Thursday 14 May 2015

10 (more) things I love about the Northern Rivers

It's been almost five months (five months!) since I pressed "pause" on my digital gypsy life and started an experiment called "living in one place". 

Love is in the air, and in the sand
(Main Beach, Byron)
So far, so good. In fact, the more time I spend in northern NSW, the more I love it. Which explains this follow-up to my Why I love the Northern Rivers post about 10 newly discovered things that warm my green heart:

1. Flicks at Federal. Once a month, Federal Film Society screens a movie in its little hall to raise money for the local school, Upper Coopers Creek primary. Last weekend, my friend Katie and I drove up from Lennox Head to see Almost Famous (one of my all-time favourite movies) and we were both blown away by this amazing local event. 

Parents ran the box office (tickets $8) and served home-made cakes and curries (for $12). Kids from the school (there are only 14 students) cleared the tables. We stood outside at intermission to look at the stars, and helped stack the plastic chairs when it was all over. It was one of the simplest, most enjoyable Saturday nights I can remember. (Federal also runs regular public discussions on global issues, called FedTalks.) 

Exit, stage left...
2. Sunsets and pelicans. One of my favourite things to do at the end of a sunny day is sit on the headland at Lennox and watch the sky put on its evening colours. In the daytime, I love seeing the pelicans perched on the lamp-posts, strutting along the sand or hanging with the fishermen on the beach.

3. Ballina airport. This might seem an odd thing to love but, well, I am a travel writer. I love that my nearest airport is a beachy 10-minute drive from my house, and that parking (right outside the terminal) costs $2 for TWO HOURS (if you can be bothered to buy a ticket). I even love the no-smoking signs outside, with their gentle “No one smokes here anymore.” 

4. Eating close to the source. The other night, while making dinner, I realised that everything I was about to eat had been grown or made locally: the pesticide-free Nimbin Valley brown rice, the organic tofu, the veggies I'd bought the day before at Byron farmers’ market, even the Rainforest Foods macadamia oil I was stir-frying it all in. I love that I can buy apples with the leaves still on them. I can even buy locally grown pineapples and avocados at Lennox Head petrol station. This whole volcanically rich area is a cornucopia of goodness. 

Mermaid sighting, Brunswick Heads
5. Surfing with wildlife. It's not uncommon in Australia to see dolphins while surfing. But up here, it's almost unusual NOT to see them. And there are so many! A few weeks ago, two friends and I surfed with about 40 dolphins that hung around for a couple of hours, lazily swimming up and down the beach and under our surfboards. I've also been seeing turtles, gannets and sea eagles and hordes of mullet (unsettling as they bring sharks close to shore). Soon the whales will be coming past on their way north. Can't wait. 

6. Fifty shades of, er,  soy? Sometimes, when you order a latte up here, your friendly barista will ask if you want “moo” (cow’s milk) – or skim, soy, rice, macadamia or almond milk (have I missed any?). I also recently discovered the sweet joy of a coconut mocha (a mocha coffee made with coconut milk); it’s like sipping a melted Bounty bar. Mmm.

Yes, let's. 
7. It's easy being green. I don't think I've heard the term "greenie" since I moved up here; around here, caring about your impact on the environment is called... normal. Of course there are issues, most notably luxury housing developments and coal seam gas mining (which resulted in Greens MP Tamara Smith winning the Ballina seat from the Nationals in the recent NSW election, for the first time in 27 years, yay!). But it's also a place where it's easy to eat organic, be vegan, go solar and see eco-movies like Frackman (now touring Australia), which got a standing ovation at the Byron Bay Film Festival. 

8. Road signs. In my previous post I mentioned that I love the hand-painted sign on the northern outskirts of Byron that says "Cheer up. Slow down. Chill out." Now there’s a contender, outside Mullumbimby - see left. 

Rachel Carson on
the cover of issue #2
9. Poet bookstore. Last week I discovered book-heaven in a side street of Bangalow, 15 minutes from Byron. Poet's antique bookshelves are filled with carefully chosen thought-provoking books. They also publish two beautiful, inspiring quarterly magazines, Womankind and New Philosopher, the likes of which I've never seen in Australia. 

10. Lots to learn. There are some very cool workshops and courses happening up here. My friend Teri goes to a regular "Mums and Bubs Permaculture" morning once a week in Mullum. Another friend (hi Liz!) just told me about an upcoming bamboo and banana-fibre workshop. 

Future No Impact Girl
And Byron Bay's newest eco-venture, The Farm, which opened in March and whose motto is "Grow. Feed. Educate", is running all sorts of earth-skills courses from beekeeping to permaculture to natural building through its partner organisation Milkwoodwhich also runs courses in Sydney and the NSW south coast, and has a fascinating blog about things like how to make a smokeless, upside-down campfire. Good to know, with winter coming...