Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas in Byron Bay

After being on the go for so long, I was ready to stay in one place for more than a couple of nights, so I decided to stay a week in Byron Bay and even that wasn't long enough. If it hadn't been for the temptation of the fireworks in Sydney I would have quite possibly stayed there until I left for New Zealand!

I arrived in Byron on the 20th and had 3 nights booked at the Arts Factory Lodge (it was fully booked over Christmas after the 23rd) and when I got the the hostel I knew I was going to like it. It was such a hive of activity and so very different to anywhere I'd been before. As I was waiting to check in a guy with a Cockatoo on his shoulder, who I later discovered was Cockatoo Paul, was walking round inviting people on his bush tucker walk, but as it started in about 5 minutes I passed that evening. After putting my bags in my room I went and met up with Craig who I'd met on Fraser Island.

The Arts Factory is huge - lots of dorms like a conventional hostel, but also several Ti-pees, smaller outdoor huts and a campsite. There's a swimming pool, volley ball court, and outdoor picnic area, and people of all ages seem to stay there. As its an "Arts Factory" they encourage different forms of art with free workshops every day from drumming & digeridoo to poi & yoga and much more inbetween. Each night there's usually some form of entertainment going on as well. On my first night there was a talent show and everyone who performed was just amazing. Lots of people stay there for several months at a time and get little bands together, others performed poetry or just played on their own, but needless to say it was very impressive.

I had a look around the town the next day, but the weather was so bad that there wasn't much to do. I checked out the beach and the surf was a bit mental - the sea was rough and the waves were big but that was nothing in comparison to the days that came. Back at the hostel I played volley ball where I met Jack, Eddy,  Craig and Alex who I spent most of my time with after that. We all went on Cockatoo Paul's Bush tucker walk which was actually really interesting - he's so knowledgeable about the plants and wildlife and he actually runs camps to teach people more about it all. He showed us several places you can find water, plants that you could eat and plants that you can use as insect repellent. It was clear he could have talked for hours on end and he was so enthusiastic about it that it was even more interesting.

The next day the weather was a bit nicer so I decided to go to the beach. The waves were a lot calmer that day and so small that it was hardly worth the money of hiring a board, so again I passed on that one. The Main beach in Byron is pretty big and always full of people. I just read my book for a while before going back for more volley ball at the hostel. That evening Cockatoo Paul was playing at the Buddha Bar (just next to the Arts Factory) I went with a couple of others I'd met around the hostel. Not only does he know a lot about bush tucker, he's also an impressive musician. He plays guitar, drums digeridoo and sings almost all at once! After the gig I chatted to him for a while and he's by far the most interesting person I've met since travelling. We went back to the hostel after the gig had finished to see what was going on there. I found Jack Eddy and Craig all jamming so decided to stick with them for a while. That's when I met Charlotte; she's a bit of a legend and we had such a laugh that night and the days to come. It was getting late so the night guard asked us to go somewhere else so make noise so we sat on the edge of the car park which was technically no longer his responsibility and continued for a few more hours.

The previous day, Eddy had told me that if you go the lighthouse in Cape Byron you'd be one of the first people to see the sunrise. I looked at the time and it was 3.30am so I suggested we all went up there to watch it. I was half joking really as its about an hours walk from the hostel, but a couple of people were up for it so we set off. There was 5 at first but by the time we got to the beach where the lighthouse walk really begins, there was just me and Eddy. I'd never been before so I didn't quite know what to expect. We walked up the road for a while then took a turn off into the bush. It was pitch black and neither of us had any form of light so we couldn't see a thing. Luckily Eddy knew where he was going but walking up and down steps in the forest with bare feet and no light was still a bit sketchy! We didn't quite make it to the lighthouse itself before the sun started to rise so we sat on a hang-gliding launch pad to watch it instead. Sadly it was a bit cloudy so it wasn't as impressive as it could have been but was still pretty amazing to be there on your own where you could see for miles without another person in sight and it was so peaceful.

We got back to the hostel at about 7 and slept in one of the hammocks for about an hour. I had to check out that morning so I went to my room and packed. A little later I ran into Charlotte who hadn't slept either... It turned out her and another guy had ended up getting a taxi to the lighthouse to try and find us but to no avail! We chilled out by the pool for the rest of the morning, trying but failing to sleep! Eventually she went to bed, but as I had no place to sleep until that evening when I was moving into the house share I decided to go to the beach and sleep there for a while. I got about another hour before I started to walk back. On the way back I ran into Tia and Eoghan who I was going to the house with so they took me to the house and showed me round. It was about 3 minutes from the AF which was handy and was a really cool house. I met Inge off the bus that afternoon and took her to the house before moving all my stuff from the hostel. We met some of the others who we were staying with: Gardner, Henry, Ben, Holly, Maj, Kara and Damo. They had all worked together in Cairns.

The next day was Christmas Eve and it didn't feel like it at all! Inge and I had decided to hire a couple of boards but when we got there and checked the surf, no where was hiring because it was too rough and dangerous.To my disappointment, we were told that it was going to carry on getting bigger over the next few days. Instead we walked to the Lighthouse so I got the see it in broad day light this time. The views were fantastic and we also saw a group of dolphins playing by the coast line. By the time we got back to the house, the food shopping for Christmas dinner had been done, so we went and help get the alcohol in.

That evening there was a Christmas Eve Party at the Arts Factory, so Inge and I went and met up with Charlotte and Ro so a pre Christmas meal. We helped set the tables up inside as the rain had ruined the initial set up. The food was really good and Champagne kept appearing on the table each time we finished a bottle. After the meal, they made it open mic again so a few of the guys got up and performed. Inge, Charlotte and Ro headed into town but I stayed a little longer at the hostel with some other friends and then headed to the beach for a bit of a party for the rest of the night.

The guys in the house had done secret santa, and Inge and I had bought each other some chocolate, so Christmas morning was spent opening presents. Lack of sleep was definitely catching up on me so I had a chilled out morning after that. Some of the others started cooking dinner but the rest of us went to the beach to take some photos. The beach was practically gone as the tide was so far in and the sea was so rough! Lifeguards struggled to keep people out of the water but you could see people being washed 100s of metres down the beach by strong under currents without even realising! When we got back most of the food was done it was just the remainder of the meat that needed cooked.

We had dinner together with a few others who joined the group. Once that was finished everyone chilled out around the house watching films or drinking in the garden. It didn't feel like Christmas at all to me and I was struggling to sit around and not do much. Instead I decided to go and see the guys from the Arts Factory and hang out with them for a bit. Inge joined. We met Charlotte and Ro and started having a few drinks then Craig, Jack and Eddy joined us. A couple of hours later some people arrived with decks and set up and then there seemed to be an un-planned dubstep night happening outside. It was heaps of fun. Everyone was talking about going to the beach afterwards so a few of us decided to go check it out. We didn't stay that long in the end but it was pretty packed. The next day we found out some of our mates hadn't left till 11 that morning.

On Boxing day Inge, Gardner, Maj and I went to the beach. The swell was beginning to get smaller but it was still rough conditions. Gardner and I kept going in the sea but the current was unbelievable! I was disappointed that the conditions weren't any good for me to go surfing especially as my time there was running out. Later that day we went and said bye to Charlotte and Ro as they were leaving for Sydney that night.

Tuesday was my last full day in Byron. I went round to see if anyone was about at the hostel and managed to get another game of volley ball in. We decided to get a group together and head to the beach in the afternoon. It takes forever to organise people so around 2 we were finally ready to go. Craig, Jack, Eddy, Alex, Dan and I headed to the beach complete with beer, surf board, guitar, fishing rod and ball! We picked up Inge on the way and went to the Pass - the southern most point of Main beach. That was one of my favourite days in Byron. We all hung out on the beach for hours - Inge and Craig left a bit earlier but the rest of us were leaving as the sun set. The guys caught a couple of fish that they were going to have for tea but as it was Tuesday, Inge and I had already decided to get $5 pizza from dominos. Once I planted this idea everyone was on board so we stopped off and ate pizza before getting back! I took Inge her pizza and stayed at the house for  a while before going to the Arts Factory once last time to say goodbye!

I was pretty sad to say bye to everyone there, I met some of the coolest people on my whole trip just in that hostel. I've already decided I want to go back there for a couple of months at some point but not sure when that may happen! That night was my first night in in a long time! I stayed in the house and watched a couple of films with the guys before falling asleep on the couch. We were leaving on the night bus so on Wednesday I just did some washing and got everything organised for leaving for Sydney!

Byron Bay is by far my favourite place along the East Coast: I can't wait to go back!

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