The East Coast: Chilling at Byron Bay and Surfer’s Paradise

From Spot X to Byron Bay was only a four-hour Greyhound journey – simple compared to the last two, right?

Wrong.

My bus was at 3am! The 7am was full, ugh. That being said, it got me into Byron just before 7am and that gave me a full day to explore (after dropping my gear off at the hostel again). Although, the driver kept talking into the microphone throughout. Not cool, dude. Not at that time!

Now, Byron Bay isn’t huge but it’s full of independent and boutique shops and restaurants so plenty to sink your teeth into. It’s also very chilled out, more so than other place I’ve seen so far but everyone still goes about their day. It’s a calming chilled out and I felt really happy and at home there, despite it being smaller than every other place I’ve lived – or considered living.

I also almost got rained on properly for the first time (outside of the F1). A ten-minute downpour that, thankfully, I was already undercover for on the way to the hostel. It would have soaked me to the core in less than thirty seconds but then it dried up in less than an hour. Madness.

Killen Falls

Killen Falls

That night, I met a local, who I befriended in Doncaster many years ago, and she drove me to the Lighthouse for the latter end of sunset. It was amazing. Then we hit a few bars and had a good catch up before I totally crashed out.

The next day was even better. I was taken on a drive around the area, having a look at some of the villages around Byron Bay and stopping at a number of spots and lookouts for pictures. The best spot was Killen Falls, a waterfall after a dam that is part of the water supply for Byron. It was a sheltered cove where people would come and relax in the shade and swim and I’m so jealous I didn’t have my swimming gear – I could have spent all day there!

Then again, I wouldn’t have seen anything else if I had!

Sunset in Byron Bay

Sunset in Byron Bay

We rounded the day off with more drinks and food in the local RSL club (t’s been so long since I had a roast dinner so it was definitely needed) while watching the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, a timely reminder that I’d be heading up to the Gold Coast shortly.

My final day was spent with friends from Spot X who’d finally arrived in Byron. We took the coastal walk to the lighthouse in the afternoon, arriving with plenty of time before sunset, and seeing the whole thing blew my mind. The colours, the sound of the ocean, the pure peacefulness of it all. I definitely prefer sunsets to sunrises but that might be because I’m already awake at that time!

Surfer's Paradise

Surfer’s Paradise

Then it was a short Greyhound to Surfer’s Paradise in the Gold Coast. There’s a lot going on here because of the Commonwealth Games, so there are stages everywhere with music and performances, but it’s also a party area of the city.

Great for groups but less so for me, since I prefer pubs to clubs! I spent most days exploring and chilling on the beach (as well as catching up with some work and writing!), using this time to recharge before next week, which is going to be pretty full on.

I did see another friend here, too (met in Doncaster but a local here). We had food and drinks one night and just a really good catch up, which I’m sure won’t be the last one!

While it’s a nice little holiday destination, there are probably other parts of the Gold Coast better suited for me and in the future, I’ll come back to find them, but taking some time to chill was definitely needed. Also, my body has almost fully recovered by now so when I’m next able to get back on the surfboard, I will!

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Arriving in St Kilda, Melbourne

As I mentioned before, three days in Hong Kong just isn’t enough but I was ready to get to Australia at last! Another long flight loomed. This couldn’t be worse than the last one, right? Mostly.

I was on an aisle seat, which was fine. Two Chinese women were next to me and one wanted the aisle seat and the other the window seat. I didn’t want to be trapped between them so I politely said no. Unfortunately, they spoke no English. The flight attendant translated for us but somehow I got stuck in the middle anyway!

Without going into too much detail, I think I either got adopted or married, honestly not sure which. The only phrase they knew was “I love you” and it was said to me over and over! They were fascinated with my eyes and kept showing me pictures of their families. I fell asleep for an hour and woke up wrapped in three blankets. And they kept feeding me food! How awkward. Still, better than kids.

Anyway, I’ve been in St Kilda for just under two weeks and I’ve loved every moment…well, except one part.

Settling in and defeating jetlag

The first day was wasted, but it’s normal. I sorted out some boring stuff like banks and orientation and took myself on a short walk but mostly chilled at the hostel. A few drinks in the evening helped me settle and I met my first friend, who works at Base. We get on really well and this isn’t one of those who I’ll spend time with and forget, I’m sure we’ll keep in touch!

If you had told me before I arrived exactly what kind of hostel Base was, I probably wouldn’t have booked in. Too much partying and noise for an old git like me but actually, I think it was the best thing. It forced me to do things and get involved and that helped me get out of my shell a little. You might not think I need help with that but being so far away and knowing no one, that little push helped me get involved a little quicker. I’ll pop back every so often but I don’t think I need it anymore.

St Kilda Festival

The rock stage at St Kilda Festival

The rock stage at St Kilda Festival

Less than a week after I arrived, St Kilda Festival arrived. I didn’t know this was happening before I arrived but I was excited to go. It takes over the entire area, and is one of the biggest free festivals in the southern hemisphere! About 400,000 people were expected this year with stages and displays and arts stuff going on throughout the day.

Of course, I found the rock stage.

Saw some good bands and spent a nice day wandering and chilling in parks with some of the friends I’ve made since arriving. To have this right on my doorstep, literally, was a stroke of luck and while I get why residents avoided the area for the day or weekend, it was good fun and I didn’t see any fights or riots that happen in festivals back home at times.

A feel for Melbourne

One of the pieces of street art/graffiti from Hosier Lane

One of the pieces of street art/graffiti from Hosier Lane

I’ve spent a lot of time finding my feet so far, going on walks around the area, visiting the beaches – some of which are really nice but I’ve been told they’re nothing compared to elsewhere! Melbourne is a very friendly place overall, and despite the busy areas feeling a little overwhelming at first, I feel like I did in Manchester. I love it here.

I’ve heard mixed things about Hosier Lane but I found it really interesting. Some great graffiti art here and I took a lot of pictures. It was smaller than I expected, though, and I saw someone working on a new piece. Having a place for people to do this is clever, as I’ve not seen as much graffiti as back home generally.

There are also penguins living on St Kilda pier! They come out at sunset and go hunt. They’re not phased by people at all but I did feel like pushing people away when they were trying to get past the crowd. It was so cool but it’s important not to feed them to disrupt their cycle.

A missed opportunity

A Penguin at St Kilda Pier

A Penguin at St Kilda Pier

Being slightly out of the city has its perks, it’s easier to relax a bit more and still be close to everything I want to do. Getting out of the holiday mentality where I feel like I have to do something different every day has been hard but I’m getting to the stage where I’m happy to have a chill day, especially knowing I’ll be back again.

However, a few days ago I was out on a pub crawl and my drink got spiked. I didn’t know at first but soon I was unable to stand, see straight or do anything. The next day I couldn’t focus my mind, see properly, eat anything and more. It was awful. It took me over a day to fully recover but I’m fine. It’s happened now and it hasn’t put me off doing things – I just need to be a little more careful.

The sad thing was I missed White Night, which is a 12-hour light show in the CBD with music and such. From the pictures and videos, it looked epic. Next year, I’m doing it!

Moving on

Sunset at St Kilda Pier

Sunset at St Kilda Pier

Tomorrow I fly to Perth for two weeks to see a friend from back home and spend a little time exploring the city and the area. I’ll be coming back to Melbourne after for another few weeks to explore more and find more sunset views like this before a big, month-long adventure!

Three Days in Hong Kong (It’s not enough)

I flew with Cathay Pacific. The plane from Manchester to Hong Kong was huge, and quite comfortable, even in Economy (standard) class. There was some great in-flight entertainment and the food was miles better than it was back when I was like 13 and going to Florida – or maybe I’m less fussy now.

Unfortunately, I had a kid in front and behind so I was subject to 11 hours of kicking from both sides. The couple next to me were nice and while I didn’t sleep, I kept my cool with it all.

I landed at just after 7am local time the following day. I couldn’t check into the hotel until 1 or 2pm but they did hold my rucksack. I went to explore Kowloon for the day and had to decide whether to sleep in the afternoon or power through.

I powered through.

Kowloon

Day one was spent in Kowloon, the more, how can I put this, local side of Hong Kong (and all around it except the south). Now, the language barrier was going to be an issue. I had learnt a few basic words to get me going; hello, thank you etc but even then, a lot of the signs weren’t in English. Official signs were, but restaurants and shops, no chance.

Thankfully, I never encountered any problems. There was almost always someone who spoke at least some English and we muddled through. Google and smartphones were my friend in the times I was held behind a language barrier.

I didn’t want to buy much, because the whole point is me travelling light but I explored the Temple Street night Market and the Ladies Market and a lot of parks.

Lake in Kowloon Park

Lake in Kowloon Park

Kowloon Park was fantastic and had fountains and an aviary. The difference between night and day is stunning. There was also the Star Garden, with statues, sculptures and information on local and national stars. The waterfront is also nice, and at Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour there’s a cultural centre.

At night, the city comes alive. The lights transform everything and there’s a brilliant light show at 8pm you can watch involving the buildings on Hong Kong Island. You need to get there a good hour or so early though to get a good spot to watch it from!

Hong Kong light show

Hong Kong light show

There’s street food everywhere, meaning you won’t go hungry. It took some pointing to rather than talking with some of them but I had some great snacks throughout the day.

It’s worth noting that shops and restaurants don’t always open early. Some will open from 9am-ish but more from midday and even more from mid-afternoon to 5pm. A lot of places are open till about 2am, though. Adjust sleeping patterns appropriately.

Hong Kong Island

Day two took me to Hong Kong Island, across the Victoria Harbour. There is a ferry but I took the local metro system, the MTR. Quick and easy.

While all of Hong Kong features sky scrapers, it hit me a lot more here. I arrived in the business district, with a lot more high-end shops on the go. You’ll find a lot more expats on this island and the signs, both official and window based, included more English.

View of Hong Kong

View of Hong Kong

My first stop was the Peak Tram to take me up a bloody big hill. Took an hour to queue but it wasn’t a walk-able one – not for me. At the top is a viewing platform. Now, we all know I HATE heights. Nevertheless, I went and did it. I took the obligatory selfie and absorbed the views. It was a bit murky (unfortunately it was all three days I was there) but that doesn’t take anything away.

I then went on a walk around Mt Austin and climbed up an old stone path (why do I do this to myself?) to a spot higher than the observation platform. Got some even better pictures but not of the same view as there was a lot of foliage in the way.

Hong Kong Park Aviary

Hong Kong Park Aviary

It was then back on the Peak Tram and up the road to Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. More great views and a lot of animals to see. This was a free area too, with refreshments in the area.

From there it was a short jaunt back to Hong Kong Park (which had another vantage point but I avoided the stairs on this one). There’s also a brilliant Aviary where you can walk through and a lot of the birds will get very close to you.

It was then down to the harbour for views of Kowloon, waiting for dark for the contrasting photos and back to Kowloon for more food and bed.

Lantau

View from the cable car

View from the cable car

On the third day, I went across to Lantau, the West Island and closer to the airport. The MTR was again my transport of choice. I changed lines once and it was so easy. Their platform structure is brilliant – I hopped off my train and straight across the platform to a train going to my destination. The return platforms were on another level.

I had a pineapple bun with cream for breakfast and it was amazing! From there, I took a cable car up to Ngong Ping. I queued for about 45 minutes but it can be much longer. Remember, I don’t like heights but put a brave face on and took some pictures of the awesome views. Got talking to the guys in the car with me – there are some perks to travelling solo!

Tian Tan Buddha

Tian Tan Buddha

I arrived in a village-type setting designed to reflect the times of the time. Up here was the Tian Tan Buddha (Fat Buddha) and the Po Ling Monastery (Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas). It was so calm and serene, even with the amount of people around. The village itself is full of shops and restaurants. The monastery is beautiful and the Tian Tan Buddha itself was incredible – even after all the steps to get to it. There’s also a walk around the area and bus routes to other areas on this island.

Now, unfortunately, I left about 3pm. I wanted to relax as I had an early flight the next day to Melbourne. I did wander around Kowloon some more but nowhere new. I was back in the hotel from 9ish and had an early night ready for a nine-hour flight.

All in all, I loved Hong Kong and would love to go back again to see a lot more.