Australian Time Out #8: Home of the Great Unwashed

8: Home of the Great Unwashed

Arriving very late in Byron Bay (the rains have caused terrible floods and accidents up the Pacific Highway, so we had to take a few detours on the way) we were picked up by our hostel, Main Beach Backpackers, our falling apart minibus driven by a stoned hippy who welcomed us to Byron and told us to stay cool.

Unfortunately our night in Main Beach wasn’t as cool as we had hoped. We were put in a 16 bed dorm with a load of stoners who refused to move their stuff from our lockers and moaned when we walked on their weird playing card formations on the floor. Not very ‘stoked’. We escaped with some people we had met in Coffs and found a 24 hour bakery which sells great drinks and food, and moaned in turn about how old we felt!

When we used the bathroom the next morning they had not been cleaned and there were several massive cockroaches blocking the way anyway, so we fled to Backpackers Inn on the Beach – very clean, large and airy four bed dorms, sparkling bathrooms and exclusive access to a relatively isolated part of Byron’s beach. It felt like the Hilton!

Sangria Night

Sangria Night

Of course it would have been rude not to take part in the hostel’s weekly ‘Sangria Night’ all-you-can-drink Sangria for three hours for only $5!!! Sitting in the hostel’s courtyard, we got talking to loads of fellow travelers, and were treated to a fire-dancing show. We stumbled into one of Byron’s cheesy nightclubs, Cocomangas (the free drink advertised is actually pineapple juice in a jam jar, be warned) and stumbled out again later. Another night we met up with some friends, got a takeout and strolled down to the deserted beach through our hostel. We chatted, chilled out, looked at the stars and felt lucky to be there.

Wednesday rolls around – not just any day, but mine and Dan’s three year anniversary. Awwh. To commemorate this special day we decide to head down to the Arts Factory Lodge, a great place to stay in Byron, offering Dorms, permanent tented areas around the river, a large Tee-pee that sleeps eight, and a double decker bus! We however, were interested in their ‘Pighouse Flicks’ cinema and ‘Piggery Supernatural Food’ restaurant. The cinema shows both mainstream and lesser known films, and the restaurant is renowned for its excellent meals. We had a brilliant day there.

Piggery Restaurant

Piggery Restaurant

Weather improving every day, Dan and I decided to take a walk down to the beach, following the lighthouse. Byron’s beach is one of the most attractive I have ever seen. The tide gives way to little lagoons that hold clear warm water and the sand is home to tiny crabs and mussels. Climb the lookout point at the end of the beach to watch the surfers.

At the end of our stay I really couldn’t work Byron out. On one hand it really does retain the hippy spirit. There are many stoned people wandering about wearing tie-die or hemp clothes looking like they hadn’t washed in a century (and no, these weren’t all backpackers), lots of flower children and many places to eat great organic and vegetarian food. But it was a very expensive place to stay. Evidently it costs money to get with the hippy spirit. Hostels here charge above average rates, eating and drinking is very steep in comparison to the rest of NSW. The nightclubs are exactly the same there as anywhere else, and just because a kebab shop has swirly, psychedelic writing over it doesn’t mean it’s natural or independently owned! I couldn’t help thinking that, for all that Byron is presented as ‘alternative’ it can really fleece the tourists as well as the rest of them. The hypocrisy got to me a little in the end.

I did have a great time though. And I was sad to leave our great hostel. Our next stop, Surfer’s Paradise, was supposed to be the package holiday central of Australia. Time to swop those teepees for skyscrapers…

Things to do in Byron Bay:

  1. Go to the beach – it’s magic!
  2. Check out the Arts Factory Lodge, hippy central.
  3. If you need some alternative therapy, here’s the place to get it done – they also offer massage classes
  4. A great place to learn how to surf (cheap too) and scuba dive
  5. Get drunk and go to Cocomangas or Cheeky Monkeys – the prices are pretty cheeky though…