Byron Bay, Australia – June 1999

Having grown up in Mullumbimby, it is quite an interesting phenomenon to be able to completely stump people and then refer to a place which is only 20 kms away and receive immediate recognition of where you are talking about.

Lighthouse

Most of the time I try not to actually mention Byron Bay as the name immediately conjures up all sorts of weird classifications of people, ideology and preconceptions which I don’t necessarily agree with. It is a very nice place and it is always a joy to return there after the hard slog of a semester at uni in Canberra.

The beaches are beautiful and the people are nice, although you must give a little understanding if you are going to visit in January as everyone becomes a bit more tense having to deal with ten times the population over a four week period. It is an excellent place still, not quite totally ruined yet and there is a helluva lot to do here, considering the fact it is but a small coastal town.

The Tourist Information Bureau, near the bus stop, has heaps of info on activities and sight-seeing, although you will probably find that the backpackers’ hostel you stay in will have everything you may need on the premises. And there will be no trouble having to walk 5kms to the nearest one like in the majority of backpackers around the world. The market is quite competitive in Byron, so you will be able to pick and chose according to taste, and most of them run courtesy buses from the main bus stop.

If you are there in January, you will not be able to stay at the one place for long as they usually all have a limited number of days stay in the peak tourist season. But check it out to make sure, ‘cos I have actually never stayed in one, preferring the much more luxurious, Mum’s house.

The best guide to entertainment is the Byron Shire Echo, which has a large hardcopy readership as well as being found on the web. It will tell you all about the local music scene and will usually have a fairly accurate write up about bands if you are not familiar with the names. It is also usually full of the current local political debates which are amusing and very well informed, if you are politically motivated traveller.

The pubs are alright, but of the two clubs that are there, do not expect much. If you are lucky enough to hear about a doof in the hills while you are there then I would recommend going as they are well organised and quite good, let alone a better indication of the underground entertainment scene. At times, Byron can become quite seedy in this regard as does another small town called Nimbin.

On the more wholesome side, the best time to visit is late spring. At this time the whales are migrating and if you aren’t scared of sharks (this is the time when shark attacks happen, due to the sharks following the calving female whales), then scuba diving is a must. The water never really gets cold enough not to, the rain doesn’t fall then, and the northerlies haven’t started to blow, so the water is usually clear and there are no blue-bottles (stingers). You may also hear whale songs while you are in the water, which, as anyone will tell you, is quite magical.

Another thing that is a must for the more energetic are bushwalks. There are some really nice ones up in the hills, and if you take a tent you are allowed to camp anywhere along the tracks. There are also some excellent swimming pools in the creeks there. If you want the exact spots, just enquire but expect a lengthy explanation.

The markets are also highly recommendable. Cheap clothes, all sorts of gifts, things from all over the world, and excellent food. My personal recommendation is the Satay stall, called Heaven on a Stick. It does them really well, with an excellent peanut sauce, and rice for all the vegetarians as well, which is about the best value for money in the whole market.

(This is a plug by the way, if you hadn’t realised already, but I’ve only told it how it is, nothing is made up).

They are held at Byron on the first Sunday of the month, The Channon (there is a specific bus for this leaving from the main bus stop every hour) on the second Sunday, and Bangalow on the fourth Sunday.

So think of me sitting in front of a computer, trying to write my essays, in cold, cold Canberra while you lie on the beach in warm Byron, or wander through the refreshing rainforest, or tandem hang-glide on the most picturesque of calm days. Because I will definitely be thinking of you.

Byron Rainbow

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