Byron Bay has forever been a destination for beautiful beaches, stunning hinterland and a laid back casual vibe. It’s been a few years between visits and I can confirm all those enticing aspects have not changed. The tourists are still drawn to Byron in numbers, but with my most recent visit, Byron felt like it was overrun with tourists of the backpacking variety. It’s easy to understand why Byron Bay is a magnet for the backpacker. The climate is moderate for most of the year – winter a small respite from the summer heat. December is a popular time to visit as it’s the middle of summer with temperatures in the mid 30’s. The town is pockmarked by hostels and facilities for the itinerant traveler and the streets are filled with an array of backpackers either drifting in or out of town.
And please note I don’t have an issue with backpackers, there was a time where I was also a backpacker – but that is going back a few decades. Now that I’ve given the backpacking away – so have I changed my attitude towards how I view a holiday. And my feeling is backpackers have changed the face of Byron. Or could it be that now I am older I see Byron through different eyes?
This visit to Byron, instead of my backpack I brought with me my almost 15 year old twins. We wanted a few days break over the Christmas school holidays. Rather than a youth hostel, I selected a house on Air BnB. Booking only a few weeks before seems I was lucky to find this three bedroom house within cooee of Byron’s main thoroughfare – Jonson street. The house was in a quiet suburban street and was a comfortable set up for our three day getaway. It was too far for us to walk to the beach, but Clarkes beach and Watego’s were easily only a few minute’s drive away.
A walk up the main street on the afternoon we arrived, showed me Byron’s character. The travelers are easy to spot in their their casual clothing, bodies adorned with coloured bracelets, earrings and hand made necklaces, their skin the colour of dark honey from many days spent in the sun. For those arriving in town, its easy to spot the incumbent backpackers, pack loaded on the back with all the added extras hanging off every conceivable space. I know what that’s like – carrying your life possessions in those packs! Their walk is casual and unhurried some solo others in groups. Maps or phones in hand for directions. The air is filled with a variety of accents as people from all over the world flock to Byron to enjoy the serenity and relaxed culture.
And my observations are drawn only from the centre of town. I’m sure there are many sections in Byron Bay that may not be overrun with backpackers. And they seem to be harmless visitors. The only instance I felt a little out of place was when we visited the beach in front of the shopping precinct and discovered where the backpackers flock to during the day! I felt the generation gap as I strolled the sand, covered with sun protection (hat, sunglasses and shirt) past the not really covered at all (young) bodies without a rash shirt or hat in sight. These millennials were not bothered about the slip, slop, slap message put out by the Cancer Council.
But hey, I recall I was young once and chasing that healthy glow, I used to expose my body (in much better condition back then) in a bikini and take little heed of the warnings my mum gave me to cover up in the sun. Maybe I should have listened to her as I look at my current sun damaged décolletage and freckled arms and face no amount of acid peels can take back to its youthful glory.
Byron still has its choice of beautiful beaches – the waves rolled in on Clarkes Beach and the water was a blissful temperature. This was too far or not the beach for the backpackers as there seemed to be only families and couples strolling the white sands taking in the dramatic sunset. Watego’s beach is also a sensational spot to visit – but always remember to carry loose change or a credit card to pay for the parking meters around the beaches and town. Unless you can walk – you must pay to park in Byron. The council is there to make money not friends. And I can’t say they’re spending it on the upkeep of their roads as the potholes were numerous and some of them deep.
Byron – yes you have the beauty and the laid back culture, but you are taking advantage of the tourists and charging accordingly. And I feel the tourists have taken away the Byron I used to love.
After this latest visit, I’ll leave Byron for the alternate and backpacking crowd, and find other places that may be not such a reminder of my once fabulous days as a backpacker.