Where are your magical places?
There are some places that hold a kind of magic. Although they’re usually typified by spectacular nature and great beauty, different spots resonate for different people. A super soft blanket of peace floats down through my being when I find myself in one of my magical places, they are usually by the sea.
Nine years ago I attempted to pass through Byron Bay. One night there and I was hooked. Waving goodbye to the car load of travelling buddies I’d road-tripped with from Melbourne, I walked up to a girl flyering and asked her about work. That night I moved in with her and a ramshackle houseful of flyer-ers. We flyered for 15 hours a week in return for free accommodation. I felt that anything was possible in this little town fringed by three beaches each with their individual character and backed by a hinterland of hills. Main Beach sort of does what it says on the tin. It’s mainstream and most populated. It’s where the sea kayaks leave from and the most surfers dot the waves. I’m counting Clarks and the Pass in my description of Main Beach because it’s one stretch of sand. Belongil was my favourite. From The Rocks at the carpark, walk west towards The Wreck and Belongil flows before you like a glorious ribbon to the creek. It’s the backdrop of long runs, wedding snaps and deep bonding conversations with feet in the tickling surf. Tallows is the beach of big waves for the most experienced surfers, beautiful sand dunes and a dreamy expanse of sand stretching the whole way to Broken Head. While the wildest, Tallows is only accessible by car from Byron, or a long walk, whereas Belongil starts in town.
Byron’s lighthouse marks the most easterly point of Australia and the area is said to have some kind of powerful meeting of earth lines or a strong magnetic field or something, but I don’t know about that. The hinterland hills are dotted with dwellings built by their owners with natural timbers, love and creativity. I’m nervous to go back because I know the town won’t be the same. Driving through it on my way to Brisbane last Friday night it had the feel of a gaming arcade, bright lights flashing through the coach windows like spinning pokie symbols (non-Aussies, pokies are fruit machines to you and me). The hippy, dreaming, anything-can-happen feel had gone and the streets were filled with fashionable people ten years younger than me. Still, the nature won’t have changed.
Interlude: I’ve just booked my bus, booked myself into the Arts Factory and booked a coffee with my old friend Trudi who lives there. I’ll be in Byron tomorrow!
This whimsical waffle is a prelude to the latest location to join my magical places library. Like books or as in Wordsworth’s experience of Tintern Abbey (man I love that poem), I can pick up these places in my mind and wander through their varied scenes. And the newest place is Hat Head.
On Tuesday I travelled down from the farm near Walcha where we’d spent Guy’s birthday weekend boozing, quad-biking, exploring his dad’s cattle farm from open truck trays, shooting rifles and generally having a brilliant time. There I’d met my new friend Brian and hitched a lift in his battered but beautiful Landcruiser (the Aussie off-road vehicle of choice) to the house he’s building for Guy’s dad at Hat Head.
Where else can you find a 14km crescent beach, a tea-tree stained creek curling through a verdant national park like a girl’s auburn tress, a rumpled blanket of 40m high sand dunes stretching out to the forest, hillside and sea?
Hat Head is a tiny settlement embraced by a river bend and bordered on the other side by the white surf Aussie ocean. It’s set in national park and it’s quiet. A campsite is the town’s only acknowledgement to tourism and even during the Easter holidays there was only a speckling of people on the sands, sometimes five, sometimes none. And so while Brian worked on the house, my days were spent splashing in the ocean, jumping up or diving under waves trying not to drown myself stupid English person style, drawing, writing and thinking. We ate delicious salads, we didn’t drink, we watched movies at night (such as The Rum Diaries, excellent film not least because I could perve on Johnny Depp for an entire 90 mins).
If you happen to be driving the coast south of Byron Bay and you feel like an adventure near Kempsey, turn off for the coast and discover a place untouched by commercialism. Even wikipedia waxes lyrical about it.
Where the beach meets the Hat Head of land lies the auburn creek.
One morning Brian took time off from painting the utility room and showed me the secret path to the top of Hat Head. The official one travels around the hill, the unofficial is a mere animal track steeply shooting off at right angles from the main path. It’s marked by pink paint stripes on a few random tree trunks. Take a stick to break the spiderwebs in your way, no one wants a golden orb on their face. At the top, and remember this is no commercial town, there is a little clearing and to see the view you must stand atop a cairn and cling to a sign warning you of koalas in the area.
Remember those 40m sand dunes I mentioned earlier? Well they deserve a whole ‘nother post, but here’s a taster.