I arrived in Byron Bay on a Greyhound bus. As passengers milled off, we were greeted by long-haired guys in board shorts. They held surfboards upright with the names of various hostels emblazoned on the bottoms. Our guy, Brad, was no exception to this rule. He greeted us with the Aussie surfer-dude drawl as we loaded our backpacks into the van. “The Arts Factory” was printed in psychedelic font on our van’s sliding door.
Brad took us first on a short tour of Byron Bay. It is a backpacker’s haven where bare feet are ubiquitous. At lunch time, crowds of people rush to stretches of white-sand beach to surf on their breaks. James Cook, the famed Pacific explorer, first landed in Cape Byron in 1770. Now, the town has a permanent population of around 5,000, with a transient population of travellers present year-round. This is a place where many settle in for a while to live the idyllic, laid-back beach life.
The Arts Factory is a backpackers lodge in Byron Bay that is geared toward creative souls. It is on the edge of town, with a brewery to one side and forest to the other. Young people, again shoeless, with dreadlocks laze in hammocks, a guy plays acoustic guitar in a corner. Lizards flit back and forth on the open patio and turkeys awkwardly linger near the door. I feel slightly out of place, though try to act cool–which probably only serves to make me look more awkward. No one seems to care and some sort of laid-back acceptance sets me at ease.
This is (more-or-less) the mood I get from Byron Bay itself. I spend my days surfing with a bunch of Germans (and German-speaking Swiss)–I am terrible at it and swallow an impressive amount of sea water; hiking along hills and across white-sand beaches that are much cooler and less crowded than the ones around Sydney; riding a rainbow-painted school bus, with Bob Marley blasting, to a town known for some interesting cookies; and extending my trip by one more day and then another.
After a few days in Byron Bay, it’s time for me to move on. I could linger for longer, as many do, but I’ve already doubled my time here and my bus ticket is non-refundable. The sun shines heavy as I throw on my backpack to leave, as a girl nearby talks about needing her enzymes and the importance of spiritual stones. This place is a living stereotype, but in the best possible way.