Where Have All the Hippies Gone

So after I left Brisbane the rain reverted back to it’s constant, depressing onslaught as were rushed our way down the Gold Coast towards Byron Bay*. But we’ll forget the rain for the moment because I was looking for something else down the coast: culture. More specificially Hippie Culture.

Byron Bay started as a surfer’s paradise and turned into a capital of laid back hippie culture. I totally get why they chose here too: the bay itself is absolutely gorgeous: wide and clear with daring surfers weaving in and out of the crashin waves. The kind of beach you’d imagine when someone says Australia.

The town itself is another story. While it once may have flown on a free love vibe, the word these days is definitely consumerism. Thousands of burnt backpackers flow among the shops selling tie dye t-shirts, meditation cds and rainbow headbands. Girls with long flowing hair and low cut dresses walk the streets handing out coupons for a night out. It’s a look I coined Hippie Skank, and it’s not just the party girls: all of Byron Bay is Hippie Skank.

It was enjoyable enough for an afternoon, but about as far from authentic as you can get. Luckily, just a couple of hours up in the mountains you can find the little community of Nimbin. Just a sleepy little town until the 1972 Aquarius Festival was held here, Nimbin is now home to many hippie and artist communes.

Arriving here is like stepping into another, kaleidoscope colored time. After an hour of narrow winding mountain roads you pull into the short main stree where you will find barefoot 8 year olds playing guitar, coffee shops and aging hippied out walking their dogs. Even the parrots look like hippies here:

And then there are the drugs. Technically speaking marijuana is still illegal in NSW, but the authories seem to turn a blind eye in this little community. You can barely walk down the main drag without being offered a variety of weed products available for purchase. It’s slightly seedy and more than a little bizarre but it’s certainly in keeping with the 1970’s vibe.

The technicolor and the drugs draw some tourists from Byron Bay- they come on big psychedelic buses, stay for a few hours then head back. Still, this town is too out of the way and beachless to ever become a true tourist destination. The people who do live here seem to really believe in the spirit of Nimbin- in the idea of commnity and organic living.

Personally I’d make a terrible hippie: I’m as carnivorous as a t-rex and tie-dye makes me dizzy. But for one afternoon it was really fun to hang out in our camper van and just pretend.

*I’m currently traveling around Australia in a Chubby Camper Van with the generous help ofTravellers Auto Barn.

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