If it sounds like I’m describing this brief period of celebration after the wedding as a less than pleasant experience because I’m lamenting the loss of my freedom and carefree bachelorhood, I’m not (I’ve lost all of those a long time ago). The entire trip was practically mired in terrible weather, and Mrs. PWW and I spent most of the days under a small umbrella. Nonetheless I was thankful we had an incredibly sunny weekend for an outdoor wedding, and figured we can deal with the inclement weather for the honeymoon.
It comes as no surprise to me that we had no set itinerary for the trip because a) I was the one in charge of organising the trip and I didn’t do a very good job, and b) my procrastination was justified by historical evidence that some of our best travels involved no concrete plans at all. We did manage to agree on our first (and only definite) stop: Byron Bay.
Off to Byron
Our trip really started in Brisbane where we spent our first evening, just us two as a married couple, at a Belgian beer pub, washing down mussels and fries with 500ml glasses of Hoegaarden. It was a miracle we arrived at the bus terminal on time for the morning bus ride to Byron Bay. The three-hour bus ride was scenic, driving through some of the bustling tourist areas along the coast including Surfer’s Paradise, where I imagine, one could go surfing if interested. Actually, there was no shortage of surfers along the entire stretch of the coast all the way to our final stop, where surfboards were ubiquitously attached to the top of cars, carried on bikes, or clutched by hand. And where the weather is bad, the surfing is good (I’ve been told).
Byron Bay Surfers
Of course, there is much more to Byron that the surf. The popular Cape Byron Walking track takes you along the beach, passing through the most easterly point of mainland Australia, a mandatory photo spot as indicated by the pole erected for the specific purpose of holding self-timed cameras. The track ends at the 1901 lighthouse, which is Australia’s most powerful (and easterly). Unfortunately, despite the spectacular vantage point we were unable to see any migrating dolphins or whales. Kayak operators in the area guarantee sightings on their trips but we decided to miss out on the option, preferring to stay dry and somewhat warm instead.
However, I reckon what draws people to Byron more than the landscape is its reputation for providing a laid-back lifestyle conducive to alternative living. The main strip in town is lined with organic shops and cafés where one would have no trouble ordering a vegan lasagne and a soy chai latte, a drink which – I’m sorry – sounds so terribly pretentious to my uncultured ears. It’s easy to find yoga lessons, Ayurvedic treatments and therapies, as well as fair trade, eco-friendly hemp clothing. Seriously, it’s paradise for New Age hippies. But no other place could be considered more of an old-school hippie-central than our next destination.
Burn One Down
With a population of just a tad over 1300 people, Nimbin is a small town in the Far North Coast Hinterland of New South Wales. The town has a few shops and cafés all found in a short strip along Cullen Street, but despite the seeming lack of stores, there’s a whole lot of shopping happening under your nose.
Using some of the wordplays from my guidebook, “A trip in Nimbin, or rather, a trip to Nimbin, is erm, high-ly recommended.” I read in one of the local papers that the town is trying to show the public that there’s more to Nimbin than reefer and cookies to make you very happy (or borderline paranoid). In my opinion it might be quite difficult to disassociate the town from the herb when there are posters everywhere stating “Legalize It”, and when one of the most prominent shops in the main street is named “Bringabong.” I was asked a few times, without much subtlety, if I wanted to buy some “good weed”, and all I could think of was the few people I know who would love to visit this town.
Store front art in Cullen Street
Quirky as it is, the town itself was not what made the trip memorable for me; it was the tour bus which made it really special. Jim’s Alternative Tours has a bus which travels from Byron Bay to Nimbin daily, and what separates it from the rest of the pack is its kick-ass soundtrack. Our bus driver who goes by the name of, you guessed it – Ivan, provided informative commentary during the journey augmented by a song somehow connected to the place. For instance, driving out of Byron we passed through an old building called The Buttery; once a place that produced butter and is now a rehabilitation centre for people with addictions. Ivan told us that Paul Kelly, one of Australia’s most revered folk artists, wrote a song about a friend of his who spent a year in The Buttery to try and overcome his drinking habit and save his marriage; a story perfectly encapsulated by the song “To Her Door”, which he then played for everyone on the bus. You can’t get any more poignant than that.
Other artists on the soundtrack include Ben Harper, John Butler Trio, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, The Doors... it was mind-blowing. (You can buy the soundtrack on the tour bus; $10 for over 90 tracks)
Head over to Brunswick
We mulled over the thought of extending our stay in Byron for another evening, but we decided to forego our charming little B&B shed and travelled to a small town which caught our fancy. Brunswick Heads is less than 20 kilometres from Byron Bay, but worlds apart. Before leaving for our honeymoon, people have told us that they now find Byron Bay too commercial (I agree); that it has lost the allure it held many years ago. Mrs. PWW reckons that that old Byron would have looked and felt like what Brunswick still is today, and thankfully Bruns was able to retain that old charm.
Our accommodation alone was worth the stop. We stayed at the 1940s Hotel Brunswick, in an old room upstairs from a good ‘ol Aussie pub that serves delicious food (in massive servings) and cold beer. Not too long after arriving and at the suggestion of a helpful lady from the local information centre, we walked to the nearby fisherman’s co-op with a craving for fish and chips. We parked ourselves on a bench and enjoyed the view of the wharf, feasting on local food and talking about the future. A hop, skip and a jump later, we were seated in front of a street-side café table, reading the paper and sipping on tea while listening to a local acoustic artist playing for the crowd. Small towns are always filled with these simple joys, and we lapped it up. It was the perfect way to end the trip and to start a new life with a good headspace.
The bridge over Brunswick River
Yeah. Rainy days aren’t so bad after all.
For more photos from the trip, check out the set on Flickr.