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Byron Bay:

Ah, Byron Bay. The promised land for so many, the loved up and lovable beach paradise where all things creative and hippy congregate. What the slightly spiritual vibe does invoke is a relaxed pace of life, where people are warm and welcoming, appreciative of their environment, with a lazy and attractive feel weaving its way around the town. Head east a little, and base yourself at Julians Apartments, where Byron Bay Coffee, stitched surfer cushions, day beds and luxury night beds, raffia shutters and enclosed courtyard terraces all make for a sophisticated place to return to post surf.

Near Cape Byron, the most easterly point in Australia, it's a short round walk through sandy forest and past grey sheer cliffs to the lighthouse, from which you can see far into the horizon of the Pacific.

The dissipating speckles of the lighthouse beam make for great guidance when walking home post-drinks down at Main Beach, which is also the activity hub and where Let's Go Surfing and Sea Kayak Byron Bay are also located, and offer patient and professional lessons and tours.

For something of a retreat, the deliciously-relaxing Shambhala is a haven, its hybrid of metal, stone and water structure being placed so delicately among the trees in which it inhabits that it does feel genuinely like being in a tropical paradise, especially when you can see the rolling waves from your window and must walk that white sand of Belongil Beach back into town.

Built and designed by an architect interested in feng shui and yoga, it merges the natural, the beautiful, the contemporary and the practical perfectly. A night here and it will be tough to get back on the road.

Gold Coast:

Surfer's Paradise may not sound grown up, and indeed it's not at all - all glitz, plastic glamour, and vapid entertainment. But it's worth seeing, if only as a counterpart to the hippy trippy Byron. When in Surfer's, stay at QT Gold Coast - its kitsch decoration, neon sweetie coloured furniture and retro seaside style pays a knowing nod and wink to all that Surfer's is. It's one of those places that doesn't take itself too seriously, playful and full of the holiday mood - as you should be. The posing pictures raise a smile, the fun cocktails are delicious, and bountiful breakfast legitimising gluttony.

Get out and about into the Gold Coast Hinterland by scrambling up Tamborine Mountain. If you want to get off the tarmac and onto something a bit more rugged (as well as letting someone else do the driving), check out Southern Cross 4WD tours (yes, we did have to get out and push - and yes, it was hilarious, especially watching some of the more sedate and sedentary members of our group panic) who can take you on rides and rambles through the Gold Coast Hinterland and Scenic Rim.

Spend the night at Cedar Creek Lodges and Thunderbird Park. The relaxed forest setting of this national park and its candlelit restaurant, comfortable spa lodges, and activities including bushwalking, horse riding and high ropes courses makes it more idyllic than the name may suggest. Watching your mates dangle from a rope before shouting encouraging words and then making it through together is also a bonding experience for any holiday.


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