Everyone loves to whinge about Byron Bay. I always thought the gripe was overrated. Until last week. After visiting Byron Bay for the first time in a decade, I now know where all the angst is coming from. Me.
Byron Bay is booming. It’s got a Netflix reality show. It’s got twenty billion new residents for summer (ok, maybe not quite that many, but you get the heavily-filtered picture). It’s got one of the most f**ked up Airbnb and rental markets in the country. It’s got Japanese restaurants. It’s got pizza places. It’s got Don Pedros. It’s got stoned backpackers working in kebab shops infuriating their managers with their lack of care about keeping their jobs. It’s got neighbouring suburbs charging tourists $115 a night just to pitch a tent in their yard. It’s got Airbnbs with giant erotic paintings peeping out from every corner. It’s got a sign telling you to chill out.
According to the backpackers who I spoke to, it’s heaven. And if you disagree, you’re just visiting at the wrong time or bringing the wrong attitude. In my case, both accusations were true. Coming in sleep deprived and with high expectations of chilling out, I was ripe to clash with the hundreds of other anxious, eager-to-chill tourists, what with our over-packed cars and manic road trip energy. And that’s before we even get to the locals, who are sick of having their streets used as toilets and their parking spaces stolen.
What could possibly go wrong? Mucho. This is how I ended up meeting more arseholes in 2 days in Byron Bay than I have met in the last two years in Sydney. That’s not to say that they were all locals (they could all have been other tourists, as far as I know), but my experience was besmirched nonetheless.
The first unpleasant encounter I had was with a lady who ran over my surfboard. That’s right. Not content with staring at me as if I just took pooped on her windshield when she realised my surfboard was blocking the path to her car, this time poor soul still found the time, after I moved my surfboard out of the way of her car, and put it next to mine, to maneuver her Range Rover wheels just close enough to run over the nose of my surfboard. No chill whatsoever.
The next asshole observation I have is driving. Though I thought big cities had more drivers who woke up and chose violence than small towns, Byron Bay quickly blasted my theory to bed. Though some people are super chill, stopping to let pedestrians cross and waving, others are more impatient and angry (and reluctant to move backwards to let you reverse park even though you indicated well in advance) than anyone I’ve met in Sydney all year.
Next, there’s the surf. Though it’s quite competitive in Sydney, there were more people out at The Pass on New Year’s Eve than I’ve ever seen at south Bondi. And with the water raging like a river, it was even harder to catch a wave. Snaking, dropping in and burning were rampant, and the arseholes (myself firmly among them) were out in full force.
Another incident of assholery (whether I’m the asshole or the victim you can be the judge) was when I was browsing a clothes shop despite the owner putting out a “closed” sign. I was told in no uncertain terms to f*ck off unless I was going to buy something. I then complained about how expensive the shirt I wanted was. I then bought it anyway.
Later that night I visited the supposedly welcoming Arts Factory Lodge with a group of friends. Because we were just visitors, and not staying there, people looked at us as if we had just arrived from Mars. We had to surrender our IDs and debit cards just to sit in the courtyard for a while too.
Finally, on arriving at a Mullimbimby campground, opening the gate myself and driving to the reception, I was quite aggressively asked, by the English drill sergeant-sounding owner, as if I was an idiot (which I probably am, but that’s not the point), if I had read the sign on the gate that said “No Vacancy.” I told him that I had but that I had a booking.
He said: “Oh, you must be with Hipcamp.”
All in all, it was a great trip, but the Christmas/New Year’s Eve break is definitely not the time to do it. And if you choose to go at that time, and make yourself part of the problem, be warned – you will probably encounter quite a few assholes. Plus: you will be counted among them. Happy holidays!