No Wine in Wineglass Bay

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Okay… I have to admit. This post is SO beyond due. I’m terrible at keeping on track with my blog posts, and the more fun I’m having on a trip, the less I want to spend time writing. But better late than never I suppose!
During my Australia trip I managed to hop down to Tasmania for a week to visit my old pal Mark. Remember Mark? I met Mark and Ollie two years ago while traveling through the Bolivian Salt flats with Adam (see previous posts from Bolivia). Well, two years ago Ollie bragged than Mark cooked up “THE BEST” lamb in the world.
“Well you should make some for us!” Adam and I exclaimed.
“Well you’ll have to make it all the way to Tasmania and then I will!”
So that’s what I did…
Little did Mark know, I made the trip half way around the world just to try his lamb recipe. And I have to admit… It’s the best I’d ever had! (Well done Mark).
My trip to Tasmania was awesome, and I have enough stories to fill another 20 posts if I had the time to write them all. One of my most memorable however, was our trip to Wineglass Bay…
So here you go!

It was a two hour drive from Hobart to Coal’s Bay Saturday evening. Mark and I stopped for a wallaby salami and brie pizza on the way up (and on the way back it was so good) and arrived an hour or so after dark.
“You’re probably going to see lots of road kill on the drive up” Mark explained to me as we started our road trip. He wasn’t lying.
As we approached dusk, it seemed every couple hundred meters there was another flattened animal on the road. Wallaby’s, possums, a rabbit maybe… It was hard to tell with some. Sadly, we added to the stats only 20 minutes from Coal’s Bay, as we squished an unsuspecting possum around a sharp bend!
“There was no escaping it!” I said as Mark gave a sad face after hitting it full on. We decided the next day it was our sacrificial rain possum. We managed to pick the absolute best day of the trip to hike on. Couldn’t have been coincidence with my weather luck this trip… Had to be the sacrificial possum!
We stayed at Mark’s friend Cat’s cabin up in Coal’s bay. The little getaway was aptly named “Utopia” and it was just that! An adorable little home right on the edge of the water tucked away in a quiet bay. The place had a fireplace, multiple rooms to sleep in, comfy couches and a backyard with a picnic area! Pretty amazing.
We had an early night to get some rest before a long day of hiking. Just around the corner from Coal’s Bay, in Freycinet National Park, was the stunning Wineglass Bay! I had seen photos of it months earlier and instantly it was on my list. A secluded stretch of white sand and sparkling turquoise waters, bring it on!
“So do you know why they call it Wineglass Bay?” Mark asked me the night before.
Multiple answers ran through my head: because the waters sparkle like champagne? Because the bay is shaped like a wineglass? Because there’s vineyards all over the mountain and they serve free wine? Because there’s an exquisite wine bar on the beach that you can relax at after a long day of hiking?
“No, why?”
“Because they used to herd whales into the bay and slaughter them there. The bay would then fill with blood, making it look like it was full if red wine”
…I sat there with my mouth open in horror.
“What?! That’s the reason?!”
“Yup, sorry to disappoint.”
“So there’s no wine?!”
Perhaps I should have looked up ANY kind of facts on this trip. But then I would look like I was “planning” on my otherwise totally fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants trip, and we couldn’t have that. Still, I was not thrilled that there was no wine in Wineglass Bay!
Luckily however, the day was beautiful, so no amount of whale murdering was going to get me down on the views. A day of hiking, here we go!
Mark insisted that we not only hike the 3 hour return saddle to the bay and back, but we also hike the totally separate 3 hour Mt. Amos trek as well. I’m not a huge hiker, and 6 hours seemed slightly daunting at first. But how bad could it be?
We started with Mt. Amos. The first 15 minutes were a wonderful leisurely stroll through the woods. We saw a couple lizards, I could chat while we walked, and our gradual incline was exactly how I liked to hike!
Then we came upon our first sign: “Warning. The rest of this hike is very steep and has rough terrain. Do not attempt in wet or slippery conditions.”
Great.
Nothing is easy.
And the sign didn’t lie! The path got MUCH steeper from then on in. In fact, “path” might not be the right word. More like “marked off direction”. There was no path; there were just steep rocks that you had to scramble over and climb up. Way up. To the top of the mountain! But an hour and ten minutes later we pulled ourselves over the last boulder and made it to the top.
“We did it!!” I cheered.
Retrospectively it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was tough, and uphill, and I love to complain while I hike, but the views were worth hiking twice the distance! (And by that, I mean I would have given Mark my camera and he could have hiked it for me)
Wineglass Bay is stunning, and Mt. Amos has by far the best views of it. As many times as I said “damn you!” to Mark, I’m glad he made me hike it.
We stopped for some photos, a little snack, and then a half hour later started our slow decent (mostly sliding down on our bums) back to the bottom.
It’s frustrating really, that you have to come right back to the starting point from one hike before heading out on the next. Why couldn’t we just walk straight down from Mt. Amos to the bay?! Now we have to hike halfway back up the mountain to get over the saddle and once again down towards the bottom!
But the second three hour hike was much easier. The path was cut out and graveled, the ascent gradual, and we ended up right at the water!
The tropical looking waters of Wineglass were a little deceiving. The day was scorching, I was drenched in sweat, and the most incredible thing would be to jump in the ocean for a swim. But one toe in the water sealed that deal…
I’m not one for cold water to begin with, but this was freezing! No wonder only two people out of the hoards we saw down there were brave enough to take a dip. A shame really, no wine AND no swimming! What kind of a place is this?!
But it was hard to complain when we sat in the shade with a picnic lunch with some curious wallabies watching the sparkling waters in the bay. I kept thinking “this is so peaceful… Why the hell do I have to now hike BACK out of it?!”
“Hey Mark, wanna bring the car around for me?” I joked.
I guess the thing that makes Wineglass Bay so enviable is that it’s difficult to get to. It is a sparkling blue and white oasis, tucked away in an otherwise uninhabited national park. The people are sparse, the views are second to none, and the trek well worth it. The only thing that could make it better would have been a glass of wine!

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Sydney or Melbourne?

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It seems to be the age old question here in Australia: Sydney or Melbourne? Which is better? The people I’ve come across in the past two months have fairly strong opinions.
“We don’t like Melbourne very much. We’ll go to watch sport, but other than that, there’s nothing to see!”
Or “Sure, Sydney’s alright I guess, if you’re into that showy, over-the-top tourist stuff. But Melbourne’s real. Melbourne’s the place to be”
After having spent a week in both cities, I understand what everyone means. The two cities have a completely unique feel to them. They both have their ups and downs, and they are both easy to fall in love with. But I’m not so easily sold on one.
Despite the weather, my week in Sydney was incredible. Could have been the people I was with, could have been the hostel I stayed at, but most likely it was the vibrancy of the city.
Sure Sydney has loads of tourists. But they’re there for a reason. Standing in front of the Sydney Opera House, looking across the Harbour at the bridge is one of those “wow” traveling moments. It’s how I imagine people must feel when arriving by ship into the Harbour of New York City: the Statue of Liberty and cloud high sky rises waiting to greet you. The Sydney Harbour is so iconic and so recognizable that it feels almost surreal to be wandering around the thick of it all.
Sydney has an oversized sense of beauty to it: Hyde park with it’s towering monuments and impeccably kept rows of trees; the bustling Darling Harbour and The Royal Botanical gardens, so large you could be lost in there for days. The city is very put together. China town runs down two streets in organized chaos. Well kept shop fronts, modern looking patio seats and a gated off Chinese Garden that sits in the city center like an oasis. Areas like The Rocks have perfectly preserved buildings and cobble stone streets that overlook the main harbour. And the city’s suburbs have equally as much character: the more popular Manly and Kiribili were wonderful to stroll around, and even the more obscure Cronulla, which I was lucky enough to get to couch surf in, had a quiet charm to it.
Yep, Sydney is beautiful, and full of life, and bustling at all times of the day and night! Every corner is another photo opportunity: another monument, famous icon, or picturesque roadway.
Melbourne is the opposite. Melbourne is the less showy, more arts oriented of the two cities. There’s no “holy crap” moment, or photos at every turn, but Melbourne has one of the most unique city vibes I’ve ever experienced.
You are more likely to find a person dressed in combat boots and a burlap sack than a row of men in business suits. Melbourne is geared towards the young, edgy and overly hipster crowd. The city’s essence is found in its alleyways. Cafe’s, restaurants, busking musicians, craft markets, street grafitti: these are the heart of Melbourne. A place is almost not worth visiting if it’s on a main road. But turn the corner into the laneway and you’ll discover the newest, most hip place in town.
At first, I found a loss of WHAT to do in Melbourne. After the initial city tours and basic exploring, there were few places I felt the need to see. It was then that I realized you don’t sight-see in Melbourne, you just exist. You take in the culture, find a cafe, read a book. It’s a lifestyle, not a destination.
For a decision anxious person like myself, Melbourne is slightly overwhelming. Where should I eat? Which cafe should I sit at? The options are endless. So very, very endless…
Moments ago I saw a sign that read “The top 90 lunch spots in Melbourne!”
Ninety.
Lunch spots.
There are so many places to eat lunch, that someone narrowed them down to the top NINETY…
The most incredible thing is, they are all so unique. Take any one of the crazy restaurants or pubs in Melbourne, put it in Vancouver, and it will instantly be the new, cool, edgy hangout. In one night, Panos and I visited a funky bar floating on the river (Ponyfish), a mad scientist bar that served drinks in syringes (Croft Institute), an outside pub with stacked wooden palates as seats (Section 8) and a night club with retro songs by artists like James Brown and the most eclectic grouping of people on Earth (Cherry Bar). Rooftop oases like “the Rooftop Bar” or “Naked For Satan” sprawl across the city. Back alley cafe’s that I couldn’t even begin to name are found every couple meters! The city is crawling with hole-in-the-wall joints just waiting to be discovered.
And then the grafitti.
All over the city, the alleyway walls are covered from pavement to rooftop with elaborate artwork in all genres. From simple name tags, to intricate portraits of human faces, you’ll see it all on the streets of Melbourne. To be fair, it’s a unique way of dealing with street art. The mayor has given permission in areas for artists to display their artwork. Some areas are commissioned for specific artists, and other areas are open to the world. Every couple weeks an alley can have an entirely different look to it. An artist could spend weeks painting a portrait, just to have some kid scrawl his name across the top of it three days later.
But however you feel about Melbourne’s eclectic and somewhat messy street art, it seems as though it’s here to stay.
To me, choosing between Melbourne and Sydney is like comparing apples and oranges. The two cities are so different, it’s hard to say if one is really “better” than the other. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped the long rivalry between the two! When Sydney built the largest IMAX in the world, Melbourne built one larger. When Sydney found out, they renovated to make sure they were number one again!
But all that upmanship aside, I’m glad to have spent time in both, and I’m already looking forward to coming back!

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The Blue Mountains

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The day I visited the Blue Mountains was perfect! Sunshine, warmth, hardly a cloud in the sky: a rare occasion for me on this trip. The two hour train to Katoomba went by in a flash and before I knew it I was wandering down the street towards Echo Point.
There are a million tour buses at Katoomba station: organized groups, private tours or hop on/off buses. Unfortunately, by the time I reached Sydney my budget had worn thin and the 30 minute walk didn’t seem so bad!
Approaching Echo Point was spectacular. Of course, there were thousands of tourists all milling about, but it didn’t take away from the breathtaking backdrop of the blue mountains.
Echo point lookout sits in the middle of Blue Mountain National park, on the edge of a massive gorge. To the right, there are sharp cliffs; straight ahead, you can look out over the hazy blue-green mountains; and to the left, are the famous “Three Sisters!”
The Three Sisters are three rock outcroppings that stand straight up out of the mountain, side by side. It doesn’t sound like much, but set against such a beautiful backdrop in the Sunshine, they are wonderful to see.
After some mandatory photos, I set off to find some hiking trails. The waterfalls were a two-hour hike one direction, but I figured I’d start with a 15 minute walk to the Three Sisters first.
For such an easy walk, there weren’t many people on the trail. 15 minutes there and back?! How could you not check them out a little closer?
A few minutes in I spotted the first one. It was covered by some trees, so I kept walking to get a better view. Still closer, the trees blocked me from any kind of a good shot, so I kept following the path down some stairs.
I walked lower and lower, expecting to stop at some sort of a lower viewing platform where I could look back up at the sisters. But I just seemed to be going further down…
The only person around me was a young Asian guy about 5 steps behind me. After descending what felt like 200 steps I turned to him
“You’re carrying me back up, right?” I asked
He froze, shocked.
“Uhhh…no,” he stammered “I don’t think so” then he looked up and saw that I was clearly joking.
“Okay fine” I said “What’s your name, where are you from?”
“Daniel. From Korea.” Then he added “Totally South though! Totally South, don’t worry!”
I laughed, “Ya, I hear the North doesn’t get out much.”
He thought that was hilarious and we became instant friends. Turns out Daniel was in Australia on a working visa and was in the middle of his three month of mandatory farm work up in Darwin. He had the most Australian job I could think of.
“I work at a crocodile farm. Second largest in the world! I feed them chicken heads and make them very very fat and then I kill them and give them to my friends in the butchers!”
No way. That is crazy!
Apparently chicken heads are disgusting (and I don’t doubt it) but Daniel won for most random Australian job I’d heard of on my trip. So we chatted more about it as we continued down the stairs together.
It wasn’t long before we came across a young girl from Brazil sitting on the side of the stairs.
“900! Can you believe it?”
“900 what?” We asked
“900 stairs to the bottom! My boyfriend is counting them, but he went ahead.”
What? I thought this was a 15 minute round trip walk! What had I gotten myself in to?
Turns out I passed the 15 minute turn around point, and in my frustration to get a good picture, had missed the sign that said “very steep steps. Advanced hikers only. 900 stairs”
Great. We had already gone down 500 of them.
So the three of us continued slowly down, in hopes that there was some other way out. When we neared the bottom, we ran into the Brazilian girl’s boyfriend.
“The bottom is just there. The only other way out is a half hour walk from here then a tram that costs $17 to go up”
We all looked at each other… Nope. Too poor for that. Hiking back up the 900 steps it was!
It was a long haul. And it made me realize how out of shape I am these days. My legs felt like jelly by the time the four of us clambered to the top.
“905!!!” Yelled the Brazilian guy “they lied to us! There’s 905!”
“I want my money back!” I announced. Too bad we’d done it on our own free will…
After that Daniel and I hiked the stunning trail to the waterfall. Unfortunately I was pressed for time and had to catch an early train back into Sydney so I could make it south to Cronulla for the night. But I walked 3/4 of the way to the falls before saying goodbye to my hilarious new friend and walking back toward Echo Point alone.
I grabbed a quick lunch, hiked the 30 minutes back to the station and headed towards the city. And even though my legs felt like death, it was a perfect Blue Mountain excursion!

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Coff’s Harbour

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It seemed as though my timing was all wrong in Coff’s Harbour. The sites, the places, the cravings… Nothing seemed to go as I wanted.
The evening I arrived I just wanted a quiet walk in the botanical gardens before grabbing some sushi that I’d been craving for days. Sadly, the gardens were closed for a private movie showing that evening, and because I’d gone out of my way to see the gardens, the only sushi joint in town had closed 15 minutes earlier. Fail. The following day was the same. Sushi closed on Sundays, botanical gardens closed 3 minutes before arriving… And not just sushi and gardens, but buses, cafe’s, and the entire city center seemed to close just moments before I wanted it. But luckily that didn’t stop me from enjoying my relaxing couple days in the town.
The Aussitel backpackers I was staying at was adorable. It was not too big, had fun social events and quiet movie nights, and offered everything from kayaks, surf boards and paddle boards for free! The first morning I went out with a small group to a town just outside of Coff’s called Sawtell. We hiked the cliffs around the beach, played around in the water and wandered through the bustling metropolis of Sawtell city center (aka. One block of cafe’s and a convenience store).
For the afternoon I went sightseeing. Coff’s Harbour has some beautiful walks. The river walk that takes you from the ocean to the town center, past the botanical gardens is shady and beautiful. The coastal walk along the beaches makes for wonderful sea views, and hiking to mutton bird island and the jetty makes for great views looking back on the mainland! I must have walked around for 15km before finally crashing on the beach to relax. I found a shady spot to ease my recent sunburn and pretended to read a book as I people watched.
After the craziness of my final couple days in Byron Bay, Coff’s was a much needed vacation!
On my third morning in town, I finally got to see the gardens! They were WAY bigger than I had anticipated, and it took me nearly 2 hours to stroll up and down the pathways. Each section of the park had a specific theme: endangered plants, New South Wales locals, the sensory garden, and flora from around the world. They had a North America section, an Asia section, a South American and an African. It was a little bit of a throw back walking through a forest that reminded me so much of the jungle in Brazil and the forests of Botswana. But it was neat to be reminded of how much I’ve seen over the past few years.
By the end of day three I’d pretty much seen everything I could in Coff’s Harbour. I’d stayed one day longer than I’d intended because of a glitch in the greyhound system, and had nothing left to explore. A quiet morning watching the Olympics at the hostel was followed by a journey south to Port Macquarie! Coff’s Harbour: Check!

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Nimbin

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Nimbin. Probably some of the best people watching on Earth. An entire town, in the middle of Australia, totally devoted to drugs. Still stuck in the past, when the town hosted the last ever 1973 Aquarius Festival, locals live to keep that hippie culture alive.
The town is just an hour and a half from Brisbane by bus, and although this place is beyond strange, I’m glad I made the trek. The old Nimbin museum is a house turned art gallery on acid. The walls, doors and floors have been painted with floral designs, covered in newspaper clippings and scrawled in mantras that only the stoned could make up. Broken down cars lie about, and banana leaves with Ghandi quotes hang off the strange decor. Yup, the Nimbin museum is one of a kind.
From there I walked up and down the streets, checking out the stores and cafe’s along the way. Herbal teas, palm readings, incense… It’s a hippie dream here! I have never in my life seen more dreadlocks and tie dye in 2 squared blocks.
The town is, however, very small. Not a lot of things to do in the hours that I had before my bus this afternoon. Then I realized, all I wanted to do was sit and have a coffee and watch the strangeness around me. So I did.
Pretty much anything goes here as far as people. The outfits, the age groups, the rooster crowing in a garden bed behind me. There is a strangely hypnotic trance beat mixed with a didgeridoo emanating from the “happy high herbs” shop next to me. I’ve heard the word “groovy” three times in the last five minutes. Rainbow seems to be the favourite colour to wear here. I saw a woman with a leather vest that said “classy gal” in giant stitched lettering in the back and then immediately after saw an old lady, in head to toe purple, jump for joy when she found a dead sunflower. She broke the sun flower in half and started eating the seeds… The same sunflower I saw two chickens eating only moments earlier. Yup, this place is weird.
Although, according to the Nimbin museum, the word “weird” comes from the Germanic word “weirden” which means “to become”. So there’s your English lesson for the day. Who knew I would learn so much!

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Byron Bay

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The morning after Cheekie Monkeys I woke up sick as a dog. Big surprise. It doesn’t take long partying and living in a hostel before you ultimately get a cold. But Byron Bay awaited and I wasn’t about to miss out. So I grabbed a quick bite and set off to the beach.
The long stretch of main beach was full of swimmers and surfers alike. I found a shady spot under a tree and read and people watched until my nose stopped running and I had the energy to explore. Someone along my way down the coast had said the hike to the lighthouse in Byron is an absolutely must see! From the beach, I could see the lighthouse sticking out above the crest of a little hill. Couldn’t be more than 20 minutes or so, I thought to myself, might as well wander over.
Well, 20 minutes was a little bit of an understatement, and “wander” isn’t necessarily the verb I’d use to describe the hike. The lighthouse was significantly further away and much further up than it looked like from the town of Byron. The hike took close to 2 hours to complete, and the elevation change was slightly more than I wanted to endure with a cold… But it didn’t matter. The lighthouse hike was my favourite hike in Australia to date! The beaches and the coastal hikes were stunning! The path to the lighthouse takes you to a lookout point that is considered the easternmost point of mainland Australia! From there you can watch the sunrise before any other person in the country. Although I didn’t see any, the surrounding waters were home to pods of dolphins and whales and all sorts of sea turtles! The following day, Keelie and Laura (two girls from my hostel room) raved about all the sea creatures they had encountered on the trip. But my favourite part about the hike was stumbling across Tallow Beach.
Just after the lighthouse I came across a lookout to a breathtaking stretch of white sand beach. The windswept land stretched way off into the distance and, to my surprise, there was not a human soul on it.
I MUST get to that beach, I thought. Finding a deserted beach on the east coast of Australia is line finding a needle in a hay stack: especially during the summer months. How could this beach, that was so beautiful that people were stopping in their cars to gape at it’s views, be completely void of people?
I had just discovered my newest mission.
So the following morning I google mapped the area of Byron Bay and found a small road through a national park that would take me there. I grabbed a picnic lunch, my bikini, my book and a beach towel and set out. 45 minutes later I came stumbling out of the jungle and onto paradise. Tallow Beach.
I had found it! All on my own, I found it!
I walked along the surf until I found a spot to lie down in the Sunshine. I watched the waves for a few minutes while I tanned, then rolled over to start reading. All alone. On my private beach.
Not a half hour later I felt a drop of water, I turned around to see a massive black cloud that had snuck up somewhere from the South.
Nooooooo, I thought. I was prepared to camp here for the day!
Too late.
It began to rain. Before I had packed up my backpack it was pouring!
I was an hour from shelter and stuck in shorts and a tank top. This would happen to me.
I sprinted back into the shelter of the trees and popped out into the back of a random parking lot. There was a single car parked there and a young couple that I hadn’t seen before packing up some fishing gear.
“Hey, are you guys headed towards Byron Bay?” They looked at me, startled to hear a persons voice I think, and even more startled to see how soaked I was.
“Ya! Jump in! We’ll give you a ride!”
They were life saving. Every kilometer closer to Byron Bay we drove the more I realized how miserable I would have been trudging through the rain. They even went as far as dropping me off right outside my hostel doors, despite my insistence that the edge of town was just fine!
The rains didn’t stop for the rest of the afternoon. My cold had gotten so bad, that I was forced to go to the chemist for some drugs. I took it easy that evening, grabbing dinner around the corner and heading to bed early: envious of my roommates who were headed out on the town once again.
“Have a drink for me!” I said as they wandered into the night. And then I passed out as my head hit the pillow.

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Cheekie Monkeys

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I feel like Byron Bay is the happy medium between crazy Surfer’s Paradise and relaxing Coolangatta. The beaches are perfect and the hiking is great. A person could spend the day relaxing at a cafe, or partying until dawn at the Cheekie Monkey. Something for everyone.
The Nomads hostel I stayed at was loud and party oriented and completely impersonal. But with hundreds of backpackers staying at the hostel, each nightly event was sure to be a big one.
My first evening there I got dragged into VIP night at the Cheekie Monkey pub down the street. $5 dinners and no line. Okay fine. I met an English Girl named Hayley who had also just arrived and the two of us set out towards cheap food and more chaos than we had expected…
Cheekie Monkeys is the be all end all of backpacker bars. They have cheap food, drink specials, thousands of dollars worth of prizes to give away, and some sort of event occurring every 20 minutes: for those with extreme ADD. Raffles. Speed Dating. Bikini Contests. Table Dancing. Any kind of bar game you could imagine. They gave away free skydiving vouchers. $300 worth of hard cash. Trips to the Whit Sundays. People were winning prizes, getting involved, or in Hayley and my case, getting dragged into being involved. We just barely escaped the speed dating round, only to be pulled up on stage with the three other girls we were with for some unknown contest. Oh god.
“This is a very easy game ladies and gentleman!” Said the guy on the mic “you ladies don’t have to worry about a thing!”
Right there I knew he was probably lying.
“All you have to do is find things that I ask for and bring them back to me”
Okay. Seems simple enough. Only rule was, you couldn’t get it from yourself.
And luckily it was that easy. A two dollar coin… Check. An unused condom… Check. A girl’s bra… Check. A sock… Check. A pint of water… Check.
Each one was done one at a time. Each item supposedly slightly harder to get than the last. The last person to bring up the item was disqualified, then the remaining were given another task.
“Okay!” Said the announcer “now that you have everything, I want you to take the bra, and put it on over your clothes. Then take the sock, and put it over the water glass. Then, through the sock, you have to chug ALL the water in the glass! First person to do so, wins a $400 dollar voucher for skydiving. GO!”
It was cruel. The socks were worn by dirty, smelly backpackers that had been sweating and dancing all night. Who knows when the last time those socks were washed! I thanked my lucky stars I had been forced out on the last round. But the four girls I was with were the last survivors. And they did very well…
After only a little hesitation, all four girls started chugging the water back through the socks. The girl who finished first choked back at the end and all the water came spewing out her nose. The crowd’s cheer was deafening. It was going to be one of those nights.
Welcome to Cheekie Monkeys: my first impression of Byron Bay…

Coolangatta

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I knew I was going to love Coolangatta the SECOND I got off the bus. The beaches were gorgeous (and swimmable), the entire promenade was filled with cafe’s, funky restaurants and was perfectly geared toward people watching.
Coolangatta is a lot smaller and a lot more laid back than Surfers. The backpacker average age was actually out of the teens, and everybody just wanted to have fun and surf. I loved it.
The hostel I stayed at was called Komune. By far one of the nicest hostel’s I’ve stayed at. It reminded me of a tropical resort more than a backpackers. Our room had a balcony that overlooked the huge pool and bar area AND had a gorgeous ocean view. The pool had big blue lounge cushions that you could suntan the day away on. The bar had nightly events and parties that you could join, or just watch from the balcony above. The place was fantastic!
I stayed in a ten person dorm, and everyone (in separate groups) was from South America: Chileans, Brazilians, Argentineans, aaaand a guy from Spain. Some spoke English better than others, but in the end, my Spanish conversational skills were better than having 9 people struggle through English. I had all but thought my Spanish was forgotten after two years of not speaking a single word. But it turns out I’m still pretty good! Who knew I’d come all the way to Australia and have to know a language other than English?
I spent a day longer in Coolangatta than I had intended. I spent the days hiking along the beaches, eating at all the various restaurants in the area and reading in the shade or watching the surfers. It was idyllic!
When Monday came along I actually found a spot to watch the Super Bowl! A little sports bar at the Twin Towns Hotel was playing it, and although only half the pub filled up, it was exciting to see Seattle kick some ass!
But after three relaxing days in the town, it was time to move along to bigger places. Next stop: Byron Bay!

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Surfer’s Paradise

My last couple days in Brisbane were a lot more relaxing. An evening making tacos and catching up with Sandy, and a day of moving Gina into her new place. Then sadly it was time to say goodbye to everyone.
Next stop Surfer’s Paradise.
Originally I was meant to go to Noosa. Unfortunately, the cyclone that has been terrorizing Northern Queensland meant that most people were camping out in Noosa until the weather cleared. There was zero accommodation in the town and the cheapest out of town spot was $80/night. Well beyond my backpacker budget. So Surfer’s it was!
Surfer’s Paradise is strange. I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s a small town with huge skyscrapers. It’s a long sweeping beach, that stretches as far as the eye can see, and 90% of the water is unswimable due to currents and lack of life guards. The town center is full of cute cafe’s, restaurants, and a million pubs, nightclubs and strip bars. The place is full of characters that put “Walmart People” to shame, and it’s a very popular tourist destination to get rowdy and drunk for as long as you intend to stay. The name “Surfer’s Paradise” is definitely misleading. Yes, you can surf there, but paradise? Maybe not so much.
Don’t get me wrong. I had a blast in Surfers. I met some crazy new friends, went out on the town, and felt like I was 19 again (aka the average age of everyone in the city). But I’m not sure I could handle the place much longer than that.
The hostel that I stayed at had the ins and outs of all the best party spots for every night of the week. Ladies nights offered free drinks from 9 to midnight. Beer pong competitions were held each evening in the courtyard. Happy hour at the hostel bar meant chaos between 6 and 7 each night. The place was madness.
On my third evening I desperately needed a quiet night. The night before I had spent galavanting around Surfer’s for nightly specials with a young girl from Amsterdam until well into the morning… Proving to the world that even at 27 I can keep up with the best (Yup, still got it!). But that’s where my “keeping up” ended… Movie night in for me!
Sadly, in Surfer’s that’s never the case. Before I knew it I was having a beer and a BBQ with a couple of Welsh guys. Then I had to prove my Canadianism at beer pong against two insane Kiwi guys and an Aussie. From there a group of us wound up at a place called “Infinity”.
It took some convincing to get me to leave the hostel.
“I am not going to some sketchy nightclub called infinity with you boys” I exclaimed defiantly.
“Hilary, it’s NOT a nightclub! It’s a weird maze that has lights and stuff”
That made no sense to me.
But after an even more obscure explanation, they had peaked my interest enough to go.
So after quite a walk, splitting up, getting lost, being told the wrong direction 100 times, we ended up at this strange place called infinity.
We left as 7 and ended up as 2. Craig and I had lost everyone else, but decided to see what this thing was all about.
Turns out it was awesome.
I don’t even know how to explain it; it was like a maze with lights and stuff! You had to put on glowing white gloves and walk into total darkness. From there you were moved through an endless maze of strange illusions. A room of mirrors, a hallway that looked like it had no floor, a giant black room that had sparkling lights that we could not, for the life of us, get out of.
Of course, I was stuck with the drunkest man on earth. Craig had never played beer pong before, so when he and his friend Jordan asked to join us, we had no idea how serious they would take it. Instead of filling their solo cups only a little full with beer, these crazy Kiwi guys filled their cups to the brim, half with goon and the other half with bourbon and coke. In two games your team should drink the equivalent of 4 beers. These guys had downed 8 cups of goon and 18 cans of bourbon coke… They were absolute disasters. And that my friends, was who I had to help get through a maze of lights and darkness. I swear it took us twice as long to get through the maze: 45 minutes from start to finish. With us being PRETTY certain we were going to end up in the sparkly room until the end of time. But we stumbled out three quarters of an hour later in fits of laughter to find the rest of the boys waiting for us on the other side.
From there I split off from the Kiwi’s to have a quieter pint at an Irish Pub down the road with two of the guys. Even that turned into another 3am night in the end.
So much for my movie night…
When I woke up in the morning, Craig and Jordan were 12 beers deep between them. They don’t remember getting home, but according to the police report, Craig had been arrested for peeing in public shortly after 3am.
“You guys are too much!” I said, exhausted just looking at them.
“You boys have fun, I’m off to find somewhere a little more relaxing” Time to get OUT of Surfers!
So I hopped on a bus and went to Coolangatta!

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Australia Day

“Ginaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!” I yelled from the couch towards the bedroom. “It’s Australia Day! Get up! Let’s party!”
I heard unimpressed groans coming from the bedroom. Why did we party so hard the night before?
I rolled off the couch and leaped into her bed to join her.
“Let’s go to the cockroach races!!” I exclaimed as she turned over to face me.
To be honest, I don’t know how I had any energy that morning. Maybe I was truly THAT excited about racing cockroaches. Maybe I was still drunk from the night before. Either way, before I knew it, we were up, showered, decked out in Aussie tattoos and walking towards Story Bridge Hotel for a feed and some celebrations.
It was about a half hour walk to the bar. When we arrived, our initial adrenaline had worn off and we were just tired and hungry. Food took 45 minutes to arrive, and up until that point we didn’t feel like socializing. Definitely not with anyone else, and hardly with each other. But when food came, and we got back to beer, we both perked up enough to enjoy the afternoon.
For Australia Day, the Story Bridge Hotel turns its entire parking lot into an all ages beer garden. The place has costume competitions, music, lots of places to buy beer, and of course, the infamous cockroach races…
You could buy and bet on cockroaches that were then placed into a giant ring and let loose. I have no idea how they keep track of the winners, or how they catch the first, second and third place cockroaches before they go skittering into the feet of the crowds, but it sure is entertaining!
I was surprised that the race was over so fast (with each race lasting about 1.5 seconds). But I suppose the real fun is listening to the screams of people as 40ish cockroaches scamper over the edge of the ring and into the crowds. Sadly for the little cockroaches, they have a crowd lifespan of about 15 seconds before someone squashes them. But with a parking lot full of drinking Aussies, it made for a fun afternoon!
When the evening rolled around and we started getting hungry, Gina and I strolled across Story Bridge to a party at her friend Anita’s place. There they were listening to the top 100 count down and having a big BBQ. “A true Australian Day” as everyone kept saying to me.
Anita’s place was beautiful. Right on the river, overlooking the bridge and the city… A view I could NEVER in a million years afford in Vancouver. The food was plentiful, the company was fantastic, and the beers continued well into the night. ‘Straya Day. Check!

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