Recently I stumbled across a nudist beach whilst taking a stroll through the national park of Noosa, just north of Byron Bay on Australia’s East Coast. In my British ’pommy’ prudishness I quite frankly would’ve looked less awkward if you’d have shoved a spade up my (fully clothed) bum. I saw an edlerly man in a T-shirt and finally thought I’d found a fellow clothed human, only to discover upon closer inspection that said randomer was wearing only a T-shirt. I wanted to quite literally bury my head in the sand but due to practicalities I decided that wouldn’t be too easy and resolved on striding through head down and snapping a quick piccy for the old Facey-B, even though photographing approximately 100 naked people is probably quite illegal.
Although I was clearly never going to go that far, stepping out of my comfort zone pretty much defined my trip – it led to me chasing some sort of reef shark on board an Aussie friend’s jet ski at over 100kmph. Soaring over on the jet from bustling city Brisbane to the beautiful, deserted and relatively non tourist-trodden sand island Moreton was literally unforgettable and amongst my screams and swear words was a very large smile. We held a starfish, spotted a turtle, followed a mantaray and admired a row of glistening dolphins darting in and out of the clear, paradise-like water and I was once again in a cloud of bliss (as opposed to what in my local hometown’s water would more accurately be described as a cloud of piss).
So discovering the more adventurous and outdoorsy side of East Australia was insane. I went to surf camp and hung out for two days straight with blonde long-haired Aussie surf instructors who were so chilled out they made the sleeping koalas supposedly stoned on eucalyptus look comparatively stressed. I imagined I was a tie-dye clad hippy in Byron Bay as I slept amongst teepees, chickens and iguanas at the funkiest hostel in town and drove a 4WD along the deserted beaches of the sand-formed (and shark-infested) Fraser Island, an apparent must-see on the backpacker ticklist but – despite its raving reputation – a bit busier and less beautiful than Moreton. I escaped the more commercial side of the East coast with a peaceful stop at Coff’s Harbour (north of Sydney, great for surfing and walking with some wonderful viewpoints) where an expanse of beautiful, empty beach awaited me and learnt it’s sometimes good to ignore your travel agent’s advice.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the city life; I loved exploring Melbourne and its artsy, graffiti-clad backstreets and bars (like Croft Institute where they feed you cocktails from a syringe, Rooftop Bar with an open-air cinema at the top or Madame Brussels which is decked out like a dolls house – all totally normal, obvs). Whilst Brunswick street felt like the Brick Lane of Australia, St Kilda seemed to be the Bondi of Melbourne, filled with backpackers, chilled out shoeless types and pro kitesurfers who make soaring into the sky by means of a piece of polyester look like a piece of Aussie cake – after my surf camp successes I could give them a run for their money any time, of course…
Then there’s the Yarra river, the parks, the art galleries and the French patisseries – the only downside to Melbourne is the unpredictable weather – although if you’re a Brit that’s hardly something you’re going to worry about.
The Great Ocean Road was indeed pretty great, but, with its reputation as one of the best coastal drives in the world, I can’t help thinking it’s a bit overrated – in the height of summer it’s also so full of tourists you can’t actually see the infamous twelve Apostles. The solution? Hire a car, go at your own pace and take the inverse route to all of the organised coach tours – you’ll have a lot more freedom and can admire its beauty without being surrounded by hoards of tourists. Or go out of season.
As if I hadn’t already listed enough contrasts, for two days I lived on a boat sailing the Whitsundays – as someone who appreciates a bit of personal space I found the lodging situ interesting (and experienced how a chicken in a battery probably feels) but discovering Whitehaven (one of the whitest sand beaches in the world) and snorkelling amongst the fluorescent fish that make up the 1500 species in the Great Barrier Reef (including ‘Elvis’, a huge thing with an oversized face which apparently gained its name from its similarity to Mr Presley) definitely made the chicken-life worth it.
Then there was Cairns, which was simply amazing – we saw turtles, clownfish and reef sharks while scuba diving on a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, swam in the town’s beautiful lagoon, hit the nightlife of infamous party hostel ‘Giligans’, went crocodile spotting on a boat and trekked at Cape Tribulation (North of Cairns), part of the oldest rainforest on the planet which features one of the most poisonous stinging trees in the world (and which somebody once reputedly used as toilet paper – ouch).
So the East coast of Australia has amazing sea-life, the brightest coral I’ve seen scuba diving, stunning cities, a stress-free surf lifestyle and the odd surprise nudist-beach-style gem. It has more parties and poms than you could shake a surf board at, but it also has pristine nature in the form of magnetic island, or the blue mountains near Sydney, or the endless rainforest, or the tableland waterfalls near Cairns (where you can bathe in the very place Peter Andre did in that cringe ‘Mysterious Girl’ video – as if you needed any persuading).
As well as that it has the potential for adventures like getting stuck in the toilet on board aforementioned boat. Thanks to the help of our skipper and a rather large screwdriver I made it out alive after around 30 minutes. If only the same could be said for my dignity… (two words: standard. me.)