Byron Bay

Byron Bay was the first stop on our big east coast adventure. We flew into Brisbane and caught a 2-hour shuttle south to the hippie surfer town to kick back for 4 days. If you’re thinking about spending time in Brisbane, consider Byron Bay as a more laid-back alternative.

Cape Byron 

The namesake and spirit of this little beach town, Cape Byron is made for adventure. Whether you swim, surf, hike or kayak around it, you’ll be able to say that you’ve been to the Most Easterly Point of Australia - but don’t miss a photo op with the Cape Byron lighthouse!

Byron Bay is also home to a lovely family of bottlenose dolphins. The unique shape and angle of Cape Byron protects the bay from strong currents, plus its shallow depth deters predators from hanging around, making it a calm, safe haven for our rubbery friends! If you’re interested in getting up close and personal to these pals, book a tour with Go Sea Kayak. You have the option of either a morning or afternoon adventure to hop in a boat with a buddy and paddle out around the Cape. 

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Even if you don’t see dolphins (which is always possible - nature can never be controlled), it’s well worth the view of Cape Byron. You can spot the lighthouse from a far, and you can watch the surfers shred some gnarly tubes! Plus, Go Sea Kayak will give you the unique offer of coming back for free to have another shot at seeing some pretty porpoises. 

Surfing in Byron Bay

Byron Bay is known for its superb surfing. There are loads of companies who are willing to drag you out to the wave break and get you up on a board. Contrary to it’s northern big brother Surfer’s Paradise, Byron Bay is perfect for beginners. The waves are usually smaller and break on an angle to the beach, giving you more time to get up on your feet. 

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Black Dog Surf Company took me out on my very first surf lesson, and quite a success it was. I even managed a double switch foot by the end of the day! The lesson was small and geared towards first-timers. As with most surf lessons, we started with perfecting our form before even getting wet. Then we lined up in the water and were sent off into the Byron Bay waves, one-by-one, with dedicated direction from the instructor. Their lessons aren’t very long, and sometimes Byron Bay may feel a bit busy with other beach-goers, but it’s a great way to start surfing!

Mojo Surf gave me my second lesson, and I’m glad I had some previous experience. Instead of surfing in Byron Bay, Mojo brought us south to Lennox Head. As usual, we started with stretching and dry practice. While there were blue skies above, there were rough waves on the beach, making for some seriously tough learning conditions. The safe section of beach was a bit limited, so many of us felt too crowded to give it our best shot. There were significantly more students than instructors, so a lot of the learning was on our own. - but when they were nearby, the instructors were quick to help and send you off on a good wave! Plus, the on-beach photographer is there to snap a pic if when you pop up! After the lesson is over, you get to go for a dip in the rusty colored Lake Ainsworth, a.k.a. Ti Tree Lake.

If you come to Byron Bay for a surf lesson, do some research on the local companies. If your experience with surfing is little to none, you may want to do a one-day lesson with a smaller group to get you started. If you’ve shredded before and want to take your skills to the next level, consider booking one of Mojo’s more advanced surf camps for a totally wicked experience!

Hostels in Byron

Arts Factory, owned by the same company as Mojo Surf, is a funky, colorful, good vibes hostel geared towards chilled out backpackers. They have a series of 10-bed tipis if you’re looking for something different, but they also have your classic dorm-style rooms with ventilation. The open-air campus has plenty to keep you busy. Their pool is perfect for a midday dip, or spend the evening sipping drinks on the pond-side benches, or even chat with the monstrous lizards who will keep you company during breakfast. They have weekly activity schedules for all types of explorers… word has it that the nature walk is very informative!

Nomads is also a great place to meet other backpackers and enjoy some loud nights. There are lots of long-term guests, making for nightly in-house shenanigans reminiscent of college dorm parties. They also have an outdoor courtyard with hammocks and hot tubs for a spot to chill out during the day, or socialize over dinner and drinks with some new friends at night. Plus, Nomads is right in the downtown area. You can easily hop over to any of the many restaurants and bars any day of the week. The streets are always alive.

When the Sun Goes Down

If you only have one night in Byron, you must walk down to the beachfront for sunset. It is truly magical. Pop a squat on the sand and watch the fog roll into the trees as the sky turns pink. If you’re a dog lover, get ready to start crying tears of joy. The beach is overtaken by happy puppers chasing birds and playing fetch. Heaven on Earth.

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Walking back up towards town, you’ll immediately feel the change in atmosphere. There are groups of happy folk singing and dancing even just on the beachside promenade. Every corner of Byron is a stage for performers to show off their string-picking skills or harmonic vocals. You might just find Australia’s best new artist on your walk home.

Food and Drinks 

Byron Bay is full of hidden gems. For some unique food options, check out:

  • Orgasmic Food - Middle Eastern with the best falafel ever

  • Legend Pizza - the perfect late night stop, certified thumbs up from New York pizza snobs

  • Elixiba - unbelievably flavorful vegan dishes (try the coconut flesh calamari)

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For drinks or a good night out, try:

  • Railway Friendly Bar - laid-back, good vibes pub with a beer garden and live music every single night (for the last 30 years!!!!)

  • Beach Hotel - pretty big venue with ticketed events throughout the week

  • Woody’s Surf Shack - the go-to nightclub for young partygoers

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Kaikoura

Where the mountains meet the sea.

 

Kaikoura is a small coastal town just two hours north of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. Just about any photo can attest to the remarkable beauty of its mountains pressed up against the sea.

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Unfortunately, Kaikoura recently suffered a detrimental 7.8 magnitude earthquake in November of 2016, whose destruction has limited driving access to just SH 76. However, Kaikoura’s beauty and magnificence remains true, and is still worthy of discovery on any trip to the South Island. 

What makes Kaikoura so special not only lies in the lofty peaks on the mountain horizon, but also beneath the surface of the sea. The Hikurangi Trench lays beside the Kaikoura Peninsula, creating unique oceanic conditions immediately offshore. Warm water upwellings in the trench creates the perfect conditions for plentiful amounts of planktons year round, which in turn creates a bountiful home for large marine mammals such as whales and dolphins. Peep the seals in the photo below (little brown blobs on the rocks near the left side and middle of the bottom of the frame)!

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Kaikoura has a ton of not-to-be-missed opportunities to get up close to these amazing creatures. From swimming with wild dolphins, to whale-watching cruises - even to aerial observation from planes or helicopters - there are tons of ways to explore the trench ecosystem. We opted for the third choice.

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The i-Site in town can give you loads of information on all your options, and maybe even hook you up with a deal or two. We booked with Wings Over Whales, which operates out of a small airfield just 10 minutes south of the main town center. They take you up in a 10-person propeller plane and fly over the open water for 30-50 minutes, spotting out whales or dolphins as you go. I was lucky enough to sit co-pilot, as long as I promised not to put any pressure on the pedals at my feet.

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Unfortunately, as is the case with any ecotourism excursion, there are no promises. We can’t control nature. Some days are better than others, and for us, it seemed that we flew at the wrong time. No whales were seen, but the flight was still spectacular. The mountains stood up to our teeny plane, unmoving as the sun slowly set behind their peaks. The views were worth the trip alone.

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There are plenty of other wonders in and around Kaikoura: hiking, swimming, or maybe sleuthing out the secret fur seal colony. Even just a few days in Kaikoura would be a dream.