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Published: January 18th 2016
The Greyhound bus was punctual, as ever, and we left the lovely Port Macquarie on time. The bus had a trainee driver on board too, so that he could learn the route. It was his fourth attempt at doing so! He was quite chatty which made up for the 'real' driver who was quite grumpy, though I guess it was the middle of the night and he was doing all the work so he might be forgiven. Our route took us through Kempsey, Macksville, Nambucca Heads, Urunga, Coffs Harbour, Woolgoolga, Woodburn, Ballina and into Byron Bay. The journey was mainly done in the dark so I couldn't see much of the countryside but there were lots of roadworks taking place slowing things down just a bit in places.
I'd noticed a lot of new roads being constructed in Australia. As previously mentioned, most roads are already of high quality and one driver told me that, although there are still some roads that are just dirt roads, these are gradually being upgraded. Any work likely to impact on traffic is done at night where possible and all unavoidable delays are kept to a minimum. The Australians seem to use real people
who can monitor the traffic flows and adapt accordingly with such basic tools as those 'Stop/Go' signs on top of lollipop poles; no automated traffic lights changing to green for non-existent traffic here!
Nevertheless, after a rest stop in Macksville and a driver(s) change in Nambucca Heads we arrived in Byron Bay on time. We got a taxi to the Wollongbar Motel, just a short distance from where the bus dropped us, but the taxi driver was really chilled and didn't mind at all. We later discovered that Byron Bay is quite small and if taxi drivers waited for the big fares they'd soon be out of business!
We've never really used motels (as opposed to hotels) before this trip but small town Australia doesn't really do a whole bunch of hotel accommodation so motels it was! I was really impressed with the quality, which was usually of hotel standard. They are 'star' rated, like hotels, and many provided the same level of service (ie daily housekeeping, TVs, phones, etc) but also catered to travellers on the road providing mini kitchenettes (microwaves/toasters/crockery/cutlery), laundromats with both washers and dryers, and BBQ facilities as well as the occasional swimming pool
where space allowed. Ideal. Whenever Steve is booking any sort of accommodation he always requests a high floor to get the better views. Motels in small town, low rise Australia tend to run to only two storeys and we were allocated a lovely room on the 'top' floor of two! Even better, it was ready and waiting for us when we pulled up at 8 o'clock in the morning so we were able to check in and have a nap after our overnight journey!
We had a super time in Byron Bay. It is a very pretty place with a wonderful beach of soft sand and clear water. The surf is good I was told, and the water is used for swimming, paddle boarding, kite surfing, unmotorised water sports and generally just enjoying the sea - in my case that meant going in to ankle depth. Surfers of all ages and abilities were there, some just learning and others displaying skills which had taken years to acquire. It was never crowded and the atmosphere down on the beach was very relaxed and friendly, with young singles and families happily mixing with old aged pensioners enjoying the sun, sea and
fresh air. The motel owner let visitors borrow beach towels (for free!) and was even happy to supply sun screen for those who didn't come prepared (us!!), recycling what departing visitors had donated. Our motel was located just behind the dunes so a two minute walk had us down there, though I got lost when returning on my own once and it took me 30 minutes. I got sidetracked following a brush turkey through the undergrowth. I'd never seen the like before so it caught my curiosity. If I'd waited until the next day I could have saved myself a lot of scratches and embarrassment because that same brush turkey came right into the motel grounds to show off four of his wives and I could have watched them from the safety of our balcony. We were joined on our balcony one night by a kookaburra. We'd heard them in the distance before, and caught fleeting sight of them, but this guy hung around quite close for quite a while. The motel owner later told us he was called Kevin, was quite tame and would take food from your hands sometimes.
The town of Byron Bay is quite compact.
I got the impression that someone, somewhere, had made a decision to root the town, its residents and its culture in the 1960s and 70s. Actually, I think it was probably a collective, democratic decision and it was a good call. There is a real village atmosphere and ethos. There are no high rise buildings, there's no fast food chains and the old architecturally-significant buildings have been restored and repurposed. The food outlets are individually owned enterprises with a butcher, a baker and probably a candlestick maker - all with their own style and flair from the craftsman deli with home-made wares to the local equivalent of a burger bar which produced hearty food at low, low prices without sacrificing quality. That outlet had queues of backpackers, suited businessmen, ladies-who-lunch and us waiting to sample their menu - chicken tenderloin strips in our case. It even had a TripAdvisor recommendation!
Despite seemingly embracing a somewhat dated 'flower power' attitude there were plenty of young people in the town, happily living and/or working alongside everyone else. We saw a young, too-beautiful-by-far earth-mother type with her four content blond-haired children sitting on a rug in the street braiding hair and painting
henna tattoos for anyone interested. How nice, I thought, until I realised it was 11 o'clock at night and most other children were at home in bed. No-one seemed to care about the time. Buskers sang to very small audiences on street corners. Everything was acoustic, no boomboxes or backing tracks here, just a voice and, usually, a guitar and every street could sustain at least one without any sonic cross-contamination. It sometimes took us a long time to walk home, trying to get an earful of them all.
We spent our time in Byron Bay enjoying the beach and exploring the town during the day. It had wonderfully quirky shops harking back to the 60s with tie-dyed clothing (remember that?!) side-by-side with surfing equipment stores. The village green (well, almost, it was a little parched in places) had some wonderful flowering trees which provided the ideal spot to sit in the shade and people-watch. One day it hosted a free BBQ. I never figured out who organised it but it really was a genuine 'everybody welcome, enjoy free food or bring your own and share' event and everybody did.
Byron had a few pubs and we sampled
them all but our favourite was the Railway Friendly Bar, initially because it did great food, including bangers and mash. Most bars everywhere we'd been seemed to provide live entertainment. In some respects this was a really good way to showcase local talent and give young musicians an opportunity. However, if it wasn't to your musical liking or you just wanted a chat over a quiet drink it could be a bit intrusive. On our last evening in Byron Bay the Railway had a local band of ageing musicians called 'The Soulshakers'. Hmmm, we thought, might not be quite our thing. But, what a misnomer! These guys played 70s blues/rock (think Mustang Sally/Walking the dog, etc), right up our street and everybody had a wonderful night.
There's a phrase somewhere, isn't there, that goes along the lines of 'sing like nobody's listening, dance like nobody's watching' and that's what everybody did with not a care in the world, especially one aged surfer-type who had a whale of a time, all by himself, shaking his stuff on the dancefloor. For a pair of old hippies like us it was a brilliant end to a wonderful stay in Byron Bay and
we wove our way home humming along to the music still ringing in our ears. We just luurrved it.
Peace, man .....
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