Van Life Uncovered: Byron Bay with Tia and Jordy
We are Tia and Jordan, travel enthusiasts and adventure photographers. We are currently lapping Australia in our 1975 VW Kombi who we dubbed Stella. Our journey kicked off one year ago from our home town of Perth, WA. We began the first leg of the trip heading up the west coast to Shark Bay, exploring every inch of coast we could find until the heat of summer was in full force. It was there that we made our way down south through places like Margaret River and Bluff Knoll until we stopped at a town called Esperance. Once we had met the kangaroos at Lucky Bay and explored Cape Le Grande National Park things began to change.
Due to the current pandemic we learnt the South Australia & Victorian borders were soon to close. We were faced with two choices, we could stay in WA and wait it out or dash across the country to be with Jordan's family who lived in Byron Bay. We decided on the second option and began the epic journey of shaving our way through roadblocks and quarantines until we arrived safely on the eastern shores. Byron Bay became our home for the next few months.
Stella is a 1975 Volkswagen Kombi which we purchased nearly four years ago from a local plumber. Before finding her we had spent months searching online for our ideal ride. We had seen multiple other options but none felt right. Stella looked perfect! She had minimal rust and a fresh coat of paint. She was empty on the inside which meant she was a blank canvas for us to make our own. She also had the classic camper pop top so we were sold.
It wasn't long until we realised that to make the long journey around Australia, she needed some love under the hood. We got her engine and gearbox fully rebuilt and taken back to original. It's commonplace in vintage cars for owners to make modifications mechanically but this always leads to issues down the track.
Once completed, we began our van build. We added a full queen sized bed to the very back of the van which has become a super chill area. We spend hours each day backed up to some coastline taking in the views as the sun goes down. We custom made our cabinets to store our life inside and added a roof rack for additional storage. We have a double bench seat which can be made up during the day via our rock and roll bed.
We installed an 800W inverter inside and a 200W solar panel on the roof which allows us to live completely off grid 99% of the time. We run a 40L Engel fridge/ freezer to keep our goods cold. We rarely eat out unless it's chasing barista coffees.
During the few months we spent in Byron, we began most mornings wandering the trails of the Cape Byron Lighthouse. This is our favourite spot for many reasons. The route takes you through the shade of Bangalow palms and ancient burrawangs. If you're on the trail early you'll come across the local pademelons who love the grasslands found around these headlands (side note, the pademelons are super friendly and cute).
From the lighthouse we'd take the Spinney Track all the way down to the coast. The views are some of the best you'll find anywhere, and on any given day you can expect to see turtles, dolphins and in season, whales which migrate close to the coast. We would continue our day plunging into the Pacific Ocean at a spot called The Pass. This iconic beach is surf-able on pretty much any swell and the peeling waves are suitable for any skill level.
It wouldn't be a perfect day in Byron without grabbing a coffee at one of the many cafes. We spent hours enjoying the winter sun while sipping a latte or two. As the sun begins to fall you'd find us at Wategos beach where we'd be chasing photos under the pandanus trees. Our camera roll was always full of dusty pink skies and shots of surfers walking up the sandy coast on the hunt for waves.
Before our day was done we'd head back to town where live music is played at the main beach picnic spot each night. The atmosphere was always friendly and relaxing and sometimes we'd enjoy some local fire twirling as the band played.
We love life on the road but it does come with a few unique problems. The lack of warm showers and trying to stealth a free spot to camp is often tough. But one of our major dislikes is we travel with our home and living in an iconic vehicle means we get a lot of attention. Wherever we go we stand out in the crowd. It's pretty much every day that we get people checking us out, in or outside the van.
We love a chat as much as the next person but it can be intense. If we are parked at a popular spot it's on for young and old and we simply can't escape. People are usually super friendly and are rarely rude but it's pretty often that we need to duck away to a quiet area just to get some time to ourselves.
Getting away from the coast is a great way to escape the crowds while in Byron, and was one of our favourite things to do. The Hinterland is full of lush farmland and teeming waterfalls. The rolling hills are some of our favourite drives on the east coast. We just love checking out smaller towns with good vibes and Bangalow was one of those spots. It's a good Aussie town with chill vibes only minutes away from Byron and well worth the visit.
Another major thing we'd recommend is to get up early to beat the crowds. Most days every good spot is busy in Byron Bay, the car parks get full and it can be no fun. The best way to enjoy your time is to go first thing in the morning when the wildlife is plentiful and you'll get a spot all to yourselves.
You can follow Tia and Jordy's adventures around Australia in Stella on their Instagram accounts @matteacarson and @jordy_mcarthur, or their vanlife account @75vibes_.
Words & photography by Tia and Jordy