My Legendary Drive in the Byron Shire: Day 2
Today starts very early at 4.45 am at Byron Bay Ballooning’s headquarters just five kilometres up the highway towards Tweed Heads. A dozen of us bundle into their 4WDs to head to a field in Mullumbimby where Thomas, Louis and Laure unfold the huge balloon, fire it up and we watch in amazement as its multi-coloured panels billow with air before we all pile into what looks like a huge picnic basket. Ever so gently we rise into the air with pilot Thomas manning the jets. He tells us that of course we have no steering wheel so we will float wherever the gentle breezes take us. First of all that’s over the curled ribbon-like bends of the Brunswick River which is rimmed with paperbarks, ironwood, and forest red gums. Then we drift over the rich farmland of the Byron Shire: sugar cane patches, macadamia nut groves, and rolling green grazing land. Apart from the occasional shot of hot air into the balloon, it is all so deliciously silent as we watch the world wake up for the day. Below us we hear the faint mooing of dairy cows as they make their way to the milking shed, the twittering of birds in the forest and the occasional barking of a dog trying to figure out what this strangely beautiful apparition is floating above its world. We land in the field of a family who is taking the trip to celebrate the Dad’s 50th birthday, bundle up the balloon and head back to headquarters for a delicious champagne breakfast.
Next I head to the marvellous Mullumbimby Community Gardens on the outskirts of Mullumbimby, The Biggest Little Town in Australia and the administrative headquarters of the Byron Shire. This had to be one of the most inclusive and inspiring community gardens in Australia. A huge range of volunteers have transformed five acres of a former cow paddock into a cornucopia of food gardens. There’s a permaculture section, private food growing plots, a food for all garden where anybody can collect what is in season. There’s a worm farm, chicken coops, bee hives, herb nursery, and even an experimental project producing bio char, an environmentally friendly and super-efficient charcoal. What’s even more impressive is how many different groups of people enjoy working here from students and senior citizens to young children, disabled and folks with mental health issues. The garden is open to visitors seven days a week but I was lucky that I visited around lunchtime on Tuesday as that is when everyone is welcome for a feast from the open air kitchen…we enjoyed a hearty vegetable pasta with a sensational salad…from the gardens, of course!
Fully satiated, I head down to the Fishermen’s Co-op on the Brunswick River in the pretty little town of Brunswick Heads. Gavin from Byron Bay Eco Cruises and Kayaks welcomes me and several other guests onto their shady flat-bottomed boat for a delightful 1 ½ hour meander along the Brunswick River which is surrounded by the Cape Byron Marine Park. First off we see an Australasian darter, which Gavin has nicknamed George, and loads of pelicans. Then he pulls a blue blubber jelly fish out of the water and explains how they have no brains or eyes but still manage to avoid objects while they are swimming. Then in quick succession we see a pair of osprey and a pair of white bellied sea eagles which he explains both mate for life. Gavin also gives fascinating insights into the trees lining the river, including a bonsai’d white fig tree, the blind-in-your-eye mangroves and how a paperbark tree has cleverly adapted to its riverine environment. We enjoy local Madura Tea and Zentveld’s coffee with some delicious pastries to a totally relaxing afternoon’s sojourn.
This evening I meet a friend for drinks and a delightful array of tapas at the Balcony Bar and Restaurant, which is located in one of Byron Bay’s historic two story buildings overlooking Johnson and Lawson Streets, which are the epicentre of town. It’s a buzzing scene with the second floor balcony filled with locals and visitors from all over the world. What a delightful way to end a terrific day of adventures.