Many Kiwis will know Byron Bay for its Blues Festival. Held at Easter, this festival is one of the world’s best and attracts big names from all over the world.
Byron is just a couple of hours drive south from Coolangatta, and there’s a direct flight now from Auckland to Coolangatta. The Bay also has a reputation for being a place that inspires people - to change or to try new things. There’s certainly something about the laid back vibe of the place that encouraged me to do just that.
Byron Bay was once a haven for the hippy counter-culture of the Seventies and it still retains many of the tie-dyed, joss-stick burning, crystal-gazing trappings of that time.
It's also home to some world famous surf breaks and believe it or not I have come here to learn to surf. I’ve never surfed in my life before, I’ve always wanted to try it and this seems to be the place to give it a go.
Legendary Aussie surfer Bob Mc Tavish lives and works here. He still designs and makes surfboards and ships them all over the world. He was the inventor of the short board that revolutionised surfing in the Seventies.
His movie Going Vertical is required viewing for any serious surfie. I spend a happy couple of hours on the beach with Bob in the hope that I might glean a few tips from the maestro. The best he can come up with? "Don’t think too hard".
I spend the rest of the day with Paul from the Black Dog Surf School (yes, there is a black dog and he does surf!). Paul drills me on the art of standing up on the board, on the beach. I get up, I lie down, I get up, I lie down, on and on until I’m completely exhausted. Then he takes me to the water, where I instantly forget everything he taught me.
But having a camera crew filming you from the beach is a great incentive to make a go of it, and eventually I manage to stand, at one with the wave, for a second or two. If I can do it anyone can and I can tell you the sensation of catching the wave is magic.
If you’re planning a visit to Byron Bay make sure you drop in to the lighthouse on the point above the bay. It’s a fascinating place with a wealth of stories to tell.
The other must-see, I reckon, is the Bangalow Market which takes place on the fourth Sunday of every month. The historic Bangalow village is a short drive up into the hills behind Byron. It’s a beautiful drive, well worth the effort.
The market takes place in the fields shaded by giant camphor laurels behind the village. Its a happy mix of growers market , craft market, theraputic centre and music festival. The food is divine, the characters prolific and the music, when I was there, an eclectic mix: a shy but very talented aboriginal country and western singer having his first outing after a lifetime of singing in his garage, a reggae band and some folk / rock groups ... all of whom were great entertainment.
All-in-all a perfect place for a long weekend, or longer.
Judy Bailey’s diaries are provided by Tourism Australia.