bay and cant help but be bitterly envious of the paddle boarders who are so close they can probably poke them with their paddles.
The following day it is a Sunday morning and I am off to see the whales up close, I cant pass up on the chance to have the experience of those lucky paddle board buggers who we spied from the cliffs of Cape Byron Light the day before. I can see the silent splashes of these great aquatic beasts as the broach full bodily from the water out just past the headland. They are clearly calling me with the show.
Unfortunately as I dip my paddle in the water I am alone, I left a man behind, Dirk was last seen fertilising the sand dunes his paddle board discarded on the sand. Conditions are not ideal, gone is the millpond surface of yesterday, out in the bay I chat to a canoeist who warns me that the wind is picking up, well I take that into consideration but I have whales to poke. Standing I am propelled down wind but soon I am forced to me knees or I will take a plunge; its gotten a touch choppy. That canoeist wasn’t lying and unless I want to end up in Chile I must abort the whaling expedition. Caution wins this round and I make to take shelter from the wind; it is easier said than done, alarm bells hadn’t started but there was a distant murmur of a ringing bell in the back of my mind, when I eventually managed to get a shore footing on the eastern end of the beach I stand hands on hips, panting and slightly relieved that I won’t be needing my pigeon Spanish for another month or so. It was a long trudge back along the beach to the hostel with nothing to show for my efforts.
Byron comes highly recommended and I could have happily spent a few more days chasing my white whale and I mean that literally-ish for there is in fact an albino humpback who travels these waters each year. Before heading out I cycle out to the point for one last look at the whales, I never get sick of seeing them but the swell is up and there isn’t a whale in sight instead I settle down to watch their smaller neighbours, dolphins are mastering the surf, there must be a good thirty or forty of them. With one last longing glance I am back on the road south after an over indulgent weekend, unfortunately it is my turn to fertilise the shrubbery, I just hope that not to much of it gets capped in my beard and that and passing drivers think “cor blimey that pommy cyclist is pushing himself.”