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How many times have you gone to a city where you wished you knew a local that could show you around? Where you wished you could delve a bit further into the place itself, rather than just the touristy sights that your guidebook took you to? Even though I’m lucky enough to have family and friends scattered all over the world, who have shown me around Singapore, Hong Kong, and New York to name a few, I still often find myself alone in a new place, wondering if I’ve really done it justice.
Even when you live somewhere, there’s always hidden gems that you won’t get to see, no matter how often you get out to explore. For instance, I’ve been living in Brisbane since 2008 and I’ve been to Byron Bay twice. I’ve been to Cairns more than that and it’s a two hour flight instead of a two hour drive!
This is where a botanist named Rob, who has spent years studying the unique and diverse plant life that makes up the rainforests of northern New South Wales, came to the rescue. I was intrigued by one of the tours he offered on a now-defunct service offering local experiences designed by, well, locals. It was a guided rainforest walk to the secluded beaches of Broken Head, which is the next headland south from Byron Bay. I thought it would be really interesting to see the rainforest from a botanist’s perspective, and I’m always happy to find a little piece of paradise that I don’t have to share with (many) other people!
I won’t lie, I was somewhat apprehensive about going on a tour people organised by I didn’t know rather than through a company, but as Rob had been personally recommended to me, I knew it would be OK. Otherwise, I would have waited until more of my friends could come along too.
Soon, I found myself driving up a gravel road, winding my way further into the rainforest of Broken Head, the headland just to the south of Byron Bay. On the way to Broken Head, Rob had given Jeremy (one of his friends who also signed up for the tour) and me a primer on why the rainforests of northern New South Wales are important. Apparently there are many species that live in the region that exist nowhere else in the country, due to its unique climate that resulted from a collision of the sub-tropical from the north and the temperate from the south.
Rather than heading to the more frequented beaches in the area, Rob took us on a hidden track that descended quickly through the trees. I was a bit slow as my knee still hampers me slightly on downhills, but that was ok because it gave Rob plenty of time to look around and point out the interesting things he could see…and also the very important things to see, like a nest of jumping ants that we really didn’t want to step in!
There was always a hint of ocean just beyond the trees. For the first portion of the walk, I could see an inviting deep blue twinkling away between the leaves. Then, before we knew it, we were in a sandy campground, staring at the beach through a gateway of palms.
It was such a beautiful spot…and one that we only had to share with one other group. We walked up and down the beach, clambering over rocks to get the best view possible before finally deciding on a nice shady spot to leave our things in while we went for a swim. In as popular a place as Byron Bay is, it was great to be only a short distance out of town yet feel like we were so far away from the world. It could have been our own personal desert island — all we needed were some coconuts!
Our swim in the crystal clear water was cool but refreshing, as was the time we spent relaxing on the beach while Rob played his ukelele afterwards. I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to be spending a Saturday afternoon.
After finding our way back to the road — which was much easier than the way down because I felt much more sure-footed — Rob directed us towards King’s Beach, one of the more popular beaches in the area (possibly because of its status as a nudist beach). We didn’t go the beach itself, instead staying on the path looking at the amazing old trees surrounding us, including a large fig and a small, but ancient, palm. The sun, slowly dipping towards the horizon, glinted between the trees and bathed everything in a golden glow.
Rob pulled out yet another surprise when he told us the tour didn’t finish there. Instead, we went to Broken Head Beach, where a walkway led up around the cliffs towards the beach we’d just left. We got a great bird’s eye view of the long stretch of sand leading up to the lighthouse at Byron Bay. Plus, we got to see a sea eagle swooping at other sea birds, which none of us had seen before. At first, Rob thought he might be hunting them, but it actually looked like they were playing games when the sea birds started chasing the sea eagle back!
By this time, all of us were almost perfectly content, having had a wonderful — and somewhat tiring — day. The only thing we needed was food, so we headed into Byron Bay, which also happened to be schoolies central. Luckily, Rob and Jeremy picked the only place that the 18-year-old school leavers weren’t — The Railway Hotel. There, we enjoyed had a very satisfying meal and bounced to the rousing folksy-Celtic tunes of local band Starboard Cannons. If our legs hadn’t been quite so tired, we probably would have been up and dancing with the rest of the crowd, especially when they played Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison!
All in all, it was an amazing day, full of experiences that there was no chance I would have had on my own.
Have you ever found yourself wishing you knew locals to show you around? What did you do?
I went on this rainforest & beach adventure courtesy of Arribaa, but all opinions stated here are my own.