I wond’r where the python is? Beginning our Australasia adventure in style, in Byron Bay and its Hinterland

Immediately after returning from our Queensland trip, Joella struck gold with housesitting assignments once again; managing to line up four in a row, featuring an eclectic mix of Sydney’s superb suburbs and characterful critters, including:

  • A lovely little dog called Rosie, and Pistachio the cat, in the foody district of Glebe
  • Two playful British Shorthaired cats, named Paddy and Millie in hipster Newtown
  • A very chilled out and attentive cat called Barney, in Leichhardt; Sydney’s Italian Quarter

  • Two cute little ginger cats named Tigi and Frankie, in the awesome beach town of Dee Why

Preparing for our five month adventure

With our visa expiry fast approaching (16th Aug), we realised we’d better start planning the holiday part of our ‘Working holiday’, otherwise risk being banned from entering Australia for a decade if we overstayed. Much to Joella’s annoyance, my inner Project Manager came out, resulting in the creation of a series of spreadsheets detailing projected spending to ensure we’d have sufficient time and funds, before handing in our notice at work (I’m such a bloody nerd). Once we’d locked down the route (travelling North to avoid the chilly winter months down South) and accompanying details, we begun preparing our trusty steed for the long drive ahead…

From our previous experiences sleeping in the back of our Holden Commodore, we’d put together a list of needed improvements. The most important issue was space, so priority number one was to sort out a roof rack and roof box. Following a day of trawling through ads, making phone calls and circumnavigating Sydney (Leichhardt > Blue Mountains > Campbeltown), we bagged both for just $150 🙂 Although the roof box had definitely seen better days, thanks to a quick tutorial from my Uncle Martin, we soon patched it up using strips of fibre glass together with adhesive and hardener.

For our next challenge we needed to come up with a solution that would allow us to cook and relax outdoors, no matter what the weather was doing. Installing a side awning seemed like the obvious choice and we managed to buy a brand new 2m x 3m set up online, for under $100, that we bolted straight onto the roofrack 🙂

Lastly was the dreaded matter of curtains. We’d spent what felt like eternity on YouTube, researching a variety of methods involving drilling holes in the roof, velcro strips and industrial strength magnets. But in the end the cheapest and simplest solution won out, that saw Joella carefully cut out perfectly fitting sun shades for all windows, held in place with suckers. This had the extra benefit of providing much needed insulation during the colder nights in the outback.

Once we’d shopped for the last of our necessary supplies; including mountains of tinned foods, a butane stove, stacks of tupperware, a clever folding table and a badminton set, we were all set for our big adventure!

Cheerio Sydney, g’day luxury escape!

During my last week at work I was taken out for lunch to an English style pub that even served London Pride and semi-decent fish and chips! The epic team I felt grateful to have worked with over the last 6 months even sorted me out with a Scottish themed leaving card and goody bag, consisting of an Australian hat and purse made from a Kangaroo scrotum! Goodbye work and Sydney, time to hit the road for our big adventure…

Our first day involved a marathon nine hour drive North, to a house sit Joella had excellently lined up in the Byron Hinterland. The dates and location fitted perfectly with our schedule, and we weren’t fussed about not stopping en route, as we’d already explored these areas on our previous adventures.

We successfully arrived just after dark, and immediately felt at home, thanks to how welcoming and inviting Tracy was; she introduced us to gorgeous Chloe her labradoodle and reeled off a long list of things to do in the area that I attempted to frantically scribble down. While she gave us a guided tour of her wonderful home after dinner, we soon realised that we’d be living in the lap of luxury – the place was enormous, modern, beautifully decorated and finished to a very high standard. (uh oh, am I sounding like an estate agent…?) There were even outdoor showers offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside!

The next morning, after dropping Tracy off at the airport, we took Chloe over to nearby Ballina for a nice walk along its glorious beach in the golden sunshine (something we’d missed in miserable rainy Sydney the previous week). Once home, we then ventured carefully (apparently there are pythons about and Joella swears she saw evidence of one) for a stroll around the impressive gardens that featured a swimming pool, cinema room, studios, separate appartments, pizza oven and terrace; while tucking into the bountiful supply of juicy oranges and sweet baby tomatoes we picked along the way.

Exploring Byron’s Hinterland

Throughout our stay we certainly felt rather well to do, while sitting out on the enormous decking overlooking the swimming pool and gazing out at the gorgeous countryside. This was despite drinking instant coffee – we were now unemployed so on a budget (although the experience was certainly improved by the rather tasty lemon drizzle cake Joella baked). However, we didn’t want to sit around drinking tea and coffee all day – we were keen to treat Chloe (and ourselves) to plenty of exciting excursions while on the doorstep of such a beautiful part of the world!

Although Byron’s Hinterland isn’t as well known as it’s famous coastline, it proved to be equally as beautiful in our eyes (not being massive beach people probably helps). With the undulating hillsides, luscious forests, countless towns full of quirky craft shops and roadside honesty stalls selling homemade jams; it certainly offers a unique, almost spiritual charm that nourishes the soul.

For one of our trips we headed out to the Killen Waterfalls, after first stopping in past Harvest: a nice country farm and deli, to pick up some of their famous sausage rolls we’d been told about by Marcus the handy man I’d met at the house the night before. The initial walk down to the waters edge was fairly straightforward, although we needed to take it nice and easy along the stepping stones that lined the river bank, to prevent Chloe (and us) from getting wet feet. Once we laid eyes on the falls our efforts were immediately rewarded; sitting down to watch the water from above cascade down, crashing into the pool before us while glistening in the sunlight was very relaxing.


Later in the week we couldn’t avoid visiting the famous hippy town of Nimbin – apparently the only place in Australia where Cannabis is legal, although I have a feeling this is merely down to Police turning a blind eye… Within ten minutes of arriving, Nimbin immediately lived up to its reputation; as we found it impossible to avoid being offered weed while mooching around the various Cannabis themed craft shops! Although we’d thriftily packed sandwiches, we ended up enjoying free hot dogs from a friendly group of global missionaries without any attempts at converting us (are we already lost causes?).

On the way back, we stopped in past the picturesque Rocky Creek Dam where we ventured upon its many surrounding walks. Despite failing to spot any platypus, we still enjoyed ourselves as we weaved through the forested footpaths and traversed the slippery concrete spillways. With a blink of an eye, our time with gorgeous Chloe at the luxury escape had drawn to a close, although we were now looking forward to spending some time back on the coast, in wonderful Byron Bay 🙂

Back to Byron Bay, and to sleeping in the car

Not wanting to pay the premium for camping on the edge of Byron Bay’s famous beach as we did previously when driving up for Sarah and Kael’s wedding, we instead opted for a campsite a little out of town opposite Byron’s Industrial Estate.

Although this probably doesn’t sound too appealing, rather than consisting of the usual factories or building merchants you’d expect to find, it was instead lined with countless organic eateries, vintage clothes shops, home decor boutiques, art galleries and micro breweries. As planned, we made it to Australia’s famous ‘Stone and Wood’ brewery, just in time for its annual Stone beer, which is made using the traditional method of dropping wood fired stones into the kettle to caramelise the brew. It was certainly a unique taste, a little similar to Guinness perhaps, with hints of coffee and dark chocolate – perfect for the cooler winter months which were requiring Joella and I to wrap up for (no we haven’t suddenly become soft Australians unable to cope with temperatures below 20 degrees).


Our last evening saw us make an unsuccessful sunglass shopping expedition to Byron’s main strip (Joella’s last pair were on their last legs), before then enjoying a nice bottle of Pinot Noir alongside our bargain basement $5 Domino pizzas. This was perfectly accompanied by one of Byrons seemingly infinite beautiful sunsets, together with a bunch of hippy type folk who were dancing madly to the impressive busker as he finished off his set.

Once again, Byron and its surrounding Hinterlands didn’t disappoint. It was now time to say good bye to the warm, comfortable coastline; and journey inland to the harsh and unforgiving outback….

 I wond’r where our passports are? – Packing for our S.E. Asia and Australia adventure

It was 10 days before our escape, and everything seemed to be falling beautifully into place; we had some lovely tenants lined up for our flat, most of the laborious DIY chores were done and I was beginning to enjoy being unashamedly unemployed, or I was until being rudely woken (after 8am –  I know, how dare she!?) by Joella:

[spoken loudly with mild anguish] “Jonny, where are our passports – I can’t find them anywhere...?”

At first, my immediate thoughts were to ignore the evil demon seeking to end my well deserved slumber – but alas no, she continued with her inquisition:

[shouted at a deafening volume, threateningly] “Seriously Jonny, I’ve looked everywhere and I still can’t find them, where are they?

I replied with all the helpfulness and intellect I could muster so early in the morning: “I don’t know, you had them last“. This retort proceeded to go down like a shit sandwich. She stormed into the bedroom, denied that she had them last and demanded I get up to help her look. This is when I realised that we may have, quite possibly, properly lost our passports. As in we might not have been able to find them ever, ever again, or at least until after breakfast.

After jumping out of bed slowly crawling out of bed like a sloth, we proceeded to frantically search our enormous[ly tiny] one bed flat from top to bottom. Following 3 hours of looking, including in the fridge and oven, no luck. Nothing. Not even a note to say they’ve left, or a ransom letter to say someone’s taken them.

At that point we came to realise we’d better get on and book ourselves an appointment to source some new replacement passports. Annoyingly the passport office doesn’t provide a one day service for lost or stolen passports, just a one week fast-track option (though I’d argue one week isn’t really that fast), and the first available appointment was on Monday, 8 days before our scheduled departure. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, so we booked our £212 slot and sourced the forms from the post office down the road…

Annoyingly, a countersignatory is required when applying for a replacement to a lost or stolen passport. While thinking through which poor soles we’d bully into helping us, we discovered that apparently a ‘Compliance Executive’ at a national regulator isn’t an acceptable profession, but journalists, travel agents and photographers are (thanks Sam for trying though!). But on following up with the ‘journalist’ option, I learnt that “my mate who writes some blogs” probably doesn’t qualify him as one. Whatever, get with the 21st Century! Instead I’m left to rely on Joella’s cousin who’s a teacher – cheers Liam!

It’s amazing how a form designed to be so simple can cause such terror and confusion to those completing it; mostly due to the importance – we’d have no second chance if anything was incorrect, plus there’s always the cost implications too – no refunds are ever possible, for whatever reason. But the form doesn’t help matters either e.g. Some sections asks for surname first, and others for first name. One of our countersignatories got so worked up that they forgot their job title and work address!

Despite paying for the appointment and (probably) successfully completing the forms, I never truly accepted that we’d properly lost our passports, so refrained from reporting them as lost. Just as well: While searching for something completely unrelated (my camera charging cable, and yes, I did find it if you really must know), I caught a glimpse of something deep maroon, shimmering in the early-morning sun that was streaming through our bedroom window. With a jolt of excitement I lunged forward and lifted the muscat coloured items high above my head in celebration – our passports had returned, hallelujah!

Oh the shame! I soon felt a little sympathetic towards Joella’s embarrassment and accompanying remark towards my point, that we’d need to update everyone: “I wish we’d properly lost them now‘. But ultimately we  had our passports back – happy days, our trip was still on 🙂