Byron Bay - A Cartoon Like World of Colour

Trip Start Feb 05, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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What I did
Cape Byron
Cape Byron Lighthouse
The Pass
Clarke's Beach
Watego's Beach
Byron Bay International Film Festival

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Monday, March 5, 2012

Bryon Bay sits happily in the North East corner of New South Wales. It is a little bohemian haven – blessed with the climate of Queensland and the progressiveness of Sydney. It's residents live completely within the moment and musicians, artists and eccentrics prosper amongst them. It is the norm for people to wander happily around the supermarket with unwashed hair and bare feet and partake in spontaneous yoga sessions in public. Everywhere there is a feeling of mutual respect and appreciation for the place. The town relies on its people as much as the people rely on the town.

The whole community looks like a photograph in which someone has yanked the colour saturation right up. Street art and brightly painted buildings poke out from tropical shrubbery and suspicious smelling smoke wafts from pretty little jittys. The sun lays its kisses on the colour, making the entire town a feast for the senses.

I arrived fairly late in the day and met my friends at the hostel. It was the first hostel we’d stayed at down the coast where BYO (bring your own alcohol) was welcomed and outdoor cooking facilities were provided. This felt perfectly fitting for a place with such little regard for convention and we embraced the attitude with a Bryon BBQ and a bag of booze.

Whilst cooking we noticed a lonely looking girl sneaking glances in our direction. Abiding by the principles of our new bohemian code we invited her over for a cup of goon. Her name was Cath and she was travelling on her own from Germany. She had splurged on a plethora of activities in New Zealand and as a result was now left with a mere $100 to her name.

The next morning, despite all feeling hideous, we jumped on the Eco-friendly bandwagon and, with our new German friend in tow, set off on a bike-ride. Our hostel offered free bike rental which we took full advantage of. However, the machines were rusty old awkward things, exhausted from years of backpackers taking liberties with them. Such cumbersome apparatus coupled with our already fragile constitutions made for a challenging journey. As a result, our ride up Byron’s picturesque hills was accompanied by a soundtrack of creaks, pants, grunts and expletives. Our symphony finished with a collective sign of relief when we had to lock up our bikes to head down to Clarke’s Beach.

Clarke’s is a busy yet peaceful beach, populated by a mix of surfers, naked kids, spliff smoking parents and tourists grappling with watersports. There is a very harmonious attitude between these groups; with none of the surf politics we’d heard dictates behavior in other areas. We flopped onto the beach under the sun’s invisible duvet, in an attempt to recover from our voyage.

Feeling slightly more revitalized we headed for 'The Pass’, a spectacular natural lookout point, just off the beach. We stood for a while watching the eclectic mix of people and admiring the way the headlands tumbled into the ocean around us.

Next, we followed a steep footpath up and down into the neighbouring valley, home to Watego’s Beach. This beach is equally pretty as Clarkes, but less busy. It’s also the starting point of the demanding hike up Cape Byron.

Cape Byron, is a lofty headland that juts out in a direction that makes it the most Easterly point of the Australian mainland. It was named fondly by Captain Cook after John Byron; circumnavigator of the world in his own right, (but more notable for being Lord Byron’s Grandfather).

Seated blithely on top of the cape is Australia’s most powerful lighthouse. The combination of these two extremities make a trip to the top a tourist must do. You can reach the lighthouse by road, and most visitors do, but we decided to walk it.

As we set off the sun peaked in the sky, making conditions for the climb sweltering and oppressive. We dragged our brittle bodies to the top feeling like we were participants in a sunny remake of ‘Touching the Void.’

When we eventually reached the top, we were greeted not by the florid fanfare we felt we deserved, but by a feeble little sign somberly stating our geography. Exhausted, we stared down into the ocean (as much to lean on the fence as to enjoy the view).

The point where the gnarled tip of Cape Byron spills into the sea is completely stunning and we watched the waves slap its sides for a few minutes while recovering our breath. We were about to move on when someone spotted a dark shadow drifting ominously across the turquoise water. We examined it curiously and let out a squeal of delight when we realized it was not a phantom, but a pod of around thirty dolphins, moving together like synchronized swimmers just below the surface. It was a magical sight and we lapped it up like giddy schoolgirls.

Whilst we were sailing the Whitsundays, Dale, a member of the boat’s crew, had told us that dolphins are actually one of the most savage and ruthless species of them all. They are one of the few animals, besides humans, to rape and murder (for reasons other than hunger) within their own societies. Gangs of strong males pick on those younger and smaller and there are even instances of males kidnapping females and holding them captive for months at a time.

According to some scientists, dolphins are as intelligent as humans. In fact, the only reason they don’t dominate the world with us is because they lack our most effective tool, the thumb. I guess with our intelligence it’s inevitable that they possess some of our flaws too. Although as we stood watching them - their slender bodies gliding effortlessly and gracefully as one - it was hard to imagine a dolphin underbelly ruled by marine warlords, gangsters and scumbags.

We dragged ourselves away and strolled up to the lighthouse. It was pretty, but we’d already received our reward for the trek – the views, the dolphins and a huge sense of achievement. Instead of inspecting it, we collapsed in a sorry mess in a patch of shade underneath it.

The bike ride back to the hostel on the other hand was an unexpected delight. It was all downhill and pure bliss - we didn’t even need to pedal, just cruised right up to our front door. The breeze was intoxicating and we spent the journey getting high on the sights of Byron. Whizzing through the borough, it seemed as though the town-planners had tried to incorporate the laws of cartoon worlds into Byron’s streets. Everything is bouncy and colour soaked. Anything industrial or ugly has been hijacked and turned into something quirky, fun and in its own way beautiful. Generators become beat boxes and electricity supplies become hippy vans. Blandness is the only thing not tolerated.

That evening was the opening night of The 7th Byron Bay International Film Festival. Caz and I lugged ourselves down, clad in our pjyamas, to purchase some tickets for a screening for the following day. As we trotted down the red carpet, bra-less, make-up free and with our hair bouncing on the top of our heads like a couple of croissants, we noticed that our fellow attendees were mainly bejeweled ladies dressed in ball gowns. As mortificaton sank in and we gawped around we were blinkered by a sudden flash. A furtive photographer smirked at us out of the shadows. We’d been papped in our pjyamas.

The man at the box office handed us our tickets under raised eyebrows and we headed sheepishly back down the red carpet. We asked the photographer for a look at the incriminating photo of us. He scoffed and told us he’d already deleted it. It wasn’t the right vibe. Clearly the ‘anything goes’ Byron ethos is exempt on certain occasions.

We arrived the next day, dressed slightly more appropriately. The film – Toomelah – was a coming of age story about a young aboriginal boy. It wasn’t the most gripping of tales, but the festival itself was wonderful. The atmosphere was intimate and there was an encouraging applause after the film. It typified Byron Bay.

That evening we rented out a couple of more enjoyable films and relaxed in our dorm. We decided that out of everywhere we’d visited so far, Byron was the place we’d most like to live. It is simply a happy, open-minded, creative little place. We were unsurprised that so many people fall prey to its spell and stay a lot longer than they intended.
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