Published: December 16th 2006November 26th 2006
Though Byron Bay had an undeniably relaxing feel, it was a struggle for a non-beach lover like myself to find enough to do. And with my calendar telling me I had barely 2 weeks left on the continent, the thought of frittering those away through sheer idleness made me realise it was time for my 11th road trip in Australia.
Though Byron has only vestiges of a formerly pervasive hippie culture, that spirit is still bursting with rude health in the village of Nimbin further inland. Nimbin was the site of the 1973 Aquarius festival, the first celebration of the counterculture movement in Australia. With much of Nimbin's reputation concentrating on the ready availability of soft drugs in the place, I arrived half-expecting it to be under a fug of pot smoke. It wasn't, but a chap was knocking on the window trying to sell me some weed before I'd even undone my seatbelt.
I found the reality of Nimbin to be rather duller than the hype. The short main street contained all the buildings of interest, including the Hemp Embassy (dedicated to promoting the legalisation of cannabis and organising the annual Mardi Grass (sic)), the Hemp Bar (dedicated
to selling the stuff), Bringabong (no explanation necessary), etc. There were shops selling kaftans, patchouli oil, and other hippie-associated items, and more than a few examples of psychedelic painting, but as a non-pot smoker happy in a black T-shirt and khaki shorts, I felt the place wasn't supposed to appeal to someone like myself.
In the area around Nimbin can be found a number of communes and many of the towns and villages seem to have a focus on artistic endeavour. I also encountered a pleasing set of place names, from Coffee Camp to Jiggi.
The Tweed Valley was my next destination, in particular the jagged peak of Mount Warning - the original vent of a volcano that erupted 20 million years ago. This held the promise of a strenuous 4 hour hike however when I arrived at the visitors' centre I discovered that, since my guidebook was written, the local Aboriginal tribe had made a request that people not climb the mountain (called Wollumbin, meaning "fighting chief of the mountains", in their language). This left me at something of a loose end so I ploughed on to Murwillumbah, my intended base for the night anyway, and was
pleased to find an Olympic-sized public pool just over the road from the hostel. As it was 34C in the shade, a couple of km of swimming seemed like the ideal way to accomplish something without becoming a melting, sweaty wreck.
As I was coming to the end of my laps, the woman in the neighbouring lane stopped her swim and asked me "Do you not like blowing bubbles under water?" I had to request an explanation in order to know how to answer that. She was a swimming coach and had apparently been watching my breathing pattern while swimming - the fact that I wasn't breathing out much under water was contravening some basic rule.
While browsing the hostel's "Things to do" folder, I saw mention of Natural Arch which looked interesting so I put that in the itinerary. It's a remnant of a cave ceiling that collapsed beneath the river, creating a waterfall that appears to be subterranean when viewed from behind Natural Arch, and the light coming in from above the falls lends an eerie quality to the scene. There was also a nearby glowworm colony but, it being daylight, they were off duty.
Next stop Tenterfield ...
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