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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Byron Bay, Mount Warning & Australia Zoo

Since I began this blog, something has occurred to me. It has taken a few weeks, but it has finally dawned on me; people who are reading this will not doubt find the interesting anecdotes interesting and somewhat amusing – at least that’s what I hope, but I have not always described in enough detail, my true impressions of a place, how it made me feel, what is it like in reality to be here, that sort of thing. It has always taken me some time to fully immerse myself back into the writing process. This is generally due to the time it takes me to unwind from life in the UK. Spending quality time with Mel in a picture perfect environment normally helps me to relax into the groove again and this time; Byron Bay has been the setting for the stress of life in the UK to finally seep away.

Byron Bay has been a Mecca for tourists for more than 30 years now. They all started to arrive during the 1970’s for something called the Aquarius Festival.
The Aquarius organisers approached the local Aboriginal elders to seek their permission to hold a festival in Nimbin. (which is a local town about an hours drive inland from here, where nowadays, people openly smoke dope and deal drugs to the backpackers, directly outside the police station.) It signified an important step. The new thinkers' respect for the indigenous people, their land and their culture was not only fundamental to the value systems of these people but the genesis of what is today a widely - though not universally - held belief in the importance of reconciliation.
Students and hippies flocked to the area for the festival in 1973 and many just never left. Two decades of new settlers and alternative lifestylers began to repopulate the area and another set of pioneers established themselves around Mullumbimby and Mainarm. The commune, legally known as a multiple occupancy or 'MO', was conceived.
In place of the dairy industry, producers turned to new land uses to cultivate tropical fruit, macadamia and tea tree plantations, as well as marijuana, while other land owners subdivided and built houses.
In the 1970s, it was not only those who pursued alternative lifestyles who started to open their eyes to the futility of environmental pollution.
The Thursday Plantation, so-called because it was the day its owner was granted a Crown Lease at Bungawalbyn, was established in 1976. It paved the way for yet another limelight industry in the region. However, alternative, complementary and bush medicine, along with organic growing, have so far proven to be more robust and sustainable than other industries with which the region's people have flirted.
Nowadays, the small, mainly single story town is lined with a blend of surf shops, cafes, and boutique designer outlets for handbags and bikinis, but the idealism of those settled hippies is still apparent. You can see it in the organic shops, the ‘hippy heaven’ smootheys on sale in the local eateries and in the artwork which adorns even the everyday objects that line the streets, such as roundabouts, electrical cable boxes and even peoples bodies. I saw a guy on the beach the other day with an enormous sun tattooed on his back – you get the idea. These are the positive stories from this town and there are a huge number of them. People who have settled here, who embrace what the environment has to offer them, and who welcome conscientious tourists with open arms.

The beaches are so unbelievably beautiful; the sand is the type that squeaks beneath your feet and it even appears to glow in the dark a little underneath these clear star and moonlit sky’s. The beaches are fringed with native trees and wildlife which is a refreshing change from our visit to Surfers Paradise, where the beach is fringed with giant high-rises that have destroyed the biodiversity of that stretch of the Gold Coast. We have regularly observed Sea Dragons and other lizards in the sun and as I write this, Mel needed rescuing from a large jumping spider that landed on her right thigh! There are mountains, rain forests, an immense amount of birdlife and more than 200 sunny days a year.

There are a huge amount of ‘crusties’ here. For those of you who have not heard the term before, it refers to the dread-locked masses that frequent this stretch of coastline. Some are local, others are here to sample the delights of the place they have only heard of from their mates whilst getting stoned at school round the back of the bike sheds. These bronzed traveller types walk up and down the pavements, often shirtless and with a well-rehearsed swagger that is supposed to communicate to the onlooker that they own this place and that they are so original it’s untrue.

We have spent a few nights here, walked on the pristine beaches, paddled in the cold Pacific Ocean and we also managed to climb to the summit of Mount Warning to see the sunrise together, as we did 6 years ago. Savannah and her befriend Rob joined us for the experience and met us at the top, before we all walked back down together after sunrise. They must be commended for their stamina; not only did they work a full 13 hour day before driving to Mount Warning and spending all night awake, but they then climbed back down the mountain and went to work for another 13 hours!

The climb up the mountain for sunrise involves quite a lot of effort and prep. We drove to the base of the 8.8km walk and spent a few restless hours trying to sleep in our car. At 2:30am we woke to our alarm, put on our head torches and packed a bag with extra clothes and some water. It is extremely cold up there, but due to the near vertical climb to the summit, you perspire a great deal, so staying warm is not easy and extra layers to put on at the top our vital. Towards the end of the assent there is a pretty hairy rope-chain that you really have to hang on to in order to remain safe. I will never forget Finn Pritchard, our friend from back home, stopping during the scary part of the climb to play his guitar and sing a song about climbing a mountain. How he managed we will never know!

Once back in the car in the early hours of Saturday morning; Mel took over driving and we found a place to have breakfast in nearby Nimbin. Incidentally; we paid $14 each for a veggie breaky with coffee and a non-veggie breaky with coffee at the Rainbow Café on the high street. We then cruised back to Byron to spend a day slumbering on the beach.

The food and the atmosphere around Byron made it feel like a real honeymoon break and two restaurants in particular are well worth a visit, both for their contrasting menus and their equally superb service. Bo’s and The Hari Krishna Café. Bo’s is an up market, yet affordable place, set back from the corner of a road. The décor is contemporary and you can sit inside or out, you can even eat dinner on the couch if you want to. Mel ordered the tuna steak, I had the beef steak. Both of our meals were brilliant, Mel had a salad with potatoes, olives and capers and my steak had a tomato relish and hot chips. The Hari Krishna Café offers veggie curry delights to suit most tastes; I particularly liked the lentil and potato pie!

We finally left Byron Bay on Monday morning and headed back up North to Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. Despite its extremely americanised appearance, the zoo is well designed and houses all Australian native wildlife and some South East Asian animals. We saw Steve’s son and his widow on a trip round. We also got to stroke Koalas, Kangaroos, Wombats and farm animals. It was a really nice day, we used Jodi Mudd’s and Henry Schofield’s Wedding Money to pay for it – Thanks guys!!

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