Byron Bay: from the beginning till the end

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

I’ve been promising you a surprise since the beginning of the month; now that my Advent Calendar is over, it’s time to reveal it: today is the end of Inside My Backpack, but also the official beginning of a brand-new project!

I started this website in 2017. Since then, I have published almost one hundred articles, all of them translated into French. You’ve been more than 14.000 people visiting it, with more than 50.000 pages viewed. I’m very grateful for all the support I received, and I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished since the beginning, but it feels less relevant now to write more articles as I haven’t really travelled for several months, apart from a few short periods. In other words, I have lost inspiration.

It’s not a definitive ending though; I might publish new things at some point in the future, but definitely not in the next few months. If you still want to follow me, I’ll regularly post pictures on my Instagram account, and I’ll keep my Facebook page alive. You can also have a glance at my 108 galleries of photos, with my favourite pictures from all over the world!

The adventure of Inside My Backpack is over, but I’ve been working on a very exciting new project for a few weeks already and I want to focus on it now. I am currently writing a book about my journey in Australia, based on the memories of my personal trip punctuated with historical anecdotes and fun facts about the country. Unfortunately for my English-speaking readers, I’m writing this book in French, but I have a little present for you today (it’s still almost Christmas after all!): here’s the translation of a large part of the second chapter, dedicated to my arrival in Byron Bay, the first place I went to in Australia. It feels like talking about the very special moments at the beginning of this unforgettable journey in the last article of this website is a great way to round everything off. I hope you’ll enjoy your reading!

📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery of photos of Byron Bay.

🇫🇷 Cliquez ici pour lire cet article en français.

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Everyone you’ll meet will speak highly of Byron Bay. Surfers will praise its perfect waves, hippies will tell you to stay at the Arts Factory Hostel and to visit the village of Nimbin a few kilometres away, nature lovers will describe it as one of the greatest places in Australia for whale watching, photographers will show their pictures taken at the famous lighthouse at sunrise… And today, I can guarantee you myself that it was the ideal spot to begin my Australian adventure. It’s the kind of place where you arrive with the intention of staying for a few days, until you’re waking up ten years later, barefoot on the beach, desperately trying to remember what that complicated life you used to have before was like.

Surfers, Byron Bay

Everything seems so simple in Byron Bay. It’s a peaceful little town in the north of New South Wales, where slightly less than ten thousand happy people live all year round. The natural environment is stunning, starting with Cape Byron, the easternmost point of Australia. Its name was given by the famous explorer James Cook as a tribute to the British sailor John Byron. There are gorgeous fine sandy beaches around the city, while the countryside consists of mountains, waterfalls and tropical forests. The weather is always good; the highest temperatures barely drop below 20°C during winter, but they aren’t extreme during the summer months of January of February either. Finally, there’s a unique relaxed atmosphere in Byron Bay ever since the arrival of a large community of surfers and hippies during the 60s and the 70s. It’s now a very touristic place, but the alternative and laid-back mood still remains.

I arrived at the end of the morning, after an hour of driving from the Gold Coast Airport further north. I began my exploration with a brief walk around the city centre, where bohemian second-hand clothes stores neighboured cafés, restaurants and surfing shops, then I bought some food and had lunch next to the beach, facing the Pacific Ocean for the first time of my life. Afterwards, I went to the room I had booked through Airbnb for the next couple of nights, where the lack of sleep and the jetlag eventually caught me. I almost collapsed on the bed for a bracing nap, which lasted until the afternoon.

As it’s the easternmost city on the Australian continent, Byron Bay is the first place in the country where the sun rises over the horizon, a very popular sight for all sorts of tourists and photographers… but it’s also, mechanically, the first place where night falls . It was the very beginning of the austral winter, a few days only after the solstice of the 21st of June, the moment when the days are shortest in the southern hemisphere, and the sun was setting at around 5pm. When I woke up from my nap around 4pm, I was surprised to see it so low over the horizon already and I rushed to the waterfront to enjoy the last moments of the day.

Easterly point, Byron Bay

That evening was the first great moment of happiness I experienced in Australia. It was going to be followed by many other in the next months, but the memories of these few instants will remain engraved in me forever.

Try to picture this: I was sitting on a rock in front of Byron Bay’s main beach and its population of surfers tirelessly looking for the perfect wave; a little bit further to the right, the cliffs of Cape Byron with the famous lighthouse on top marked the end of the coastline. I was going to walk around that peninsula the next day, admiring whales and multi-coloured birds, before going back on the following morning to take my own pictures of the sunrise. To the left, the shore was stretching until the horizon in an infinity of wooded hills with blue reflections, overlooked by the imposing silhouette of Mt Warning, more poetically known as Wollumbin which means “cloud catcher” in the local Aboriginal language. I didn’t know yet that I was going to climb it a couple of days later to admire the fantastic view from its summit. It was in front of this amazing sight that I opened for the first time an object that mattered to me a lot.

Before leaving Switzerland, Robin, one of my closest friends, gave me a particularly memorable present. He offered me a notebook in which he had written a travelling story, describing some unforgettable moments he had lived a few months earlier in Ecuador, in the middle of a trip in South America. He left the following pages blank, so that I could also write my own story before passing the notebook to another traveller, and so on until all the pages would be filled. The last person was then supposed to send it back to Robin, who had written his address on the back of the front cover. The idea was simple but I found it extraordinary, and I felt very touched to be chosen as the first person to take care of it. He insisted that I must not open it until I would have reached Australia, and that moment seemed ideal to read his story. Here’s how it begins:

In the drowsiness of that stormy afternoon of June, nothing is happening, or so little. I am desperately looking for an activity to keep my mind occupied. There’s only a ridiculous fan swirling endlessly above me in my office. Outside, a train passes by, and like it I would like to leave, racing through the landscapes, taking a look at every thing, and let my imagination wander with the passerby. On my table, left in the middle of a pile of books, I catch sight of my travel diary and I open it randomly…

byron-bay-book

I loved it. The story I had just read moved me a lot, and suddenly, the gorgeous panorama I had in front of me mingled with the distant echo of a party that had taken place months before on the other side of the world, and with the memories that Robin described with so much precision. I was somewhere between Australia and Ecuador, halfway between dream and reality.

The best was yet to come. The colours of this already idyllic surroundings progressively gained in intensity as the sun was going down and every elements of the scenery was slowly taking a copper hue. Below the rock where I was sitting, the waves lapping the sand left a crackling of golden foam behind them. A singer took place behind me, combining the sounds of her voice and of her acoustic guitar with the screams of dozens of birds nesting for the night in the trees a little bit further. I stayed there until the sun definitely disappeared over the horizon, leaving behind an incredible gradation of colours in the sky. I didn’t have my camera with me and I didn’t take any pictures with my phone either, but that didn’t matter: these images are engraved in my memory for ever, and nothing could ever erase them (the pictures illustrating this text were taken the next day). All the doubts I had since I left, all my worries and dark thoughts disappeared, replaced by the strongest thrilling sensation of freedom I had ever felt. At this very specific moment, I was exactly where I had to be.

A few months later, it’s that first evening in Australia that I chose to write in the notebook of Robin before handing it to someone else. I lived many other unforgettable moments in this country, and if I had to remember only one, I might not choose this one, but it will always remain unique and special to me. It was the first moment of happiness in a long and extraordinary series.

Sunrise, lighthouse, Byron Bay

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