Guest Post: Get Out of the City.

Recently I decided that I desperately needed a holiday.

I then realised I haven’t had a week off work in three years. I was shocked and promptly applied for annual leave. I wanted a nice, relaxing beachside holiday where I could read and get massages. My immediate thoughts were of Bali, but then I thought of Byron.

I’ve had a love affair with Byron Bay ever since I went on that Year 12 weeklong ritual known as Schoolies. I went up with a bunch of girlfriends for a week in November, and my Year 12 boyfriend also went up with his mates, and it was a week of partying, drinking, sleeping on the beach and more partying. The town was teeming with seventeen and eighteen-year-olds letting off some much needed steam after a year of hard work. I returned with a girlfriend and her sister six months later in the middle of winter and the place had a completely different vibe—less tourists, more locals and generally quieter and more peaceful. That time I stayed in a Tee Pee in the Arts Factory Village, about a ten-minute walk into the centre of town. The time after that was during the break between my first and second year of uni when I was nineteen. Ever since I had visited during winter, I said I would go and live there for four months over the summer. And thus, with my car full of the essentials—bedding, books, music and a shitload of clothes I cajoled my friend into making the trek up to Byron with me and off we went.

When I arrived I started looking for accommodation—and found it in the form of a zany English family—complete with kids called Tigger and Roo, a contortionist mother and a Valium-addicted father. I was desperate for any kind of cheapish accommodation so I took the room without a second thought. Even though baby Roo was teething and thus screaming the house down every night, I stuck it out until the end and met a few other backpackers along the way.

My next requirement was to find a job. I quickly got a job working as a waitress at The Rails, a pub located on the train line behind the bus stop that only the locals frequent. So my days consisted of lying on the beach during the day, and working at The Rails at night.

I left Byron at the beginning of February to get ready for my second year of uni with a sense of accomplishment. My first foray into living independently was a success! I returned in March with my sister and a few of her friends for the Blues and Roots Festival. The family I stayed with over the summer had enough room for us all to stay for the week, which consisted of music, drinks, party favours, TDK moments and cane toads.

I have wanted to return to Byron for a while now, but I always had some sort of excuse not to go. But this time around I was determined to. I found relatively cheap flights, along with affordable Balinese-like accommodation located ten minutes from the centre of town. I was set. When I asked my boyfriend if he wanted to go he said he couldn’t afford it, so I decided to go alone.

Whenever I told someone about my trip they always asked who I was going with, and when I replied that I was going alone to relax and do nothing but read books they all seemed jealous [Early Bird note: Especially me!].

I was on the early flight and as soon as I stepped off the plane and into the sunshine I instantly felt more relaxed. After I arrived at my accommodation, I then armed myself with two books, water and some sunscreen I wandered into town. I had been told there was now a Sportsgirl store on the main street so I was prepared for a bit of a commercial change to it, but I was dismayed to also find a Supre store alongside a Witchery, Just Jeans and Ice, sitting in amongst the ubiquitous hippie shops and surf stores! But not to be deterred, I found a lovely cafe to bask in the sun and enjoy a light lunch at, followed by a couple of hours of reading at the Beach Hotel. I have recently discovered the books of Sloane Crosley, and I have to say she’s one of my new favourite authors. She is one of those rare writers who can make me laugh out loud. I pretty much inhaled her first book of essays, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, in my first afternoon and promptly started on my next book, Last Summer by Kylie Ladd. By this time it was about 4:30pm and the sun was fading, so I wandered back to my room and spent the twilight hours reading and listening to Ben Harper, and then ambled back into the chilly breeze (why didn’t I pack any socks?) for dinner. I had a craving for a big bowl of Vietnamese pho, and it was this craving that led me to the new Japanese restaurant that had opened three days prior, Enso, which took he place of the Vietnamese one. I saw it as a sign to eat Japanese. The restaurant was up a set of stairs and kind of hidden away, which was perfect because it meant the tourists hadn’t sniffed it out yet. When I enquired about a wine list the waiter apologetically said they weren’t licensed, but then proceeded to pour me a lovely glass of champagne, free of charge. Sometimes it pays to eat alone. And thus, my first dinner of gyoza, cabbage salad and miso soup was one of the highlights of the trip.

Wednesday was pampering day. I awoke early to get a bacon and egg roll and a coffee from the local milk bar, Macs, before heading off to the Buddha Gardens Day Spa for a three hour relaxation session.

On arrival I was offered an herbal tea and was then transported to buff, scrub, polish, wrap, oil and massage heaven. After the treatments, I ambled back to the beach with lunch on the brain and got a generous serving of spud with extras and a Coke at Soul Bowl, and went and sat on the grass beside the beach and settled in for the afternoon. I polished off my second book and made headway on the third: Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil. It was nothing compared to Life of Pi, but it was still a good read. Once again, 4:30pm hit, and the weather turned a little chilly so I went home to put on more clothes and have a bit of a nap. For dinner I went back to my old stomping ground, The Rails. The owners may have changed, but their famous beef and bacon burger and the atmosphere sure hasn’t. After a feed and a beer, I headed back home for a good night’s sleep.

On Thursday I allowed myself a sleep-in—I was on holidays after all!

I set off around 11:00am after a coffee to walk to the Cape Byron Lighthouse, the most eastern point of the Australian mainland. My memory of the last time I walked to the lighthouse may have been a little skewed because I sure don’t remember it being that steep with that many steps.

Whew! After a few rest stops to catch my breath and marvel at the amazing view, complete with diving whales, I made it to the top, and that view alone was well worth the effort. After a light lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe I found a lovely spot in the sun to sit and read. I finished off Beatrice and Virgil and promptly started on the latest Sweet Valley High novel by Francine Pascal, Ten Years Later. You may scoff at the reading material but my sister taught me how to read when I was four using the Sweet Valley Kids series and we spent most of our childhood and early adulthood devouring these books, so there is a definite nostalgia element to reading this book. Don’t knock it until you try it.

After a while I thought I should make the trek back down to town. I got to the main beach and lay down on the sand and settled in for the afternoon. I headed home around 5:00pm to shower and then walked back into town for Sushi Train and a movie at the Dendy cinemas. I managed to wrangle myself a free ticket to see Bad Teacher through my cinema connections and had a crème brulee choc top. The choc top was good, the movie not so much.

Friday was my last full day, and I had booked in for another massage because I carried my bag full of books, a towel, water bottle and other assortments up to the lighthouse the previous day and my shoulders and neck suffered for it. I had booked in for 11:00am and after a breakfast of fruit toast and awful coffee—just a tip, don’t go to the 23 Hour Bakery for coffee—I received a phone call from the massage place saying they had to cancel because the masseuse was ill. Damn! There goes my peaceful relaxation. But, the massage place recommended a Thai massage place right around the corner that could probably fit me in straightaway. I hurried around to book it in and luckily I was able to get massaged on the spot. Forty-five minutes later I was floating on a cloud and I wandered out in a daze. The weather wasn’t as nice as the previous days so I wandered up and down the street before finding a sheltered place out of the wind to sit and read. I found a spot at the Beach Hotel for a couple of hours before moving on when the sun dipped behind the clouds and looked intent on staying there. Stomach rumbling I went to the famous Bay Kebab store for a delicious lamb kebab then to a cafe to have a cup of tea and do some more reading. Once the cafe closed I went back to the beach and sat in the park before heading home via In the Pink ice-creamery. That evening I stayed in my room reading and watching Juno on TV.

All in all, for anyone who needs a few days rest and relaxation, I would highly recommending taking off to Byron Bay with a suitcase full of reading material and massages booked.

—Sallie Butler.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley Review.