48 hours in Byron Bay.
“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.” – Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451.
And stuff my eyes I did. No sooner had I landed in Gold Coast in Queensland after a sleepless night on the plane, was I whisked off on a whirlwind tour of beautiful rivers teeming with fish, sandy beaches with perfect surfing conditions and lively farmers markets offering a feast for all senses – and a glimpse of the outdoor life that Byron Bay offers. A rather intense glimpse, as it should turn out.
Not your ordinary tour guide.
Taking an overnight flight only ever seems a good idea on paper and after hours of watching strangers in thongs sleep (that’s flip flops for all of you non-Australians in case you wondered about the state of travel attire in Oz) I arrived in my usual slightly detached and bleary-eyed “another day, another airport” condition. All that is gone and forgotten the moment I locate Ben: not only does he greet me bearing coffee (instant brownie points!) but radiates positive energy and a level of happiness that is infectious. Ben Adams is a surfer, spearfisher, diver and genuine all round outdoorsy adventurer with model looks and endless knowledge about every local plant, animal and location there is. After attending school in London and Bali he spent some time travelling and living in Indonesia and is now been back to Byron Bay in NSW, where he spent parts of his childhood.
Ben is also the owner of newly founded Kahai Byron Bay and offers what is essentially an exclusive 48-hour crash course of Byron Bay filled with more activities and experiences than the ordinary person fits into a fortnight.
And it goes something like this.
Still at the airport, we wait for Amanda, the photographer who will document our adventure. We hop in the car, making a pit-stop at the Farmer’s Market Ocean Shores for breakfast (poached eggs with vegetables, all organic, and Myocum coffee) en route to Byron. We sit on plastic chairs and observe the crowd: very hippyesque and relaxed, even the old people look cool. Two guys strum guitars and complain loudly when no one claps – obedient applause and benevolent laughter ensue. We get supplies for dinner: lettuce, tomatoes, and goat’s cheese from Ninbin Valley Dairy.
We cross Brunswick River near where it flows into the ocean and is teeming with mullet. Changed into bikinis (Ben basically lives in his swim shorts so he’s alright), we head to Brunswick Beach South Wall for a quick cool-off and some body surfing in the waves.
Reluctantly, I tear myself away from all that beauty and we drive to the Fishermen’s Co-op nearby where you can pick your piece of fresh fish or seafood at the counter and have it grilled or fried and eat it by the little harbour watching the boats. There’s no better way to eat the ol’ fish and chips.
“Lose the ego – this is Byron Bay.”
After a quick stop at Ocean Shore Lookout with breath-taking views across the sea, we head into town. A sign fittingly reads: “Welcome to Byron Bay – cheer up, slow down, chill out.” On the beach there is an addition to this painted on the ground: “Lose the ego – this is Byron Bay”. It feels like everyone is living by these principles. There is an evident lack of people rushing around with miserable faces and everyone seems to know everyone – in fact, Ben seems to know everyone – and is happy to stop and chat. And it’s not even the weekend. And we’re only warming up for what’s to come.
Let the fun begin.
Wednesday: Get up at 5:30 am, stumble outside to watch the sun rise. Ben collects us at 6 am. Quick coffee at Suffolk Bakery, a corner coffee shop where all the locals stop on the way to work or to surf. Try a vegetarian Beet Root Sandwich. Decide it is not bad as it sounds. Arrive for my first ever scuba diving session with instructor Kaz at Byron Bay Dive Centre at 6:30. Kaz is a pro and instantly recognises breathing difficulties and about-to-bolt-behaviour. He doesn’t let me get away and in retrospect I am grateful. Julian Rocks, which is an unassuming looking pile of rocks just 2,5 kilometres off the shore is one of the best dive spots in Australia and boasts a huge diversity of wildlife. Humpback whales pass through here at certain times of the year and everything from lemon sharks to turtles and rays makes an appearance on a daily basis. After another coffee Byron’s landmark, the lighthouse is on our agenda. We walk around the rocks that form the most easterly part of mainland Australia.
A guy in speedos asks us for the time and disappears into the water for what is going to be a serious marathon swim. Surf around there is too flat so we drive to Belongil Beach to catch the last waves for a quick surf lesson and a few hilarious moments of tandem surfing.
From there it is only a short drive down a dirt track, where Dave takes us on a ride on his semi-famous horses (they’ve appeared in numerous photo shoots) to a secluded beach and into the water – yes, horses body surf too. While I chat with Dave who has been to many places in Europe for parachuting, I spot an Australian Sea Eagle – another first for today.
I jump off the horse and realise I could do with a shower but Ben has an even better idea: we go for a swim at Ainsworth Lake in Lennox – also called the Tea Tree Lake. The water has a blood-red colour, which is slightly disconcerting, especially for someone who likes to see the bottom of everything. But Ben explains that the oils from the tea trees cause this tinge and the water is supposed to be good for the skin. It is, indeed amazing.
Back into town, we buy delicious raw food treats at Naked Treaties and a bottle of champagne for our picnic. Climbing down from the headland, Ben takes us to the most beautiful, secluded beach – and here my willingness to share ends as I have been sworn to secrecy as to its location. At yet another deserted beach we surf until it is dark and I disregard my fear of sharks. If I die here, I die happy at least. We end all the action with drinks at the Buddha Bar/Byron Bay Brewery, where there is great live music by different artists, and where I meet Lucas, a free diver who is part of the Kahai experience, can hold his breath for up to five minutes and entertains me with tales of numerous shark encounters. We also manage to squeeze in a quick visit to the Farmer’s market in Byron Bay where we run into Angus from Angus & Julia Stone, a stop at Island Quarry with its idyllic lily pond, and in Bangalow where veteran photojournalist David Hancock and his lovely artist wife work in a fantastic studio space. More highlights: a walk to a beautiful secret waterfall (see photos), said to be home to a giant carp, and where Ben chops up watermelon for us with his credit card.
Don’t ask me when that happened; it all blurs into one deliriously happy, crazy day of action.
“You can check out but you can never leave.”
For lack of better words I will conclude with what someone else wrote on Byron Bay blog and that struck a chord with me: “Byron Bay is the Hotel California of the Far North Coast – you know: you can check out, but you can never leave.” I will be checking back in very soon.