Wednesday 21st December, Nimbin, New South Wales, Australia
The popular coastal resort town of Byron Bay, in New South Wales' far north, has been in the news quite a bit lately. Apparently the locals are fed up with the large number of tourists who flock to the town every holiday season, and recently their resentment has become more vocal and more assertive. Byron Bay has suffered water shortages for years now, and with the problem ever worsening, it has become obvious that the sole cause of the problem is the inconsiderate tourists who, after paying $3000 a week for high season accommodation in the heavily booked town, have the hide... the gall... to actually use the shower in their room. How dare they! No wonder the locals have erected 'TOURISTS GO HOME' signs along the road leading into town. Well, I've got a message for the residents of Byron Bay. Firstly, if you don't want tourists, stop building hotels. "Build it and they will come"... sound familiar? Stop promoting your town all over Australia and the world. Stop opening cafes, restaurants and bars. If there's nowhere for us to eat, drink or sleep, maybe we'd stop coming to your town. Secondly, your town, Byron Bay, is the most overrated destination in Australia. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you've got a nice beach. But it's no better than the beaches at neighbouring towns up and down the coast, and no better than most of the hundreds of thousands of kilometres of sandy white beaches that our fair continent is blessed with.
And thirdly, if you're tired of the tourists -whose holiday dollars have incidentally paid for everything in your town- why don't you piss off! Yeah, pack up your stuff, put your house on the market for three times what it was worth a decade ago (wild property market a direct result of the tourist industry) and move to Mount Isa. Ignorant rednecks who don't appreciate that they wouldn't have a livelihood if the tourists stopped coming to their tacky town. And I hope they do stop coming. Let's see the then-penniless residents desperate on the six o'clock news in a year's time, pleading with the tourists to bring their fat wallets back to Byron Bay.
So what I'm getting at is that Maria and I went for a swim at Byron Bay. As you can see by the photograph above, the water conditions were quite good.
But our destination was a small town in Byron Bay's hinterland, not even a town I guess, but a mountain village. The roads in this part of the country are narrow and winding, merely a network of old bush tracks that over the years have been sealed with a thin strip of bitumen, wide enough for one car or truck. I thought Maria would appreciate the scenery, but in fact the twisting, turning tracks proved to bring on some mild carsickness and my passenger spent most of the trip with her eyes closed. Summer was in full swing, in fact it has been predicted that this Christmas will be the hottest for the last century or so. We weaved all over the countryside, visiting a dry waterfall, searching for a cafe, seeking out any sign of a nice swimming hole to cool off in. Finally, we were relieved to roll into the unique little village of Nimbin.
The settlement of Nimbin began as a collection of disillusioned professionals, environmentalists and hippies. It has been established around a culture of non-conformism, particularly where the smoking of pot is concerned. I remember friends of mine years ago telling me that if you go to Nimbin and walk into the pub, you won't even be able to get a beer to your lips before someone offers to sell you some marijuana. Well, the first time I visited Nimbin, I didn't even manage to get both feet out of the car.. it was like a hemp drive thru!
But we weren't in Nimbin to get stoned. We had come to visit Doug "Wild Duck", a Couchsurfer who runs a backpackers hostel/ guesthouse in the bush just outside the town. One of my American friends spent Christmas last year at Doug's "Rainbow Retreat" and had left no doubt as to how impressed he was with the uniqueness and peacefulness of the place and with Doug as a person. And as far as Maria having an all round Australian experience, taking into consideration our time constraints, I felt that Nimbin would be an unmissable addition to our itinerary. There's not too many places (in the world!) where you can see people freely smoking bongs on the main street.
Click on the smaller photos above to view the full size photographs
Doug heard us pull up in his driveway, and greeted us warmly. "I'll show you around a bit" he offered, "Or should we start with a beer?"
We declined the beer, as tempting as it was. But in the lazy heat of Nimbin, too far inland to get a sea breeze, and yet still east of the Great Dividing Range, so missing any chance of a westerly breeze, I reckoned that one beer would probably send me into a coma.
Doug is a keen Couchsurfing host, and tries to balance his business ideals with his enjoyment of hosting travellers. He took Maria and I on a tour of his property, down to the shady swimming hole and the huge cleared area where he plans to host a massive Couchsurfing gathering some time in the future. Dotted around the neatly mown yard are a number of interesting and unusual structures; treehouses of sorts, portable ex-military buildings, wooden huts, abandoned Volkswagen Kombie vans, and even an Indian teepee. One of the rooms in the larger building is set up as a female dormitory. Most of the other quirky outbuildings serve as private accommodation for guests who are looking for an experience a little different to your regular YHA hostel.
Doug treated Maria and I to a great Aussie barbie for dinner, and we had picked up a few bottles of Coopers Sparkling Ale at the bottle shop. Of course, we'd had to run the gauntlet of pot sellers first to even reach the bottle shop. While we were enjoying a steak and a refreshing ale in the cool early evening on Doug's shady deck, Maria was delighted to see a wallaby hopping through the yard. The curious marsupial, upon spotting us, made its way tentatively towards the deck and set about grazing just a few metres away from us, I think hoping for a snack. Later at night, Doug produced a couple of powerful spotlights, and from the comfort of the deck we combed the trees along the creek with beams of light, looking for owls, aliens, and Amway salesmen.
Above and below are photos of the hut that was our home for the night. Downstairs was a table and chairs, and in the loft were two matresses. The weather had cooled down nicely by the time we went to bed, so we drenched ourselves in mosquito repellant and left all the windows open. Although Doug's "Rainbow Retreat" is just a short walk from Nimbin's main street, it's far enough away that you can feel completely isolated. The silence in the camp that night was complete.
Thanks Doug. See you in Madrid one day!
MARIA'S ADDENDUM... I'm very impressed with the mosquitoes here. They are very persistent and won't be put off by some insect repellent. That makes me a great spot for them to have their daily amount of food. Consequently, I spend most of my day scratching nearly every part of my body. I guess mostly my legs and feet are not a very nice sight these days. But it also means, I'M SWEETER THAN STEVE, since he's not being bitten by any of them.