After spending almost a week in Brisbane, I decided that I would head into the countryside. My first stop was Lamington national park where I did a very picturesque 12km hike along the edge of one of the mountains there. It was nice to get back into the bush and see some kangaroos, raiforest and other wild life. That evening, I headed to Byron Bay which would be my base for the next 4 days.
Byron is situated at Australia's eastern most point but contains 6 or 7 long beaches with different surfing breaks so the town is really popular with surfers and alternative people. The centre of town is therefore full of alternative medicine shops, massage / spa / beauty salons, surf shops and a whole gammut of astrologers, palmreaders, psychics etc. On my first day, I just hung around the town / main beach getting my bearings and trying to decide what I would do on my birthday. Unfortunately, the weather turned bad that evening, so Tuesday was basically a wash out but I used the day to catch up on mails, get my car alternator repaired and go to a movie (Date Night) which was quite amusing.
As the forecast for my birthday was also poor, I postponed my present until Thursday although it later turned out that the weather on Wednesday was perfect. So I ended up celebrating by buying myself a book to read on the beach and hiking up to the Lighthouse which overlooks Australia's most eastern point. That evening, I headed out for a very nice 3 course meal where they served a different local wine with each course, before following up on all the birthday e-mails, e-cards,calls and SMS's later that evening. Thanks to everyone for all the warm and personal messages.
On Thursday, I completed my birthday celebration taking a Micro-Light flight. Micro-Lights are basically a sort of Handglider with an engine and wheels attached. They have a top speed of about 90km hour (with the wind) and can eventually take two passengers. My pilot was a Polish photographer who initially took up Micro-Lighting so he could take aerial photos and later turned it into a business. Take-off was at 08.00am from a local Aero-club 10km out of town. It was an interesting experience as the planes are very sensitive to wind so the pilot had to work hard to get us turned into the wind on takeoff so we could fly over the coast. I had selected the lighthouse route, which involved a 30 minute flight over Byron's longest beach, over the lighthouse and Australia's most eastern point and further down the coast towards Broken Head. After that we flew back over Byron town, headed over the ocean to look for Dolphins / Whales (we did not see any) before coming back into land at the Airport. It was a fun experience but a lot colder and windier than I expected and I was glad when we were back on the ground. Still it was a fun way to celebrate.
Next up was a drive through the mountains to Mt. Warning which is an imposing peak of 1156m that is a volcanic plug in the centre of an old supervolcano. It is also the first place in Australia to get sunlight ! Although the hike from the bottom is only 4.4km long, it involves an 800m climb so the walk is like climbing an extremely long stairs. The last 500m horizontal is about 100m vertical, so it is only possible to ascend by using a metal rope and hand & footholds that have been hacked into the rocks. All the effort is worth it as you have tremendous 360 degree views back towards Lamington National Park and south towards the Coast. Well worth the litres of sweat needed to get to the top. I also encountered a walking first, as half way up I passed a completely naked early 20 year old woman, with nipple piercings, who was hiking up together with a mid-60 year old male photographer. Very strange to say the least !
On the way back, I stopped off in Nimbin, a town up in the mountains that was basically taken over by hippies after a festival in the 1970's. The town now survives on Hippie, Tie-die and Hemp based tourism with busloads of tourist regularly visiting the town to the delight of the local dealers who seem to be tolerated by the local police who have an office in the town. Strange but true !
Friday was a travel day south. First stop was the town of Ballina where I picked up the new glasses that I ordered in Noosa to replace the ones that I lost in Fiji. I then headed down Route 1, Australia's premier east coast route. My next stop was Coffs Harbour, a small provincial town about 200km down the coast. Having arrived mid-afternoon, I spent a few hours on the beach before visiting the main shopping district. This turned out to be closing down for the day at 5pm ! I was clearly back in the country.
Today, I headed inland to the Dorrigo National Park. This turned out to be an enjoyable trip as the route I took required some off road driving, some excellent hiking and some nice waterfalls. Dorrigo town itself is also very picturesque having been selected New South Wales tidiest town multiple times during the last 10 year. One of the reasons for this is that it is in an area with good farmland but also has many different types of very colourful trees. Well worth a visit as they also serve very good coffee and muffins ! Tomorrow, I drive about 250km southwest to my next destination an Aussie outback farm where I will be riding horses, herding cattle, learning to lasso etc.
More news soon !