You know one of the first things I did when I got to Byron Bay? I messaged a couple of friends about ‘marvellous hippies’. Except the first word was an expletive virtually the antithesis of marvellous and began with an F.
48 hours later I’m packing to catch a plane. The short time here was intentional (although in theory it should have been even shorted with an 18 hour Greyhound bus to Sydney, but I’m taking full advantage here of not being an 18 year old broke backpacker and flying), and contrary to all my judgemental thoughts I’ve actually really enjoyed my flying visit to Byron Bay.
OK, so I don’t fit into skinny jeans and you can’t see my six pack for quite a few layers of cake, beer and pizza, but this modern hippie wonderland is actually pretty awesome. And – to my infinite surprise – I actually wasn’t at all bad at surfing. Sure I face planted into the water more often than I would have liked, but Sol, our instructor (who was everything you’d expect of an Aussie surf instructor. Except that he was from Kent) said the conditions were pretty bad so the fact that some of us (me included, thankfully) had managed to get up on our feet and surf properly not once, but twice, was impressive. The other two that managed this were snowboarders, so I left the beach somewhat smug and without the sunburn I had expected. He was just messaging our egos you say? Well, quite possibly, but beggars can’t be choosers, so I’ll take it.
I wish the food here was better though. This place may be a surfer’s paradise (Quicksilver host an international competition here every year, apparently) but the culinary expertise is not great. There are lots of places for a decent breakfast – ranging around eggs, sourdough and avocados in varying combinations, plus coffee of course – but dinner was less exciting. It’s a rare day that I think a salad is the most appealing option on a menu.
But there is one truly remarkable place, and that is the beach. Perhaps I had one beer too many, but this is what I wrote – lying in a hammock, naturally – when I got home one night:
There are rare moments in life that puzzle me, or rather I’m inexplicably calm and there’s a a wry smile that (on this occasion) no one else will see. That’s because right now the only light around is the moon.
The dull roaring of distant waves, the light lapping of those closer at hand. A light breeze floating lazily along. And a mysterious noise as the two combine, its pitch getting higher and higher under the wave breaks and the sound is lost.
The rhythmic beam from the lighthouse shoots its way across the bay, the footprints in the sand lit by the brilliant full moon before it darts briefly behind a light cloud.
My late night stroll along the beach was a last minute idea (there’s a terrible bar down the street that I’ve just made my excuses to my new friends from the hostel to get out of), but save for a few barely discernible figures in the distance the whole place is mine. Mine at least, until the tide is satisfied with its uncompromising march up the sand.
Is there a point to this story? No. I don’t believe there is. But there’s a peace and a happiness in it I wanted to share. Perhaps one day it can be a setting for the novel I’m never going to finish (or perhaps even begin).
In retrospect these sunbleached iPhone wielding hippies aren’t all that bad. Perhaps I should be less of a judgemental asshole. I actually quite like these quirky little surf shops and that some of them sell work by some pretty good local photographers. I also can see why surfing is appealing. Whilst I suspect our instructor’s praises may be somewhat hollow, I surprised myself by really enjoying it when I had mainly booked it out of the thought I couldn’t really come to Australia and not at least try it.
I suspect the old school hippies here really hate the modern variety – even I was a bit disappointed to hear ‘quinoa salads’ mentioned in the same sentence as smoking pit by one of the ‘millennial hippies’ – but I can totally see the appeal here. If I had more time in Australia I would totally spend more time here attempting to learn something bordering surfing, but that would have to come from an already all to brief trip to Sydney, so I guess Byron will just have to tumble into the wave there.
And if you are wondering about photos of me plunging head first off a surf board, yes there was one. It was mildly amusing as you might expect, but no, I did not buy it and no, it will never see the light of day on the Internet, I have seen to that!
As a total side note, I think Ballina Airport (it’s just along the coast from Byron) wins my award for the most adorable little airport. Its departure gates are essentially a cordoned off area of the hanger that is the terminal – like how you would see a smoking area sealed off. Its one security lane lets you carry through pretty much anything (my full litre water bottle was totally OK, but that’s apparently a thing with domestic flights here). It was a surprise it had two departure gates, to be honest, but my theory is there are two so they don’t have to move the Virgin and JetStar branding – both their gates lead to the same path to the one place for a plane. But quaint as it was it works and the next stop on the list is Sydney!