The Best Place in the Universe: Byron Bay

There is possibly nowhere in the world quite like Byron Bay. From ponies protesting about oil mining, to stoned couples giggling on the beach, it’s entirely removed from normality. The small town has an abundance of surf shops, tie-dye havens and bars, and is so chilled out, I’m surprised anything gets done. From the moment I stepped off the bus, every last shred of worry, self-doubt and general insecurities evaporated; this is a place that doesn’t have time for negativity.

I’m in Byron over its annual Blues & Roots festival, which would have been great to go to, but at $180 for a day ticket, would also have blown my budget out for this week. Due to this, the entire town is non-stop, crowds of people meandering their way around the high-street and beach.

The people are what make this town so brilliant: from a Canadian explaining her normal nights out (“do a line, do a line, have sex with the guy whose house it is, do a line, do a line, have a dance, do a line, lose your friends, do a line, have sex in the kitchen, do a line, do a line”), to convincing an Australian who fancied himself as a bit of a Heath Ledger type (sadly just in his own head), to strut across a picnic bench, recreating everyone’s favourite scene from ’10 Things I Hate About You’. After a night involving a box of goon, sitting on the beach in the dark, watching Spurs play at ridiculous o’clock, and managing to get lost in Australia’s smallest town, my first night in Byron was the best introduction to a new place.

The next day, my roommate, Becky, and I headed out to Nimbin. Nimbin is about an hour and a half from Byron, but hasn’t progressed out of the 60s and 70s. Its a hippy commune, and tie-dye, organic food, hemp and anti-Government mantras rule the town. It has a very blatant stance on weed, and seeing as it was 4/20 when we visited, we caught it at its best. The town has a small police station, but I can’t believe it gets used much: you get offered weed or cookies every few metres.

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When horse-riding on the beach is in every top-ten-things-to-do-in-Byron list, it makes perfect sense to book in for one, and have one last ride before coming home. A local company called Seahorses was topping all of the reviews and Google searches, so after a quick phone call, and being roped in to get the horses ready, I was set. A 7.30 wake up call was a slight shock to the system, but I’d been missing early mornings with the horses, and seeing as the sun was out and the temperature rising, late mornings in bed seem like a waste these days.

So, I turn up at the Seahorses ranch, catch four ponies, get all the gear together, load them onto the box, and head for Brunswick Heads, a beach further down the coast than Byron’s main beach. We were due to meet two other girls at the beach, so we got ourselves and the horses ready, and waited. And then waited some more. And a bit more after that, until Jo, who runs Seahorses, phoned the girl up. Turns out she’d forgotten, and therefore wasn’t coming. We then had the predicament of two riders and four horses – and no one to drive the lorry and the two spare horses back. Instead, it turned into a ride and lead session; not quite the gallop-along-a-beach experience I’d hoped for – made all the more sour by miles of deserted, white sand.

Either way, my pony, Curly, was a sweetheart, and after convincing him it was ok to canter away from the group, we did a lot of playing around. By the end of the ride he was leg yielding across the sand (made easier by trying to get away from the incoming tide), and working nicely on the bit – so much so that Jo said I was more than welcome to school and compete him, if only I lived here (which she then attempted to sort out by offering me a job as a ride leader in her soon to be developed campsite, in the Byron Hinterlands).

On returning to the ranch, Jo asked if I wanted to help round the remaining horses up and move them to a different paddock, and seeing as I had nothing better to do than lying on the beach all day, it was a pretty sweet option. So, I get handed a new pony, and take off at break-neck speeds with the ranch’s resident cowboy (who was in fact the owner of the anti-fracking pony I met on my first day here). Once the horses were sent on their way, we had a gallop through the cross-country course, and despite losing my stirrups several times (not a great idea riding in pumps), and having to make quick diversions away from A-grade jumps, it made me that much more excited about going home, and getting to do this every day.

I have rarely, if ever, been on a yard where the words ‘electric fencing’ have gone unmentioned for more than a few hours, so it was no surprise that that was the next job I was sent off to do. Suddenly, fencing at home is appealing: there are no 50-acre paddocks, or areas of grass that are “a bit snakey”. The day finished with a bareback ride on Curly, and promises to keep in touch, whenever I’m back in the country.

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