Well, after spending five days there, I can still neither confirm nor deny that Surfers’ Paradise lives up to its name.
We never got round to surfing. In fact, most of us never even got round to going in the sea. The first free day we had, the Canadians headed down to the beach early and reported back that within minutes their towels were fully submerged in sand.
Unsurprisingly, we made a unanimous decision to stay and sunbathe by the hostel pool.
The beach in Surfers’ was pretty nice, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. It seemed to be consistently windy there (which it wasn’t by the hostel pool), and jellyfish were a common occurrence (which they weren’t in the hostel pool). I’m sure you can understand our decision to stay put.
More than anywhere else on the east coast so far, in Surfers we spent a lot of our time in the hostel, Backpackers in Paradise. The people there were lovely, the pool was refreshing, the sun loungers plentiful. The evenings were spent by the bar, whether we went out to town or not, and the beers were (relatively) reasonably priced.
All we knew about Surfers really was that drinking and surfing were the main attractions there. We’d heard it compared to Miami in the shape of its landscape: skyscrapers and high-rise buildings facing directly onto sandy beaches and the ocean. I have to say, I found it a bit odd. It seemed simultaneously like a big city and a beachy town: small or large, I couldn’t tell you. We had to get an Uber to the shopping centre, yet all the clubs were within walking distance of the hostel.
Almost immediately upon arrival, the Canadians got scammed into buying club crawl tickets from the dubiously named ‘Hangover Club’, one of many organisations who hang around on the streets enticing unwary tourists into paying over the odds for very average nights out. As soon as we all sat down back at the hostel, our eyes were drawn to the huge sign above the entrance: “Caution – do not sign up to club crawl nights.” Oops.
See, if they had been shopping with us Brits, intrinsically cynical and budget-conscious, they never would have got into that mess.
Ah well. It’s only money.
The next day we were all the embodiment of the Hangover Club. Things had somehow escalated from a casual drink down in the bar to multiple free Jagerbombs from a guy who was celebrating his birthday, and after that it all gets a bit blurry. It was our first night there, after all.
Of all the days on the trip so far, I think I moved the least on this one. It was a real tough day. Many crisps were consumed.
To mend ourselves, that evening we took a long-awaited trip to the cinema. Upsettingly, the new Bridget Jones film is no longer running in cinemas here, so we had to settle for watching The Girl on the Train – a slightly strange choice for five very hungover brains, perhaps, but enjoyable nonetheless. We made great friends with our Uber driver on the way there. Trevor told us all about his future plans of a trip to the UK, and we had a very lengthy conversation about train times and costs. Good ol’ Trevor.
The day after was fully dedicated to sunbathing, swimming and lounging by the pool, and it was wonderful. I can now proudly say I am the owner of a real-life tan. It may be undetectable to the human eye, but at least I know it’s there.
On our last full day in Surfers we felt that we should do something a little more proactive with our time, so we decided to rent a car to drive to Springbrook, a nearby national park. It was necessary to get an SUV, what with there being six of us, and the whole way to the car rental place I was praying that the car wouldn’t be a manual so that I wouldn’t have to drive (those darn Canadians with their automatic cars!).
Thankfully my prayers were answered in the form of a pristine, shiny-white, automatic Honda. Hillary took up the mantle of driving (she was the only one brave enough and not feeling fragile), and off we went, taking mere minutes to adjust to driving on what was, for Hill, the wrong side of the road.
Guided by Phea’s helpful SatNav, and perked up by her cheesy playlist, we wound our way along the Queensland roads towards the national park. We are not the easiest passengers at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. As we got further into the hills the roads narrowed and the edge of the track dropped away into crumbling cliffs. We were no longer just singing along (badly) to the music: we were making barely concealed noises of terror and averting our eyes from the road. The Satnav was not particularly helping matters, given as it is to repeatedly announcing its directions (in five hundred metres, turn right; in four hundred metres, turn right; in three hundred metres, turn right OKAY OKAY WE GET IT WE WILL TURN RIGHT!!!).
At times on those hairpin bends the car felt wider than the road, particularly for Emma and I who were sat in the back – where the boot would be on any normal car – and had only the tiniest of windows to look through. I spent most of the journey with a sarong over my head and my head between my knees. Not that I’m a nervous passenger or anything.
Anyway, despite our fears, and our doubtless annoying commentary trying to get Hill to get further away from the edge of the road, and slow down, we made it to the national park all in one piece – all praise to the driver. We were all extremely happy to get out of the car.
Though we had all dressed in active wear, this may have been a bit of a stretch for this particular visit. In the event, we didn’t do much ‘being active’: instead of walking round the national park, we drove from lookout point to lookout point, took some pictures, and moved on. Some of us weren’t up to walking, anyway.
That said, there were some amazing views from those lookout points; it was still very much a worthwhile trip. My favourite was the inventively named ‘Best of All viewpoint’, and not just because of its name. Sadly my camera skills aren’t particularly up to the challenge of conveying the impressiveness of the panoramas we saw, but I did my best.
Having ticked off all the viewpoints, we wended our way back down the death-defying roads to the hostel – very conscious that what we wanted least of all was to be driving back in the dark. None of us could have coped with that, I think.
We had a few more casual drinks that evening – it was our last night, after all – but largely went to bed at a reasonable hour. Being hungover on a Greyhound, no matter how short the journey, is a very unappealing thought.
Coolangatta was our next stop, reputedly a beachy town which would be a welcome break from the madness of Surfers. It was only a forty minute bus ride, but signified (finally) our entry to a new state. Hellooooo New South Wales! Exciting though this was, it did make it a bit confusing to try and figure out the time. Hillary’s iPhone changed timezones several times a day, and there was a brief panicked moment where we were concerned that our bus out of there would run according to New South Wales time (and therefore we had missed it).
Luckily we hadn’t.
On our arrival to the town, we were faced with possibly our longest walk yet from bus to hostel, and it was not welcome. It was sweltering hot, and I will never ever get used to lugging a backpack around (not without complaining loudly, anyway). When we finally made it to our new home, our grumpiness was compounded by the fact that we had arrived mid-Sunday session, so the bar was absolutely rammed and the music intensely head-pounding, and the hostel didn’t have a kitchen.
I mean, really. A hostel, in Australia, without a kitchen. Silly, silly people.
We moved past our irritation in a big way, though, jumping on the excuse to go out and eat a delicious restaurant meal. Phea, Annie and I went to a place called George’s, along the esplanade, whose decor was Greek but whose menu was very much confused. Our meals were incredible, though, meriting photographic documentation and frequent sighs of contentment. Annie ordered pretty much everything on the menu. There is little that girl won’t do for a good pudding.
That evening we didn’t feel like joining the still ongoing party, so we escaped for a few beers in a hotel down the road. It was actually a really nice evening, being regaled with tales from our new pal Jamie about Couchsurfing in Brisbane with a somewhat overenthusiastic host. $8 pints though – ouch.
The next day was the closest thing to a beach day that we can manage at the moment: lying on the beach for just long enough to become covered in a mixture of sand and sun cream, running in the sea to rinse off, then escaping to the comfort of the hostel pool. In fairness, it was a particularly good pool, and one of those rare occasions where the sun loungers are actually comfortable and don’t leave a netted imprint across your whole body after usage.
We quickly gave up on the idea of having a beach-side barbecue that evening in favour of going to McDonalds, and it was a decision I stand by. There won’t be many kitchenless hostels on this trip, so when we do come across them we may as well take full advantage.
An early night and an early bus followed, and now here we are in Byron Bay, the most glorious and much talked-up hippy backpacker hangout along the east coast. It looks like it might be time to start thinking about jobs – not only because this area would probably be a great place to spend some time, but also because we have a month and more before we need to catch our Christmas flight to Melbourne. We shall see, though: there are many options available and still a lot of places to see, so by the time I write my next blog I might have changed my mind and decided on a trip to the outback or a jaunt to Tasmania.
I love this backpacker life.
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