Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Noosa has always held a mythical place for me, the thought of perfect peeling waves surrounded by the finest landscape Australia has to offer, far enough away from the chaos of any city. It became my own Shangri-La. When I was presented the choice of heading to Noosa or returning to Manly, literally at the end of a dusty road in Byron Bay; left for Noosa, right for Manly. I chose the latter.
After barely an hour heading south on the Pacific Highway, I immediately regretted my decision. Why would I choose fighting the ever-aggressive Sydney crowd over Tea Tree Bay and the endless summer of Queensland.
Fast forward three months and I was given another opportunity to find the fabled land of above the knee boardshorts and leash-less logs. The Noosa Festival of Surfing was around the corner and I found myself with five days off work, it didn't take much convincing. It was Sunday, the comp started the next day, and I had to open the store on the following Saturday morning. The pilgrimage began.
A little after 5pm, Luna, my trusty '97 Mitsubishi Verada, was fully loaded. Four boards, a bunch of boardies, some wax and maybe a jumper, we were ready. Over 2000km of round travel lay ahead of us, in five short days, easy. Along the way, the plan was to hit as many surf spots as possible, and being the east coast, choices were plentiful. With limited time, we had to pick carefully.
With a solid twelve hour drive ahead, driving a straight six hours north was the best plan to hit the halfway mark, and a classic Mid-North Coast spot that I was pretty familiar with. Once we left the chaos that is Sydney and the surrounding suburbs, the Pacific Highway opens up to coastal roads, endless green and the real New South Wales.
First stop, Coffs Harbour. A return to the quaint little coastal town most famous for a giant banana, and little else. At least this time it was a more positive experience arriving into town. It was pushing 11pm, the plan was to find a spot to sleep, catch a dawn session and push on to Byron for midday. We headed straight for my favourite spot, a sheltered little cove about five minutes north of town, which on its day was a fun, clean right hander. Pulling into the darkened car park, nobody else around but more importantly; not a single 'No Overnight Parking' sign.
Sometimes the stars align and you wake up to pumping perfection, and that is exactly what we woke up to at 6am. Peeking out of the back window, the car park already had several cars, usually a good sign. Emerging dreary eyed and still exhausted, we made our way through the bush, up the boardwalk to the lookout. The sun was just peaking over the horizon, the only thing stopping the pain of the ridiculously bright sunshine in the eyes was the other sight which would heal all ailments; shoulder high walls of turquoise beauty.
Rushing back to the car, a quick change and the hardest part of the day; picking the right board. Realising we were only going to have less than two hours before having to head off again, we raced towards the beach. Only on such a tight schedule will you find the most perfect conditions.
Paddling out along the headland, the water felt 10 degrees warmer than Manly, I counted eight people in the lineup, but that wouldn't last much longer. The shift in attitude in the lineup from Manly is incredible, the stereotype of the always-friendly Australian applies to anywhere outside Sydney.
Lines were stacked to the horizon, everyone just waited their turn and it was good times all round. A set wave appeared, almost catching everyone out, but by divine miracle, I was somehow already in the perfect position. Being fourth in line, I was already cursing myself for being in the wrong place, but the three next to me were way too deep. It pitched perfectly beneath me, the no paddle take off catapulted me down the face, leaning into the bottom turn, I held it and looked up at the glowing green wall, beautifully backlit by the rising sun. It was waves like this that make the single fin still the best board to ride, like riding on a cloud. Gliding up and down the wave, no need to manoeuvre, just letting the wave take me. Seeing the section close out ahead of me, I kicked out and began the paddle back out. The paddle made easy, the adrenaline still going and the stupid grin plastered on my face was not going away anytime soon.
Exiting the water, we couldn't believe how lucky we scored, how was any surf on this trip going to top that. What was supposed to be a quick surf followed by a good breakfast before reaching Byron by midday, turned into leaving the water at 11, a rubbish croissant and coffee, before eventually hitting the road at 12. Making good time we arrived in Byron Bay just after 3pm. The summer crowds still lingered on in the Shire.
Still buzzing from the earlier surf, we headed straight for Wategos Beach, another sheltered spot, but a lot busier. Time of day or year makes no difference to the crowds at Wategos, despite not even being the busiest break in Byron. Turning off the winding road before reaching the lighthouse, the road opens up to a picturesque sight of palm trees and crashing waves on white sand. Finding a spot at the beachfront car park is never an easy task, but fate was smiling upon us this day, for the moment we drove past the usual suspects of hippie vans and shiny new VW Transporters, a knackered red and white camper pulls out. Not wasting another minute, and still wearing the boardies from this morning, we grabbed the boards and headed out. The waves were smaller yet still fun. Wave count however, was not as high. In between fighting the crazy Byron current, having to dodge kayakers and stand up paddleboarders, a few nice waves were had, before the inevitable drop in. A good combination of frustration and noodle arms made us eventually leave the lineup.
Before continuing to Noosa, a trip to the original hippie town, Mullumbimby.