East Coast Part 1: Hippie Chic in Byron Bay

To say that I was excited about my East Coast trip would be an understantement on a par with describing Ryan Gosling as 'alright looking'. I'd wanted to do the East Coast 'properly' for ages, always having done bits and bobs along the way. Having spent the last 8 months in backpacker travel sales telling people all about what there is to do in that 2,500km stretch of coast I wanted to do the whole shebang: greyhound, hostels, 4WD on Fraser, Whitsundays...

Luckily I was joined by a few fantastic people: Helen my bessie from home who I'd been living with in Sydney; Hannah a very old friend from University who I have to be nice to due to the amount of dirt she's got on me; Becki and Dave my amazing Canadian friends who I'd met in Byron and pretty much followed around since shouting 'BE MY FRIEND' at until they finally caved and agreed to travel with me.

And so it was that on June 2nd we fought through the pouring Sydney rain and jumped on to our first greyhound, an overnighter to Byron Bay, waving goodbye to the Opera House as our home for the next 13 hours sped over the Harbour Bridge.

Despite threats of rain we arrived in a beautifully sunny Byron Bay and checked into our hostel - my old home Main Beach Backpackers - scoring ourselves a room upgrade in the process. I ran straight to see my good friend Bridget and give her a hug before we threw on our beach attire and went to get some sand between our toes.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Byron. The two times I'd visited on holiday I had absolutely loved the place, but my two months living there were not the happiest I'd spent in Australia. (We were hit by some of the wettest weather the place has ever had and there's not a whole heap to do in Byron when it rains every day for 6 weeks. True story). So it was so nice to come back with super weather; I feel like Byron and I kissed and made up a little bit.

I think I'd forgotten how beautiful the beach can be - the ex-TC Oswald completely changed the shape of the beach when I was here before, the ocean was too dangerous to swim in and all the rain had turned it a murky yellow. Thankfully it's now almost back to it's former glory, with crashing turquoise waves and squeaky white sand galore.

We stayed on the beach until the sun started to set and managed to have a swim while watching the sky streak oranges and pinks, before heading back and attempting to erase all memories of the day with excessive alcohol consumption. Where did we go? Why, Cheeky Monkeys of course!

The next day was, obviously, a complete write off. All we did was laze around and eat pizza. Thankfully that meant that we were energized and ready to go on our Wednesday trip...to Nimbin! We were lucky enough to have the lovely Bridget lend us her car for the day, which seemed like a good idea until we realised that the Byron-Nimbin road resmbled something that a third world country might consider a little bit bumpy... Thankfully no one died (including the car!) and we made it there safe and sound.

Nimbin is a hippie community best known for it's local produce...marijuana! A disclaimer: the person who told me that Nimbin was a must see in Australia was my Mum. For reals (she's awesome). It used to be a massive hippie community but is now a huge tourist destination. Before going we all wondered if it really was that easy to buy drugs on the street and I can tell you that yes, it is. Within our first 5 minutes we were offered weed and mushrooms from several people, despite being quite close to the local police station.

We'd heard lots about the Nimbin museum and so decided to check it out.

I think the fact that the local museum requires a sign like this says it all!!!

The museum was crazy, basically a few tiny rooms packed to the brim with hippie memoribilia and a history of the region right from the original aboriginal owners right through to the present day.

There were plenty of quoteable signs too, the below one being my absolute favourite.

As it was Helen's 're-birthday' after we had to delay her actual one we made her wear a badge all day...and she accepted a free coffee with a large amount of guilt from a lovely lady who owned the nicest looking shop! Aside from making a lovely cup of java, she also told us about the recent weed festival. It's basically a village fair but rather than getting prizes for the largest marrows you get prizes for the best greenery. My favourite part is that there is always a 'before' and 'after' photograph of everyone as people can only vote on things that they've tried... Brilliant.

Apparently in Nimbin the locals say 'Hippie Bathday'! 

Getting our protest on in the museum - how can you make hemp illegal???

After having a wander and a coffee we decided to make our way back via a swim in Minjin falls...which didn't quite go to plan. What actually happened was that we got completely lost and ended up driving down a road we termed 'death road' for thiry minutes...which then required a thiry minute drive back up...in the dark...while the petrol guage got lower and lower... But eventually we made it back alive sans waterfall swim praying to all of the gods that we hadn't permanently damaged Bridget's poor car.

By this point we had switched hostels to the absolutely amazing Arts Factory Lodge. Serious - if you ever go to Byron stay here!!! It started life as a hippie community that's now grown in to one of the most unique hostels you'll ever stay in. Set in acres of land around a tea tree lake you can do everything from fire twirling to dream catcher workshops and it smells quite a lot like Nimbin...if you catch my drift. I even felt comfortable enough to crack out my hippie trousers which were last seen during my Edinburgh Fringe student days.

Dave and Becki opted for a tiny teepee tent with it's own deck looking out on to the lake while the rest of us cheapskates went for a dorm which was still lovely.

We all went on a 'bush walk' with local legend Cockatoo Paul, so named because of the cockatoo that lives on his shoulder - Mr Pickles! The both of them showed us some crazy ways to use plants, including making rope from water reeds (we made ours into bracelets and almost 2 months on mine is still as strong as ever), siphoning water directly from trees and how to eat the top of a palm tree.

We also got to eat some flowers, but not until after he'd showed us how to use them as a stain - literally better than benetint I kid you not. There was tree whose trunk was icy cld and doubles up as air con in the bush, leaves that are a natural insect repellent and how to use rocks from the ground as sunscreen. Basically we had the best time EVER.

That night Dave and Becki went out for a nice meal while we did the scummy backpacker thing and found happy hour drinks and scattegories which we obviously took very seriously...

Who even needs gourmet food when Byron has a 24 hour pie shop stocked with chilli chicken and mango pies anyway...NOM.


Friday was supposed to be our final day in Byron before we went to surfers but we all agreed that we were having way too much fun to leave! After booking in for an extra night Becki and I took a yoga class by the lake underneath green leaves and blue skies... Doing it in a smelly gym just won't cut it now - we were even joined by a water dragon for much of the class. Feeling super energised and healthy our group decided to make the walk up towards to famous Cape Byron lighthouse boasting beautiful views from Australias most easterly mainland point.

Unfortunately I didn't factor in how tired my thighs were after yoga and how many fucking steps there are. You can't tell but in the picture above I'm basically dead, my quads replaced with hartley's jelly.

It is completely worth it for the views though (and not half so hard if you haven't already pushed your body that day!) and we even managed to spot a pod of dolphins cruising past. We felt especially smug as the kayak dolphin tour was heading in the wrong direction the other side of the headland...ha.

They're there honest...look harder!

The lovely Cape Byron lighthouse...which probably has a whole heap of interesting history that I never bothered to learn.

View of Tallow Beach, the site of Bridget and I's near death experience

Totally worth the jelly legs...gorgeous.

We made it down to Clarke's beach for the sunset and even got in for a swim, so happy that we weren't in Surfer's Paradise.

It was so nice to really fall back in love with Byron and although for me it'll always be a place to visit rather than live I'm glad to have some happy memories to help me forget the rainy misery I experienced before!

Next stop: Brisbane.

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