Surf dude!

Amazingly, I was awake before 9am. I just couldn’t get back to sleep so I forced myself up and started on errands. Also amazingly, I wasn’t hung over. A large glass of water and I was fine.

The only bad result of the night out was my shirt stinking of smoke. Oz’s “no smoking indoors” policy varies from state to state and I don’t think it’s too well policed in resort areas, which sucks. It’s lovely and sunny here, so I did a quick was in the sink with some shower gel and hung the now none-smelly garment out to dry.

Breakfast was some fruit that I’d collected from the last hostel’s “free food” section and then I extended my stay by another two nights. Nice place, so no need to move on.

I needed to get myself to do something here, so I went to the travel office and sorted myself out with a surfing lesson for the afternoon (Black Dog Surfing) and a dive the next day (Byron Bay Dive Centre). Apparently the water here is great and the dives at Julian Rocks are only a couple of minutes’ boat ride from the shore.

I had been intending to do horse riding on the beach, but it’s $100 (more than a dive) and would take up an entire afternoon. I have a feeling I’ll return to Byron Bay sometime so it’s something to do then.

Surfing was great fun. The motto of the company is “If we can teach a dog to surf, we can teach you”. Well, they taught me. And that meand they can teach anyone. They guarantee to have you standing after one lesson or your next is free – everyone in our group was stable (ish) on a board at the end of the three hours.

I really wanted to get the pics they took, but at $15 per CD I just couldn’t justify the cost. I can surf again another time (board hire’s really cheap) and get someone else to take pictures for me.

Chris yesterday had got me talking about food and cooking, so I had a hankering for some decent grub. I bought a stack of veg and mince and treated myself to one of my for-the-lazy-cook stews. The bar here does happy hour (two for a fiver) beers from five till seven and I took full advantage of that while chatting to some of my fellow inmates.

Cheeky Monkey’s wasn’t as much fun as the previous night as I didn’t know anyone in there, so I just had the one beer before heading back to the hostel and a nice deep sleep.

ONE YEAR!!! I must be bananas

Happy birthday to me! Exactly a year ago today, I got on the plane from Heathrow and jetted off for Thailand to begin this insane trip. And you know what? My only regret is not doing it earlier in life (like when the Aussie government would let me work legally). Oh, and losing my girlfriend but that could have happened anywhere.

So what did I spend this important anniversary doing? Travelling. For twelve hours. But this is a good thing.

As plotted yesterday, I started off in the layby at the Sydney Harbour Bridge (south side) and within ten minutes had my first ride from a guy called Jason. He’s hitched across Europe so is always happy to pick up backpackers. He got me about 20km outside of the city and near a main artery road. There I was picked up by Roman – a builder/architect – who dropped me off a short distance up the road near Hornsby. Again, a good spot as many trucks go through here.

My one disappointment of the day came here. An Aston Martin DB9 drove past. In fairness, I don’t think it has enough luggage space for my rucksack, but I’d have at least have liked to try! Instead, Alan picked me up in his flatbed on the way to Gosford to drop off some industrial cleaning fluids to a garage there. After his errand, he went out of his way to drop me at a servo on the F3 where I chowed down on a McD’s and then jumped into a 4×4 for a short trip to the Pacific Highway junction (sorry – I forget the guy’s name who got me here).

I walked over the bridge there (safe – it’s a cycle path so walking must be alright) and had barely dropped my bags on the ground when Chris stopped. This was the golden lift – he wasn’t just going as far as Byron Bay, he was heading around 1000km north of Brisbane.

Roughly 8 hours and accompanied by a 1-ton machine part he was emergency-shipping to a mine somewhere, he dropped me at the outskirts of Byron Bay. Su-perb!

Chris was good company. We managed to natter for pretty much all of the journey and he even took my photo at the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour. Thanks, fella!

Oz has a huge collection of “Big” things – the banana, sheep, pineapples and a scary-as-all-hell shrimp on top of a BP garage we drove past. I will have nightmares. There’s also a miniature Uluru built by two guys who used to be on TV in the 60’s as the centrepiece for a themepark. Instead, they fell out and the big fibreglass monstrosity lay there for years until a garage chain bought it and built a shopping mall into the side. Bizarre.

After Chris dropped me off, I walked maybe a kilometre of the six towards the town centre when a minivan pulled up and the driver took me right up to the door of my hostel. Result – and my thanks to the driver who is also the owner of the 24-7 convenience store on Jonson Street!

Coach journey – 14 hours overnight (so no scenery) and $86. My journey time – 12 hours and completely and utterly free. I’d pretty much resigned myself to stopping somewhere 2/3 of the way up and getting to Byron on the 15th, but I made the whole trip in one go. Heck, had I been going to Brisbane, Chris could even have dropped me there – 1000km in one ride!

A couple of thanks, then, as I got two business cards:

  • For sprays that rejuvenate paintwork and are graffiti-proof, go to 2Guard and ask for Jason
  • Need something huge shipped across Oz on short notice? Contact 24/7 Parts Express at

I checked into the Aquarius hostel and dumped my stuff in the room. Nice place, if a little pricey – but all of Byron is expensive during peak season. The dorm’s nice with a sink and a fridge and tons of free space, plus it’s en-suite.

I desparately needed food as it was gone 10pm and I’d not eaten since lunch so I joined a group who were heading out for beer and detoured via a chippy for a chicken schnitzel, chips and gravy which was… erm… passable.

The people I’d headed out with seemed to have left the bar by the time I got there, but my antique Toon top got me chatting to about 12 people (I lost count of how many had recently spent 3 years at Newcastle Uni) and I spent most of the rest of the night with a guy from Nottingham.

We barhopped up to Cheeky Monkey’s which was passable as far as resort clubs go. $5 to get in and moderately expensive beer, but more eye candy than a whole street of sweet shops. I’ve yet to see an ugly woman in Byron – I don’t think they’re allowed in. Having said that, Byron’s female population alone could support any major make-up company for a year and keep them well in profit.

So, after going out for a quick bite and a beer, I collapsed in bed at around 3:30am… and read for 15 minutes before I nodded off.

What a way to spend a “birthday”!

Vietnam revisited

I opted to stay on an extra day in Sydney as I got an email from Mike (he of Blue Dragon fame) saying he was in town. Obviously, Mike’s not often in Oz on holiday (he’s usually fundraising) so there wasn’t going to be much chance to catch up with him. Today was my only opportunity, so we grabbed lunch.

Other than that, I spent more time on The Walk, plotting some more of the route. And relaxing a handful of the rules regarding distance. Without route-planning software and a detailed knowledge of the locales I’ll be going through, it’d be nigh-on impossible to calculate. Instead, I’ll do at least (and as close to) 1000 miles as possible.

As I’m heading to Byron Bay tomorrow and I’ve opted to hitch, I thought it best to spec out the best “pickup points” within easy distance. The Sydney Harbour Bridge seems a good position. There’s a natural bottleneck and a rescue vehicle bay large enough for people to pull into should they not be scared off by me. The only downside is that there are around 6 lanes of traffic pulling onto the bridge and I can only “thumb” one of them. Also, most traffic will be heading south into Sydney in the morning, but if somonne can get me north as far as a motorway service station, I should be OK. Worst case, I get halfway up and stay the night somewhere different!

As I was up at the bridge, I decided to have a wander round on foot. The west side has a cycle path for crossing the harbour while the east has a pedestrian walkway. Connecting the two (on the south side at least) near the observatory is a small tunnel. Silly things I have noticed number 176: someone, somewhen thought it would be good to plant their dusty footprint on the wall in the tunnel. Someone else followed up. Now there is a huge pattern of footprints on both sides of the tunnel from end to end. Frankly, I think it looks really good – like some kind of urban graffiti, but wash-offable. However, it looks like nobody’s bothering to wash it off which is a good thing.

On the way back I finally found a Krisp Kreme doughnut (the Aussies spell it properly, unlike the Yanks) shop. I’ve been looking for one for ages as people keep telling me they’re better than Dunkin Donuts (or Donut King as they’re branded here). Well… they ain’t. They’re not bad by any stretch, but Dunkin still rule the roost do(ugh)nut-wise. As Hans said when we were travelling together, this is my blog and therefore I’m always right so that’s the end of that argument.

Weird Al!!!

I’m sure I did some other stuff today, but mainly it was all killing time until the Weird Al gig at the Enmore Theatre.

Oh, one mention to a Swiss guy in my dorm who gave me some pointers on his country for The Walk, such as the fact that I can’t walk through any of the road tunnels, but that most have fairly direct hiking tracks over the top of them. His name’s Bernie – if you can’t figure out why this is a great name for a Swiss guy, check out that list of capital cities in your encyclopaedia.

Back to the main feature. I’ve waited something like 16 years to see this guy play live. If I remember correctly, I picked up a copy of one of his albums in a discount store in Newcastle when I was still at school. Then I spent an age tracking down all his older stuff. Heck, when I was younger and had long hair, I looked like his love child. Scary, indeed.

The thing is, to the best of my knowledge he’s never toured the UK. He certainly hasn’t as long as I’ve been on the lookout. I don’t know how often he plays in Oz, but the number and location of tour dates here is impressive. I’m glad to say that the show’s as funny as I’d hoped, though there seemed to be some mic problems – but these things happen.

This is the first seated concert I’ve been to in a really long time. The Apollo in Manchester started removing the seats pre-gig once the realised that replacing the damaged ones after every gig was more expensive than uprooting them and storing them safely for the duration. I was in S-5 which sounds bad, but wasn’t actually too far back.

The lights dimmed. The announcer announced.

And some comedian from Byron Bay came on stage.

In fairness, he wasn’t bad. I suppose every act needs a warm-up and a comedian was a good choice for a Weird Al gig. Still, the crowd was baying for Al. The stand-up got a good send-off and a decent applause (deservedly – he was quite funny) and then everyone sat around for another fifteen minutes.

At last.

Lights down again. Videos on big projector screens. The sound of an accordion… and Al!

The set must have lasted two hours, perhaps a bit longer. There was no way he’d play every song people wanted, but the selection was top notch. A handful of full length tracks was followed by a very long medley of part-tracks involving on-stage costume changes as well as one or two lyrical updatings of previous parodies. The single verse of Headline News (Crash Test Dummies Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm) was fairly topical:

Once there was a girl who, drove around in limousines and didn’t wear her panties
Then one day she lost it, cut off all her hair and didn’t even have a reason
It had always been there

(somewhat inaccurate, but you get the point)

Of course we got Canadian Idiot complete with paper streamers exploding at the end; Fat with the huge “fat-suit”; Amish Paradise; Polkarama! with the original music videos in the background perfectly lyp-synced to the live stuff; Do I Creep You Out while Al “got jiggy with” several embarassed audience members; Smells Like Nirvana with no sign of a shotgun anywhere…

It was great. I’d say the only disappointment was that it didn’t last seven hours and contain everything he’s ever done. Yes, I’m greedy.

The between-set Al-TV videos which gave the cast time to change costumes varied from amusing to hilarious. Celine Dion, Madonna, Eminem, Keith Richards and more had the “fake interview” treatment, plus the video for Weasel Stomping Day and some parody healthy and safety infomercials.

That was pretty much the day. I ate for free when I got back – in fact I paid for one tin of beans all day. Thanks to the European contingent for leaving me to much free food! And whoever left the big Coles bag in the “free” section so I won’t be short of bread.

Looooooooong day

I was up fairly early again as I’d been sleeping in someone’s lounge, so spent the first few waking hours in a semi-daze until I found somewhere to snooze for a while. A final BBQ lunch was washed down with definitely non-alcoholic beverages and one of my new friends gave me a lift back to Sydney – thank you Sam!

I had a great weekend, even if I was more exhausted after it than before! I won’t thank everyone simply as I’d miss someone out, and I don’t want to do that. So thank you all!

Back at the hostel I again met Sophie, Delphine and Jerome. They’d stayed on a day longer than expected with their train to Canberra early the next morning. Delphine and I decided to go to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner and – after some slightly not-quite-right directions – we eventually found it about a hundred metres from where we’d had dinner with Sophie’s parents.

Nestled next to Michael Jackson’s shoes, Elvis’s belt, some hand-written Sex pistols lyrics and a gazillion shiny commemorative 12″ discs we chowed down on some very nice food. The barbequeue sauce on my ribs and chicken was amongst the best I’ve ever tasted and we can both recommend the apple cobbler dessert.

We were more or less rolled out the door after our meal and somehow managed to drag our extended bellies back to the hostel by way of Hyde Park where we stopped to look at the war memorial and let a possum sniff our fingers.

Then I found out it was FA Cup night with three matches on ESPN one after the other. I was still awake when the French/Belgian contingent’s taxi arrived to take them to the train station!

With any luck I’ll catch up with them in Australia again, though our plans don’t work out at present. Still, mine’s always subject to change!