Australia Part 2 – Surfers to Tasmania

Continuing our Australia Adventure.

Our trip to Surfers (as the locals call it) was pretty uneventful. Arriving there, it was pretty much what I had come to envision in recent days. When I first booked it, I thought it would be more like Agnes Water, a small surfing town. Talking to locals in the last few weeks of travel, though, I realised it’s a bit of a small city. With apartment towers and a central shopping area. More similar to Atlantic City than Ocean City. Not what I usually envision a surfing town to be. But nice nonetheless. I managed to grab a few items for Laney for surprise gifts for Christmas. And we even had a tree, thanks to Brett, our Airbnb host. We were quite comfortable in our 2 BR 2 BA apartment which was decorated in a 60’s style. Very cute. Our Tree was a tinsel tree! HA! We bought Laney a surfboard after Christmas and she spent a day or two surfing. Of course, I lounged on the beach. HA.

It was in Surfers that I first started spotting the colorful lorikeet birds. Sitting on a wire where you expect to see pigeons and seagulls. So beautiful.

Our next stop was to be Byron Bay. I had heard so many people rave about this place I had pretty high expectations. We were staying in a room in a woman’s townhouse just outside of Byron. A few kilometres. Mostly, this was a budget decision. Byron Bay is a pretty popular, and thus expensive place. Plus we were to be there over New Year’s so probably it was peak season.

The first night, we went out for some Japanese, and had some of our favourites that we enjoyed in Japan. Of course it wasn’t quite the same but still it was pretty good. Particularly the sake. HA.

There was one place Laney refused to eat at Byron. HA

The next day we headed to the beach (after some struggles with parking – for those of you in/around my home town, think of OC on 4th of July. HA). Anyway, Laney surfed on her board that we bought, but when we stopped for lunch, we decided to rent a longboard, so I could have a go, and Laney also thought it was more appropriate for the waves. I was pretty pleased with the waves and the board and I surfed for about an hour or so before I got too tired. Laney surfed ALL DAY. Unfortunately, she forgot to reapply her sunscreen after lunch – so the next few days were, shall we say, low key. Poor Laney. I used the down time to do some shopping – Byron has some great shops and boutiques and surf shops galore. I picked up a few dresses and a bathing suit bottom. I figured I would need them for the cruise.

We also took the opportunity (in an English speaking country) to see a couple movies. We saw the new Start Wars movie and also saw the new Jumanji film. It was lovely!!

Another night in Byron, we headed to a nearby town for dinner. We sat outside on an upstairs deck and right around sunset we saw TONS of HUGE bats flying, I think from the trees in the area. We couldn’t get a good photo (they weren’t very close) but they were very cool to watch.

A bit of rest, I felt, was a good idea anyway, since we would be headed to surf camp next where my biggest fear was lack of energy!! Surfing can be exhausting you know, especially for me, as I tend to fall a lot. HA

SO, we departed the Byron Bay Area. And headed to the Mojo Surf Camp at Arrawarra Beach, which is about 30km north of Coff’s Harbor (and 6 hours drive north of Sydney, to give you a measure).

Arriving at Mojo Surf Camp. At first it was a bit confusing, we weren’t sure where to ‘check in’. There was an office type building (kind of) but it was for the Holiday (Caravan) Park, and we were staying at the surf camp, Spot X aka Mojo, with their Surf and Stay package. We got checked in and then Joe gave us the tour. He walked us around the kitchen area (cafeteria style food is included in the surf and stay, so breakfast, lunch and dinner), then showed us the ‘sweat box’, a room full of couches and a TV with no AC. Hot and smelly. Yeah. Pass. thanks. Then the surf school area and the beach. WOW so beautiful. He showed us our room (bunk room, 4 beds, with a bathroom, thank goodness because Joe also said there were some big snakes seen near the women bathrooms at night. HA). And then we chilled until dinner time.

The next morning was our first surf lesson. They took Laney and one other person in a separate group. Because they had some experience surfing. I stayed with the newbies, figuring even though I could ‘get up’ on a long board, I could use some actual instruction. Well the water was not just beautiful to look at but also SO WARM and the waves were PERFECT and PLENTIFUL. Our whole group mostly caught white water waves for the first couple days, but it was really great. None of the crowding I have generally found in OC. There was plenty of room for all 30-40 of us!

Laney was further out catching the nicer, green waves.

We both had a crazy great day and we loved it.

That night, I received an email from the manager of the surf school offering to include Laney in the Surf Academy, which is for more advanced surfers and generally is a one-week program. Laney was really nervous, but I convinced her to go talk to Jimmy P in the morning. Well, she hardly slept (I could tell, she was in the bunk above me – eye roll). But she did go to see him and then promptly, immediately, surfed with the Academy ‘kids’, at 6am. HA. Have fun with that.

SO, I was surfing with the newbies. Laney with the advanced folks. Perfect.

The surfing school is technically a surfing hostel. This was our first real hostel experience and I have to say it was really great. I think because of the surfing school, which is the only reason people would be here, people were even more friendly and social than usual. You are surfing in groups every morning for lesson and every afternoon for Expressions (basically not a lesson, just surfing) so you see people over and over, and obviously have common ground to talk about. How’d you go today? Did you get up? etc. Plus the instructors are super friendly and nice. Plus all the meals are together. Laney and I met so many great people from all over the world while we were here. Sara from Germany. Sophia and Brandon from the UK. Polly from Melbourne. Aggie from Ireland. Matthew from Scotland. And about 15 people from the Netherlands and Sweden. HA. Don’t ask me to spell their names.

One guy we met, from Poland, it was his birthday and his friend had gotten him a cake. Everyone sang happy birthday (Laney and I were playing pool, which is how we met him). Anyway, we went out to see about some cake and Laney and I decided someone should sing sta lat to him. So I mentioned it. I said “in my family, when it’s someone’s birthday, we sing Sta Lat, do you do that?” He and his friend looked at us and said “You KNOW STA LAT?”. Yeah, of course. So we sang it. Only about 4 of us knew it, but it was good, and a great memory. Made me think of my mom.

So we spent 5 days surfing. At night there was entertainment like pool or ping pong tournaments. Also a campfire most nights. One night was trivia night, where they take everyone by bus to a nearby bar for their trivia game. They also have afternoon activities. Kayaking down nearby rivers/streams, or ocean rafting, or kangaroo trek/golf. Definitely a place geared toward young people with LOTS of energy. And they party too, but I think less than in a non-surfing place because most times lessons are at 8 or 9 am and that IS the main focus of why people are here.

So, with Laney’s heart very heavy, we left after 5 days. And Laney started angling to come back. She wanted to do the Academy. Well, making that happen was going to take some effort. Most of that span (immediately following Australia) had just been planned and booked. Hmm.

Lots of large lizards around!

This will be funny. Put the old lady in the middle. Ha! Not my choice – believe me I was MORTIFIED!!

This was our home for 4 nights. If it looks like a shipping container that’s because it IS A SHIPPING CONTAINER. And not even a whole one. Like part of one. But it had a bathroom and AC so I wasn’t complaining.



Chow time at Mojo. Everything plastic. Cafeteria style. Nothing like being treated like a kindergartener to make you feel like a kid. Ha.

After Mojo Surf Camp stopped at Port Macquarie for a night to break up the drive. Based on a suggestion from a fellow Mojo we stayed in the cutest hostel and played pool and football and air hockey. And I had this amazing mushroom dish with egg for breakfast at a nearby restaurant. The food was so good that later, when we needed to leave Mojo for a couple nights, we came back to this place pretty much just for the food. Ha!

After breakfast I wanted to walk to the water and don’t you know there was a sea plane there. Both Laney and I had never flown in a sea plane so I asked the pilot “If we wanted to go for a ride, could we go right now?” “Sure!” He said. And off we went. It was gorgeous and a really cool experience. I love spontaneous things. No planning or scheduling just do it! Ha

Then, we were in Port Stephens for 4 or 5 nights. I chose this place because it has some great beaches and surfing. Unfortunately, we did none of that. HA I think we were both tired from going so hard at surf camp and we were preparing for the cruise. We did a bit of shopping to buy clothes that were ‘allowed’ at dinner time on the cruise (eye roll) and had some chill days and nights. We had some great Thai food, and also good Chinese. We cooked a few nights, including something Laney had been craving. Her father’s fake fried chicken (coat with sour cream, cover with crushed corn flakes and bake for a long time at a fairly low temp).

In the Port Stephens area, we stayed in a ‘mother in law’ type of apartment, meaning it was a small apartment attached to the home of a couple. They had a dog, and were long-term cat-sitting an adorable cat named Holly. Such a sweet girl, we loved her.

We had a couple nice meals out too. Yum food. Ha.

From there we headed to Sydney, and spent the night in another Airbnb. This one was a room in a house hosted by Esther and Jim. What an amazing lovely young woman. A young teacher (mid to late 20s). She was kind enough to agree to hold some luggage for us while we went on the cruise, so we could take just what we needed ,and we cut down to one suitcase. WHOO HOO.

We didn’t See much of Sydney but we did see the harbor at night and we had a great dinner at a place recommended by Joe who is an American we met in Cairns a few weeks before.

Now it’s time for our big relaxing break. All this travel is hard! And exhausting! But awesome of course. We were booked on a Royal Caribbean cruise to the New Caledonia Islands for 8 day. we had heard there would be some good snorkeling so we brought snorkel gear.

The cruise was lovely and relaxing, but in some ways not quite right for the two of us. Part of this might have been timing and our own ‘hang ups’ so to speak. I met some nice people but mostly people were there on holiday (it was summer holiday time in Australia) – with families or with really big groups/families, so they pretty much kept to themselves – after all, they were there to spend time with each other. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed some nice cocktails, and Laney had a few days on the Flow Rider, but overall I’m not sure I would do it again ‘just the two of us’. Perhaps if we each brought a friend it would have been better. There were some highlights. Arcade games. HA. And some of the restaurants were actually pretty good. I was disappointed the first night in the standard dining hall fare, so we bought the dining upgrades and ate at the Japanese place twice. They had hot rock meals, where they bring you meat/shellfish and veggies, and you cook them on this rock that they bring to the table. It was very good. As was the sushi. (Though I questioned how it could be fresh after a few days at sea?). We also ate at the steak house (good!) and the Italian place (OK). My favorite part of the cruise was the live entertainment. They had a guitar/singer guy that played at the pub pretty much every night for a few hours. He was pretty good, and I met some nice people while there. I also enjoyed some new music, as there are some Australian classics (as in, bar type classics) that I really enjoyed. Mostly Jimmy Barnes ‘Khe Sanh’ and ‘Working Class Man’.

At a couple cruise stops I/we enjoyed some really good snorkeling. As expected, being several hours from land or airport by boat, the locations were very good for coral and colorful fish and more blue sea stars. At one place, Mystery Island, I was chased by a small trigger fish. It was a little scary even though he was small. He was very aggressive and when I thought I was out of range and he had stopped chasing me I slowed down my swimming and he started chasing me again as if to say ‘keep going lady!’ HA! The other place we snorkeled was Jinek Bay on the island of Lifou. (Le Foo)

After the cruise we headed back to Esther’s place to get our stuff. My plan was to ship some stuff home and to New Zealand (I had bought a couple nicer dresses for the cruise, which I wouldn’t be needing anymore), before heading to Tasmania (a flight). Unfortunately, the post offices were closed! On Saturday afternoon. Weird. Oh well I ended up with an extra carry-on, which wasn’t an issue (thank goodness) and we had 5 hours to spare at the airport until we got a FREE change of flight, to an earlier one. Free because we had been on a cruise. Hmm. Interesting. Good Karma from the travel Gods!! Anyway, I was really grateful to get to our place on the Tasman Peninsula early. I was tired!

Tasmania was pretty awesome from the time we got there. There were cool statues in the small airport in Hobart, and people were even MORE friendly and nice than in Australia. We stopped at the General Store, as our host had suggested, for some food staples, before heading to our place. We found some great locally made foods and just about everything we needed in this tiny place in the middle of nowhere. HA. As we were paying the woman said “you’re the ones staying at Stuart’s place”. I said “how did you know?” She said “Your accent gave you away!”. HA. I guess Stuart had told her he was having guests from America. The next day I called to make a reservation at a restaurant that was also suggested, and the SAME THING happened. HA. Well, apparently, there aren’t any other places to rent in that area. It’s just not touristy at all. But the place, and the view, so amazing! It was rather remote though. You see at least 100 cows before you see a person. HA.

The next day I was keen to do a hike – down to Ship Stern Bluff where, at times, there are Maverick waves (Giant). The surf prediction for the time I was going was 10-14 feet. Cool. Well, I got a bit of a late start on the hike. I was talking to friends at home. Laney didn’t want to join me. Hiking isn’t her thing. (HA wait til we do the Inca Trail). Plus it was hot (by her standards) and that’s not her thing either. She had some homework to catch up on, anyway, so I left her to that. The hike I wanted to do had a short run, about 2 hours, or the full thing was 5 hours. The short walk was to the lookout, and it took me less than an hour one way, and I really wanted to see those waves from the ground. So I headed off. Jogging at times, knowing I needed to do the 5 hour trek in 3. Yikes. Well, I made it, but barely. I had to be back because of that dinner res. I will say this, Walk is Australian for Hike, and the signs that suggested ‘some bushwalking experience’ were spot on. This was TOUGH! I don’t know what the overall elevation changes were but it was a LOT of incline/decline and a lot of steps, on a 9km return hike. It was really great though and it felt good to get some good exercise. The TRX is good, but not like this.

Before going on the hike you are instructed to wash your boots to avoid transfer of non indigenous plants into the area. I also scrubbed after -my boots haven’t been this clean in quite a while. Ha.

That night Laney and I had an amazing dinner at a restaurant recommended by our host. Once again we were recognized as ‘Stuart’s guests from America’ when we called for a reservation. Ha!

After dinner we joined a ghost walking tour of Port Stephens which was a prison that was particularly brutal. Prisoners had no complete protection from the elements and were forced to do heavy labor felling trees and hauling them long distances by hand. Punishments included severe beatings and confiscation of blankets and or clothing.

Our guide told of his personal experiences with ghosts on site as he showed us around by lantern light in a long trench coat. It was quite creepy and fun though we didn’t have any encounters.

The next day we had to check out of Stuart’s place and we headed up the eastern coast of Tasmania to a town called Bicheno

Getting there was an adventure in itself. Google mapped out our route, we hopped in the car, and followed the directions. Well, 25 minutes later our rural road turned into a dirt road. HA and stayed that way (thank God, I was worried it would get worse) for about 20 more miles. There were occasionally 20 yard patches of pavement. I have no idea why. HA. This was inland, so the lesser populated part of Tasmania I guess. Perhaps I should have studied the route a bit more. Oh well.

The next morning before leaving the area we decided to visit the Unzoo and pay homage to the honorable resident, the Tasmanian Devil. The Unzoo monitors Tasmanian Devils in the wild and attempts to vaccinate them, for the cancer that is killing them. They have only 2 residents in an enclosure – due to their advanced age and medical issues. We enjoyed seeing them and learning about them. We also had some wallaby encounters and tried to understand the difference between wallabies and kangaroos. Not very successfully. Ha. Wallabies are definitely smaller.

After driving a few hours we arrived in the town of Bicheno, which is near an area called Coles Bay where there are also some great hikes and sites, including Wineglass Bay which was clearly calling my name. HA. PLUS, in Bicheno, they have a penguin tour, where you go see the penguins in the wild as they come out of the ocean at night after a day of feeding. YES! HA

So, I immediately booked the penguin tour, and told Laney about the hike. She didn’t love it, said she wanted to walk around ‘town’ instead. I laughed. Town is exactly two blocks long. No Kidding. Another tiny town.

Our place was adorable. I was a bit concerned about some of the reviews saying it was ‘dated’. Well, it was dated for sure. Older cabinets, stove, style, wood paneling, etc. but it was VERY clean and freshly painted. It was perfect. With a balcony, which I love.

The view from our porch. It looked better in person. Ha.

The first full day we were in Bicheno, we went to the hike at Wineglass Bay. Laney didn’t love the hike up, but she did enjoy the view in the end. And climbing on/around some rocks when we got there.

That evening we went to see the penguins and OMG they were so ADORABLE. They call them fairy penguins, also known as blue penguins and they are TINY and the waddle up the beach in groups in the dark to their little hut/burrow homes in the dunes area. We even got to see some baby ones. No photos were allowed, partly because of flash and plus I think people act stupid and do dumb things when they try to get a good photo. But they send you photos after, and this is very representative of what we saw. So cool.

The next day I told Laney I wanted to take a drive up to the Bay of Fires, which is another couple hours north. Laney has learned to love road trips. Despite her motion sickness. I think partly from our trips to North Carolina every January, a 9-12 hour sprint. Plus she’s so happy to have a car and not be travelling by BUS! (Or ferry, or taxi, or….).

Anyway, the scenery up the coast was amazing. And the Bay of Fires did not disappoint. As always, it’s a little hard to capture in a picture, but it was interesting enough that Laney wanted to get out of the car. HA.

On the way home we stopped for Linner (lunch/dinner), and then had a quiet evening at home.

The next day, sadly, it was time to go. I had booked us one night in Hobart, as I made the mistake of booking the rental car to be ‘back’ at 10am at the airport (and our flight wasn’t til 3 – oops – and no changing it because of the Australia Day holiday). Ah well.

SO, I returned the car a day early and we spent one night in Hobart, at an Ibis, which has become one of our favourite hotel chains. Simple. Clean. Inexpensive. We had a nice dinner out and a relaxing morning at a coffee shop then off to the airport.

Next adventure- Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road