Oh Australia. After eventually adjusting to the counter-culture shock of rejoining western society and moving past the subconscious need to continuously compare Australia’s beautiful east coast to my beloved American west coast, every day of our final two weeks in Australia outdid the last.

A highlight was spending four days in the perfect little coastal town of Byron Bay. I’d heard about its laidback vibe and cool beach scene from countless travelers over the last several months and I’m happy to say it did not disappoint. A sign entering town pretty much sums up life in Byron Bay: “Cheer up, Slow down, and Chill out.”

The beaches at Byron Bay are famous for their surf and we’d fully intended to take surf lessons there, however shortly after arriving we learned there’d been a few shark sightings amongst the waves in the previous few days and subsequently decided to forego our planned reenactment of 2002’s Oscar winning movie Blue Crush.

Fortunately there were still plenty of things to do besides surfing; besides urban hiking (taking in the über Coachella-esque fashion choices of locals and visiting tourists) there were countless hiking trails snaking through the coastline and nearby national forests and bird reserves. Pictures above and below are from one such trail to Cape Byron, Australia’s most easterly point.

One afternoon we ventured further inland in search of one of Byron Bay’s famed tea tree lakes. Pictured below, the tea tree lakes are considered sacred by the native aboriginal people of Australia, known for their therapeutic powers of healing.

We were confused after parking to immediately see a sign forbidding any acts of sexual harassment… well, after traipsing fifty feet further into the forest and encountering the first of what would be a number of solo naked men enjoying the lake, let’s just say the sign was no longer an anomaly! Fortunately everyone who visited the lake seemed to do so from a place of respect, and we were able to enjoy our own swim and peace and quiet before being eaten alive by bugs!

Everything’s groovy in Byron Bay…even the eggs!

Our next stop was to Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne. Located on the southern coast of the country, the city’s climate can do a complete 180 degrees within a single day depending on whether current winds are blowing south from the central Outback or north out of Antarctica.

Between the weather, diversity of culture (including a high population of hipsters and coffee shops!) and its fondness for trams, Melbourne bares a strong resemblance to my native San Francisco.

The Royal Exhibition Building and St. Paul’s Cathedral pictured above and below.

Melbourne is a super easy city to get around and there’s a ton of things to do, no matter where your interests lie. After playing tourist and indulging in the city’s wide array of shops and cuisine, I was happy to finally enjoy one of my favorite pastimes: running. After months spent in SE Asia in typical 85F heat with humidity (not to mention the complete lack of sidewalks and insane motorbike traffic), it was a genuine joy to discover the wide open running paths along Melbourne’s gorgeous beaches.

After almost a week in Melbourne, on we went to what would be one of my favorite parts of my entire round-the-world trip.

The Great Ocean Road, or GOR, is an 150 mile route running along Australia’s Southern Ocean. With beyond beautiful views of surf beaches and limestone rock stacks, it’s one of Australia’s most scenic drives and is included on its National Heritage List.

There are countless areas to stop along the way including overlooks, hiking trails, beaches and waterfalls!

Here we are hiking around Erskine Falls in Lorne. The scenery was so lush and green, covered in bright foliage and tall banyan and eucalyptus trees – so pretty!

Our final destination was the site known as Twelve Apostles. We arrived right at sunset and I can safely say this memory will go down as one of the most beautiful moments of my life…

The Twelve Apostles are a collection of limestone stacks grouped closely together off the coast of the Port Campbell National Park in Victoria. After years of constant pounding of waves on the soft limestone cliffs, the coastline finally gave way to the fierce winds and huge waves leaving solitary rock pillars dotting the Australian coastline.

At the end of the GOR we stayed a few days in sleepy Port Campbell and loved it. The area is super desolate with sheep and cows far outnumbering local residents. Besides a ragtag ‘food tour’ consisting of a couple cheese shops, a winery and chocolate factory, there was little tourism to speak of (i.e. an instant win in my book…).

And there we concluded our three week adventure down the eastern coast of Australia! While it was an awesome experience overall, my one regret (and this is a big one) was that we didn’t rent a camper van for the journey, at least for a week or so. Initially reluctant to take on the logistics and planning of such a trip, I actually found myself filled with whimsy whenever we’d see a Jucy camper van along the way. Once you get out of the bigger cities in Australia the land just calls to you to slow down, look around, and appreciate all that’s before you. Making the trek in a camper would’ve definitely had its obstacles, but it also would’ve provided a certain amount of freedom that’s hard to come by these days.

Oh well, there’s always next time, right? 😉

Thanks for reading!

xo Carrie