Mellow out in Mullumbimby
you can still find hunza pie (that classic 1960s hippie vegetarian dish made with wholemeal pastry and filled with brown rice, silverbeet and tasty cheese) and gado gado (made with tempeh and bean sprouts) on the menu.
A TERRIFIC way to enjoy all the attractions that Byron Bay has to offer is to stay in the lush hinterland nearby.
Just 20 minutes away in the middle of a rural paradise are sleepy country towns and exquisite B&Bs where you can retreat from the traffic, crowds and over-heated prices of the famous beach town. Hidden away in these pockets is a slower, less fraught pace of life reminiscent of the Byron of 20 years ago.
Here, commonly known as the Rainbow Region, Tibetan prayer flags flutter from farm gates, funky cafes offer cups of “Hari Har” organic dandelion chai and green tea (“there’s love in every cup”) and at the refurbished Crystal Castle you can lie on a waterbed containing liquid crystals, stroll along The Buddha Walk or have your aura photographed.
In Mullumbimby (or Mullum as the locals call it), life is so laid-back that traffic lights don’t exist, a former bank is now an organic food shop and the community is still divided over a proposed supermarket development in Station St. (Despite local council opposition, the development was pushed through by NSW Planning Minister Frank Sartor in June.) As the geographical centre of the shire, Mullum is just an hour’s drive from Coolangatta or Ballina airports.
The beaches of Byron Bay, Brunswick Heads, New Brighton and South Golden Beach are all nearby, as is the World Heritage-listed Mount Warning, the famous rainforest areas of Wilsons Creek, Huonbrook and Wanganui and picturesque Minyon Falls in Nightcap National Park.
For a quick sampling of what the town has to offer, stop off at Poinciana (also in Station St) for a quick bite. Spread out under a glorious old poinciana tree, this is where you’ll catch local hippies beavering away on their laptops at wooden tables and where you can still find hunza pie (that classic 1960s hippie vegetarian dish made with wholemeal pastry and filled with brown rice, silverbeet and tasty cheese) and gado gado (made with tempeh and bean sprouts) on the menu.
For something a little lighter and more uplifting, try the Bambuddha, a delicious concoction of guava juice and sparkling wine, followed by a chicken caesar salad.
Next door at Milk&Honey, another hark back in style to the ’70s – are wood-fired pizzas, delicious salads and rustic Italian dishes.
But for a taste of local colour, try to get to the Mullum market, held on the third Saturday of the month. There’s plenty here to keep you occupied for a few hours: everything from rainbow-coloured sarongs to jam drops and tropical smoothies, head massages and Mambo posters.
Or – for a real taste of an alternative lifestyle – head for the hills. On hot summer days, with cicadas in full chorus and glimpses of paradise at almost every turn, such journeys can induce a meditative, if not trance-like, state of mind.
My favourites are the little B&Bs and cottages which are dotted throughout the rolling green hills, places with evocative names like Serenity Cottage and Green Mango Hideaway at Coorabell, Coco’s Country Cottage at Possum Creek and the Riverview Guesthouse in Bangalow.
About 15 minutes from Mullum is the curiously named The Tin Dog B&B, tucked away on a swiftly flowing creek among bangalow palms and tree ferns. To get here, you take the winding road to Federal, a tiny township which consists of a general store come service station, tennis court, community hall, terrific restaurant (Pogel’s Wood) and folksy cafe.
A minute further down the road, you take the turn into Macadamia Lane and there it is, marked by blue and mauve Tibetan prayer flags.
Owners Sue and Mark Kelly are discreet hosts with great taste. After greeting you warmly and offering a cup of tea and a slice of one of Sue’s cakes, they leave you pretty well alone.
In summer, you might like a dip in the 12m lap pool or to lie in the hammock (and light a candle) over in the summer house.
Two generous sitting rooms are filled with an eclectic collection of artefacts, books, games and CDs. In winter, it’s great to just curl up on one of the comfy sofas and gaze into the open fire.
Polished timber floors and a white-on-white colour scheme offset by brown silk cushions and modern pine furniture create a clean, minimalist feel.
The Kellys have extended the original Federation timber house to four bedrooms in all, two of them garden pavilions; the other two are in the old house, each with its own unique character.
Sue’s breakfasts, served on the timber verandah of the old house, are legendary: squeezed orange juice followed by exquisite platters of fresh fruit, Byron Bay muesli, local yoghurt, luscious “oeufs en cocotte”, wholemeal toast and all the local jams you can fit in.
For those who want to stay in touch with the outside world, Mark picks up the papers early in the morning from the local store and delivers them to your table.
But I come here to escape and love the fact there’s no mobile phone reception in this Garden of Eden. Mobiles are one thing you won’t escape down at Byron.
The writer was a guest of The Tin Dog.
The Sunday Telegraph