Coff’s Harbour – Byron Bay – Surfer’s Paradise
I spent Christmas Eve morning in Coff’s Harbour learning to surf. And when I say ‘learning to surf’, please read ‘bobbing around helplessly trying to avoid getting hit by the giant fiberglass boards of more successful surf school students and periodically adjusting my bikini bottoms in order to avoid flashing my instructor’. That said, I had a lot of fun, and JUST ABOUT ‘popped up’ once. Obviously, I pretty much immediately fell off into the waves but I’m claiming it regardless… If this is the type of thing that interests you, I would definitely recommend spending a bit more time on this – we only had about an hour in the water, and it simply was not enough. My friend Leonie had spent a week at a surf school in Brisbane before the tour, and she got so much more out of it.
Once showered we were back on the coach and off up the coast to Byron Bay: focal point of Australia’s hippy scene. This is real laid-back whimsical town with a hallucinogenic history. The area offered great bars and a tonne of natural, fresh and healthy food joints like sushi bars and self-service frozen yoghurt stores. We stayed at the Nomads, Byron Bay. If you’re delving into the hostel scene and you get an opportunity to stay at a Nomads, do it – they always seem to be well-run, well-cleaned and often offer a bit of freebie food. The Byron Bay branch was offering us a massive Christmassy barbecue meal and pre-drinks arena.
Many a bag of ‘goon’ was consumed. For those who have not yet been introduced, goon is essentially a bag of wine removed from its cardboard box to provide easy dispensing of cheap alcohol. Conveniently, once finished, the bag can then be blown up with air and used as a convenient beach sunbathing pillow – as kindly demonstrated by our resident Australians. A night out at Cheeky Monkeys was the undisputed plan for Christmas eve. It shames me to say that my past tense festive self seemed to feel that an enormous (BUT AMAZING) kebab from Byron’s Abrakebabra was also compulsory. Credit where credit’s due, the pun deserved some recognition. (However, this was later outdone when we visited a noodle bar in the town closest to the famous Uluru … Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ayer’s Wok. Genius.)
Our tour guide, Paddy, was an absolute gem. I was honestly so impressed with the effort he went to in order to make sure we were well fed, watered and entertained over the Xmas period when so many places were shut for the holidays. Severely hungover, we slumped out like zombies into the hostel courtyard and were greeted by a big old spread of croissants, cereal, fresh orange juice, toast and coffee that that he had prepared himself. What a diamond. These Contiki tour guides have to go through a galling process to get qualified – think no sleep, 18 hour days and the inability to be in a bad mood…ever. They really do deserve every tip you can afford to spare at the end of your tour.
One of the most bizarre moments of the trip for me was lying in the scorching heat on a beach in a santa hat and a bikini on Christmas morning. Tinsel and half a metric tonne of Aftersun is not my usual Crimbo outfit, but I was going with it. The highlight of the day for me was when one of the guys in our group got stung by a Bluebottle (little jellyfish). Now, we had been told by our guide to inform the lifeguards stationed on the beach if we got stung, as there was a warning blackboard propped up in the sand, advising that they may be in the swimming area. Panicked, he went rushing up to the lifeguards in their deckchairs brandishing his swollen hand. Couldn’t help but snigger into my book when I overheard the official line of advice: Just fuckin’ walk it off mate. Just the most perfect expression of Aussie attitude to health and safety.
Another couple of hours on the coach delivered us to our next destination, just in time for a massive barbecue in lieu of the traditional turkey and trimmings dinner. Having been on the sauce for three nights running, rumours of a quietISH night had surfaced. The majority of us were in favour and were quite happy to enjoy a cider and our tacky secret santa presents in peace. However, the tantalising free drink and queue jump entry to Club Liv seemed to suggest other ideas…
We’ll just go for the one, we said. Be rude not to, we said. We’ll just go check it out and then come back early. No worries mate. Next thing I know, its five am and we’re trudging home, absolutely trollied and still giggling about the fact that we spent the entire night living it up in the VIP area with two bottles of Grey Goose and a complete set of flashing plastic glow sticks. Happy bloody Christmas, one and all.
Now, it has to be said, the great night I had in Club Liv had a strong negative correlation with my enjoyment of the Currumbin Wildlife Park the following day. We had only ourselves to blame, but the combination of heat and hangover may well have resulted in the cuddly koalas receiving a little less attention than they were hankering for.
The inescapable stench of eucalyptus surrounded these adorable little bears. Sweltering 40 degree temperatures also meant that most of the animals, including the Tasmanian devils and a lot of the kangaroos were asleep. A sensible move.