Byron Bay was up there with Fraser Island for the most recommended place to visit. When I was reaching exhaustion with the East Coast I kept thinking, “I just want to get to Byron Bay.” So you can imagine my relief when I made it to Byron and it was every bit as good as I hoped it would be.
I checked into the Arts Factory, the number one recommended hostel for its alternative set-up: campsites, teepees, and dorms were scattered around the woods with a pond, a beach volleyball court, a pool, a ping pong table, and picnic areas. Inside was a cafe, eclectic couches and chairs, and a pool table. There were didgeridoo and yoga classes and a brewery across the parking lot, which was my first stop when I got in Wednesday night for open mic night.
I could see how people get stuck in Byron at the Arts Factory, embracing the hippie lifestyle that it embodied. However for a short term solo traveler it may not have been the best option. It was very cool, but its guests were mostly already in groups of friends and I found it hard to meet new people. Granted this was also affected by my friend situation: with Pascal, Chris and Elsenoor all in town at the same time I opted to hang out with them instead of dedicating time to meeting people at Arts Factory. I don’t regret this for an instant; I had a fantastic time with them.
Byron was dominated by beach time, as it should be. The soft sand beach stretches as far as the eye can see and the inviting blue water is shallow enough to walk far out into. My first morning I read on the beach for hours before Pascal and Chris got there, then I spent the afternoon boogie boarding and hanging out with them. I spotted Elsenoor not far away and invited her to join us. Our last day was spent this way too, nursing our hangovers in the sun and the much better boogie boarding waves. I haven’t boogie boarded since I was a kid and had forgotten how fun it can be to ride a wave into shore.
In between beach days the four of us made the trip out to Nimbin. This Aussie town is well known for being the place to buy weed and edibles, namely cookies. We decided when in Rome and went for a day trip. Without going into much detail, I’ll just say we were a little disappointed in this adventure. There is really nothing to do in Nimbin, it is a small block with a few cafes and shops, and its main export is nothing to rave about either. It also felt way more sketchy than its reputation. Maybe I’m just too used to the easiness of California.
We finally got in some good nights out in Byron Bay. Thursday night was a bit more casual, with our main form of entertainment being making bets on where other people in the bar were from. This is how I ended up doing push-ups on the floor of the bar, something I wouldn’t live down over the next few days, but I’m not one to back out of a bet. Friday night was our last night together so we went out for dinner, a real treat for a bunch of backpackers, and it was lovely. Good food, good company, and a bottle of wine shared between new friends. We met some other people out and, after a brief detour to check out a Silent Disco (which was unfortunately all schoolies), ended up again at the backpacker bar Cheeky Monkey. When it was time to go home we didn’t want the night to end; we wandered around by the beach for a while refusing to accept defeat, but eventually we had to give in.
I had an evening flight to Melbourne that Saturday night so I said my goodbyes after our beach day. But in the trend I have going they weren’t really goodbyes – Chris and Pascal, you’re not rid of me yet, I’ll see you in Thailand for Christmas.
I left Byron Bay happy with my three days there but excited to finally get to Melbourne. I could easily have spent weeks relaxing in the hippie-turned-bustling beach town, reading on the beach, learning to surf, maybe even revisiting the Nimbin experiment, and sharing beers with my Oz travel friends. It is definitely towards the top of the list of favorite locations from my time in Australia. But as things go, I only had a few days left in this country, and I had saved the supposed best for last. To Melbourne I went.