Exhausted and disheveled was how we arrived here. A night on the Greyhound makes hostels into hotels! We were dropped off in town, despite requesting a drop off closer to our new digs, our driver said “it was not possible to stop near there”. So our heavily-laden walk down the beautiful, but long beach to Belongil Beachouse was not particularly welcome. The hostel sign outside was pleasing to my designer’s eye and James’ love of Helvetica. Our room was not ready so we stored our rucksacks and crashed out in the next door cafe over a capp. and flat white. I played with AV (aperture) and TV (shutter speed) to develop my depth-of-field technique with James as my muse. Tired of sitting we ventured into town, a 20 minute walk and discovered Mokha a really lovely cafe that had free wireless with your refreshments. The menu was eggs through and through, from omelette to scrambled and beyond, all delicious and with really good banana smoothies too.
We experienced a wonderful open-air market where the bohemian essence of Byron came alive. Hippies were everywhere with Ozzies selling clothing, dijeridoos and drums etc, Africans selling jewellery and Indians doing henna tattoos. The weather was not in our favour, but it was good to be there and see local Byron at play.
Sleep was calling loudly so we meandered back via the road (not a patch on the beach walk) and collapsed into our room. Belongil Beachouse was not the romantic beach oasis we imagined and our room was simply a let down. Mainly wooden panelled it was part clad with cork behind the bed, very strange. There was an extra single that served as a place for our belongings which was the best comment I can make really. The showers were passable though waiting outside in the cold was not fun. So anyway, our first afternoon we crashed for a while out of necessity rather than anything else. There was live music playing at the restaurant next door that was fine for a while, but the became extremely annoying when trying to sleep. I escaped and went for a walk to the beach and arranged our WWOOFing on KI while J caught another half an hour. We freshened up, changed for dinner and pac-safed as usual. Dinner at the very same restaurant next door, now without live music, was delicious, not too expensive and was washed down with an excellent bottle of cab-merlot enjoyed by us both. We relaxed and chatted, at ease with one another.
Having at last discovered a wireless cafe with good food, drinks and an atmosphere we were very loyal to them. So brunch was at Mokha where we sorted our liveaboard, Australia Zoo transfers and accommodation for the trip up the coast in to Queensland. We decided a PADI refresher dive was a good plan having not been dive buddies for seven years and so nipped into Byron Bay Dive Centre and booked ourselves in for the next day which extended our stay in Byron by an extra night. In the afternoon we borrowed the hostels boogie boards and headed out unguided into the pacific ocean and braved the winter seas. It was soon evident that neither of us had miraculously discovered any knack for this since our honeymoon. James had however brought his waterproof camera and so recorded the watery bikini clad proceedings. I proudly managed to catch one wave, but sadly J didn’t manage to catch me on it or a wave himself. We enjoyed being in the ocean though the current was strong, and I was somewhat comforted by the surfers bobbing behind the waves further our to sea. Perhaps a lesson next time?
We chilled out in the evening over a delicious home cooked tikka masala, thank you sweetie, and reviewed the boogie boarding footage which I can only describe as like being in a washing machine when suddenly you glimpse a flash of bikini bottoms between the waves! Consequentially I’ve reserved all my rights over the final cut of our Byron Bay movie! We finessed our Sydney harbour movie and added new music to the opera house section.
After a good breakfast of slow releasing carbs (yes, porridge again!) we did some more web-surfing, not the type of surfing expected in Byron, but needs must. We were both looking forward to diving again, and J was particularly excited that the 40D would not be strapped to my face. A little nervously to be honest we questioned ourselves on the terminology. BCD or BDC? “Just remember, don’t get the o-ring wet” James perked up before we arrived at the dive centre for our refresher. The obligatory video was played which rather focused on promotion and sales of SSI than imparting the information we required. There was one other diver, an Israeli dive master, that Rupert (our instructor) took under his wing. So with wetsuits on we waddled into the small pool for the practical exercises. All our gear was prepared for us and I was personally I was glad we weren’t required to wrestle with Medusa on this occasion. My memory of diving was rusty, or so I thought, but this was easier than expected to be honest.
So on went the weight belt (with buckle in the left hand), the BCD (with regulator and alternate air source on the right side and inflator and console on the left). We checked everything; our air supply was ON (with the console pointing down) and our regulators and BCD was working. We were ready. Our tests included mask clearing, regulator retrieval, buddy breathing, neutral buoyancy, easy. Rupert was happy with us all and so it was time for our dive at Julian Rocks, a small rocky island seen from Belongil beach. Our briefing mainly covered getting into the boat, use of the safety sausage, man over-board procedure and also the rules to be obeyed when diving with sharks! My attention had now been diverted from the complexities of diving to avoiding the natural path of the Grey Nurse shark! Well life is all about experiences so here goes.
We jumped into the 4×4 and onto a rib with some poke and soon we were there. Quickly gearing up we went off backward into the water, like lemmings. Now refocused my full concentration was on having a successful dive, with or without a shark encounter. So down we went. The visibility was poor so no sharks were seen by us, but our dive was successful despite a strong current at the end. No matter how hard you swam your progress was at the discretion of the water. Safely back on the rib to my surprise the German girls had seen a huge pod of Grey Nurse shark only meters away from us! I was filled with a great sense of relief and also disappointment that I didn’t realise this dream whilst diving under an instructors care. Walking back along the beach we were treated to the most spectacular sunset which signified the end to a very happy day, and we shared our excitement about our coming Great Barrier Reef adventure. Dinner was tikka masala take2 and an early night before our next Greyhound trip of 18 hours to Caloundra via Brisbane.
Byron Bay was great, particular for me. I loved the relaxed hippy vibe, unpretentious air and sense that everyone was very comfortable with themselves and contented to be going about there business. The boutique shops were both interesting and eclectic and the service aptly friendly. The ever changing colours of the expansive sky over Belongil beach was romantic and enticing and I would have liked to have stayed longer. I question how I would like it here in summer with the invasion of tourist in every corner? This aside I could happily revisit Byron in years to come. Being by the beach feels like coming home for me.