Learning to slow down

I started this Sunday morning in a very relaxed, quintessentially Byron way by partaking in a guided meditation session underneath a beautiful fig tree at the hostel (the small-leaved variety for any fellow geeks out there). However, the rain decided to join in. At first the trickle of drops rattling through the leaves was a soothing backdrop, but as it became heavier it became rather a battle of serenity, especially when our guide was instructing us to imagine we were on a beach being warmed by the sun’s rays. But nevertheless, a very mellow start to the day.

Unfortunately my body is still telling me to take it easy and, with a nod to Byron’s self-honouring ways, I have decided to listen to it. It is very strange for me, being generally a very get-up-and-go person who loves being active and trying new things, but all I want to do is as little as possible since I came to Australia, and even more so in Byron. Perhaps it’s still my body recuperating after the New Zealand whirlwind tour, or perhaps I’m finally shifting down a gear on my travels. But whatever the reason, I’m seeing it as part of the adventure and revelling in my new-found slowness. I seem to spend a lot more time than I used to just sitting and taking the world in, which can only be a good thing I guess.

For example, today I finally hauled myself out and on a walk to the lighthouse at Byron Point (I had intended to do this yesterday but was waylaid by the massage tent and then felt too spaced out afterwards so never made it – Byron’s sleepy enchantment starting to weave its spell over me?). Anyway, usually I would don my trainers and march forth at a brisk pace, racing to see what’s round each corner. However, today I seriously ambled – mainly because I had to; my body wouldn’t let me move any quicker. I had the a strange experience of being overtaken by lots of other walkers, including fairly old couples and families with small children – unheard of at my usual pace. But today I stopped at each viewpoint, spent a long time taking photos and gazing down at the broiling sea below, and very much enjoyed the walk for it. Perhaps this is one of the lessons I will bring back from my travels: to slow down and enjoy the present moment more rather than always racing ahead to the discover the next one.

The walk was beautiful. It took me across clean, sandy  beaches, where I watched gnarly old-timers and fit young-bloods catch tubes in the relentless waves, and then the path climbed up into littoral rainforest on the coastal slopes, where plants unchanged from dinosaur time still covered the forest floor. At Australia’s most easterly point, Cape Byron, I spent a long time enjoying the salty breeze and watching terns, seagulls and brahminy kites soaring over the sea’s surface. My new-found stillness was rewarded by a viewing of a group of turtles below after much ocean-scanning with my binoculars. I’m not sure what species they were, but they must have been at least 1 metre long, to have seen them so clearly from such a height. Unfortunately no whale or dolphin sightings, even though the humpacks have started their northward migration from Antarctica and have been spotted in the Byron area recently, a few weeks earlier than usual. Perhaps all this rain is stirring up the wildlife…

A dramatic sky behind the famous right hand point-break at ‘The Pass’.

The view from Australia’s easternmost point – funnily enough, not a lot to see out there…

The Cape Byron lighthouse.

The beautiful crescent of Tallow Beach, with dense coastal rainforest behind.

Ancient palms in the rainforest; dinsosaur-fodder of old.

The Cape Byron headland is of huge significance to the local aboriginal tribe, the Arakwal people. Sadly, following European settlement, the 70 or so surviving Arakwal were forced to move into a 40 acre reserve in the area in 1890 and, in the 1950s, were forced to move again to a mission in a completely different area (Cabbage Island) to where they had no cultural ties, otherwise they would have faced having their children taken away from them and put into welfare. In order to right these past wrongs, the state government of New South Wales formed the Arakwal National Park at the Cape Byron headland in 2001, whereby the Arakwal are now involved in its future management, and the government has also passed the land rights of the most culturally significant areas back to the Arakwal. This has been a pioneering model of joint-working with the aboriginals on land management, and I can’t help feeling that Byron’s unique spirit of social inclusion has helped.

So, a very relaxing day. However, as someone who claims to be a surfer, I HAVE to surf at least once whilst in Byron, so will focus my energies on that tomorrow (my last full day here before heading back to Brisbane).

Finally , to introduce you to the ‘anything goes’ attitude of Byron, I’ve put together a list of some of the things I’ve seen on my ambles around the town and coastline over the last few days:

  1. A man walking around with a parrot on his head.
  2. A dog on a surfboard catching a wave with his owner.
  3. A sub-ten year old girl sitting on a skateboard going down the main road amongst traffic, with a crash-helmet on.
  4. Two elderly ladies dancing down the street with feathers in their grey, braided hair and lots of jingling bracelets on their ankles.
  5. A man who stripped off completely and jumped in the sea right in front of me for a spot of skinny dipping on one of the main surf beaches.

Welcome to Byron!

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