I’ve been in Byron Bay, catching up with some family from Ireland who are here on holidays. Catching up with people is one of the best reasons to travel.
“Byron,” as the locals call it, is a good place to be and that is the reason it isn’t. Everyone wants to be there. The town is usually crowded with all kinds of visitors. The locals lost the town to tourists hordes years ago.
Byron has clean white surfing beaches with a tall headland at the southern end of the main beach looking over the Pacific Ocean. From the lighthouse there, you can see dolphins or sharks and in the cooler months there are whales. If you go then take a pair of binoculars if you can and you won’t be disappointed. I remember watching surfers sharing waves with dolphins, it was an awesome sight.
The green hills around Byron extend north to the Border Ranges between the states. It’s a subtropical climate with a high rainfall where farmers grow avocados, bananas, macadamia nuts and cattle. On the river flats they grow sugar cane. The land is lush and wild with dense rain forest in places. The views from the ranges are spectacular and within easy reach of Byron.
This area is a melting pot of diverse communities. There are plenty of folks living alternative lifestyles, new age thinkers, indigenous people, conservatives, hippies, farmers, retirees and surfers. A common trait is that people here seem more content with the simply quality of a country life than being caged in by suburbia. People get along with each other and the diversity works.
People aren’t the only kind of tourists visiting Byron. In recent years there has been an increase in great white sharks in the area. It’s not uncommon to see a large fin in the water which isn’t necessarily a dolphin. My aunt, who lives on the coast says the sharks have always been there. Don’t be lulled by the glassy waves and the beautiful people swimming and surfing. Many of the locals have ideas about the recent shark attacks and depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different viewpoint. Perhaps it’s simply that the sharks are hungry and people are food.
Don’t worry too much about sharks. Your chances of being attacked by a shark are so remote that you have more chance of being run over by a bus on the way back to your hotel from the pub. You can always lower your odds by swimming in a crowd.
It aint what it use to be
When I was growing up there was a girlfriend of a friend who was always talking about “Byron” like it was the best place in the world. I simply had to come and see for myself and she was spot-on. Byron was amazing. I came to know and remember Byron Bay as a laid back town populated by surfers and hippies. You could park a kombi-van there on the beach and stay, without any hassles, surf all day and drink cold beer at the pub in the evening.
Back then I had an emotional connection with the place. I had a great time and thought of it as paradise. It was a place I could happily live yet the travel bug kept me moving on and I left Byron behind.
I have come back plenty of times over the years and have been disappointed by the way it has changed. Each visit showed Byron to be more crowded as the highway is upgraded and it’s easier for people from the city to drive here. Long gone is the laid back relaxed coastal community and small town quiet. The place has grown so much and is now so busy, they get traffic jams in the morning when people are heading to the local cafes to catch up with friends or to discuss business.
What did you expect?
On this trip we’d been staying out of town and hanging at the beach most of the time. The days were slow and hot. We ate in most nights or at the local club. One evening we decided to head into Byron for something and were surprised by what we saw. It was practically raining tourists and rarely have I ever seen so many in a county town.
A place like Byron was never going to stay quiet for ever and I don’t think it’s been that quiet place for a long time. Yet I was shocked by the crowds and disappointed because it was so far removed from the place as I remembered. Popular places get overrun by tourists. The internet simply speeds up the process. Its why I keep some favourite places I’ve been to myself. You tell someone about this awesome place and within days, everyones reading about it on social media. Once the crowds start coming then the developers move in and the end result is the end of paradise, or is it?
Going back to places we love is often disappointing. Not because the place has changed, but because we didn’t want it to. Change is something we try to avoid yet trying to avoid change is like standing in front of a train hoping the driver will see you and stop the train in time. You may be able to get out of the way but it’ll keep on moving despite how you feel about it.
Nothing stays the same for ever and if I had stopped to consider the crowds in Byron I’d see a lot of young people making the most of things. There is plenty to do in town and around the area. Surfing, exploring, sky diving, hiking, relaxing, nightclubs, getting high, getting conscious or unconscious or simply hanging around and getting to know some new friends. It’s all here. Eating, drinking, partying. People take if for what it is. They are living in the moment and having the time of their lives. This is paradise. They aren’t grumbling about how ‘it aint what it use to be’.