Canoes and goon

Noosa & Byron Bay – Australia

February 2008

It rained most days on the east coast not that we had much time to think about it. The day after returning from Fraser Island we were back on the bus making the five hour journey down to Noosa where we were than picked up buy yet another tour company who transported us deep into a jungle. We had never heard of Noosa and originally had no plans to go until the wee lass in Sydney threw a canoe trip into our itinerary for free. You see this was before the days of Google being easily available on a smartphone and so when we turned up to these new places we didn’t really know what to expect. Right now we were sat in tents in the rainforest, in the pouring rain, light rapidly fading as the afternoon wore on, wondering what the hell we had signed up to. The one blessing was that there was no bar and all we could do was get a good night sleep on camp beds before rising at 6.30am the following day. So what had we signed up to!?

Turns out Noosa is (yawn) yet another paradise in Australia. A small resort town popular with surfers, it has beautiful beaches with the town hidden away in the surrounding forest which is in fact the gateway to the Noosa River Everglades and it is this that we were here to explore for free. With a small amount of gear packed into waterproof barrels including food and a well stocked bar, we loaded up our open canoes and began our two day, 42km canoe trip through a part of Australia that I assume most backpackers simply can’t be arsed with. Lets face it we were only doing it because it was free but little did we know it would turn out to be one of the highlights of the whole tour. The group was small, just Laura, Phil and I, a quiet Canadian couple and thankfully our two Norwegian friends we had been travelling with since the Whitsundays, Monica and Hilda. There is no greater pleasure in life than watching couples canoeing together! Canadians obviously commute everywhere by canoe and so they had it mastered plus they are too polite to argue with each other. Being an odd number I got to team up with the Norwegians who themselves are obviously outdoor enthusiasts and with three of us onboard we made light work of getting around. Phil and Laura on the other hand? Well, every time they got on the water it was like watching kids on the dodgems at the fair and if you were hoping for a spot of birdwatching over the following few days, forget it. I don’t know if crocodiles were present but I can guarantee they wouldn’t have bothered with us for all the bickering coming from the future Veltom’s canoe was enough to send anyone in the opposite direction. Simply hilarious to observe though!

We had a set itinerary to follow but one thing I’m very bad at in life is pacing myself and by midday we had completed 14km and arrived at our overnight camp. Parked up, we cooled off with a swim in the river, set up camp and lazed in the sun while intriguing ourselves with the huge lizard that had positioned himself under one of the picnic benches. Sure enough as the afternoon wore on we got battered by thunderstorms yet we heroically battled on with dinner and continued on playing cards and drinking goon. Amazingly this was the one and only night I overdid it on the drink and I believe goon is to blame. On the east cost of Australia it was mandatory that backpackers drink beer or goon, at least it felt like that. I mostly stuck to beer with Phil and Laura and every now and then had a cheeky cup of goon when offered. For this trip it was wise to pack light and so goon was a more efficient option than beer. So what is it!? It’s wine. Wine that I’m guessing is flushed out of the lines with ethanol at the winery, put into boxes and sold to backpackers for bargain prices. It makes Lambrini look like a classy drink for the upper class and it made me look like a complete prick on this occasion. Although many would argue that me returning my stomach to the world is less embarrassing then when I’m running around as an excitable and loud drunk.

The next day hurt but we woke to a sunny day and hit the water by 8.30am making the 7km trip up-river to where we would park up and begin a 12km hike. It sounds like a lot of effort and it was but the weather held firm and our hike took us up a huge sand hill which offered spectacular views of the surrounding Everglades. I had never seen anything like it before. We had left the river with the mangroves and bush, walked up through the forest and emerged onto a small desert, best described as a colossal dune. Every step and every stroke of the paddle had been worth it. We were pretty much the only people there far away from the hustle and bustle of the main backpacker thoroughfare and surrounded by much needed peace and tranquility after the mayhem of the past few weeks. We continued the theme, completing the hike and casually paddling back down to our campsite where we arrived around 3pm and enjoyed swims, naps and cards. Bedtime was 8.30pm! There was a reason for this as we had to be back at basecamp for 9am the following morning on the back of a 14km paddle. This gave us a free day in Noosa and I was excited to get to the beach but shock, it rained all afternoon and the highlight turned out to be meeting a couple from Leicester who happened to be best uni-mates with one of my old school friends. You would be surprised how often this happens!

For me at least Noosa turned out to be the last great experience on the east coast. We caught the bus from Noosa direct to Australia Zoo, Steve Irwin’s home which I feel is a bit like Disney World but with animals. It’s worth a quick mention simply because of how fun the zoo is made to feel and the fact that there is a huge emphasis on environmental and habitat protection plus I got to see a Tasmanian Devil! We then headed straight onto Brisbane for the night, a pleasant city but didn’t feel the need or have time to hang around for we felt we had to stop at Surfers Paradise. I will cut to the chase. Surfers Paradise is shit. You may find this ironic but Surfers is simply a place to go and get drunk, play on the fairground rides, spend money on crap you don’t need and look a douche on the beach. And this is part of the problem with the east coast as a whole, people travel there to drink and laze about in hostels and on beaches for months on end. I love a drink but that comes secondary to the travel. Better to be drunk somewhere epic in my opinion. We found ourselves going out at night in Surfers simply because that was the thing to do, not because it was what we wanted to do. It didn’t help that it rained the whole time we were there which confined me to the hostel, reading and watching movies.

Byron Bay was the final stop before beginning are trek west and towards home. One of the iconic destinations in Australia I can also confirm that this too is rather overrated, especially after seeing Noosa. The problem is I’m not really a hip surfer dude, a mellowed out child of the earth looking to find oneself, or that much of a backpacker to be honest! I like to be on the move seeing new things and keeping active. Travelling from one coastal resort to the next, drinking at night, doing nothing during the day is not my thing and after three weeks of just that I was beginning to tire and of course it was still raining. Don’t get me wrong, I was having the time of my life and loved every single second to the point I would do it all again but as I have come to learnt over the years, it’s the little places you have never heard of that supply the biggest joy, not the well-travelled safe havens. It’s hard to cast a place in a positive light when you experience it with illness or during rubbish weather but as already mentioned if I had to pick one of the two I would bypass Byron Bay and head straight to Noosa. Fine Noosa is probably a little more lardy dar than Byron but it still has a relaxed backpacker scene and is surrounded by so much to do.

As for Byron Bay I was determined to make the most of it as were Laura and Phil who made the most of a wet day by watching not one but two movies in the local cinema. I opted for a little sea kayaking which kicked off at 8am and although the weather was miserable we were surrounded by dolphins within thirty minutes. Before Australia I had always wanted to see dolphins and I was treated to my first sighting on a boat trip when working in Esperance a few months before. Now they were within touching distance and as they explored our kayaks I couldn’t have been happier. The morning continued on exploring the coastline and finished surfing the waves as they rolled onto the beach. The whole affair complete sat on the beach drinking a well earned hot cup of tea alongside biscuits! By now the rain had stopped and the clouds lifted a little and so I took the opportunity to walk to the lighthouse that sits atop a small rocky outcrop overlooking the bay. Australia are experts at constructing board walks and well maintained paths along beautiful stretches of coastline and this was no exception. It turns out Byron Bay is beautiful complete with little surprises but still it isn’t unique. As a sign of the trip slowing towards its conclusion I spent the afternoon turning a whole loaf of bread into cheese and tomato sandwiches which I planned to live on for the next twenty-four hours in the worlds lamest attempt to save a few pennies! And after two, wet nights in Byron Bay we jumped onto a night bus for the last time for a twelve hour journey that would see us arriving back in Sydney at 9am. In around forty days, by land we had rounded half of Australia, passing through it’s stunning heart and tracing some of the most spectacular coastline on the planet. No matter what I have said, everyone should do the same if they ever get chance. There’s a reason why Australians are so arrogant and that is their country really is that damn good! As for Laura, Phil and I, we had one last adventure before flying home.



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