07.04.2013 36 °C
Lennox Head and the Tea-Tree lake
We stayed in and around the Byron Bay area for a whole week and it was wonderful. Tony as predicted had a great time, enjoying the surrounding country and the laid back culture. Right at the top of New South Wales just before the Queensland border the surrounding area is sub-tropical fertile with lush green valleys and patches of rain forest on pointy topped mountains, giving it a Tolkien Shire feel and you half expect to see a Hobbit popping out of some of the dwellings. The area has also attracted a lot of alternative people, from hippies to artists and musicians and is often described as the alternative capital of Australia, it certainly makes for a very nice place to visit and spend some time.
When we arrived we decided to spend some R &R time in a lovely campsite in Lennox Head which I knew about from spending 3 days camping during Byron Bay Blues Festival 2 years ago. Lennox Head is a small coastal surf town about 10km south of Byron Bay. It boasts a 7 mile beach which looks impressive and has mighty surf. The campsite is called Lake Ainsworth Holiday Park and has the beach on one side and a marvellous fresh water Tea-Tree lake on the other. The lake is warm and has an amber brown colour to it from the Tea-Tree tannings seeping out of the Tree’s circling the lake. It’s popular with locals who come and swim in the lake. Perfect, just what we needed after the last batch of camping and travelling up from Sydney, dip into the lake in the morning then go for a salt water tussle with the surf in the afternoon, doesn’t get much better than that!
From our campsite in Lennox Head we took a day drive to Byron Bay to do some sightseeing for a few hours. Byron is a popular backpacking / surfers party town and often gets chocker with tourists and kids out for a good time. It also has a thriving alternative culture with a lot of African drum makers and shops, although prices can be pretty expensive and it’s generally a good idea to avoid buying anything while there. We had a walk around the shops, ate an ice cream to cool down as it was midday and well into the 30’s and then took a dip in the sea, between the patrolled surf rescue flags of course as this beach has a mean rip.
Nimben and the Rainbow Retreat
I’d heard a lot about Nimben, good and bad from various people, so it was good to have a chance to check it out for myself. Nimben is famous as a hippy town and self-proclaimed alternative capital. It has a famous street festival every year called the ‘Mardi Grass’ between 2nd and 5th of May promoting the legalisation of cannabis and growing of Hemp. The surrounding hills have a number of very interesting communes practising Permaculture and organic fruit and vegetable growing, some even have their own schools.
In 1975 there was a festival at Nimben called the Aquarius festival attracting a heap of hippies and students who basically stayed after festival and settled down. The festivals continued and more people arrived.
We wanted to setup camp and spend a few nights so I did some searching and found a backpackers camping site called the ‘Rainbow Retreat’. They had a good website ( http://www.rainbowretreatnimbin.com ) and the site was situated about a mile from Nimben so we packed camp and headed out to Nimben, about 20 miles inland from Lennox Head and up a small pot hole ridden road which snaked up the lush green valley. The locals had painted multi coloured circles on the road highlighting the worst pot holes, very nice of them and a dam site more effort than the local NSW government was doing about the road. We arrived at Nimben and had a walk around the town which mainly surrounded one street packed with hemp shops and hippy paraphernalia. I was warned that you could get hassled by people wanting to sell you things on the street but we didn’t see this, the atmosphere was pleasant enough and relaxed so we sat and had a coffee before heading out to find the camp site.
We found the Rainbow Retreat about a mile out of town down a dead end road which also had another Backpackers YHA site nearby. The site was up a steep track perched amongst a small forest on top of a hill with a largish river snaking its way down the valley below. Nimben was walking distance across the valley the other side of the river.
We rocked up and it seemed quiet with not much tents and campers around so we hunted out the reception to check in for a few nights. The retreat looked lovely with some great camping spots amongst the trees and wildlife, it even promised Platypus spotting down at the river below. We walked through an assortment of small huts and lodges which can be rented to stay in, it even had toilets and hot showers. The huts were all different and creatively built with multi-coloured paints, some even in trees and built on huge tree trunk platforms. We found reception in a large house raised off the ground and all was quiet with no one to be seen. After ringing a bell Doug the owner and Mike popped out to greet us. They both gave us warm welcome and suggested a good camping spot, we also got 1 nights camping free if we booked for 3 nights so we did.
Doug and Mike were great hosts and we got on with them really well, especially Tony who spent a lot of time talking to them about local wildlife and history. We also gave them a video testimony for their website before we left, I highly recommend staying at the Rainbow Retreat if you ever go to Nimben.
We took various trips into town, Tony was keen to sniff out any drumming parties that may be happening and just our luck the night we decided to stay in a large drumming party kicked off in Nimben, we could hear the drums across the valley…dom, dom, dom, dum... oh well next time. However we did meet some lovely local people in town who lived at one of the communes nearby and they invited us to a Permaculture gathering on the Saturday night which had live music and was part demonstration against the local gas seem drilling that was planned for the area. It was a nice little party at someone’s house with extensive vegetable gardens outside and lit by candle light. Not much alcohol on sale and most people brought their own wine and the food was mainly Vegetarian and Vegan orientated… the food was good but not exactly my fare
We tried Platypus spotting with the camera and tripod down at the river below the campsite, waiting quietly for up to an hour but saw nothing. The Platypus has to be the weirdest animal on the planet and it would have been great to get a snap of one. It was also getting hot in the day with temperatures reaching mid 30c but also humid so it felt a lot hotter. You could tell we were getting further North and properly in the sub-tropical zone.