For part III of my Australia trip recap, I’m sharing a recap of my experience at surf camp, plus some highlights from my extra night in Byron Bay and then very brief stay in Brisbane.
Lest you think this the below blurb is some sort of weird promotional surf camp ad I’m doing, I want to just let you know that I spent a lot of time looking at various surf camps before I chose one…and then once I chose Mojo, I spent a lot of time searching for reviews to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into, and often wished there were more in-depth reviews. So in case anyone is thinking about trying Mojo, here are all my in-depth, non-sponsored thoughts for you! (Spoiler alert: I had a BLAST.)
Mojosurf Camp: In Review
The week-long surf camp I did through Mojosurf was was hands down my favorite part of my trip. (Disclaimer: I do realize that I have an unusual penchant for summer camp atmospheres, and this was essentially the ultimate adult summer camp.)
I did the 7-day surf camp from Sydney to Byron Bay, which meant that we would be picked up in Sydney, spend 4 nights at “Spot X” (Mojosurf’s remote, dedicated surf camp in Coff’s Harbour), then end with 2 nights in Byron Bay, a laidback hippie surfer town.
(Thanks to a winter special, the total cost of the camp was $735 AUD–normally $995, which meant I was getting 7 days for the price of their 5-day camp–for food, accommodation and about 9 surf sessions total. I was really set on doing a 5-day camp, but couldn’t pass up such a great deal so I went with the 7-day camp, and I’M SO GLAD I DID. Not just because it was fun, but because there’s a lot of time spent in transportation, which killed the first and last day of the camp.)
Transportation: The worst part of the camp by far was the train ride from Sydney to Spot X because I didn’t realize it was going to be 9 HOURS LONG. I left my beloved Sydney hostel at 6am to meet our guide, the bubbly Milou, and the other four girls going to camp (the camp is co-ed, but our batch happened to be all-girls). I fell asleep on the (very slow) train for a few hours, and then spent the rest of the time in the tiny train bathroom in motion-sickness purgatory. Just FYI, flying straight into Coff’s Harbour is another option (a GREAT option if you get carsick like me), but you’d have to pay for that on your own dime whereas the cost of the train ride was included in the camp package deal. If you choose to fly in, the camp has a driver who can pick you up at the airport and bring you to camp.
After arriving at camp, we had dinner with the rest of people at camp (the camp was on the small side, around 20-30 clients since winter is the off-season, though I hear the camp swells into the hundreds during summer) and then went to bed early, exhausted.
Surf camp: The best part of the camp was literally everything else. Days 2-4 were spent in a glorious routine of two-hour morning surf lessons, lunch, two-hour afternoon surf lessons or free surf time (“X-pression sessions,” an optional afternoon activity (kayaking, ocean rafting, kangaroo golf), dinner and hanging out. Every morning, we would put on wetsuits and sunscreen, pick up a surfboard just feet from our cabin, and then WALK TO THE BEACH…where more often than not, a very tanned and fit European or Australian instructor would teach us the surf technique of the day.
I had taken around four surf lessons by the time I got to camp (a few in Hawaii and one in Costa Rica) so I could already stand up on a surf board when we started. Getting to practice for hours a day with occasional 1:1 coaching from the instructors quickly booted me into what I like to think of as “beginner-intermediate” territory–i.e. I learned how to catch a green wave instead of just white foam. SO fun. The instructor to student ratio was generally around 1:5 (I don’t think it got any higher than 1:8 or so on the busiest day), so it felt like we got a lot of individual attention, though I can’t imagine what they do in the summer when classes quadruple in size. The small class sizes were great because it meant the instructors could adapt their teaching to each individual student, helping some catch waves while helping others learn how to turn or paddle or pick out a good wave to catch.
Accomodation: I quickly fell into deep friendship with the hilarious English girls I was rooming with (Faye and Hannah–check out their blogs for a great feel for what backpacking the Australian east coast–and then living and working there–is like!), which only enhanced the magical experience. We stayed in one of the 12-bed cabins (luckily, only 5 of us were sleeping in it at the time, so it felt fairly spacious), which were small and a little dingy, but the bunk beds were super squishy and comfortable (and with an extra comforter, super warm even though we only had two little heaters to keep us warm during the freezing cold nights). I wasn’t initially a huge fan of the fact that the dorm-style bathroom/toilet/showers were a several minute walk away, but overall it was a perfect beachy surf cabin experience.
Food: Breakfast is a buffet of oatmeal, toast, fruit, a bunch of spreads (PB, jam, butter, vegemite, etc.) and cereal with coffee/tea/juice. Lunch is a choice of a wrap or sandwich bread with an assortment of sandwich fillings and rotating sides like pasta, bean salad, or other salad. Dinner is served by the plate by the kitchen–as a vegetarian, I always had a plate set aside for me by the kitchen and it was usually pretty good: there was a veggie burger, veggie sausage, mashed potatoes, rolls, steamed vegetables, etc. I’d say the food was decent for cafeteria food, and I was definitely never wanting for more food. Overall, it felt like a pretty healthy diet that kept me well-fueled for surfing.
Afternoon activities: I’d minorly injured my foot right before camp, so I opted out of the afternoon activities of kangaroo golf and ocean rafting (though I did go on the one-hour, very chill kayaking excursion). Most of my free time was spent hammocking and gossiping with Faye, imitating accents with Hannah, or chatting with the other fun people around camp.
Byron Bay: On day 5, we left Spot X (#heartbreak) and took a quick ~1 hour bus to Byron Bay, where we stayed at the Arts Factory Lodge. In contrast to the Spot X camp, which is fairly remote and very camp-like, the Byron Bay lodgings included people who weren’t attending surf camp. The Byron Bay camp also afforded us more free time to explore the town since we just had one longer (~3 hour) lesson a day. Still fun, but wasn’t quite the same as the immersive surf experience at Spot X. However, the food provided at Byron Bay through the Lodge cafe and nearby restaurant was really great whereas the buffet fare at Spot X was relatively healthy, but a little repetitive (but everything was vegetarian-friendly!). It didn’t feel as easy to meet people at the Byron surf camp, but perhaps that’s because there were far fewer people doing the camp.
Overall thoughts on Mojo: magical immersive experience, good bang for your buck (less than $100/day for food/housing/surf lessons + equipment is a GREAT deal), great surf instructors, and excellent company: pretty much everyone you meet at camp will be interesting and fun (I met a girl who went to Top Paddock and ate the entire pancake that I’ve been raving about after I recommended it which means we’re basically soul mates). Food is decent; cabins are a little dingy and the bathroom situation isn’t ideal, but for a week it’s easy to put up with.
I WOULD GO BACK IN A HEARTBEAT. (And you should too.)
Highlights from Byron Bay:
- Lighthouse walk: It’s a bit of an uphill trek to get to the Lighthouse, but such a beautiful walk and the view from the top is amazing. Doable, but not recommended to complete in flip flops.
- Bayleaf Cafe was recommended to me by Jenny, but I didn’t get a chance to go until it was nearly time for the airport–luckily, I was still able to sample their food from sister cafe and takeaway spot next door, Leaf and Grain. The kind behind-the-counter man fashioned me a sampling of a bunch of delicious salads alongside one of their pumpkin pastry rolls with tomato chutney. Such health and deliciousness.
- Main Street Burger Bar: I had a really tasty veggie burger here (they also have an intriguing-looking pulled jackfruit burger here that can be made vegan)–from the bun to the patty to the sweet potato fries, all the ingredients seemed very fresh and intentional. They also have a slew of handcrafted sodas and notably, milkshakes to which you can add booze (e.g. a caramelized banana milkshake + Fireball which sounds terrible to me, but I bet they would make it super tasty).
- Nightlife: Woody’s and Cheeky Monkey seemed to be the two main options for backpackers. Both fun on designated nights of the week, not just weekends (just ask your hostel receptionist), and definitely geared towards a younger, loud crowd.
- 2 nights at Arts Factory Lodge: This funky lodge was definitely full of character and characters…we were supposed to stay in the teepees, but it was too cold, so we were relegated to a more typical (spacious) dorm room. Pluses: really cute cafe with pretty good breakfast, lunch and snack options and gorgeous scenery. Minuses: about a 10-minute walk from town, wifi isn’t free, and the bathroom was a bit of a walk from the dorm room.
- 1 night at Nomads Byron Bay: Seems like the iconic party hostel in Byron from what I can tell. The kitchen was actually huge, clean and well-equipped, and there’s a large common area and patio. They were undergoing renovations while I was there so I imagine the hallways and dorms will be in much nicer shape in the future (currently: a little dingy but relatively spacious.) Excellent location, and the travel agent here was super nice and knowledgeable.
Highlights from Brisbane:
- Man-made beach: Hilarious and delightful. My roommate lived in Brisbane and was bemused at how entertaining I found this oasis of sand and very, very cold water, but it was just so cool to sit “on the beach” and have a view of skyscrapers all around and be surrounded by shops and sidewalks just a few feet away.
- Farmers Market at Queen Street: Every Wednesday from 8am-6pm, tons of hand-selected vendors gather in this plaza right near the water; we saw tons of office workers grabbing lunch from the huge array of prepared food vendors alongside fresh produce vendors. As always, I wanted to eat everything.
- Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary: Sadly, I didn’t actually make it here, but it was a trip I was hoping to make. I hear my friends enjoyed it. Next time!
- Doughnut Time: Hannah and I split the chocolate-frosted cookie dough doughnut and the salted caramel-filled doughnut. They weren’t the best doughnuts I’ve ever had, but obviously still really delicious. Their hot chocolates though–that’s where it’ll be at next time.
- Stay: We stayed at Base Brisbane Uptown. While it wasn’t the most stunning hostel I’ve ever stayed in (the 8-bed female dorm room had one ensuite bathroom and limited luggage space), it was an acceptable place to sleep during travel and I met some great girls, the kitchen and common area was spacious and clean, and the location was SO convenient–right next to the train station. It’s also right next to a bar/restaurant where the $5 pizza Tuesdays are a fantastic deal for broke backpackers.