I left Sydney early Saturday morning on a bright green "Oz Experience" bus containing 16 young woman, one guy, and the father of one of the girls. Many many Canadians, for some reason. We traveled the first day as far as the Warrumbungles National Park, and stayed in a hostel/campground where we were practically the only guests. The cost of accomodation included a home-cooked roast meal with dessert as well as an astronomy lecture. The lecturer took us outside at the end to show us constellations, and we were actually able to see them clearly. We also saw the band of the Milky Way stretching above us and a meteorite. It was beautiful.
The next day we began with a bushwalk to a scenic lookout in the park. It was about an hour's walk, and Courtney- the one other American on the trip- and I led the pack by a significant margin. This meant that on the way back, we were able to see the wild kangaroos feeding next to the track before the rest of the group tramped up noisily to inadvertantly scare them away. Another walk later in the day led us to the Sawn Rocks, which is a really remarkable rock formation created by a cooling lava flow. We stopped that night in Bingara, a truly truly small and quiet town, where we stayed in a giant dorm room in the local pub. Once again food was provided, this time steaks on the barbeque and a wide variety of salads. Yummo. We spent the evening in the pub, chatting and chilling and taking advantage of the free jukebox. We learned that William (the one guy) is a massive Queen fan, and if you get a couple of beers in him he will sing all night. And give you trivia. I was amused.
In the morning, some of us got to go on a really good horse ride- two hours for less than $40, and much more informal and fun than many of the rides you are offered. My horse was extremely mellow for most of the time, but did manage to get into a respectable trot for fairly good periods. Then, at one point, she tried to buck me off! But I held on and got her under control and the guides told me that it was pretty impressive that I'd managed to stay on. Well done me, I suppose.
We headed off to Byron Bay, where I arranged to stay for nearly a week. It's a very touristy, laid-back, beachy town, and exactly what I was looking for, as one of my main goals for Australia was to lounge in the sand and read and not worry about anything. Courtney and I checked into the same hostel room, and we're staying for the same amount of time, so that's cool. It's nice to have a friend around. That night a bunch of us from the bus went out for drinks, and I spent some time chilling with them, but ended up spending a fairly long time chatting with a couple of guys from California that I met at the bar. Still, the night ended early and I was in my bed before midnight.
My first full day in Byron Bay, I started off in the morning with three goals- email, buy shorts, lounge on the beach. I accomplished the first in short order, but really didn't spend much time in the internet place because it was such a beautiful day outside. I just sent off a message to Eric, telling him where I was staying, because I knew that he was supposed to be arriving in town at about the same time as me. Then, as I was browsing the shops looking for my shorts, I had a tap on my shoulder, and when I turned around there was Eric and his two french traveling companions- Romain That I Knew In Blenheim and Alex Of The Monstrous Unibrow. So I spent most of the day with those guys, enjoying the sun and exploring the town and in the evening I brought Courtney along to hang out as well. She got along with them really well, and we had a pleasant evening.
The next day was the truly remarkable day. Courtney and I set off in the morning for the beach, me with my towel and my book, her with the same and a surfboard. I lounged and read for hours, while Courtney alternately lounged and surfed. The weather was gorgeous and the sun was hot and life was damn good. In the afternoon, when the breeze started to pick up, we decided to hike up to the lighthouse. It was a good walk, about an hour uphill, and we enjoyed it but found ourselves about halfway up wishing for some ice cream. We had a fairly serious discussion about just how much we would enjoy any ice cream cone that anyone happened to offer. And when we reached the top of the hill . . . there was someone with an ice cream cone! We turned the corner, and there was a cart selling cones. Joy. We decided first to circle the lighthouse, which we did, walking a little way beyond to the most Easterly point of the Australian Mainland. We also, from the lookouts, saw several whales a ways offshore. Wow. We had our (lovely) ice cream while sitting on bench overlooking the bay, and then headed back into down the hill into town. As we walked back in the direction of the hostel, I remembered that Eric and Co were meant to be leaving the next day, and I was thinking that I hoped to run into them, as that would be my last chance before my return to the States. And then, there they were! So we stopped to talk to the guys, and were all agreeing that we were hungry and that food would be really good, but even better if we didn't have to pay for it, when a girl came by and handed us all coupons for a free barbeque meal that night at a restaraunt/club across the street from the hostel. While deciding that we'd meet at seven for our free food, unless a better offer came along, another girl came by and gave us coupons for two-for-one thai meals at another place down the street! Egad. That voucher, however, was saved for another time. So we met for free food. Ate, had a beer. Courtney went back to the hostel, the french guys wandered off, Eric and I got bored with the restaraunt and went to find somewhere more interesting. We said "it would be nice if there was a 24-hour coffee shop or something". And then, naturally, there was. So we sat in there for nearly three hours, just talking. I'm going to miss Eric. He's good people. And that was the day of wish granting.
Yesterday was another good day (surprise!). Courtney and I spent the morning browsing many of the cool shops in town. We ran into one of the Californian guys from my first night in town, and agreed to meet up later. I had a lazy afternoon, reading. That evening, Brandon (California guy 1) showed up and the three of us went to the place where Courtney and I could take advantage of our two-for-one thai food coupons. And it was good, as was the mudcake that we got to follow it. After dinner, we went and picked up Matt, California guy 2, and headed off to a really cool place where there was an open mic. Brandon bought us all drinks and we heard some really good music (and some that was not so good) and had a great time. Later, we headed out to the beach to see the stars and to have an impromptu concert from Brandon and his guitar, including some songs created on the spot- "Crazy Sticker Lady" and "Love and Sweet Tenderness", both extremely funny. Stayed out far too late, but had an excellent time.
Wow. That took forever. It's not the best writing I've ever done, but as it's mostly meant to serve as a memory tool for me, I'm sure you'll forgive. Thank god for this free internet coupon (that I found on the ground! Yeehaw!)