Nobody told me I would play Jenga in a bar, look at boobs, play some sort of tribal drum, get a henna tattoo, see a whale literally fly out of the water, swim with a sea turtle, kayak with a dolphin and jump out of a plane all in one weekend.
It was a cool but sunny afternoon. I’d bid my colleagues in the rainy Sydney office a “farewell suckers” and jetted up to Byron Bay. Cruising along the coast from Ballina airport to my home for the next couple of days I felt the Sydney hustle and bustle automatically lift off of my shoulders.
I pondered all of life’s big questions. “Is henna spelt with one ‘n’ or two?” “Where does the word hippie come from?” “Is it a coincidence that bongo and bong are essentially the same word and Bob Marley liked both of them?” “I wonder what I’d look like with dreadlocks?” Already in the Byron frame of mind I checked into my hostel and pondered what to do for my first night. Take it easy I thought. Yeah, best take it easy. Pace myself.
Two hours later I was embracing a giant wooden Jenga tower in Cheeky Monkey’s, protecting it from the pointy fingers of an Aussie local who obviously thinks it’s funny to ruin tourists’ Jenga games. Yeah, pretty freaking funny. The only thing to help me get over my ruined tower-building episode was to drink a little more. “Just a little,” I said. Plus, the drinks looked so pretty in the UV lights. All glowy and purple-like.
Somehow four hours later I was still there, screaming at a group of scantily clad girls in wet t-shirts to “GET ‘EM OUT”. I had discovered what the ‘By’in Byron meant obviously. Two am rocks around and I’m laying in bed ringing friends in the UK. They would be so thrilled to hear from a drunken me in the middle of their workday, I figure.
I awoke in the morning not able to stomach breakfast, a perfect start to a day out at sea. I dragged myself to the dive centre, after purchasing a nutritious bag of Chicken Twisties, to get sorted for my whale watching cruise and snorkelling. “It’s been a bit rough this week so hopefully you don’t get seasick,” the guy says. He couldn’t have said anything worse. “But we’ve got the weather forecast and it’s looking like a good day out there.” Crisis averted. Our vessel for the whale watching was towed on a trailer, meaning it only fit about 12 of us. So if we were going to see a whale, we were really going to see a whale.
Climbing onto the boat was the best way to cure my hangover. As the freezing water stung my legs I let out a yelp, kind of like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and of the same prepubescent pitch.
Okay, I’m awake now. Let’s see me some whales. Forgetting about my hangover once and for all I learnt a lot about the humpback whales, what they eat, how they communicate, that old chestnut. Anyone who’s been whale watching will tell you your eyes play tricks on you. We were told to keep an eye out for plume, the spray that lingers in the air from the whale’s blowhole. We spent the first hour yelling out, “There’s one! Oh wait… nar.” “Oh look, over there! Oh… sorry.” Another 30 minutes passed and we were convinced the whales had gone home.
That is until in almost utter silence a giant whale lifted itself up from the water, and I mean completely out, about 30 metres away from us. I’ve never screamed more like a girl, even after the Macaulay episode. Then, 20 seconds later, another did the same thing, almost close enough to splash us. Then, the first one again. I was pretty much convinced then and there that I could die happy.
After returning to the shop to wetsuit up and swap a few passengers we were out on the water again at Julian Rocks ready to jump into the ocean to explore the underwater world. During my exploration I bumped into Mr Turtle the sea turtle. He wasn’t feeling too friendly and didn’t respond to my greeting, pretty cool little groover though. Wouldn’t mind bumping into him again. I was surprised by the vibrancy of the fish and coral despite being so far south from the Great Barrier Reef so it made it even better.
Upon returning to the hostel I wanted to mix it with the cool surfer locals so opted to keep the salt and sand in my hair. I was the shiz. I had a sunburnt nose and knotty hair, all I needed was an anklet made of string and I was well on my way to
The next morning, after I brushed the grains of sand out of my teeth and extracted them from my nose, I headed out to the local hippie digs, the Arts Factory, to mix it with the cool people. I walked away later that night with a henna tattoo on my arm and calluses on my hands and feet from dancing barefoot and banging a ‘hippie’ drum.
Sure, I enjoyed being a hippie but I couldn’t remove one my fingers from my hair and decided it was time to wash it. It was good while it lasted, I figured. My second morning in Byron greeted me better than the last, thanks to avoiding the hard stuff and opting for a lemon, lime and Bitters. I was to start the early morning by jumping out of a plane, you know, as you do.
I had skydived before so knew what to expect and so could actually get excited rather than stress at the prospect of filling my goggles with vomit. If you’ve skydived before I have to say, you simply must do it again. The fear is replaced by pure excitement waiting for that plane door to open and when you jump out you’re far more relaxed than the first time.
My jump over Byron was also bettered by the fact that it was a Monday morning and most of my friends and family were making their way to work.
With the adrenalin still zooming through my veins I opted for one last adventure before heading back to Sydney. This time my ocean vessel was to be a kayak and my scrawny shoulders and toothpick arms were about to be tested like never before. With the wind at our backs heading out was easier than I thought. Once you get cruising it’s surprisingly a lot easier.The eyes began to play tricks again but it wasn’t long before we had dolphins swimming underneath and around our kayaks. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had on water.
I’d like to say the next part of the journey was as graceful as a dolphin swimming, but alas it wasn’t. Many collisions, over-turns and saltwater swallowing followed as we attempted to surf the waves onto the beach to have a cuppa and a Tim Tam. A chocolate-covered biscuit never tasted so good.
I rubbed the remainder of the sand off my feet as I arrived into Ballina airport feeling wetter, wiser and wilder. For the record, henna is spelt with two ‘n’s; ‘hippie’ comes from the word ‘hipster’ which is said to be someone who is “in the know”; bongos and bongs – it’s no coincidence; and my dreadlocks, well, I’ll leave that one to the experts.
The damage & the details: Beds at Nomads Byron Bay (Ph: 1800 666 237, www.nomadshostels.com) cost from $30 a night. Whale watching (May to November) costs $75 and sea turtle snorkel tour costs $55 with Byron Bay Dive Centre (Ph: 1800 243 483, www.byronbaydivecentre.com.au). Kayaking with Cape Byron Kayaks (02 6680 9555, www.capebyronkayaks.com) costs $65; 14,000ft skydive with Skydive Byron Bay (1800 800 840, www.skydivebyronbay.com) costs $334.