Walkabout in Byron Bay PDF Print E-mail
Travel - New Travel
Written by TK   

Byron Bay, a beach town on the east coast of Australia just south of Brisbane, is a special place to people from varied walks of life.

Byron Bay, a beach town on the east coast of Australia just south of Brisbane, is a special place to people from varied walks of life.

It is a beach town with a twist. Bryon Bay is laid back in atmosphere, warm in temperature and scenically beautiful, incentive enough to travel thousands of miles over oceans to see.  However, here is the twist. More than any other beach town in the world, Byron Bay has a truly bohemian vibe and plays host to myriad festivals for cultural vultures every year, as well as providing a particularly inspiring setting to attract many DJs and bands to perform which makes it one of Australia's most cultured and musically-rich towns.

First and foremost Byron Bay is one of the most beautiful beach towns in Australia, famous for its eclectic lifestyle, sheer natural beauty and its perfect beaches.  Importantly, the local council has managed to spare the town centre from fast-food chains, high-rise buildings (there is a height-restriction on buildings enforced by the local council) and commercialism.  The beach town has long sustained a genuine bohemian vibe, which, despite some encroaching commercialism, is still the underlying feel.  Byron Bay rose from obscurity as a bohemian recluse during the 1960s and 1970s to being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia.  People from backgrounds as diverse as artists, film producers, writers, lawyers, actors and developers all call the patch of turf encompassing the bay of Byron, home.  The main feature of Byron Bay is the stunning beach stretching from the town towards the prominent lighthouse which stands atop a hill which happens to be Australia's most easterly point.

Somewhat ironically Byron Bay is a place that probably offers more to the visitor than the local, due to the fact that the locals now have to put up with swarms of tourists every year.  In the previous decade or so, Byron Bay has had to cope with an influx of tourists as its popularity has increased exponentially.  In the local community, there has been the standard developer vs. environmental tensions prevalent in beachside communities the world over, however Byron Bay has dealt with these concerns heavily in favour of the environmentalists, which has had a resoundingly positive effect on the town.

Byron Bay also attracts visitors from all over the world and is noted as a must see destination, especially for the backpacking scene.  Apart from being a magnet for all things relaxing, Byron Bay attracts travellers for other reasons too.  One reason in particular is the music scene, with music lovers from all over the world making the pilgrimage to the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival and Splendour in the Grass.  Also a brilliantly hedonistic time to be in Byron Bay is over New Year's Eve when crowds take to the streets, drinking and dancing to the sounds of street DJs and bands.  What makes Byron Bay special during the prime summer months is the perfect balmy nights, where the sounds of cicadas and the surf give way to the human created sounds of bands and DJs spinning their wares.

The best way to gauge the local scene is, of course, to ask the locals themselves.  The residents of Byron Bay tend to have strong views about a lot of things, and particularly, environmental concerns.  A local cleaner Mike, interviewed on a gusty Wednesday morning in late October when he was making light weight of a broom, bemoaned the fact that he believed the summer weather in Byron Bay was becoming ever more unpredictable and changeable.

"I blame global warming. The pollies [politicians] have been against the idea for years, but I have seen it first hand. The weather this week has been all over the shot. Not great on the waves, the wind is pushing down from the north - in gusts".

Deciphering the local speak is about as easy as deciphering the weather patterns.  However Mike impressed upon the fact that mid-December to early February is the best time to visit the area.

"But unfortunately that is when every man and his dog caravans up to these parts - it all gets rather hectic".

From experience, when Byron Bay is visited during these more busy months, the holiday goes from being a truly relaxing exercise to more of an exercise in hedonism.  Days spent lounging on the beach, having a paddle or surf in the ocean and indulging in eating give way to evenings downing Australia's finest beer and wine in one of the countless local pubs or bars and doing some more eating in one of the many fine cafes and restaurants around.  But the question begs - how many tourists is too many?

Barry staunchly gave his views without being prompted on a walk during a walk along the front beach on another patchy day of weather featuring intermittent sunshine and squally winds.  Clearly Barry had no time for the busy periods nor the encroaching development. "They're all money-grubbing bloody arse-holes".  It was unclear whether Barry was referring to the tourists or the "new" locals.  It is common town-knowledge that it takes over twenty years of living in Byron Bay to be considered a local.  It appears quite a few of the newer arrivals have some way to go in obtaining this privilege.

One of Byron Bay's most famous locals, Paul Hogan, star of the Crocodile Dundee movies, obviously thought that every day is a good day in Bryon Bay when he bought into the local real estate market by way of a purchase of a multi-million dollar mansion at a similar time as other Australian celebrities such as Olivia Newton John and Elle Macpherson.  Even today, Paul Hogan still has an overawing presence in Byron Bay with his partner-in-crime John Cornell having been the brains and finances behind the Beach Hotel.  Built in 1990 and still operating on the top of the front beach as a highly popular and successful pub and hotel, the Beach Hotel shows no signs of losing its appeal to both locals and tourists alike.  Recently sold for $65 million, it promises to continue to deliver top-notch entertainment and atmosphere, and it often hosts acts such as the Australian dance acts Dirty Laundry, Symbiosis and Sneaky Sound System.
In fact, Byron Bay is not adverse to all forms of music, and in particular plays host to a range of electronic music acts.  This year at Splendour in the Grass festival, some big-name famous Australian dance and hip-hop acts such as Cat Empire, the Hilltop Hoods, and Cut Copy will be featuring. Recently, at the blues and Roots Festival, the international hip-hop phenomenon, The Roots, played.  And let’s not forget big international DJ names such as Judge Jules.  Then there is the awesome array of indie rock, mainstream rock, and acoustic acts that play there every year.  And music is not the only thing that rocks Byron Bay, with the town also hosting internationally-renowned annual book and film festivals.

Sally, proprietor of one of the many local eateries, summed it up best when she described Byron Bay as, "constantly happening. If you get bored in Byron Bay, may God (or Allah or Buddha) help you".

Byron Bay represents many things: a place that can accommodate students, backpackers, hippies, new-age gurus, and corporates as one; a place to come and watch top festivals, hosting myriad top bands and famous DJs; a place with a cultured air; and a place to unwind from the modern world.  But above all else, Byron Bay is nature at its best - a marine reserve featuring unspoilt beaches and nearby national parks with sublime beaches.  And this is how it is best remembered.

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