Visuals: Byron Bay

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Any “serious” traveller would chastise me for what I’m about to type but I genuinely think Byron was my favourite place I visited in Australia (though that isn’t very many places at all). The beaches, the boutiques, the chilled out vibe. Blue skies, frothing waves, the most perfect sunsets. There was even this strange but consuming tribe like celebration for the New Moon, which I regretfully didn’t capture on camera (it was this fiery ball sinking into the ocean, I felt all trembly, my energy was so wayward and I thought maybe it was the apocolaypse). Every person you pass on the street, every view you catch from the car window is some special kind of creative energy. On the interwebs there is many a photographer, fashion guru, artist who I follow who reside here and I can see why. It’s balance and vision and sunshine tones. The buskers, the cafe’s, the store’s are all art. It’s the beach town of my dreams, if only it weren’t so busy I’d probably settle there for a while.

Nx

Also be sure to check out my first ever, very amateur but a little bit fun, Youtube video, following my adventures around Sydney for a day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C9rNaeWgX4&t=3s

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A Magical place called Coffs…

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Sunset at Sawtell Headlands
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View of Coffs Harbour from Muttonbird Island
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Jetty Beach
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More of Jetty Beach
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and again…
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and again…
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and again
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Frothing…

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Supply Coffee feat. vegan carrot cake
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Park beach
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more park beach
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Hike to sea dolphins…Boambee Beach
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Emerald Beach

Coffs Harbour is a little beach town somewhere between Sydney and Byron Bay. Maybe I’m bias because I called this magical little piece of the East Coast home for four months, when even four days would be more than enough to see everything, but I really think you should stop to check it out if you’re given the chance. Many of the popular East Coast tour companies skip it out, take you from Port Macquarie to Yamba without so much as a nod at Coffs. But you gotta stop bro!

Dem Beaches:

The beaches were my sanctuary after brutally hot days blueberry picking. Jetty beach is a haven, rarely busy unless it’s a school holiday, mostly sheltered from the wind and the waters are clear and still. You get the chance to jump off the jetty or even swim with the wild jetty dolphin if you’re lucky. For waves the surfer types prefer Boambee beach (Gallows) or Park beach, they stretch out longer and the ocean is wilder. Still picturesque and brilliant for tanning and swimming but definitely wavier. A little further on you’ll find Emerald beach with it’s wild kangaroo’s too!

Shopping:
The jetty was my stomping grounds so I’m familiar with that area most but there are fair shopping opportunities up in Coffs town centre, the palms shopping centre has bigger stores like kathmandu and franchises like Boost juice, whilst the surrounding streets are home to more local treasures like the wholesome Happy Frog cafe where you can grab THE BEST vegan friendly smoothies and organic local produce. You’ll also find Wrecked vintage here, a young independent vintage store, with some unique finds as well as home grown designs. Further afield you’ll find the plaza, a bigger mall where you can find chain stores like Cotton on and JB HiFi. And if you have a little more time to spare try out the surrounding area’s for more trendy, aussie style digs. Sawtell and Belligen are home to some nifty spots to grab coffee and mooch in local boutiques and if you plan your visit you can even catch the Bellingen markets which happen on the third Saturday of each month.

Eats and Drinks:

Around the Jetty area you won’t find shops but you will find hipster worthy cafe’s and bars aplenty. By the Jetty, on the Harbour there is a small row of restaurants including an ace burger joint called ‘Attitude Burgers’ amongst other little eateries. Further up by the train tracks you’ll find Fiasco, a little Italian restaurant and bar with the BESTEST staff. I worked here a few evenings a week, enough to notice the familiar faces of happy regulars and to sample one of each cocktail from their extensive, slightly unique, list. It’s great for wines and the manager Al will help you out if you’re a little overwhelmed by their catalogue. Oh and their pizza’s are pretty good too! If you carry on again you’ll come to a strip of nooks, among them you’ll find the cool Coffs locals chilling at element bar, a city type, industrial styled space with hard working kitchen staff (my friend Riva smashes it as a chef there) and super friendly waitresses full of helpfulness. Again you can find yourself an awesome cocktail here and live music on a Sunday night. There are other little gems dotted around element, try Sakura for tasty Japanese food or Old John’s cafe on a Wednesday night for slider’s. Best of all, all of the places mentioned recognise what vegan means and are more than happy to help you out with their menu’s.

Coffeeeeeeeee:

If you’re in need of coffee then Supply on Orlando street is where it’s at. A very new, trendy coffee shop, with fresh white brick walls and lots of open space, you can catch a whiff of ocean breeze from the seating outside or keep cool inside with wifi access. They do the most delicious vegan cakes…like the best I’ve tried. The raw snickers bar is bomb and the tiramisu so indulgent and they’re also made with whole food ingredients so technically they’re healthy…right? I always opt for an iced latte made with their in house mooless milk, a combo of almond and coconut milks, lighter than soy and not as invasive a taste.

A place to call home:

So again this little tidbit is slightly bias but I would full heartedly recommend the YHA as the place to stay. With options of private, family, four bed and six bed rooms it’s a great place for families and backpackers alike. Despite the branding it’s family run so you’ll often catch Bret or his wonderful daughter Rory at reception. The night manager Kate is the loveliest girl alive and if you have a spare minute you should definitely stop at the reception desk for a chat because they’re all more than capable of making your day with a good convo and a giggle or two! The longterm backpackers who work for their stay do a spiffing job of keeping the place all clean and tidy and it’s one of the nicest hostel environments I encountered. It’s also a two minute walk from both Jetty and park beach as well as being in amongst all those cafe’s and restaurants I mentioned. So get excited and book your stay there!

N x

Visuals: Watson’s Bay Walk

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A Guide to Ubud…

There is so much to do in Ubud and of the three places I spent time in (Kuta, Ubud, Seminyak) it was definitely my most favourite. I spent four nights here in the Pandok Permata Homestay, maybe a night too long if you’re pushed for time but you could also definitely spend longer here if time, and money, is to your advantage. The hostel was beyond what I expected, beautiful intricate balinese furnishings and impeccably clean rooms with the most serene of views. The family who owned the place were forever happy to help and organised for a tour of some nearby hotspots for us at a ridiculously reasonable price. And a bonus? They have dogs! And the cutest little puppy full of hugs and playfulness.

Places to visit:

  • Jalan Gautama -My favourite little side street, quirky and busy with the yummiest and most creative eateries, lots of vegan choices on flavoursome menus too, there’ll be a couple spots reviewed in my Bali vegan food guide.
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    Please excuse the face, I was mid scream.

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  • The Monkey Forest – A rare moment when human’s are the spectacle.  I was honest to goodness attacked by two of the cutest little shits when I tried to grab my camera out of my backpack. I saw a few keys glittering in small, almost human, hands and a few of the more sinister little guys terrorising tourists keen to take a close up of their deceptively innocent faces.Processed with VSCO with c1 presetOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Tegenungan Waterfall – A great stop for that pretentious “traveller” snap and quick dip, we timed it right, getting there just before an onslaught of tourists. img_8299screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-15-14-02
  • Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple – This is the place to go for that famous holy bathing snap us tourists go nuts for. But make sure to wear something that covers your knees, or buy your own sarong. You get given one, free of charge at the temple entrance but you’re not allowed to get them wet, so I missed out on actually going into the holy bath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Goa Gajah Temple – Or “Elephant Cave” temple. All of the temples we visited were awe inspiring to me, it’s such a peaceful space and all of them connect with the natural landscape in such a beautiful way. This one in particular had me feeling the Indiana Jones vibes.img_8322img_8330
  • Tegalalang Rice Terrace -One of the most iconic Bali landscapes, I think. I’ve seen this space splashed all over travel instagrams for years. As with everything “touristic” though, you really do have to see it and experience it for yourself.

I’m pretty sure none of these things are new to you if you’ve ever been to, or have planned to, head to Bali but I wanted to share them anyways because I had one of my favourite travel experiences so far touring through them all. Happy travels to anyone headed to Bali soon, it’s beyond magical and by far my favourite place I’ve been too.

 

P.S. If you’re interested in seeing some of my less than average travel photography then check out My “photography” blog

Kuta…

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Screeching of wheels, violent screams of horns, whizzing of scooters swerve through traffic and people precariously walk to avoid their urgent rampage onto the pavement. The roads are packed, jammed, a mess of loud overheating vehicles.

Lining these roads are ‘Warungs’ of harem pants in garish prints, faux Ralph Lauren polos and smiling shopkeepers with charming English enticements memorised for weak materialistic westerners. The people are friendly but do need to make a living, they tirelessly push with desperate grins and outreached hands. I smile and shake my head, a thousand ‘No Thank you’s’ as I follow on the narrow pathway behind my friend, stepping over happy religious offerings of flowers and sweets. Nothing seems real in these early moments, as an onslaught of voices and intricate architecture hound my laid back demeanour.

I remember one thing especially clear from our first expedition into the roads of Kuta. Three men netting up a stray dog out in the open, in plain sight of tourists and locals alike. My hands clenched into fists as I turned my gaze away, not nearly quickly enough to avoid seeing the poor creature move ever so slightly. The scene is haunting still now as I torment myself for not being brave enough to intervene, a self proclaimed animal activist who left a victim in pain and torment. But then my conscience was toying with what I viewed as right and what their world viewed as right. I guess that acceptance of being the privileged outsider is a bitter fact to accept but an important one too. It’s still not an excuse I should of stepped in. My role as the outsider would only become further realised as my trip continues.

After this incomprehensible scene my mind is momentarily cleared, my body relaxed as we make it onto the beach. By this point many a traveller in many a hostel have regaled tales of heavy parties, drunken stupidity and the splendour of Kuta beach to my eager inexperienced ears. But this is something you have to experience yourself. It’s covered in tourists, not quite a tropical retreat, the salesman are ever present with their surfboards, their chairs, their warm Bintangs but it’s part of its charm. The sea is crystal clear, frothing waves speckled with surfers, gleeful kids paddle in the shallows, the salt water calm sneaks up onto the almost white sand and bathes my feet, grounding and inspiring me. I nod my head softly and exhale, its been a couple of hard working months since I got to really enjoy a beach this way. There will never be anywhere I feel more at home than by the sea, soaked by the sun.

 

Blue Mountains: A Subtle Spiritual journey…

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Dark grey, stormy skies, an overenthusiastic tour guide, a mini bus filled with people and all that at stupid o’clock in the morning before my first coffee. The tour guide is called Ben, he drives us whilst chatting on and on about our days adventure in the Blue Mountains and though its been on my Sydney Bucketlist since the beginning of my planning time, I couldn’t be any less indifferent to be heading there. After all, the only reason it’s even on my list is because the guidebooks tell me I should see it, tell me it’s crucial to completely embracing the Australian experience. But as Ben chats on and moves toward Aboriginal history and connections to the mountains, my spirit lifts, it feels like less of a tourist experience and more of a spiritual one. And boy does he know his stuff, talking about dream time and, respectfully, about how the land is entrenched in their turbulent history. You can tell he has researched this stuff, with book recommendations and personal encounters dropped in to his spiel. The mini bus takes us off the main highway and onto country roads, we stop to spot kangaroos and make our way through gorgeous green fields and quaint villages.
When we arrive we’re engulfed in green, the air reminds me of England in the spring, clean and crisp with the subtle scent of rain tickling your nose. It doesn’t rain at all that day but the promise of it does something to the landscape I can’t quite process. We make our way through the bush, Ben stopping every now and then to impart his wisdom on various plants and their aboriginal uses. He mentions one that wards off mosquitoes and I itch to uproot it there and then, looking embarrassedly at my bitten up legs. We wind down, and down until we come to a viewpoint. Before I can get out my camera and snap it, i inhale dramatically and let out a silent “shit”. Nature has this way with me, with all of us really, where it reminds you of your insignificance. Like looking at the sea and remembering how vast and unexplored it is. It also remind me, though I’m unsure if this is the case for anyone else, about how brutal humans are, how conquering and destructive. I fantasise about a treehouse in these forests with solar panels and a little stream to collect my water from.
As we head down the steepest stairs in the rock face we follow the decent of a waterfall, we see it spill over the ledge and then follow to see the spray of water dance down the rock face. We climb through, take pictures under the waterfall. Everyone is content and humbled by our natural surroundings, bustling with ignited realisation until that realisation lands on the steep staircase we now have to ascend. I’m not the fittest of people, I do not like exercise, I suddenly find myself back in my indifferent state as I sweat and stumble my way up the stone steps.
Next we are taken to a new location, I’m surprised by the expanse of the mountains. I expected a little walk and a couple of viewpoints but its entirety is so large you need a vehicle to get you from place to place. Our next stop is just a viewpoint, again there are trees, again surprised gasps, again I regret ever being disappointed by this experience. It’s just so green, so pure, so magical.
After lunch in a small town (I have chips, the vegan selection is less than impressive) we start off toward another part of the mountains. My favourite, though the most tourist populated, point. This is when I understand the name. The Blue hue doesn’t show up on my camera and it disappoints me hugely but also reminds me how misleading pictures are. I’ve seen the best photography of the Blue Mountains, I’ve been overwhelmed with wanderlust to see them myself, I’ve also been told by doubting work mates that I don’t need to spend the money to see these places if I’ve already seen a gizzilion photos of them. But seeing is not experiencing and I’m lost in that thought as I stare out into this breathtaking scene. It can’t be real, our world is not this beautiful. But it is and I’m hopeful now that I’m standing taking this in. Then a German man with his hundred inch camera lens elbows the side of my head to squeeze his way in, I hate people, I am indifferent to this whole experience.
We trek down a small trail to see the three sisters, three stones that I don’t understand the significance of in comparison to the surrounding wonder. Ben changes that on the way back in the mini van with his story time. Telling us both the kid and adult versions of the aboriginal tale (I prefer the childrens version). This is of three sisters, turned to stone for loving the wrong men (adult) or ticking off the wrong magic man (kids version, better right?). There is much more to it but I couldn’t do it justice. With this and my vision of the three rocks I’m giddy in the mini van, happy to have paid  for this adventure.
Our last stop is the air, cable car, train ride thingy, a couple more trails through the floor of the forest, an old mining set up with a creepy as fuck looking haunted house (Love!) and some ski lift type situation and underwhelming rollercoaster thingy. I’m glad I did it but for $30 extra not that glad. Still I seemed to be the only one who didn’t appreciate it so definitely consider the add on. You can also take in an aboriginal show for a little extra but after my studies on travel writing and the authenticity of experiences such as those I was morally torn by whether to do it or not and I kinda regret deciding not to.
So the Blue Mountains was crucial in reminding me that everyone experiences things differently. That nature can heal and inspire you like no amount of coffee and philosophy can. It’s a feeling that you get when you’re lost (mentally) in amongst trees, no buildings in sight. iId love to go back alone and take on a maybe less well known trial, somewhere quiet where I can really get lost. I’d definitely recommend this excursion though, and even more so recommend it with Ben. I thought he was a bit arrogant in the beginning but honestly? he fits right in sitting in a rock in the middle of the forest, there is so much heart in the way he talks about the mountains and their stories and he makes you feel extra special even though he does these tours every day.

Journal Scraps: Port Stephens…

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Where: Port Stephens (or there abouts), Australia
Part of the UltimateOz intro week, at base camp – https://www.ultimate.travel/ultimateoz-sydney/
Worth checking out if you’re planning a trip to Australia, awesome group leaders, fun activities and a great way to meet people. 


We walk down the footpath in the darkness for the first time, barefoot on rural earth, cider in hand, slight stumbles and whispered slurs. As we step onto the warm sand there is a still silence as we take it in, the constellations so clear above, alive in a way our city hooded eyes had never seen, in the distance the waves leap onto the shore in a serene melody and the air around stirs clean and calm.

A bunch of backpackers from cities around the world are brought together in this moment to admire a nature so lost and so unfairly alien that we are all connected in our awe, our desire to reconcile with mother earth and her secrets, secrets like this one.

To be away from the place we’ve come from, to be there in the moment on a high from natural bliss, to be something more than our physical boulders, cementing us down in our man made chaos. And I talk to them in clusters around the beach, listen in on conversation, lose lips tangle up truths. shakey minds let tidbits slip through the gaps. We’re all at our most vulnerable and filled up with emotion. Some people are there for adventure, for stories to write home about. Others are seeking a new life, a chance for a fresh start, experience to still their panicked minds.

Then there are us , the youthful, the reckless, the ones blind to expectant reality, wanderers with uncertain fates. But we’re all united here on a desolate beach, in Port Stephens, Australia, looking up at the same star filled sky, seeing all varying possibilities in their illuminations, all comforted and terrified simultaneously by what is and what will be and what could be.