CHEER UP SLOW DOWN CHILL OUT
If one more person says ‘another day in paradise,’ I’m going to slug them,” my friend mutters as the greeter with the small ponytail and sarong waves us on our way and continues along the sand. It’s a common salutation up here in the Northern Rivers. The long stretch of northern NSW coast from Tweed to Ballina and its rolling green hinterland are a perennial favourite holiday destination and increasingly, home to escapees from cities across the world. They come for the relaxed alternate lifestyle, mental rehab and chill vibe. Where else can you surf with dolphins in the middle of July, climb to the most easterly point in Australia to watch migrating whales, experience an Hawaiian temple massage, hop on a naked activist bike ride and honour Stillness of Being, all before lunch? For the less spiritually minded, there is the famous Bryon Beach Hotel, a caffeine attack of cafes, restaurants and bars from which to watch an endless passing parade over locally sourced grub before ballooning back to your hinterland acreage for some well-deserved peace and quiet.
The evergreen hinterland, home to remnants of the once-upon-a-time Big Scrub that covered most of northern NSW, is a much desired lifestyle location. Here among the coffee and macadamia farms, banana plantations and sugarcane fields nestle picturesque little towns and villages all tastefully decorated and restored, havens from yesteryear, now rediscovered by new generations of Australians and visitors from afar. Returning from a trip to Italy recently, a friend remarked that it was beautiful but not friendly. No one could accuse the Northern Rivers of that. Mullumbimby is possibly the friendliest town on earth. Maybe it’s nearby Mount Chincogan working its magic, or the all-encompassing vibe of tolerance unleashed by the hippies who settled here in the sixties, and which remains the prevailing ethos of the area. Whether your horticultural skills are non-existent and your musical talents likewise, you will be welcomed to help out at the Community Gardens or join the other buskers dotted around the town. Children start young, some only seven years old, screeching away on instruments bigger than themselves. People move to Mullum and little neighbouring towns like Federal, Dunoon, Rosebank and Brunswick Heads to raise their kids in a child-friendly sanctuary and baby hub. All of this comes at a cost,and inevitably the cost of living in our Rainbow Region has begun to soar. But it is still possible to live here if you watch and listen. The beaches and rivers are free. So are the stars and food will grow as fast as you can be bothered to grow it.
The festivals are growing too, every year pulling in a bigger international crowd. For music there is Bluesfest, Splendour in the Grass, Mullumbimby Music, Falls, Nimbin Blues and Roots. That’s the whole family sorted, from kids to grandpa. The Byron Bay Writers Festival continues to grow, each year attracting a more varied and far flung line-up of writers and story tellers. Book lovers roll up, some in wet suits with a surf board under their arm to wallow in the biggest literary event of its kind in Australia. It’s not as loud as Bluesfest, but not far off, with its largely older and hard-of-hearing audience bellowing at each other across the tents.
For those of a more ethereal bent there is the Spirit Festival, complete with Gyuto monks from Tibet who love to surf when they’re not chanting. This bespoke festival is expanding and moving into Byron Bay, where it will continue its mission of providing ‘explorers and seekers’ with opportunities to choose their own spiritual adventures right here at home.
If your search is for transcendence and enlightenment, inspiration or empowerment, you will find a glutton’s smorgasbord of healers, gurus, shamans, life coaches and spiritual advisors of every hue across the shire. Aromatherapists, angel therapists, aura therapists and astrotherapists join hands with chakra aligners, psychic-energy healers and tribal magicians to produce healing, happiness and hallucinations.
Like everywhere, there is bad stuff happening here too. Bad drugs and dumb laws. There’s road rage on the roads and surf rage in the ocean. Plenty of nasty biting and stinging things that make you go bump in the night. There’s the endless driving on a never-ending spiral of winding roads, the speed cameras and the pot holes that demolish your tyres. But there are no traffic lights and if you care to ride a horse along the sand there are horses and beaches to let you fly. As a vacation destination or somewhere to set up camp along the mostly empty beaches or inland among some of the loveliest country anywhere on earth, it is a hard act to follow.
Walking along the beach as the tide recedes leaving the sky reflected in the wet sand, I am asked by yet another visitor if I am a local. ‘You live in paradise,' they say.
I smile and agree.