Thursday, 1 March 2018

Brisbane Trip Day 10: Byron Bay

We awoke to sunshine for the first time since leaving Newcastle. I hung up all our wet towels and clothes and opened up all the windows in the tent to try to dry everything out. It was a warm morning and with so much moisture around it was extremely humid. We had a relaxed morning around the tent and at around 11 we headed in to Bryon Bay. We stopped at Woolworths to get ice for the eskies, and some grapes and morning tea.

We drove up to the lighthouse and on the way saw an inviting looking beach, and then magnificent views down the coast to the south. Once again there was a lot of traffic, and we noticed cars parking a long way from the beach - I was worried it might be difficult to find a place to park. The road at the top of the headland near the lighthouse was jammed with traffic and it seemed unlikely that we would find anywhere to park there, so we headed back down. We were planning to go for a swim first then walk back to the lighthouse, although it would have been a long walk, then I saw a parking space in the 2nd carpark down from the headland. We parked and paid for 2 hours, and walked back up to the lighthouse.

It was probably a 10 or 15 minute walk and the view was spectacular. Blue ocean crashing onto a long beach far below us to the right, with the water being more aqua as it came close to shore. The headland is quite high and so we could see a long way, to headlands far to the south. It was a hot walk as there was no shade - snacking on the grapes helped to keep us a bit cooler. At the lighthouse we could also see to the north and the west - interesting shaped mountains, a rock island in the middle of the bay, beaches around the edge of the bay and more blue blue ocean. I ushered the kids down the path that goes out to the tip of the headland. There were cool views from the path down the rocks to the water far below. We reached the most easterly point of mainland Australia (which is why I wanted to come to Byron) and the kids were mildly impressed that everyone else on the mainland was to the west of them. We were about to head back when we saw dolphins in the water - a pod for 4 or 5 heading north, then a single dolphin, then another small pod. Amelie saw them and was thrilled - last time we saw dolphins from a lookout, she'd already headed back to the car and she missed them. We watched them swim and leap and once they'd passed we started to walk back.

The kids walked faster than me as I was taking photos of the rocks, and I noticed a dark shape swimming at the base of the cliff. I stopped to watch it for a while, and eventually a green turtle came up for air and I was able to see it really clearly. The dolphin pods also headed back south passed the headland, and another, much larger pod came up from south to meet them. This time there were several mothers with calves. I signalled to the kids (already back at the lighthouse) to come back - the turtle had moved out of sight by now, but we stayed at one of the lookouts for ages watching the large dolphin pod - between 40 and 60 dolphins. They divided into a couple of groups and were doing some tail slapping and other behaviours that suggested they'd found fish and were feeding. It was amazing to see so many dolphins together and watch them play and fish.

Back at the lighthouse we admired the view for a brief time, and I'd promised the kids a cold drink at the cafe after our hot walk (and before the walk back to the car). We went to the toilet first - they were down the hill a bit in a beautiful cool rainforesty setting, but the toilets themselves stank and the kids felt they were worse than drop toilets. Everything at the cafe was (not surprisingly) expensive, so we decided on a gourmet milkshake to share - we chose choc mint and it was delicious. While we sat on the steps of the cafe and drank it, we were accompanied by a large water dragon who seemed to really like the kids, he kept moving away then coming back and sitting right near us.

The walk back down the hill was beautiful although hot. At the car we used some of the ice we'd bought this morning to cool down a bit, then drove down towards the beach. We found a parking spot on the side of the road near Clarke's Beach, and walked down to the beach. We swam near some rocks to our left, and the water was a beautiful temperature. The water level became too deep for Amelie to stand in, although the waves were not big, so I carried her further out and we all stood on a large sand bar (not far from shore) and played in the waves and watched the kite surfers. Caitlin and I were both startled by a large black shape moving through the water - it was the shadow of one of the kites! It was a little rougher out here - not dangerous at all but a bit beyond Amelie's confidence level - she's not really swum in the surf before. We went back closer to shore, off the sand bar, and she found a place where she could stand some of the time and we swam for ages in gentle and enjoyable waves.

We had a picnic lunch on the beach and then went back in for more swimming. Amelie was much more confident by now and we all had a great time. Liam and I (and then Caitlin) played the game where we tried to see who could stand for the longest without the waves moving our feet - it was much harder doing it out in the surf than on the shoreline. There was a bit of a current so we kept moving back up away from the rocks - a good way for the kids to see how ocean currents can impact on a swim. This one wasn't strong and all the kids could work against it, but it was noticeable.

After a while we headed through the water to the east, then walked on the sand for a while because the current got hard to fight against for that distance. We went to Captain Cook lookout and climbed up the stairs - it gave us a good view of the bay and some of the cliffs leading out to the headland - and of the rain that was coming in from the north. There was also another water dragon up there - this one was more wary and stood really still, hoping we wouldn't notice him. Back down the stairs we explored the rocks for a while, and Liam found an old damaged plastic crate that he brought back off the rocks and we walked up and put it in the bin. The water was quite shallow here so we sat and played in the shallow waves, then swam all the way back to where we had started. The afternoon had become quite cloudy, but the rain headed out to sea and we didn't get any more.

We had a bit more of a play in the waves then got out and packed up, rinsed off at the shower at the top of the stairs, and Caitlin got some stretching tips from a guy using the exercise circuit there. On the way back to camp we stopped at Aldi to top up on a few things, and Woolworths to get a hot chicken and items that we couldn't get at Aldi. We had chicken sandwiches for dinner and a very quiet evening after a long, fun day. I was a bit sunburnt - I'd worn a dress with straps instead of sleeves, which is very rare for me if I'm going to be in the sun, and even though I'd put sunscreen on I was burnt on my walk up to the lighthouse and back. There'd been a bit of wind throughout the day so  most of our stuff was dry although some of it was on the ground. I tidied up a bit and we went to bed as soon as we could.

An interesting thing we'd noticed about Byron Bay is that almost everyone seemed to be either kids under 8, people in their twenties, or people over 60. There weren't many people around outside of those demographics, so at times we felt a bit out of place. It also seemed that men in their 20s were not allowed to wear shirts, and it was fine to wear swimmers (and nothing else) pretty much anywhere in town. The roads were in terrible condition and there was a lot of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, I really didn't enjoy driving there at all.

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