Byron Bay: Rainbows, hippies, and mysterious cookies

Ah Byron. You speak to any backpacker in Australia and they will always sing Byron Bay's praises, the chilled back hippy lifestyle, the colour, the infamous day trip to Nimbin, the beautiful setting of the town and hostels - so close to nature yet still with the amenities, and the lack of most big chain commercial eateries (Starbucks I'm looking at you). Who'd pass up the opportunity to stay here?! 

I'd originally booked two nights but as soon as I arrived and could check into the Arts Factory Lodge (a Nomads' hostel) I requested an extra night... The ambience reminded me a little of the hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, only on a much larger scale (and, ok, with a pool).

Just to paint an idyllic picture, the hostel is set essentially in the sub-tropical forest. Tropical plants and animals roam the grounds, the campsite situated around a swamp (beautiful but an absolute honey pot for mosquitoes the gammy little bastards), people from all walks of life sit around sharing stories, playing drums, carving bamboo for didgeridoos, reading, laughing, doing yoga, it's an absolute dream and, on first glance, I thought I'd hit paradise and wanted to stay for a week or more.

Then the harsh reality of it all dawned... I didn't really fit in. In my mind I'm a fairly spiritual person, say, more so than your average Joe Blogs off the street anyway. I gain a lot from being in a natural setting, being one with nature so to speak, being around people of a similar mindset, but here it felt different... Almost like I was being judged for not being 'hippy' enough. I brushed it aside, thought it was silly, until I bumped into at least four other people who shared the same fears... That some of the people this place attracted were nothing more than new age judgemental fashionistas, in it for the rainbow tie-dye tops, the flowers in their hair, the peace symbol draped around their neck, and of course the weed whilst at the same time preaching over animal rights/animal cruelty and clasping a leather bag and eating a fat steak... It doesn't go hand in hand right? I just don't understand how it turned from a free-loving, happy lifestyle to some fashion statement that might've cropped up in Vogue at some point (ladies, think boho style) and I certainly don't mean to generalise here, it was just the feeling I got. 

Rant over. Maybe I am just being paranoid.

Anyway, I got into a fairly good group, we had a good chat about life and the hostel, how everyone was so happy and chilled. One girl piped up that it was to do with the hostel being so close to nature and I completely understood, bearded dragons ran around without a care in the world or basked in the sun, a few Australian brushturkeys bobbed around eating or jumping on the buildings or trees, beautiful birds swooped in, and then there was the cockatoo.... A beautiful dreadlocked girl's best friend.

I ended up getting a colourful hair wrap/braid in my hair (of course) and was offered a free beer. So it begins. There happened to be a brewery next door and they sold pale ale - perfect - pity it was $20 for six pack... Almost worth it! Into the night we go and I drank four of my beers and head off to bed. In NSW they have a no-takeout policy for bottle shops or bars (I think it's at 10pm or 10.30pm). Anyway, it soon became apparent what the time was when a drunk man tried to buy my last two beers for money, and when I declined that, for pot. Mmmkay then. 

Don't get me wrong though, the area is beautiful and I do highly recommend the Arts Factory Lodge as a hostel. I've become fairly thick skinned as I've been travelling but I know a (relative) newbie said she felt incredibly intimidated. Try and go when the weather is better mind, we got absolutely drenched trying to pass from dorm to bathroom (or bar) since it's quite a distance between them! 

Cape Byron Lighthouse
After my night of drinking, socialising, and the like (and actually getting away earlyish to go to bed - self control, huzzah) I thought I'd check out the lighthouse. Unfortunately the weather was pretty substandard (...cloudy) and so the view at the top wasn't quite as impressive as I'd have liked but the cooler temperatures (not so much the high humidity) made the climb to the top a little more enjoyable. I think the round trip worked out about 6/7km maybe? 

I made my way up via the beach and trail route which provided some pretty beautiful lookouts and meant I got to stood at the most easterly point of mainland Australia. 

Coming back wasn't as enjoyable, down the road I went with the knowledge that I had Breaking Bad to watch which, unfortunately (or fortunately?! I should be socialising after all) I ended up playing a few drinking games with my last two beers and some borrowed goon. Thanks pal! 

The original plan was to hitchhike to Nimbin to get more time there. Actually it's a total lie because my very first initial plan was to stay there for a couple of nights. Oh I'm so glad I didn't!

We got the tourist bus. For $25/30 (depending on who you book it with) you get a return journey to Nimbin which took about an hour and a half to get there. Simples. As soon as we entered Nimbin territory there was a distinct smell of cannabis (as in the plant, not yet harvested or smoked!) and we knew we were close. 

About 10/15 minutes later we were pulling into the infamous street, a stoned man stood in the road to our right, hanging off a sign, and the myriad of rainbow shops infront of us. Hopping off the bus we were greeted by the crazy old lady who owned the art gallery... She had other talents too, baking. A firm favourite of her's were those suspicious little cookies that send you a little bit silly... Curious.

We took a trip to the museum which was a thorough collection of inspirational quotes, colours, and various weed-related facts... A celebration of the plant and the movement towards it's legalisation. There was a little bit of information regarding the protests FOR legalization, the Mardi Grass festival (definitely not to be confused with Mardi Gras), and other bits and bobs. It runs on donations so it is essentially a free trip and definitely worth it. 

After chilling outside of a music shop, we had a pretty good chat to a local or toe about the changes they'd seen in Nimbin, the progression from the free-loving hippy town to one inundated with tourists seeking out some cheap(ish) Mary Jane, all whilst nibbling on some cookies. It was sad to hear how it had changed so much in such a short space of time, but enlightening at the same time. The tourism HAD brought in an awful lot of money to the area but it also pushed for harder substances which, upon walking the streets, became apparent. Not only were people pushing for hash brownies, space cakes, or cannabis-infused chocolates (intriguing!), but they were also trying to push the less natural drugs. Nicht gut! 

Heading back to the hostel we had a relatively quiet night... We drank a few beers, had a little goon, and went to bed ready for me to leave the hostel the next day for Noosa...


  1. Oh my, what an interesting post. I'm sorry the people were a bit judgemental and I agree that being spiritual and appreciative should have no limits or hoops to jump through, you are just being yourself! I love that image of the bearded dragon and all the beer sounds excellent x

    1. Sorry I've only just read your post lady, thank you for the reply - it did shock me a little and I've mentioned it to a few people as I've been travelling about the pretense and I certainly wasn't alone!! The bearded dragons, bush turkeys, beer, and the obligatory hair wrap was just perfect though ;) x



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