Byron Bay

Have you been to Byron Bay? If not, then you may at least have heard of it. A lot of people know (of) Byron Bay as it is immensely popular.

I now know why.

No, it’s not just the ‘special’ cookies that make the place so special – it’s … beautiful. Relaxing. Busy. Fun. Down to Earth. Warm. Positive. Sunny. Full of people and full of life.

Admittedly we were there in THE busy season; the days between Christmas and New Years. I was told beforehand that Byron Bay to the Victorians is like Margaret River to the Sandgropers, and it’s true. There were so many people! Driving into town was madness. It was busy busy busy.

But the beauty about Byron Bay is that it is surrounded by drop dead gorgeous nature and within minutes you’re away from the hustle and bustle and can dig your toes into squeaky white sand, dive head first into turquoise water, walk through dark green rain forest or gaze at the horizon from the headland.

We watched the sunrise from the most easterly point of Australia’s mainland, we ran through pouring rain, we ate delicious and healthy food, we hiked through rain forest and plucked leeches off our legs, we cantered along the beach on horseback, we greeted the New Year with fireworks at the Gold Coast, we drove along windy roads through the hinterland, we stopped for a coffee in Nimbin (and declined more ‘special’ cookies), we clambered over old volcanic rock, watched surfers ride waves and swam in crystal clear water.

Sunrise at Cape Byron Lighthouse

Minyon Falls

Fingal Head

Lucy’s fun collection of failing (and flailing) surfers

At the Minyon Falls

New Years Fireworks at the Gold Coast

Seeing civilisation (Surfers Paradise/Gold Coast) was a big shock to the system after the natural beauty of Byron Bay

Lucy overlooking Fingal Head

These Bush Turkeys were everywhere

Fingal Head

I could write a whole book about our time there but I will limit myself to a video and my top 5 moments:

Diving with Sharks

Yes baby. I finally went scuba diving again! I love it! Ever since I did my Open Water course as a backpacker in 2010 I’ve been jumping at the opportunity to go scuba diving wherever I am. Julian Rocks, just 10 minutes offshore by boat, is a lovely habitat that is the home to a large number of species. We saw quite a few turtles (both Green Turtles and Loggerheads), lots of different fishies, Black Spotted Stingrays, eels, Gold Spotted Morays, a White Eye Moray, Blue Striped Snappers, Tall Fin Bat Fish (they are indeed tall!), Wobbegong Sharks (cool but a bit boring) and my new favourite of the underwater world: Leopard Sharks. They are beautiful. So graceful and elegant. Generally growing to 2.4 metres in length they are a formidable but not scary shark. I got a little bit excited when one was swimming straight towards me but they always turn away and just gracefully meander through the water, their long tail fin gliding through the water – or they’re asleep on the ocean floor. Our safety briefing before the dive was indeed not about sharks but about turtles! “If a turtle is coming a bit too close for your liking and looks like it might bite you, just gently push against its shell to push it away from you.” I could imagine the headlines: “Unsuspecting German tourist busy photographing sharks gets bitten by turtle.” Haha!

Another reason why this experience makes it on my Top 5 Byron Bay moments list is because I went diving together with my dear sister Lucy! It was so cool to be underwater together and to be able to share these experiences with her. I still wonder how a four day course of diver training can be condensed down into a morning session in the pool, but whatever training she received that morning worked well – she survived and enjoyed the underwater world. Afterwards she said she is “not as crazy about scuba diving as you are, Svenja” but not being as crazy as I am may be a good thing.

Eating Macadamias Straight from the Tree

Macadamias – yum. Roasted, salted, mmhhh delicious! That’s how we know them, right? But have you ever tried them straight from a tree? So fresh that you have to crack through two layers of shells and have sticky plant goo on your fingers? So good that you go from tree to tree (trying not to walk into huge spiderwebs) and pick them off the branches? It’s so worth it. Yum! They are crunchy and … it’s hard to explain. Nutty, yes, but not like the roasted/salted nut flavour we’re used to. Like a fresh nutty taste. Maybe they also weren’t completely ripe yet and the taste and texture might still change with time.

I am immensely grateful that we got to experience this. If you’re ever in Byron go to ‘The Farm‘ (worthwhile going there anyway) and do the self guided farm walk, and go into the Macadamia and Pecan orchard. There are nutcrackers on benches scattered through the orchard and you can just pick nuts off the trees, crack them, devour them, repeat. Of course a lot of the low hanging branches were already harvested so it is a good thing that Lucy and I are about 6ft tall (or 7ft100 according to Pete) and could reach higher up into the branches, hehe.

Snoozing in a Hammock by the Beach

Lucy for Christmas got an awesome present: a travel hammock. It is made from parachute material and squishes down into a handy little parcel, easy to bring wherever (as in everywhere) you go. So we would wander along the beach and go “Look! There are a couple of trees! Perfect!” and within minutes we had a hammock strung between the trees and were ready to do nothing for the rest of the day but relax, read, draw, snooze and go for the occasional swim. I had browsed the awesome Borrowbox library app for an audio book to download, and lo and behold I found “The Bay” by Di Morrissey. So there I was, listening to stories from ‘Beacon Bay’ that described the beautiful wide, sandy beach that runs along the whole bay, gently curving along the turquoise water, surfers paddling to catch waves, green rain forest lining the beach, the lighthouse at the head land overlooking the bay and the volcanic mountains in the hazy background – as I, too, with my feet sticking out of the hammock, was gazing over the wide, sandy beach and the turquoise water and the surfers and lighthouse and the mountains in the background. Normally when you read a book your mind imagines the place and the landscapes described on the pages – I didn’t have to, as it was all right in front of me.

It feels like all of 2017 I was running around, achieving things, planning, working, doing, making, creating. It’s been a very active and busy year and whilst I progressed on a lot of levels and achieved a lot, it was important to just relax. Chill. Snooze. Have nothing to do for hours on end. Listen to an audio book and drift off to sleep. Go for a swim and float  in the clear blue water. Dream. Think. Think nothing. Look. Breathe. Smell. Feel. Hear. Taste. Be. In German we say “die Seele baumeln lassen” which literally translates to “letting your soul dangle”. That’s exactly what I was able to do.

A Busker by the Beach

On our last day in Byron Bay we wandered down to the beach and saw a big crowd of probably 200 people circled around someone who was playing great music. We got closer to see what it was all about and found ourselves spending the next hour or two soaking up the terrific atmosphere and listening to fantastic music. Romi from RomiSounds had the crowed enthralled – people were dancing, filming, relaxing, some were drinking and, being Byron Bay, of course every now and again there was the whiff of marijuana in the air. Everybody was relaxed and peaceful and was having fun, simply enjoying the music and the moment. There were SO many young people! I knew that Byron Bay was a magnet for backpackers but the amount of young people in that town, and around that musician, made me wonder if there were any young people left in the rest of the world. At one stage the crowd broke out into a spontaneous dancing train and you could hear Romi’s laughter whilst he was trying to keep up with the singing.

I loved how one person, simply by singing, strumming a guitar and drumming a drum (which was just the guitar case), could bring so many people together, sharing a moment in time. He added so much to that evening and made it very special – so special that it made it on my list of top 5 moments in Byron Bay.

Check him out on Youtube, he’s really good – my kind of music 🙂 – and seems to have a habit of turning busking sessions into spontaneous street parties.

Singing with our Host Family

Lucy and I were staying in an AirBnB about 20 minutes outside of Byron Bay. It was great being able to get away from the busy town and the traffic and driving to the hobby farm amidst the green grass and tall rain forest trees all around. The hosts Paul and Jacquie were lovely, friendly, cool and funny and made us feel very welcome. They even invited us to share Christmas lunch with them and their family and friends! It was such a nice gesture but what was even nicer was the food. Yuhuhuuuum! So good!

Their house has a beautiful, big, central open-living area where the kitchen, dining are and couches are all under a big beautiful wooden ceiling, with bright, big glass windows on two sides. It’s a very beautiful, inviting and open place and – best of all – it is not dominated by a TV like so many other lounge rooms are. In fact they don’t even have a TV. On one wall they have a myriad of instruments and we were witness to many a nights where they had friends over and would just have a BBQ and pull out the guitar and strum along, singing with friends and family. They invited us along and I absolutely loved loved loved the impromptu music session that we created in their comfortable lounge room. It reminded me of the jam sessions we would have around the dining table at home when I was a child. Mum or Kim would just start tapping the table and we would all chip in, clinging forks to glasses and drumming spoons against juice bottles. Admittedly I am not too musical (Pete and my colleagues will attest to that) but my skill set does extend to rattling a rattle in some sort of rhythmical fashion and singing along to songs if I knew the words. It was a beautiful feeling of inclusion and coming together with people and it didn’t even matter that these people weren’t actually my own family. In this moment I loved people and humans and figured this world can be a beautiful and peaceful place if we allow those simple, joyful moments to happen.

Standing under a Waterfall

This moment was so deeply gratifying. Lucy and I had been horse riding that day and were quite hot and dusty and sweaty. The recommended Killen Falls and swimming hole was just what we needed. It was a beautiful spot – you walk down a narrow path through lush trees and shrubs, frequently stepping aside for refreshed and relaxed looking families coming the other way who’ve already been for a swim. The waterfall is about 10 metres or so in height, so it’s not as big as some other waterfalls in the area (such as the Minyon Falls that are spectacular). But it has a beautiful swimming hole at its base providing lots of refreshing space amidst lush nature. Once we had cooled down a bit in the water and had figured out that there were lots of hidden rocks and boulders and sudden deep holes in the ground (it made for very interesting swimming) we ventured over to the waterfall where the white washed water was hitting the surface below. It is as if nature had intended for people to sit underneath the waterfall – there were comfortable, flat rocks submerged only a foot in the water which made for a perfect chair or platform to stand on. And sit and stand I did.

Even though there were a fair few people in and around the pool, once I was underneath the waterfall the sensations were so strong that the world around me just disappeared. It was just the water and I. The feeling of water, which is normally so liquid and fluid, hitting your head and shoulders was hard and strong and powerful. Yes, powerful is the right word. It ranged from a nice massage on the shoulders to having someone pound your head with a brick. It was almost painful and in some spots unbearable but at the same time it was invigorating and empowering. It was as if the energy of the water was pummeling me and my tense shoulders and were banging the tension and stress out of me. At the same time it was rinsing me and giving me a good wash; flushing everything old out of me and leaving a clean, pure body. It was humbling. The water that was flowing so gently further upstream was suddenly a concentrated force. That nature’s law of gravity could just convert this easy going stream into such a mass of pummeling fists, all just in the mere space of 10 metres, was awe-inspiring. Physics in school never interested me all that much (I had other things on my mind when I was 15 years old), but to experience the natural world out there with my whole body and my whole being, that is something I like and understand and seek out.

Photography by Lucy

Reading back now and reflecting on my holiday I find it interesting that most of these moments are ridiculously simple. Scuba diving is the only thing that required a bit of equipment and training; the other experiences are free and accessible to everyone, in one form or another. Eating food straight from a tree. Singing with people. Feeling water rush over your body. Sleeping amidst nature.

Yes, happiness is so simple.


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