We were looking forward to crossing over from Queensland to New South Wales, and furthering our journey down to the Gold Coast. Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? The Gold Coast is where many Aussies choose to holiday, and as the average leave in Oz is only four weeks, we reckoned there must be something good about it.
With holidaymakers come cars though, and crawling through traffic was our first experience of the Gold Coast. Having had the road and practically all the towns in Queensland to ourselves so far, this was a bit of a surprise. The first city on the coast you hit is the famous Surfer’s Paradise, a place which is undeniably impressive with skyscrapers lining the endless blonde beach. The town felt very different to anywhere else we had been. It was a 1980s purpose-built holiday city full of plastic-types eating McDonalds. I mean, in what other era would a city be allowed to be given that moniker? I would go as far as to say I really disliked Surfer’s Paradise, but I am glad we gave it the 20 minutes we did before moving on.
Byron Bay, some 60 miles further down the coast was (predictably) much more our cup of vegan chai latte. Byron is very pretty, quite small and a real surfers paradise, unlike the city of the same name. Full of beautiful folk, Byron Bay clearly has some kind of attractiveness test you must pass before living there.
We parked up by the beach and wandered around the boutiques and surf shops. We had been planning to head south and stay in a free camping spot but we liked the town so much that we decided to stay. Being such a touristy place and we ended up paying $40 for a night at busy campsite without power. It being a balmy evening, we decided to head down to the beach again, and watched a thunderstorm over the sea, with the infamous Byron Bay lighthouse illuminating up the sea in atmospheric revolving beams between the lightning.
After a day in Byron we drove on, aiming to get to a place called Nimbin before bedtime. We drove through beautiful Welsh-looking countryside with spectacular views over rolling wooded hills to the small town. All was totally quiet at 7pm, apart from a couple of guys who offered or asked us for weed. It was so quiet we didn’t feel at all worried about parking in one of the village car parks.
Nimbin felt a bit like a less in-your-face Camden Town, but on a hill in the middle of nowhere. It is a hippy town, but it didn’t feel too touristy (we realised that it probably was more so than we thought, however, when further down the coast we came across travel agents advertising day tours there). We wandered around the town, which was essentially one road lined with galleries (complete with dubious art, and which conveniently doubled as pot outlets), and multiple happy herb shops, with wares such as precious stones with healing properties, hemp string, bags, books on the mysteries of the universe and why WiFi is killing our children, endless tie-dyed sarongs and cotton head wraps, silver jewellery, powders and potions with no active ingredients but promises of effects such as not being able to stop dancing, zodiac posters, charms to warn off bad spirits, glitter in a bottle named fairy dust, dream catchers, alternative medicines, organic produce and much more.
We walked just outside of the town to visit the candle factory. The factory itself looked like it hadn’t been updated or in fact cleaned since the 1920s, with creepy stalactites of wax every which where. The team was very welcoming, and we were allowed to walk around watching the staff at work. It was pretty incredible watching a girl individually filling tea lights with molten wax – the type that cost £1.80 for a hundred pack in Ikea. She explained that the better quality wick meant they burned more evenly, and didn’t drown themselves in wax, but I couldn’t see that competing with the Swedish giant.
Everyone who lived in Nimbin there seemed to be part of the hippy cult they had built there, looking typically. It seemed to us as novice tourists that the very philosophy of the culture rests upon inclusivity and an easy-going lifestyle. Yet some of Nimbin’s residents seemed quite cliquey, regarding tourists who dared to sit in their local cafes with a suspicious eye, therefore undermining this whole rationale… Too much wacky baccy perhaps. Generally though, the people were very welcoming.
As a local man had asked some Danish boys who were camping in the parking lot next to us to move along we thought it best to switch to the main car park the second night’s stay. We drove over and encountered two dreadlocked Aussie girls who had a campervan there if it was a good spot to stay, but their answer was so otherworldly and bizarre that we were none the wiser, and ended up continuing our journey south.