Byron Bay Bluesfest!

A few days before we were due to jet off to Byron Bay for the Bluesfest, Andrea looked mournfully at me across the desk at work.

“I forgot to cancel the camper van I booked for Byron Bay,” she said. ” I think it might be too late now to get my money back.” She tried calling and sweet talking the rental company, but to no avail: there was a camper van out there somewhere that was determined to spend this weekend with us. Andrea wanted to try and rent it out to anybody who was looking for accommodation, I wasn’t so sure that was a great plan, but we decided we’d figure it out later and just make the most of it. We wouldn’t be able to collect it until Thursday, so we still had to take the tent for the first night anyway.

The next problem was mud. As in, there’s usually lots of it at BluesFest. Oh dear, does that mean we have to go shopping for new footwear? One advantage of being “on the beach” at work … time for online shopping … we found some wellies online and pretty soon they were on their way via express delivery. Woohoo! We’re all set!

Happy campers

Wednesday arrived and we had a pile of cases by our desks in the ThoughtWorks office. Everybody stopped by to ask where we were going (and why the hell do we always take so much STUFF?) The reaction was always the same when they found out we were headed to Byron Bay: “You’re going to have an awesome time!” It’s a pretty good way to start a trip – by the time we left, we were pretty excited! We took a taxi to the airport that afternoon – wearing the new wellies, very sexy we looked in those :) – and settled down in our usual spot in the bar for a pre-flight drink and a gossip. Except that somebody seemed to be finding her email more fun than wine and gossip … I was a little disappointed, but luckily she found her way out of that laptop pretty quickly and we were back on track!

As we boarded the plane, the stewardess glanced down at our feet. “You must be going to Bluesfest!” she said, “Make sure to check out Tijuana Cartel!” She seemed nice and kinda cool, so we decided to try and take her advice. We landed at the Gold Coast airport and found our bus, and some beer, which made the rest of the journey swing by quickly. The Byron Bay Tourist Village was nice, but dark … nothing like rocking up somewhere and staring at a pile of your suitcases on the grass in the dark when you really just want a nice cosy bed all ready for you. We are getting good at pitching tents so it was up pretty fast, although I got eaten alive by little bugs attracted to my headlamp and my apparently tasty blood.

Empty campsite before everybody arrived

Bluesfest graffiti

Rainbow Shop!

Tent up, beds inflated, suitcases tossed inside, now can we please go and hit the town? For food, obviously … and maybe more wine or beer :) Town was a twenty minute walk away, along a fairly dark, busy road with quite a few drunk sounding but generally friendly people coming the other way. It was still quite busy, and we found a place to eat then wandered down to the beach briefly before heading home. I was out like a light, but the noisy birds woke us both up pretty early the next morning.

The beach ...

The festival didn’t kick off until Thursday afternoon, and we had a camper van to collect. After breakfast – it turned out that the kiosk at the entrance to the tourist village made a yummy bacon brekkie roll – we walked into town again to get a bus to the airport. It was a glorious day, and the town is full of brightly coloured shops and hippy signs, which looked fantastic in the bright sunshine. There were no buses until mid-afternoon, so we headed out first for a bit of a shop – I wanted to wander through the Rainbow Shop, and then we found a few dress shops and spent time trying on a variety of clothes. We hit the Beach Hotel for lunch and met up with Korny, who was still a bit dazed having travelled very early that morning.

After lunch, Andrea and I headed to the beach. It was gorgeous – a long, long stretch of pale sand, shallow turquoise water for paddling in, crashing waves and a few surfers for eye candy. Andrea jumped in for a swim, I stuck with paddling and sunbathing, until it was time to head back for the bus to the airport and collect the camper van.

View out of camper van window

Turns out we got upgraded from a Backpacker van to a Britz van – this thing was MASSIVE! It took forever to sort all the paperwork out, but we got a bottle of wine and some free chairs which would be great for the festival! The lady processing our paperwork walked us through the facilities on the van and how everything worked, I started to feel a bit brain-fried quite quickly though – glad Andrea had done this before and knew her way around it a bit better! She got behind the wheel and was pretty cool driving it back to the campsite, especially considering the size of the thing, not sure I’d have been quite as comfortable driving it. The sun was dipping down to the hills on the way home, and I managed to take a few shots out of the window that turned out pretty well.

Back at the campsite, we got ready and headed out to the festival. Disappointingly, the shuttle bus wasn’t free but cost $4 (each person, each way!) – this weekend was turning out to be pretty expensive! But there was no way Andrea was driving – this was NOT going to be a dry night for either of us.

Neighbour Jason

Where's Wally? There ... there ... there ... and there.

Waffles. They're wicked.

The first act we both wanted to see was Eilen Jewell, who was playing on the Jambalaya stage (one of the smaller ones) at 7pm. We had a bit of time to wander through the grounds, explore the food offerings, and grab some drinks tickets and wine. It was pretty quiet, so when we made our way back to the stage there were only a couple of people between us and the stage – it was pretty awesome. She sounded amazing, although I was disappointed she didn’t sing the one song I knew well enough to sing along to (maybe somebody had warned her …) When she was finished, we ended up in the CD tent, where Andrea bought a CD and had all of the band members sign it. They all seemed pretty ordinary off of the stage, which was somehow surprising … the guitarist and drummers were pretty cute though :)

We watched a bit of My Morning Jacket, which was a bit more rocky and more up my street than blues or country. I was getting kind of tired and antsy after that, so when Andrea wanted to try and socialise a bit more I left her to it! Very bad of me … luckily we found each other again pretty quickly and ended up hanging out at the Apra stage and watching a reggae-style band called Kooii, who turned out to be pretty good and worth a bit of a dance to. We finished off the night with crepes in the food tent – mmmmm, nutella crepes. All in all, it wasn’t a bad start to the festival.

That night, Andrea had decided to sleep in the camper van, so I had the tent to myself. I was wise to the noisy birds this time, and slept in lovely and late with the aid of earplugs :) When we finally emerged from our “bedrooms” and got dressed, our neighbour Jason had also surfaced. We hadn’t seen him at all the previous day, which often happens camping but is kind of weird – you just see the tent but never the person. I was pretty sure it wasn’t empty though, I had seen the number of beer bottles rising over the last day or so (it turned out he was using them to mark his tent ropes, so that he didn’t trip over them).

Britz. No boundaries. Apparently.

We all got chatting, he took some photos of me and Andrea with our wellies and camper van, and then offered us a beer. There’s something wonderful about sitting outside in hot sunshine before midday with a cold beer and no worries!

Eventually, we all headed out together to get the bus up to the festival again, for what would be our longest day there! We started off at the Crossroads stage (one of the two largest) and watched Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges and then some of Steve Earle, while just across the fence we could hear G3 blasting out of the Mojo tent. We settled down with our chairs, got some beers, and enjoyed the show for a while. Eventually Jason decided to head off for some beers before we moved on, but he took for-EVER … we checked the two bars nearest to us and couldn’t find him, although they were pretty empty, we couldn’t wait forever so we headed off on our own. Turns out he had gone to get food, turned up where we’d been with three beers and food to find us gone. I felt kind of bad when he told us that later … I don’t think the beers went to waste though.

Beer tickets!

Watching some music

Something was funny ...

We watched some of G3, then saw Candi Staton, who was pretty good, and one of the few artists there that I actually knew :) After that we caught some of Seth Lakeman and Buddy Guy – who is 76 and still playing! – then planted our chairs in the wrong area to listen to Keb Mo for an hour. He had an amazingly smooth voice … Andrea was totally into the music and getting up to dance, but I was getting pretty tired. The last act we caught that night was Earth, Wind and Fire, who blasted on stage with Boogie Wonderland and got me up out of my seat for a few tracks.

Saturday was another gorgeous day, another lovely late morning, and another early beer. I could definitely get used to this kind of life! We had decided to take a trip out to hippy town Nimbin for something to do before the festival, so we piled into Jason’s car while Andrea tried to navigate from the back seat with Google maps. Nimbin was a quieter version of Byron but without a beach – we stopped in a pub for beers and I was amazed at how cheap they were! We wandered around a few shops before heading back, where we hung out at the campsite for a while, drinking beers, eating pizza and Tim Tams and generally enjoying chilling out.

Fancy a bit of hemping?

We got to the festival in time to catch Seasick Steve, but something was wrong with the sound system and we could barely hear him – we had just packed up our chairs and started to walk away when guess what? Yep, it’s back on – and dammit, we’ve lost our good spot! We stayed and listened to him for a bit before heading out, and lost Jason again when he wandered off in a different direction. Never mind, he seemed pretty capable of amusing himself! We watched Bettye LaVette for a while but she was kind of depressing … we found the stewardess’s favourite band Tijuana Cartel, who turned out to be pretty upbeat and dancy, so we bopped along to them for a while.

Some kind of reptile!

More Keb Mo

Candi Staton

At some point we headed back to the Mojo tent and set up camp … I was feeling pretty festival’d out so was happy to sit and watch from the side while Andrea still wanted to get in the thick of the crowd and dance. It actually worked out pretty well … we watched Ziggy Marley, who was awesome, Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot and John Fogerty for the rest of the evening, leaving only after he sang Heard It Through The Grapevine, as Andrea insisted …

Sunday was our last day … Jason was also leaving, he had a long drive back to Newcastle and headed out long before we finished clearing up. With the camper van full of our stuff, we headed out to the beach and parked up – I couldn’t be bothered to change into my swimsuit, but after paddling in the water I couldn’t resist getting in either, so ended up jumping in with my t-shirt on!

We headed into town to get some food, but didn’t get very far before the traffic was thick and slow, and we turned around to go back to the festival instead! We ate and listened to Yann Tiersen for a bit before leaving to go to Ballina Airport, which is one of the smallest I’ve ever been to.

It was all over … :( the one nice thing being that we still had Monday off before heading back to work! We made the most of that too … I had grand plans to go on a long walk around North Head, until I stopped by Andrea’s to help her put up the tent to air it. She invited me up for a wine … and, well, there’s something pretty wonderful about sitting outside on a balcony, looking across Manly beach, with cold wine and no worries …

Peace out

On holiday with the family.

Tuesday morning, we jumped in the car and headed out to the airport. We were off to see the Aussie branch of our family (well, some of them, anyway) – my gorgeous cousins Yolly and Clauds, and Yolly’s kids Mya and Ivy.

View of Sydney on the way up!

Sydney from the sky

Above the clouds and looking down

Everything went pretty smoothly, except for my case being a kilo or so over (happens every time) – we got the train out to Brisbane, taxi to our hotel and then it was just a case of getting organised for dinner. There was a hitch in our plans for the next day though – with the bad weather in north Queensland, the roads from Cairns to Port Douglas were blocked – one by a landslide, and the other by flooding. It wasn’t clear whether or not we’d even make it through to our hotel in the morning … which left us all feeling a little stressed out.

Family shot

We had planned to meet in a restaurant for dinner that evening, but decided in the end to just stay in our hotel instead. It was easy enough for the others to get to and pretty kid-friendly. Yolly stopped by for a coffee in the afternoon and Mum brought out the gifts she had for the kids – Ivy was in a good mood, chilling out on Mum’s lap, Mum looked delighted.


Is it Mya ... or Gran? Hahaha.

Ivy and Yolly

Yolly headed off before showing up later for dinner with Clauds too – it was so nice to have everyone together. We took loads of photos as usual – including some particularly cute ones with the kids trying on Mum’s glasses – Mya is a dead ringer for my gran :)

It was all over too quickly … and so was the night’s sleep … at just after 6am the next day, it was time to get up and head to the airport for yet another flight. I think we were all feeling the strain of too much travel already! I rang our hotel at 9am and it was good news – the buses could get through! However, instead of the usual hour along the coast road, we’d be travelling for over two hours along the mountain roads – but at least we’d make it. We were prepared to have to wait for some time at the airport as well, so all in all it wasn’t quite the relaxing trip that we were hoping for!

High rivers on the way to Port Douglas

Some areas were still flooded

Great views from the mountain road

On arriving at Cairns, we found our luggage remarkably quickly, as well as our representative from the coach company. We had a short wait in a coffee shop – far from the chaotic welcome we’d been prepared for – then we were off, in a small coach with a luggage trailer. It struggled up the steep roads through the hills, dropping in to second gear as it screamed along with its heavy cargo. I think Mum and Dad were secretly delighted at the photo opportunities along the way though! I dozed and daydreamed through the journey, gazing out across bright sunshine on semi-flooded plains and wondering whether we’d actually hit any exciting wet patches of road (we didn’t).

Our apartment - upper floor on the left

It was a long way, nearly three hours compared to the hour long trip it would have been had the other road not been blocked, so we were pretty happy to finally arrive. Our apartment was gorgeous – two big adjoining suites, Mum and Dad’s had a living room and both had balconies.

Our apartment in Port Douglas

Sunset across the trees

We headed out in search of the beach and some food, ended up walking slightly further than we’d intended, but eventually found the supermarket … Dad kept asking me, “Is it this way, Jo? How much further along is it?” Now I know how he felt when I was a kid …

We went for a quick dip in the pool before dinner – it was sooooo warm and humid, starting to rain but it didn’t even matter. For a few days at least, life could just slow down.

Pool area at the resort

The next day was bright and sunny – we’d been expecting hot, humid and probably a fair amount of rain, so to have such gorgeous weather was great. We spent the day lounging around the pool, reading, cooling off in the water – Mum and Dad were planning to head out on a boat trip the next day to see some of the Barrier Reef, and I booked to go on a dive boat and see it up close. It was too hot to want to do anything much, so we didn’t :)

No diving ... but we will anyway

Relaxing by the pool

Relaxing in the pool

It was an earlier start on Friday, my pick up was around 8am. I was the only person on the bus with a huge back of diving kit … I wondered if I shouldn’t have taken it all along after all, but I’d much rather dive in my own gear. I still haven’t quite figured out my Suunto computer yet, so when they discovered I was an instructor I did take a little teasing for that too … luckily there was another English girl on board who was a bit more clued up and helped me out.

Me diving!

I was a little bit disappointed with the actual diving though. The water was beautiful and warm, but slightly murkier than I’d expected – similar to diving in the Maldives after a spell of bad weather though, so maybe the recent rain had caused that. We saw loads of small, pretty fish and coral, but nothing large – I guess the turtles were all staying home that day :( That said, Mum did see a turtle or two out on her boat! I did see some of the hugest giant clams ever though, patterned in purple, black, white and blue. There were also plenty of Christmas tree worms, which reminded me of diving in Bonaire – I love waving my hand across the top of them and watching them dart away – and some unusual sponges. I found a few Nemo’s lurking in the anemones too, and a giant lobster – I wasn’t sure if it was alive or dead, as it was pretty still, but I didn’t want to find out so I snapped a quick shot and swam away!

Diving the barrier reef

The dive boat

Giant clam

A lot of the coral around the reef is bleached and dead, which was pretty sad – a visible effect of the warmer ocean waters. All in all though, it was a really nice day out diving, but not the incredible experience I had hoped for.

Mum's dive buddy

Dad enjoying the boat

More of the reef

By the time I got back, I had a bit of time to myself before Mum and Dad returned from their trip. They had been in some kind of glass-sided pod and Mum insisted that she had photos of her “dive buddy” … she did too, she showed me later a guy who had been swimming along around the edge of them!

Chilling in the pool

We spent our final day and a half on Saturday and Sunday morning once again lazing around the pool, with plenty of wine and beer, eating in together in the evenings and generally just enjoying relaxing and spending time together. I bought some “pool noodles” from the supermarket and had a bit of fun floating around the pool with them … we also headed into town to explore some of the shops and take more (yes more!) photographs!


Slightly stormier day

Coming back to the harbour

Finally it was time to pack up and head back to the airport for the flight home. The journey back was much, much easier – only an hour along the coast road this time and we were at the airport. One plane, train, ferry and taxi later and we were home … well, home for me anyway!

Mum and Dad had one last day to chill out and hang around Manly before heading back home. I had plans for the afternoon, so we spent a couple of hours together in the morning and then ate out later in Manly. Next morning, we all met up and dragged the cases down to the ferry terminal and on to the peak hour ferry.

I left them at Circular Quay. I was determined not to cry, until Mum hugged me tight and we couldn’t let go, and my eyes leaked just a little. I headed straight into work and then out after work for the evening – it helped to get my mind off of them going, although homesickness did hit me pretty hard later that week. It was fantastic to have them here though … to share “my” Australia, to see a bit more of what theirs had been, and just having family time … amazing, and hopefully worth the journey for them too :)

A long awaited visit.

I’d been counting down the weeks and days, and finally it was the morning: Mum and Dad had arrived from the UK! I set off early (so I thought) but got caught in craaaazy traffic on the way out of Manly … nothing I could do but sit in it and hit the wheel in frustration, I’d been waiting ages to see them but the last hour or so was definitely the longest. Dad texted me and called from the airport, “where are you? Hurry up, been waiting ages!” I know, I’m hurrying as much as I can … finally, finally I made it, and as predicted, both me and my Mum had rather leaky eyes (she was worse, honestly).

Coming in to land ... I was still stuck somewhere between Manly and Sydney!

Dad enjoying Manly Beach

Exploring around to Shelly Beach

The weather was beautiful – after a fairly wet summer, Manly turned on the charm to welcome my family. We found their apartment, and then it was time for me to head off to work, leaving them to explore the beach alone. If only I’d had a few more days holiday – I so wanted to turn around from the ferry terminal and spend the day with them instead.

After work, they met me at the ferry wharf – typically, with cameras. Nothing like getting off the ferry after a long day with somebody snapping away at you! They were doing pretty well considering they’d landed at stupid o’clock that morning, we made it out for dinner at Yok Thai, but by the time we’d finished they were both starting to droop a bit!

Manly Wharf!

Exploring around the Opera House (and Opera bar)

Walking across the harbour bridge

I had to work from Wednesday through to Friday, but Mum and Dad managed to get out and about and see far more than I have of Manly, at least judging by the (hundreds of) photos they did, anyway. They walked across the Harbour Bridge and around the Botanic Gardens – two things that are definitely on my list of things to do while I’m in Sydney. We spent the evenings together – wandering around Darling Harbour (and of course taking endless photos … there’s a theme here), and eating some good old home-cooked meals! Outside their apartment in Manly, a row of trees played home to a growing group of bright green parrots every evening, the noise was insane.

Me and my Mum!

At the weekend, we headed out to Brighton-Le-Sands near Botany Bay, where Mum and Dad used to live some 40 years ago. Armed with a handful of old photographs, we tried to find some of the places they’d been – starting out at the St George Tavern, which used to be known as the Hotel Rockdale. They tried to recreate the old photos, the outside looked so different now! Sadly, the weather wasn’t playing nice either, but they managed to get the photos done before the rain set in. We headed inside for a beer (for me) and coffee (for them), and they showed the bar tenders the old photos – probably taken nearly twenty years before they were even born.

Recreating the old photos

Next stop was to find Banks Street. TomTom got us pretty close, with Dad reminiscing about the roads he used to drive down to go to work, and the nearby beach, and after driving around a bit we found their old house. It was fairly rundown, which was sad, I wish it could have been looking beautiful and looked after, but what do you expect after 40 years? The fence that was there in the old photos was still there, the front porch that Mum was photographed sitting on was extended now, and even the old mailbox was still in place. Dad described the days of checking the mailbox every morning for news from home, making and sending cassette tapes to the family back in the UK. All these years later, when Skype, email and cheap phone calls make keeping in touch so much easier, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to be so cut off.

The house where Mum and Dad lived, 40 years on

The same tree where Mum was photographed 40 years ago

The old Rockdale Hotel

We wandered along the beach – it was fairly windy, and Mum wanted me to write a message in the sand for Nan back at home, then take a dozen or so photographs of it. I obliged for a while but there is one shot with some rather rude hand gestures … sorry, Nan, that one was not for you! ;) The kite surfers were out in force, jumping over the waves despite the angry and leaky sky. I usually love the beach but I was kind of glad when we eventually made it back to the car that day!

I got a bit fed up of the photos by this point

Kite surfers leaping in the wind

Hugs with Mum

I’m glad I got to see where Mum and Dad lived all those years ago, it was kind of strange not having the memories that they had of how it was but trying to create a picture in my head from their reminiscing.

On Sunday, we planned to go out to see the Blue Mountains – I was up bright and early, but my lazy parents stayed in bed far too late and it was mid-morning by the time we got going. We started off heading to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters – funnily enough, the same place that I’d visited only a few weeks earlier with my friends. It was cooler but just as beautiful – we didn’t go down the staircase this time (thank god, as I didn’t like it much last time!)

Echo Point

We wandered a little way through the forest, then back to the car to head on to the next sightseeing spot. We stopped at Govett’s Leap, to see the water leaping off the rocks and shimmering in rainbows on its way down, and then at Wentworth falls, where we took a short hike down a lot of stony steps to get a better view of the waterfall. We watched the clouds closing in across the mountains and threatening to soak us before we finally headed back up to the car park.

Rainbow in the waterfall

Watching the rain come in

View from near to the Hydro Majestic

There was a bit of excitement going on with two police officers trying to get a closer look at an unidentified white object a couple of hundred metres down the side of the cliff. They thought it might be a car – I’ve no idea how it could have got there – and lots of tourists were trying to use their cameras and binoculars to get a closer look. We never did find out what it was though.

Police and nosy tourist

We stopped in at Solitude before heading back home, the restaurant with amazing views where Andrea and I enjoyed lunch on our last visit. We made it nearly all the way back home until the niggling set in (after this much time together, it was bound to happen eventually!) Dad took a wrong turn and blamed my TomTom, I took it personally and we argued our way through the busier streets of Sydney city centre until he pulled over and told me to bloody well drive then. I headed back towards the bridge and would have missed the turning myself if I hadn’t been that way a few times … OK, OK, TomTom can be a bit unclear sometimes I guess.

Accidental wrong turn took us over the bridge

Driving across the bridge

View from Andrea's apartment

After a day relaxing on the beach on Monday – them, unfortunately, not me – we headed over to Andrea’s for a barbie. Predictably, the cameras came out when they saw the view, and Dad quickly took over cooking the barbie – we had yummy kangaroo steaks, corn, salad – mmmmm!!

On Tuesday it was time to leave Manly and head out to Brisbane and Port Douglas for a bit of a holiday … I’ll save that for the next post :)

Photo credit: all the photos in this post are Mum’s – with two cameras and at least twice as many lenses, I didn’t bother taking my own out!