Lifting the Spirit
Chloe Booker, The Jakarta Post | Wed, 04/25/2012 3:44 PM |
A small town with a big heart, Byron Bay in northeast New South Wales is sacred ground for many travelers.
As dusk settles over Byron Bay, turning the sky iridescent orange, flashes of light become visible from the lighthouse that famously marks Australia’s easternmost point. There’s a hint of paradise in the fresh warm air as people mill about on a grassy hill overlooking a stunningly beautiful stretch of beach.
Longhaired surfers make their way up from the beach to the outdoor showers to wash the sand off their boards, while families picnic on fish and chips. Young backpackers hang out in the backs of their Kombi vans, laughing with friends in an array of languages, as hippies fire twirl and play their guitars.
Hidden on the far north coast of New South Wales, Byron Bay has only 9,000 residents – and attracts 1.5 million visitors a year, thanks to its vibrant alternative culture and vast natural beauty.
Surrounded by pristine white-sand beaches, with clear blue waters and luscious subtropical rainforest, the area attracts an eclectic mix of hippies, surfers, well-heeled tourists, backpackers, celebrities, artists and millionaires.
German tourist Christina Thyroff, 20, says it’s nice to get out of a big city but to still have plenty going on.
“It’s actually a really small town, but it’s just such a special place to come and you really feel like you’re on a holiday,” she says. “It’s just amazing.”
The first tourists to come to the area were longboard surfers in the 1960s, attracted by the epic waves and empty beaches. Next came the flower-power generation when the Aquarius Festival, Australia’s version of Woodstock, was held in nearby Nimbin.
Many festival goers stayed on, turning the area into what is known today as the Rainbow Region, home to those seeking an alternative and natural lifestyle.
Shops selling organic food, crystals, silver jewelry and peace signs still line the streets. You can get your aura cleansed, your tarot cards read and your future predicted, and then maybe practice a little beach yoga.
Yet long gone are the days when Byron Bay was only for hippies. Today it also hosts boutiques selling designer fashions and stylish homewares. Restaurants offer world-class dining, and venues present international music acts.
Although Byron Bay has grown into a sophisticated resort town, many are drawn there because they regard it as a spiritual place. Indigenous Australians consider many parts of the area to be sacred, and whales arrive from Antarctica each year to give birth.
Japanese tourist Yumiko Nakayama, 35, who is visiting with her husband and two young children, says Byron Bay makes her feel happy.
“Byron Bay is a very spiritual spot. It has a beautiful ocean and I can practice yoga here,” she says. “Byron Bay is my favorite place in the world.”
A-list celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Keith Richards, Orlando Bloom, Zac Efron and Ashton Kutcher have also been drawn to the mix of style, beauty and spiritualism Byron Bay offers.
If You Go …
Where to stay
Byron Bay offers accommodation to suit all budgets, from backpacker to five-star. Options include camping or a caravan in one of the many caravan parks; motels, hostels or B&Bs, which offer affordable rates; holiday rental homes suitable for large families or smaller apartments with full cooking facilities; and luxury hotels and resorts with services ranging from hot stone massages to free yoga classes.
How to get there
You’ll have to go through the international terminal in Sydney. Both Garuda and Jetstar have daily flights to Sydney from Jakarta and Denpasar. From Sydney, catch a connecting flight to Ballina or the Gold Coast (Coolangatta Airport), with Jetstar or Virgin Australia Airlines. From either airport catch a taxi or minibus to Byron Bay.
The drive from Ballina airport takes 30 minutes, the Gold Coast an hour. However, if at the Gold Coast, you may want to stop to visit the theme parks, such as Movie World, Sea World and Wet’n’Wild.
Best time to go
The only time you might want to avoid traveling to Byron Bay is during the winter months (June to August), when it can get a bit chilly. Traveling during the Christmas/New Year period or Australian school holidays will mean extra crowds and inflated prices.
To see the whales on their way back from Antarctica, make sure you visit between June and November.
The many activities available in Byron Bay range from the relaxing to the adventurous.
- Go sea kayaking to get as close to wild dolphins as possible (www.capebyronkayaks.com) or simply walk along the beach at sunrise and watch the dolphins frolic in the water. You can then continue on to the lighthouse and take in the magnificent view.
- Visit one of the roving carnival-like markets, which pop up at a different spot around the area each week. Goods on offer range from rainbow-colored dresses to indigenous artwork. They also have face painting and magic shows for kids. The Byron Bay market is on the first Sunday of every month.
- Relax and unwind at one of Byron Bay’s many health retreats. With yoga, pilates, acupuncture, reflexology, aromatherapy, massage, reiki and day spa treatments on offer, you’ll return home in a state of bliss.
- Enjoy a drink at the Beach Hotel or share fish and chips on the grass above the beach at sunset.
- See local or international live music all year round at venues across town. The Blues and Roots Festival is held over the Easter weekend each year, and has attracted such guests as Bob Dylan, Ben Harper and John Mayer. Most of the acts also do sideshows while they’re in town.
- Experience swimming in the tranquil Tea Tree Lakes, off Tallow Beach or at Lennox Heads. The lakes are sacred to Indigenous Australians and have healing properties.
- Take a wildlife tour and see koalas and kangaroos in their natural habitat.
- Snorkel or scuba dive in the Julian Rocks Marine Park.
- Take a 4WD tour to see Byron Bay’s beautiful hinterland, including rainbow-fractured waterfalls.
- Find your inner spirituality at the Crystal Castle, where you’ll be mesmerized by crystals, giant and small. There’s astrology, psychic and palm readings, a Buddha and a rainforest walk.
- Go fishing, horse riding on the beach, sky diving, hang gliding or hot air ballooning.