G: It took three long days of driving through desolate outback towns across South Australia and New South Wales, from the Barossa to Byron Bay, until we finally reached the densely populated east coast. In fact, 85% of the population lives on the coast. We were excited to get back to the ocean and marvel at the famous Aussie white sand beaches again. For our first stop, we organized some WWOOFing in Mullumbimby, just outside the famous surf town of Byron Bay. We worked a couple of hours per day in exchange for accommodation in a caravan. Our host, Grant, repairs caravans in his spare time, one of which we assisted him in fixing during our stay. He also records bands, takes photographs, is a reggae DJ, and hosts international travellers. It was glorious to stretch out in the caravan and not worry about finding a campsite or pitching a tent for six nights.
We spent our free time exploring the area and getting our fix of backpacker-mecca Byron Bay. The Surf Festival was held while we were there, bringing in a swell of locals. The town was full of cute shops with beautiful items for sale and the beach was gorgeous, which explains its booming popularity. Lately though (in the past decade), Byron has become more commercialized and has strayed from its hippie roots with designer stores moving in and prices moving up. It’s still a major hub for progressive minds, alternative living, and holistic health, but the surrounding towns maintain a more quaint authenticity of hippie life.
The northeastern corner of New South Wales is lush with rolling hills, a temperate climate, and beaches surfers dream about. During our visit we got lucky and spotted a few migrating whales, walked up to the Byron Bay light house to visit the most easterly point of Australia, and most importantly celebrated my golden birthday (29 on the 29th)! We had an amazing day, starting with an ‘I am abundant’ smoothie at Naked Treaties (a raw food café), and then purchased some jewelry from Divine Goddess. Later, we got incredible massages from a very spiritual man in Lennox Heads, and afterwards, thanks to my best friend Carrie, had a delectable meal at a classy Japanese restaurant! Spoiled rotten, I know…but there’s only one golden birthday! 🙂
After getting our Byron-fix, we ventured to the Crystal Castle & Shambala Gardens, an enchanting natural playground. This was an incredibly special place with ample spiritual energy wafting around every corner. I found home hugging every human-sized crystal and gem, mediating though the labyrinth, visiting the Peace Stupa, sitting in awe beneath the giant Buddha in the lotus pond, and breathing deep through the rainforest walk. They offer courses, aura readings, a café on site, as well as a very complete store of gemstones and jewelry to take home. Heavenly!
B: Once I successfully pried Gabriella away from the gemstones, we continued down the hippie trail to Nimbin, home of the 1973 Aquarius Festival and subsequent hangover for the last 40 years. To its credit, Nimbin has maintained the ideals of those who gathered decades ago and functions as a magnet for those seeking to escape the conventional social structure and live a simple life, off the grid, nourishing body, mind, and spirit (and maybe smoking a little pot…ok, a lot of pot…I got offered drugs three times within the first hour…maybe it’s time I shave and get a haircut…NAH!).
The town is comprised of one main street with rainbow colored sign boards sprucing up the façade of hemp stores, natural apothecaries, and organic grocers. The highlight for me was the Nimbin museum, a hodgepodge of exhibits created in an old house which narrates the history of the area and features memorabilia from the Aquarius Festival. Nimbin was certainly worth a visit and a time warp back to the ‘70s. I wish everyone could live more in harmony with nature and stand up to corporate greed, as they do. The current battle is against coal seam gas. Locals want to prevent natural gas companies from hydrofracking on their land and encourage residents to “Lock the Gate” to protest against such a harmful practice.
From Nimbin we met up with our friends Valerie and Travis in Burleigh Heads. We got there just in time for the Sunday night drum circle, when the park fills with a vibrant energy of locals sharing a drink and a jam. Burleigh Heads is a quaint and trendy beach town, full of activity. The ocean is scattered with surfers, cyclists ride through the streets, and the sidewalks are busy with joggers at all hours of the day. Agreeably, the energy is inspiring, but also a little awkward when we awake from the car and try to roll out inconspicuously onto the sidewalk to join the club. This obsession with appearances is due mostly to Burleigh’s proximity to the Gold Coast, a manufactured district of high rise buildings and flaunting wealth that is the antithesis of sustainability and practicality. We stayed a fair distance away and merely admired the sudden skyline at dusk.
We went to Burleigh to meet up with Valerie and Travis and experience their ‘home’ for the last few months. I worked with Valerie in Melbourne and she and Travis are on a similar trip around the world. Valerie showed us the comforts (and frugality) of living out of a car in Burleigh, with free BBQ stations, a sink to wash dishes, and hot water dispensers on tap! There are also public bathrooms and free showers nearby! They taught us where to park the car to sleep so we wouldn’t be bothered, but honestly, there were so many other campervans and not-so-inconspicuous station wagons around that we never had any trouble. We spent about a week hanging out with our friends, walking around the headlands, and enjoying a nightly beachside BBQ before going north back into Queensland.
G: It was onto the expensive and posh beach-town of Noosa. I’ve never in my life experienced so many roundabouts! Not only was I dizzy, but our GPS couldn’t keep it straight. I guess it was because we were driving in circles. 😉
B: Oh brother…have we been hanging out too much?
G: We stayed at a Scout camp just outside the town, getting up close and personal with the local kookaburras, known for its laughing song at dusk and dawn. Not only that, but in one perfectly calculated swoop, it will snatch food right off your plate! We were told the Boy Scouts like to hold a piece of cheese and wait for the kookaburra to snatch it from their hand. Unfortunately, this meant we guarded our food at each meal.
Noosa has beautiful white-sand beaches protected by dense headlands. One day we visited the Noosa National Park to enjoy some forest and coastal walking trails, as well as leisurely strolls past designer shops on the tourist strip. Noosa is particularly beautiful in that it is built around estuaries lined with modern homes, allowing owners to park their yacht at the doorstep. Must be nice!
B: But it wasn’t all beautiful beach destinations for us. We mixed it up by going inland to the National Parks where we could camp and hike for a few days, allowing us to maintain an appreciation for the days we acted like beach bums. It’s important to change it up every now and then, otherwise we really do start to have too much of a good thing. 😉 We visited the Border Ranges, Beerwah, and Lamington National Parks. Each had their redeeming qualities and great hikes taking us to spectacular lookouts. The wildlife never got boring either as we spotted wallabies, goannas, and all kinds of colorful birds. My favorite was Border Ranges, where we went on a hike that took us through a diverse rainforest, past amazingly unique trees, and gave us a stellar view at the end.
G: Spending all this time around northern New South Wales and southern Queensland had another purpose, too. We were killing time in order to meet up with our Melbourne friends Katrina and Macca in Brisbane, their hometown. It was so great to see them again, and if they weren’t generous enough from the start, Katrina’s parents offered to have us stay with them for a couple nights. Sure beats sleeping in the car! While they took care of business during the day, we explored the city, venturing to the GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art), Brisbane Museum, the Botanical Gardens, the famous Festival Hall, and got our fix of delicious sushi (one of Brizzy’s delights). There was even a beach in the middle of the city! It was delightful to spend a few days in a real home with old friends. After Brisbane, we spun around a few times and decided to head south…TO SYDNEY!