If I had to associate one thing with Australia it would be Home and Away.
Long before I ever set foot in Australia, Home and Away (the Australian soap opera that’s aired on Irish tv since 1988) shaped my idea of what life was like down under. As far as I could see, it was all caravan parks, eternal sunshine, gorgeous people, amazing school uniforms, and a world where freak accidents, natural disasters and fires happened on a regular basis.
Even after living in Adelaide (and making the shocking discovery that winter does exist there), Home and Away will always be Australia to me.
(For anyone who’s never seen Home and Away, you will probably be familiar with some of its former stars, like Chris Hemsworth, Heath Ledger, Isla Fisher, Naomi Watts, Tammin Sursok – the list goes on!)
So when A and I decided to visit Australia for the first time, we had one mission : Visit the Sydney beach where Home and Away is filmed for some serious stalking!
We were so excited at the thought of seeing the familiar beach and diner, and the possibility that we could be lucky enough to spot a cast member.
What we never expected was to find ourselves in the middle of a scene, meeting multiple cast members and being treated like one of the gang by the crew.
We also never expected that a moment of toe-curling embarrassment would be the reason we had such an amazing time.
Let me tell you the tale of our humiliating — and eventually successful — Summer Bay Stalking mission.
For those of you who are here looking for actual information on how to successfully stalk, sorry, sorry, visit Summer Bay, fear not, tips are at the bottom of this post!
Summer Bay Stalkers
We set off from Sydney airport in a bright yellow little Getz, the cheapest rental car on offer. After getting lost in Sydney’s city centre for a while, we were on the road to Palm Beach.
We arrived as dusk crept in and soon found ourselves outside the Summer Bay surf club, the home of oh, so much teenage drama in Home and Away. The surf club is a real place, but has the signage of the fictional Summer Bay lifesaving club outside.
We excitedly explored the beach, the jetty, the bait shop and the infamous diner before it got dark.After grabbing some food, we settled into our bed for the night, the Getz.
Coming straight from backpacking South East Asia, a night in one of Sydney’s expensive hostels was too much for our dwindling budgets. It was cold in the car, so we covered ourselves in random layers of clothing and eventually fell asleep.
A very rude awakening
Anyone who has slept in a car will know how blindingly bright it gets once the sun is up. But it wasn’t the sun that woke us early that morning, it was some sort of commotion outside.
We opened our sleepy eyes to find our car was completely surrounded by people, some of them carrying cameras and equipment. They were all staring at us and laughing. And some were pointing.
The worst, and most surreal part, was that two Home and Away characters, John Palmer and Xavier Austin — or the real people who play them — were standing right in front of the windshield, peering in at us and belly laughing.
We were frozen in the harsh, unforgiving and blinding Australian morning sun, our half-asleep minds trying to process the fact that two of the people we had come to catch a look of were the ones watching us, for who knows how long.
There was nowhere to hide, we were like zoo animals, completely exposed.
A, who was in the driver’s seat, appeared to be gripped by some sort of paralysis. I can’t say I blame her. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably just a minute, she managed to start the engine and we got the hell out of there, random layers of clothes falling from our bodies in the panic.
As soon as we were a safe distance away, we pulled over and allowed the humiliation to wash over us. We pulled down the sun shades and surveyed just how bad we looked. Our faces were an attractive combination of puffy, sweaty and bright red, with streaks of mascara smeared under our eyes. We had Balinese sarongs wrapped around our necks and heads, and thick jumpers and hippie trousers draped over us. It wasn’t a good look.
Eventually, after some coffee and more hysterical laughing, our red cheeks faded. We knew we had to pull ourselves together. We had come this far, driven for hours, slept in the car, and suffered utter mortification. We couldn’t quit now.
We spruced ourselves up, as much as one can spruce in a car, took a deep breath and inconspicuously crept closer to the action, terrified of being spotted by the army of people who had been laughing at us.
From our vantage point behind some bush, we watched Xavier film a scene. Not wanting to get any closer, we wandered around to get a photo of the iconic lighthouse. We spotted Xavier’s car from the show and posed in front of it.
When we were distracted, two of the crew approached us, and had a good laugh at our earlier humiliation. We were red-raced again, but the guys were extremely nice.
In a bizarre twist of fate, our rude awakening led to us being well and truly taken in by the Home and Away crew. Perhaps they felt bad for us, or maybe they were grateful for the early morning laugh we had afforded them. Either way, we had two new buddies and our surreal day continued.
First up, they told us to jump right in the car so we could get some better photos. Then, we were introduced to the catering staff who invited us to hang out in the food truck.
Then, the guys called Zac Drayson over, an actor who played Will for years on the show and who was back for a guest role. We were so happy to get a picture with one of the cast so early in the day.
Our pals brought us closer to the filming, filling us in on all the goings on and the daily schedule of the cast and crew.
We met a couple more actors before the highlight of the day, meeting Ray Meagher, who has played Alf Stewart since the very first episode in 1988.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement, we were then told to help ourselves to the buffet spread set out for the cast and crew. Although we were embarrassed that the weird backpacker girls who slept in a car were now eating the food meant for the actors, we were also absolutely delighted to be living it up like we were part of the Summer Bay family!
We spent the rest of the day watching filming and getting as much gossip out of the crew as we could.
We left Summer Bay, oh sorry, I mean Palm Beach, high as a kite, our earlier humiliation only adding to the adventure of the day that was in it.
How to successfully stalk Summer Bay and its helpless residents
From Sydney, you can get the L90 bus to Palm Beach, which is in northern Sydney. You can get it from Wynyard Station on Carrington Street. It takes about 90 minutes and costs about $4.60 one way.
The best days to spot the cast filming are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I believe there are a couple of weeks in June or July where they don’t film at all. No matter what day you go, you can still see the beach, surf club, diner and jetty, though.
If you have a car, there are lots of filming locations scattered around, like characters’ homes and the high school.
(Stalker tip: Back to the Bay is an excellent website which conveniently lists lots of Home and Away film locations so you can hunt them out yourself!)
However, they cost about $80-$105. If you’re on a budget, you might be better off following my lead (not entirely!) and make your own way to Palm Beach via bus, or car. If you go on the days when they usually film, you have a good chance of seeing cast members.
From reading other people’s experience of the tours, what you would miss out on by doing it yourself are some spoilers from the tour guide and getting to see a couple of other filming locations, like different characters’ houses. (But, if you have a car, you can find the locations of some of the houses and make your own way there!)
Looking back on it now, I’m really glad we didn’t spend that much of our backpacking budget on the tour. Plus, if we had, we would never have had this story to tell!