When Neat deposited me at the approach to the Art Factory hostel in Byron in the late evening I honestly didnt know what to expect given that it had previously been some sort of hippie commune. Actually I was pleasantly surprised as the core buildings were "normal", the dorms being a very standard two storey affair, built around a swimming pool!! Next morning I reconnoitred the grounds to see the place in daylight and that is when I came across the alternative accomodations - huts, tents and teepees, with a wide variety of clientele to match. The hostel is situated a few minutes walk "the other side of the tracks" from the main town which is small, bustling and very, very commercial. The beachfront is close by and stretches some distance each way so, despite being heavily populated, there was room to sit and observe or stroll along the front.
The Art Factory welcoming committee
The old Art Factory bus remains
One of the benefits of the hostel is that their eclectic customer profile throws up some useful associations, the principal one for me being a german/polish couple who had met while travelling in India and who now held free yoga classes thrice a week. I joined the first available session and, despite taking things very gently, proved that these old bones are very much in need of some maintenance - whilst my torso and upper body seem able to stretch, bend and extend to order, from the hips downwards there was an acute lack of flexibility in most joints - a large scale lubrication of the hinges was definitely required.
Panic attack - losing my identity and my mind!
Anyhow, having ploughed through the first session I returned to the dorm to prepare for a foray into town and it was at this point that I experienced every travellers worst nightmare. Whilst we can overcome the loss of clothes, toiletries and other such items, losing ones wallet, passport, driving licence, phone, cash, cards and camera is a huge blow. Being late to get to the yoga class (the last minute Fool as ever), I stowed all of the important items mentioned above in the dorm and rushed out to the class which was being held literally underneath the dorm area. On my return I checked where I thought I had hidden them and couldn't find any of them. A very quick and panicky rummage through my bags then followed before I concluded that they had all been "half-inched" (= pinched, as in stolen) and hot-footed it to reception to seek assistance. What followed was an horrendous half hour of fear, raw nerves, stupid assumptions and inappropriate comments and accusations (all by yours truly) about the hostels lack of control of dorm keys, lax approach to security etc, etc.
Well, having established that none of the cleaning staff had seen my belongings I returned to the room to have one last look before gathering the details required to contact police, my bank, the british consul, the FBI/CIA, NATO and International Rescue ("Thunderbirds are go") in the hope that their combined efforts could recover and return my identity.
Delving deep down the side my backpack my fingertips encountered what felt like my camera case - could it possibly be so?
Surely not, I didnt put it in that bag - or did I??
Further probing saw the camera case, complete with camera, extracted from the depths of my top-loader pack. Swiftly returning to the darkened recesses of the bag I successively located and extracted the "lost" wallet, passport and phone. As quickly as pure, unadulterated relief washed over me, so built the embarrassment I felt at being such a complete pratt!! Now completely redfaced and humbled I headed straight back to reception to sheepishly inform them that there had not been a robbery after all, all of my items were accounted for, there was no need to raise the various enforcement agencies and that I was extremely sorry for my earlier reactions and behaviours. They took it all in good grace but underneath I could see that they thought the same of me as I did of myself - What a moron!!
This was the first and only time I thought I had lost my most valuable items (passport and cards to access my cash) and it was a timely reminder. Throughout all of my previous travels nothing remotely like this had happened, indeed I had apparently adopted the attitude that it would never happen to me, only to others. Well, let me tell you, being in a foreign country (albeit somewhere similar to home like Oz) without any ID, money, communications or credit cards makes one realise just how much we take what we have for granted. For 30 minutes or so I felt completely alone, vulnerable and, being totally honest, lost. Needless to say, from that moment onwards I have kept my crucial items either on me or securely locked away - I dont want a repeat of those emotions any time soon.
Back to Byron itself then.
Down at the beach, if you stand facing the ocean, to your left the bay stretches into the distance whilst to the right it leads to a headland which marks the start of a quite lovely coastal path walk.
In the early Monday morning sunshine I meandered along the shoreline until I came to the quaint lookout point built on a lone rocky outcrop before joining the coastal pathway.
Byron just after dawn - glorious!
The lookout at low tide
The walk is quite bracing as it follows the rocky headland and involves climbing from sea level to the top of the rocks, past Australua's most easterly point and on up to the lighthouse, affording great views of the ocean and the tree covered hills (the tree canopy mirrors exactly the contours of the hills as it braves the constant offshore winds, looking more like a dark green buzz-cut than a common wood).
My coastal walk buddy
Australias most easterly point is reached!
The cool lighthouse, also reached!
The wierd, terrain hugging trees
After the walk I found my way to the Top Shop cafe for the most glorious and well earned breakfast burger (lettuce, toms, bacon, hash brown, egg, cheese, avocado and tom relish - nice!) and a steaming hot coffee.
The most awesome breakfast burger!
Following another yoga session it was time to pack once again and to head ever further south towards my date with Sydney.
I can heartily recommend Byron with its small town hustle and bustle neatly counterpointed by the solitude of the coastal walk and the chilled vibe at the Art Factory Hostel (and its laid back Buddha Bar). A fun and friendly place where the emphasis is on having seaside fun for all the family. With Nimbim relatively close by it is obviously a bit of a draw for the Pot Brigade but that just seems to add to the generally relaxed feel of the place.