Escaping to Byron Bay

Do you remember when I called Sydney laid back? Well, I feel as though I may need to introduce a spectrum of laid-back-osity because I’ve since experienced a whole new level of leniency and relaxation. If you’re travelling up the coast, from Sydney to Cairns as opposed to the other way around, you will find that you are quickly whisked away from city life ready to meander through your days in the beautiful Byron Bay: home to hippies, buskers, surfers and stoners.

My first tip is to buy an item of tie-dyed clothing and ditch your ‘thongs’ in favour of walking barefoot; abide by this simple advice and you’ll immediately fit in far better than I did with my backpack, denim mum-shorts (they’re extremely comfortable ok?) and brighter than white lace-up pumps.

It’s not just your attire that will set you apart from the locals, there’s something extremely ‘zen’ about the general demeanour of people who call Byron Bay home. This is largely due to the popularity of Eastern practices such as meditation and yoga, two activities that I am very keen to work into my daily routine after my guided meditation session at the Arts Factory backpackers resort. Arts Factory is simultaneously one of the most bizarre yet enjoyable hostels I have ever stayed at. If you’re in the area you really must check it out, even if it’s just for a few drinks in a hammock by the central swamp surrounded by musicians, lizards and turkeys.

Another, more chemical, explanation for the tranquility of the town can be found in its proximity to Nimbin which has been described as ‘the drug capital of Australia’. It’s a tiny place about an hour and a half long drive away (barely any distance by Australian standards) in which the authorities turn a blind eye to the thriving marijuana trade.

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The fact that the Grasshopper tour runs every day, facilitating the tourists’ highs and providing them with beautiful views and a barbecue in a meticulously planned day out, indicates how lax the laws are for this particular section of New South Wales. Writer Austin Pick sums up his impression of Nimbin thusly, “It is as if a smoky avenue of Amsterdam has been placed in the middle of the mountains behind frontier-style building facades… Nimbin is a strange place indeed.”

By far the strangest part of strange little Nimbin is its local museum. Littered with hand painted banners calling for the liberalisation of marijuana, hippie memorabilia and a large number of disturbingly mutilated dolls, the dimly lit, narrow corridors took on quite a nightmarish appearance. There couldn’t have been a better person to share this experience with than my friend Adam Carver; the further we walked, the more surreal things became, the louder we laughed.

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On returning to Byron Bay that night we headed to Cape Byron, walked along the beautiful beach and ate fish and chips whilst the sun set behind us. The curve of the beach with its golden sand against the azure blue of the sea and the backdrop of the mountains in the distance is one of the most fantastic views I’ve ever laid eyes on and I can definitely see why the area is so well loved by almost everyone who passes through it. Not only are the beaches wonderful to look at, they are some of the best for surfing; I had my second lesson with Mojo Surf at Lennox Head (half an hour from the high street) and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I actually found my first experience extremely difficult and the prospect of trying again was a little daunting but once I got used to the sting of salt water in my eyes and accepted the fact that getting water up my nose is just part of the package, I was able to throw myself in and managed to stand up a fair few times – the feeling is addictive and I can’t wait to improve further. If you take part in the sport, you really must try to get to Byron Bay at some point in your life, if only for the possibility of looking to your side and seeing dolphins swimming with you as you surf.

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