Oz Hamlets & Beaches | 02-080418

Harmony. Since all of last week was dominated by the flu for me, I need calm now, as far as socialising and activities goes, and stimulation, in the sense that I want to move my body and feed my mind. S leaves for Australia on Monday – as always, it feels a bit odd, flat, sad, wrong to say goodbye, but it’s just for a few days, after which we’ll get to enjoy a weekend in our happiest of happy places. Monday through Friday, I cycle through lovely early morning light to the barre studio to stretch out my spine and remind my muscles that I care about them. 9-5:30 office work, exchanging smiles and pleasantries with my colleagues and otherwise just gluing my face to my laptop. Mid-week, I have a few deliciously refreshing gin/lemongrass/soda drinks after an evening barre/yoga class with a fellow barrerina, from Oregon, at dark, cosy Vasco, completely losing track of time because the company is so naturally pleasant and easy, and I host a tapas & wine night for my team mates, a similarly lovely event; nice to connect with the sweet, easy-going, bright ladies, born and raised in Batam (Indonesia), Hong Kong and Seoul respectively, on a personal level as we rarely talk about anything but work at the office. We’re all the same age, lead pretty similar lives and are generally quite like-minded, have more in common that not, in some ways, but having grown up in such different places, we have very different experiences and angles to bring to our usually very culture-, geography- and big-life-questions-centred chats. There’s the (stereo)typical contrast, strict Asian vs. lenient Scandinavian ways, examples of which are always sure to make us shout in disbelief / laugh out loud, but once we start digging deeper and giving each other space to talk, listen and ask more, the conversation turns increasingly personal, full of nuanced gold nuggets. I love that – and while I miss my old and faraway Danish/English friends a lot, I’m grateful that I get to experience this; getting close to people from all over the planet. 

Words. On the remaining three weekday nights, I curl up on the couch, in blissful solitude, and stuff my head full of rich treats tasting of everything from voice-enabled gadgets to explorations of all things mental. Tech, design, passion, empathyThis adorable love letter to Siri. This note on moving from an idea of human-centred design to humanity-centred design. Various written bits and pieces in It’s Nice That, Creative Review, Co.Design and Wired. And audio bites of: All in the Mind (the fascinating connections between brain and behaviour), Masters of Scale (How do companies grow from zero to a gazillion?), Science Vs (looking at trends and hypes to find out what’s fact, what’s not and what’s somewhere in between), Tribe of Mentors and The Pass (Aussie insider’s guide to the best food, restaurants and eating experiences, locally and around the world, chosen by the experts themselves).

On Saturday morning, my boyfriend picks me up in a rental car at the Gold Coast Airport. Haha, I just want to look at that phrase and let the implication of it wash over me for a second. I actually managed to sleep on the flight, despite all adrenaline produced by my fear of flying and excitement for the week ahead. So, I’m fresh and ready for a weekend of visiting new and revisiting old gems in the Byron area with Sanoop, who has been in Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games all week, and has lots of interesting stories from the event to share as we drive down the highway in the sun, coffees in hand, stopping at our BP servo to soak in the nostalgia, pointing out Mount Warning looming over the hinterland to the right of where we were stuck for 8 hours on the road before being picked up by a fire truck to go stay overnight at the servo. To think that’s a whole year ago now! I’ve been scared of looking too much forward to this weekend – planning too much – as that first trip was a good reminder that things don’t always turn out the way you plan. We still think of that day as the best of 2017, though, haha. I feel so grateful that I’ve been able to return to Australia a few times since then, getting a deeper insight into the country every time. The main reason we’re going is always work, and then we’re trying to fit as much adventure around the working hours as possible, without forcing anything or stressing around. Thankfully, it’s easy: we’re pretty aligned in our travelling rhythm and inclinations. On this trip, we’re spending the first weekend in the Byron area, then working from Sydney until Thursday, wrapping up the work week in Melbourne and driving down to Wilsons Promontory to spend a weekend there before heading back to Singapore. I know those 9 days will fly by so quickly, so I want to be as present in every single moment as possible.

Oldies & Goldies:

  • The Farm: no harm can reach anyone here; it’s just the most harmonious, idyllic place I can think of. Amazing wholesome food. Amazing natural surroundings. Fun, energetic vibe. Smiling, glowing people of all ages in loose, pastel-hued clothes. Great music. Lovely fragrances of freshly baked bread and freshly ground coffee. That’s our first stop after the gas station; brekkie, green juices, golden lattes and a walk among the meadows to get a glimpse of the newborn piglets jumping around in their muddy puddles. Sunflowers. The smell of grass and hay. Chuckling kids running around and playing with each other and the ducks and chickens.
  • Beach Byron Bay: another one of our special happy places; we go here for our sunday dinner, sit at our usual table right on the edge of the beach. It’s too dark to see the water, but the sound of it washes over us. As usual, the food is wonderful – freshly caught fish, fresh veggies, great wine.
  • On both nights, for dessert, we pick up neat pieces of vegan cake from Spar to eat out of recycled-paper boxes whilst listening to the singer-songwriters performing in the lively downtown streets. On one of those escapades, we buy a beautiful little acrylic painting made by an Argentinean painter, who moved to Melbourne from Buenos Aires a few months ago, found it too freezing, decided to relocate to Byron because someone said it was warmer here – that’s all she’d heard of it before she arrived! – and now she’s thriving in a small studio in the Arts and Industry Estate. In a warm, enthusiastic spanish accent, she tells us about the inspirational energy filling her up here: she just can’t stop producing! She’s very sweet – wants to get to know us, asks us to please send a photograph of where we’ll put the painting. It’ll fit perfectly on our balcony.
  • Bangalow. If someone with the authority to say so went, Camilla, you have to stay in Bangalow for x amount of time, I would happily oblige. For now, we just go here for a few hours to soak in its magic. Beautiful shop and villa facades. Snippets of happy-appearing people’s cheerful conversations. Small hidden alleyways leading to lovely hangout spots. The most amazing decor and clothing store I’ve ever seen, Bisque Traders. The most harmonious, altogether perfect cafe, Woods.
  • Sparrow – while the tagline of this tiny Byron Bay coffee shop is ‘coffee on the fly,’ the smiling baristas have put a crate of old ceramics mugs next to the till to urge clients to stay here and drink their coffee rather than getting it to go. I like that idea. On Sunday morning, after jogging and doing yoga on the beach, we do just that. Sip our favourite Byron coffee slowly, outside the hole-in-the-wall of the shop, watching surfers, swimmers, yogis and the rest of the glorious Byron tribe walk by. On Monday morning, though, we do let the coffee fly away with us – to the airport. It is nice to have something comforting to sip on when you’re about to leave this paradise behind. One additional comforting factor is that we’re heading to Sydney together this time, whereas last time around, in January, Sanoop dropped me off at the airport to fly to Singapore alone while he went on to Brisbane.

New Goodies:

  • Suffolk Park. While we keep coming back to Byron Shire, we do stay in a new part of it every time, slowly expanding our knowledge and feel of it. As such, we’ve stayed in a summerhouse in the residential area adjacent to the CBD of Byron Bay, in a granny flat in an eco-commune in the Tyagarah bush and in a cabin on a farm out near Bangalow. This time, we’re staying in Suffolk Park, the neat ‘hood just south of Cape Byron. Our Airbnb is a charming granny flat in a summerhouse area, right by the long, wide, gorgeous Tallow Beach – and surrounded by lush forests as well. We spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning on the beach, the first excursion taking us on a wander through the shallow Bundjalung Lake, copper-coloured by the tannins from the ti-trees surrounding it, which lends the lake therapeutic and rejuvenating properties and makes it sacred for the local indigenous Bundjalung women. It’s very calm and idyllic here, with a few young couples swimming in the red water and lounging lazily on its edges. We walk through the forest and down to the wide, white beach and jump around euphorically in the gorgeous ocean until Sanoop gets stung by a bluebottle jellyfish and we have to run back home so he can shower for 10 minutes until the pain subsides (Google tip). On Sunday morning, we and hundreds of happy dogs run into the water at sunrise. Ah.
  • Byron Institutions. Oysters and local wine at pretty nautical-themed Balcony Bar & Oyster Co, enjoying the view and vibe in the commercial heart of town. Delicious dinner and cocktails at plant-based Elixiba. Brekkie smoothie bowl perfection at beachy, peachy raw food haven, Combi. Evening stroll through a bustling downtown farmers’ market with live music and alluring stalls – Sanoop gets me a gorgeous green feather to clip onto your hair, a beautiful light blue crystal set in a silver ring and a few prettily wrapped bars of organic raw unsweetened chocolate.
  • Uki. Blink or sneeze when driving through Uki and you risk missing it! If you do keep your eyes open and pause here for a second, you’ll find yourself in a blissful tiny town full of glowing, laidback people, lush papaya and frangipani trees and a stunning view of rainforest-clad Mount Warning. I know we’re the tourists sustaining and increasing Byron’s commercialisation…. rumour has it that the real hippies have had enough and are moving further out… maybe to Uki? Feeling partially apologetic, I also really like being here, and I do feel welcome. In fact, everywhere we go, we’re met with smiles and friendly words. Maybe partly because that’s what we meet people with as well – it’s hard not to. Even the general store in Uki is amazing: incredibly well-assorted, stocked with delicious organic fruits, greens and other whole foods, and seemingly frequented by a tightly knit community of chilled people chatting with each other between the shelves and on the brightly painted wooden benches outside the shop. We get a bottle of chilled kombucha for a lazy stroll up and down the hilly residential streets off the main strip, to check out some of Uki’s charming wooden villas, and sit for a while in some grass under a tree to just soak in the calm, harmonious atmosphere, and then get an iced coffee at one of the only two cafes in town, where an acoustic-guitar player is attracting a large crowd on the verandah with his cheerful, folksy repertoire.
  • Stone & Wood Brewery. Back in Byron Bay, we share a tasting menu of Sanoop’s favourite beer, Pacific Ale, and its refreshing sister brews at their cool warehouse home in the Arts and Industry Estate. Late on Sunday afternoon. In thick, orange rays of golden hour light.
  • Bende Byron Bay. After the beer, Sanoop drops me off at a next-door barre studio I’ve been wanting to check out for a while. The Byronesque sister of Barre Body, they call it, and I can see why. I love Barre Body for its flowy, paced, balletic style, and the class I have tonight, at Bende, takes its sister’s slow, soothing, romantic method to the next level. A giant crystal is gracing the centre of the wooden studio floor. The teacher is extremely present and attentive – takes her time to chat with her students before and after class. The music is stimulating in a calm and harmonious way. The class is a mindful mix of slow, conscious movement, cardio and toning. A dynamic, yogic warm-up, starting off with an extensive, grounding child’s pose, leads to a more demanding barre-section, where using the barre is optional, which makes you really explore your own balance, and then we finish off with deep stretches. All of that is great, but what I really like about the experience is the fact that the teacher doesn’t have a fixed spot – she walks around calmly between her students throughout the class, identifying our differences and guiding us accordingly; guiding rather than instructing – what an important distinction. I want to master that, haha! When I leave the studio, totally high, Sanoop shows me around the neighbourhood, which he has been exploring meanwhile: Habitat – a new way to live and work. Still under construction, the beautifully designed community looks a bit sterile, but you can definitely see the potential of the beautiful shophouses and common areas to develop into a thriving, social, creative hub. Excited to come back at some point in the (near!) future and see it in use!

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