Today guest blogger is traveller Julien Peron. This blog is all about Julien's time on the Loka bus starting in Byron Bay and finishing in Cairns.

Its a great first hand account of the hop on hop off tour. 




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Section 1: Byron Bay to Noosa

Byron bay is incredible. When I say incredible, I mean extravagant, diverse, expensive, trendy, and interesting. Not good, or bad. It’s just BYRON! Like any place there are pro’s and con’s about living there, but no matter what, Byron is anything but Boring. Once you get past the dirty streets, the potholes, the explosion of travel agencies and the overflow of backpackers, you’ll find the fossilised remains of a trendy, hippie town. If you take a good look, you’ll find everything awesome in Byron: Fresh-food Markets, amazing hikes and walks, a very lively music scene, a trend-setting nightlife, an iconic lighthouse and plenty of outdoor activities. The surf is good, the dolphin kayaking is magical, the hang-gliding is fantastic, and the skydiving is top. Don’t forget the restaurants and café’s. Despite the fact that most things in Byron are astronomically overpriced to offset lease/rental prices, if you know where to look you can pick up on some of the best food you’ve ever had, at an affordable price! My personal favourites were Thai Lucy, The Cardamom Pod (vegetarian), and the Japonaise Kitchen, which all fell within an affordable budget with great service and delicious foods. For all the foodies out there, you’ll never have enough years in your life to taste all the amazingness that Byron Bay has to offer. I could go on about Byron forever, but for now, that’s a taste.

 This morning - at 07:10 exactly – Vienda and I finished our 20 minute workout for the day. It was the process of waking up, scrambling to pack all our last minute things and walk with all of our bags the 2 km’s to our LOKA bus pickup at the Arts Factory in Byron. Surfboard under-arm, and skateboard trailing in tow, we plunked ourselves down on the bench out front. Right on time. At 07:12 the minibus made its appearance around rounded the parking lot. Prompt.

Our driver “Swanny” emerged in a jolly mood and respectfully shook our hands. Despite having a cold and running on only a few hours of sleep he was pleasant and helpful. We loaded up our gear into the brand-new minibus and got on board. The rest of the journey was nice. We had plenty of opportunities to get off to use the toilets, grab a bite, fill our water bottles and even take a walk down the beach when we arrived at a stop early. We jammed out to Triple-J most of the way, and had a chance to meet some other travellers in transition. By about 2pm he had dropped us off at our hostel in town and without any issue we checked in. What normally would have been an extremely boring, full day on the Greyhound bus turned out to be a surprisingly quick, interesting, and relaxed trip up the beautiful Australian coastline.

Section 2: Noosa to Cattle Station

Byron Bay, Noosa called….you lose.

Wow, Noosa was absolutely phenomenal. The roads were clean, the sights were spectacular, and the people were instantly friendly and welcoming. It was insane how frequent the locals would smile, wave, and say good’aye. We spent a day exploring and getting accustomed to our surroundings, and that’s about the time where Vienda was hit hard with a terrible cold. I spent the following day exploring the rocks, shoreline, and sensational views through the Noosa National Park. I literally spent a good 6 hours hiking, walking, jumping, and swimming that day without a cloud in the sky. Amazing.

As if it couldn’t get any better right? Well, after a night of heavy rest and lots of soup, Vienda was feeling a little bit better and was eager to join me out on a tour with The Discovery Group for a 1 day trip up the Noosa Everglades; both by guided boat and canoe. The halfway point consisted of a very simple, but delicious lunch, and the way back was a combination of wildlife, reflections, sunsets and a very interesting series of informational monologues from our tour guide, Dave. The whole experience was unbeatable, and well worth it.

The following day we checked out of our incredible room at the Halse Lodge YHA and made for the pickup point. We met our main man Jono who was our substitute driver to get us – and the new guide – to the train station in Cooroy. In Cooroy we got to know our new guide Dion, and spent the following hour poking our heads into thrift stores, and scanning the local scenery. The train showed up about an hour late, but soon enough we were on board, loaded up, and ready to go.

The carriages were a little older, but still in fair condition, and the seats were soft, horrible patterns, but they were definitely comfortable. I was impressed with the amount of leg room there was, as well as the nice little complimentary tea and cake we each received from the Galley.

We arrived in Rockhampton pretty much right on time. We were picked up by a small shuttle bus and all 5 of us bounced around consistently up the gravel road to the Cattle Station which was our final destination. The forestry department of Queensland were doing a back-burn in the area and basically the whole trip was smoky, and out one side of the van we had a clear view of the forest-fire only metres away from our windows.

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Section 3: Cattle Station to Airlie Beach.

The Cattle Station at the base of Mount Wheeler was truly a unique experience. Even being Canadian and having spent a lot of time camping, building fires, and living around farms, I was having a learning experience. We arrived late, with only enough time for a couple of beers, some delicious fire-cooked stew, and an awesome fire-cooked bread called Damper; which is a very interesting recipe of beer, flour, and butter. Delicious.

After a very frosty, chilly night of sleeping in individual swags, I awoke early to re-stoke the fire at 05:00am. We all managed to sleep again until about 07:00 am when we awoke to Dion’s enthousiastic wakeup call and morning chatter. We quickly grabbed a hot drink and made our way as a group to the farm and spent the first part of the morning feeding the livestock. We met pigs, goats, chickens, horses, and cows. We fed them all pieces of stale bread which they absolutely loved us for. The rest of the morning was spent learning to crack a whip, eating a hearty bacon and egg breakfast, and walking up to the base of Mount Wheeler to learn about the surrounding aboriginal land and the history behind the granite and limestone rock formations.

The afternoon was spent exploring the small town of Emu Park and having a relaxing nap in our afternoon accommodations. After the nap we went up a local walking path to view the incredible cloudless sky as the sun went down. An eagle floated gracefully overhead as we watched the sun pass down across the smoky hilltops where the forest-fires were being controlled.

That night we filled our Friday night with the local, Rockhampton Rodeo. We paid an extra $25 and that got us entry to the venue, all the events, and a massive Cowboy Dinner of our choosing. After a few shared pitchers of Beer we were really getting into the spirit of things; our guide Dion even racing around “Yee-Haw”ing and waving his trusty cowboy hat at any opportunity.

The venue shuttled us to the train station at 23:00hrs and like the previous train, it was late. Again. Shortly after midnight we climbed aboard and tried to get comfortable for our overnight sleep.

The carriages were brand-spanking new. Leather seats, USB chargers, individual screens, loads of leg room and even full power outlets on the walls. Unfortunately, they were also stiff, uncomfortable and didn’t have flexible headrests, nor proper foot rests. It was a real struggle to get fully comfortable and I ended up sleeping on the floor beneath Vienda’s feet for the entire trip. We arrived at 6:00am in Airlie Beach and waited patiently at the local markets before checking into our accommodations.


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Section 4: Airlie Beach to Magnetic Island.

Unfortunately we only had enough time to take in 1 day of beauty of Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, and after an overnight train we desperately needed a quick meal and a nap. The afternoon was spent walking the boardwalk, finding sunken ships, and sight-seeing under another beautiful cloudless sky. That night we went out for a very nice little Sushi dinner and a drink out with Dion at Down Under Bar. Anticipating a 04:00 am start Vienda and I packed it in early and awoke around 03:30 to head to the bus stop. We arrived in Townsville and made it to an 11:00am ferry before making the quick 25 minute crossing to the Island.

*SIDE NOTE* On a previous trip I had the chance to go out to the Whitsunday Islands. I chose to do the trip over 1 day as the overnight boats are out of my budget and I had heard that you can get a very good idea of what the Whitsundays are about within an afternoon. For about $140 I went out with a speedboat, had my lunch included, got to spend about 2 hours on Whitehaven Beach and did some snorkelling. For me, that was enough. I also wanted to spend more time diving the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns and thought it was a better use of my time and money. Whitehaven beach is definitely do-able in 1 day, and if you are more interested in Diving, Snorkelling, and seeing lots of the reef, you’re better off waiting until Cairns; where the Reef is closer, the dive sites are more accessible, and the water is warmer.

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Section 5: Magnetic Island to the Aboriginal Camp

Magnetic Island was rad. Simply put, it has the quaint hospitality of most small islands you’d find in the world, but surrounded by beautiful beaches, interesting hikes, and fun restaurants. Our first night, we were shown up an amazing path known as Tom Thumb, where we watched the sunset, beers in hand. Afterwards we headed to Base Hostel for a couple more drinks with Dion and some of our fellow Loka Travellers.

Each side of the Island is completely different, and on our second day we arranged a 4 wheel drive, had some friends join us, and we spent the whole day exploring as much as we could. We had a quick breakfast at café Nourish in Horseshoe Bay, a hike up to the WW2 bunkers known as The Forts, had a picnic lunch at Radical Bay, and watched the sunset at West Beach. The best was that we actually got to see a few wild Koalas (a true first for me) and each one of them was cuddling their incredibly cute babies. During the day we also got a chance to feed carrots to wild Rock Wallabies, and even saw an Echidna crossing the road out to West Point. Tired, and satisfied with the incredible day we had, it was bed time; with another day of travel soon approaching.

We got up bright an early after spending 2 nights on Magnetic Island. We trucked it down to the port for the 07:40 Ferry Across to Townsville, where we took the city bus to the train station, accompanied by our guide Dion – of course. The train picked us up shortly after 09:00am and we were off, sad to leave such a great place behind. A few hours later we stopped at Tully station, where we got off and were introduced to Dougie of Ingan Tours. He would be our transport and introduction to the Indigenous Camp.

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Section 6: Aboriginal Camp to Cairns

The Indigenous camp was really cool. Now, being from BC, Canada, I know what camping looks like. This was no different. We arrived at a National park, parked the vehicle, put up our tents under a large tarp and helped stoke the fire that the two nephews had started before we got there. It may have been “roughin’ it” for some…but for me, this was pretty standard camping.

Dougie introduced us to his two nephews, and after a delicate discussion about the history and rights of the Aboriginal people of the Misty Mountains, we were passed on to the eldest: Warren. Warren was a somewhat quiet, and gently gazed at the ground through his glasses as his uncle spoke. We discussed the history of their tribe, the horrific past that they carried, and their appreciation for the land that was deemed sacred and given back to them. The history lesson was heartbreaking.

Warren was the quiet type. Not necessarily shy, just smart about when to talk. Not a lot of people have that cander these days. I like it. He walked us along a 3km track and educated us about all the plants, trees, and fruit along the way. He knew his stuff and it was a pleasure listening to him talk about what their purpose was for his tribe, dating back thousands of years.

As we walked back we got a chance to see a wild platypus hunting in the pond at dusk. Exceptional. That night we cooked fish in wild ginger leaves in the coals of the fire and feasted in the dark. We slept in our tents that night and in the early hours of the morning I got up and was blessed with another platypus sighting and a visit from a young, endangered, protected, prehistoric bird: the Cassowary. I was thrilled and felt completely satisfied with our visit.

Although I felt a little disappointed that we didn’t have a boomerang session, the wildlife, nighttime barramundi feast, and the educational rainforest walk were definitely worth the trip.

By lunchtime we had been transferred back into town and boarded our train not long afterwards.

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Section 7: Cairns

Well, what can I say about Cairns. It’s bogan-central, it has a serious issue with lost souls, alcoholism and excessive drug abuse, and the highway through town can be an awful racket.

However, this awesome little city is absolutely buzzing with life. Young people, hostels, party bars, ocean views, public swimming pools and hiking, are all within fingertip reach. Not only that, you’re at one of the warmest, and most accessible locations to get to the best diving on the Great Barrier Reef. With Rainforests on one side, the Great Barrier Reef on the other, and practically any activity you can imagine within a quick drive away, you’re in an explorers paradise.

It’s an insanely difficult thing to try and narrow down the best things to do in Cairns. Seriously. But, I figure my favourite trips in (and around) Cairns were definitely Bungy Jumping at AJ HACKETT, diving the Agincourt Reef from Port Douglas with Poseidon, and driving up the absolutely stunning roads to spend overnight in one of the oldest rainforests in the world: The Daintree Rainforest.

Check out our blog First time Bungy Jump tips

The East Coast of Australia is approximately 3,000kms. I’ve done it a couple of times now, but never by train, and never with so many stops. In all the driving I did, and with all the places I stopped at, I was still surprised with how much more I could see. Loka was an exceptional experience. Without Loka I never would have made it to the outback, on a wicked comfortable train, or had a guide join us and show us a very cool, unique overnight camping trip on Aboriginal land. Never have I seen Australia like I have with Loka over the last 2 weeks.

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