Sam Lewis experiences the highs and lows of Australia’s east coast, on and below the ocean waves
I’m hurtling through the water faster than Michael Phelps, but rather than gracefully skimming the surface, I’m somersaulting several metres beneath it, caught in a wave where seconds pass like minutes. I eventually emerge, gasping for air, to join my fellow crew members bobbing like seagulls on the surface. It’s a harsh introduction to the Aussie adventure activity of surf rafting, where teams of gung-ho types attempt to ride the waves in large inflatable rafts — and more often than not end up being ejected from them.
Having blundered my way back to shore, hindered by the very life jacket that had just saved me, I discover some of my crew are bailing. Surf rafting, it turns out, demands courage, perseverance and, ideally, Olympian swimming ability. Then again, most beginners don’t come face to face with a freak 6ft wave on their first go.
Coffs Harbour, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, is one of the country’s soft-adventure capitals, where you can learn how to surf or — as in my case — experience the adrenalin rush of being catapulted into the ocean.
Not every activity along to Australia’s eastern coast causes the heart to race. Those who want to embrace the hip New Age Aussie surf culture should head a few hours north to the chic seaside town of Byron Bay for yoga classes or kayaking trips to see dolphins in Cape Byron Marine Park.
Alternatively, take a hot air balloon ride and experience stunning views of the coast, lighthouse, Mount Warning’s caldera and, if you’re really lucky, a humpback whale cruising past the headland.
Head further north to Cairns and discover a range of liveaboard dive boats offering tours of the Barrier Reef. Opt for a three-night cruise to the Ribbon Reefs to spot giant clams, manta rays and pygmy seahorses. Return to Cairns on a low-level scenic flight, where you can view the ocean from another angle — although the sights are sure to be equally breathtaking.