As with all goodbyes and transitions, there’s a distinct flavour of bittersweetness. I can feel the pulse of excitement for the road, yet nostalgia burns in the back of my throat. This place has been my home. A fleeting home but still, home.
I wish there was a word for that beautiful restless feeling you get when a part of your journey is closing and you’re shifting into a new realm. You’re feeling sentimental and nostalgic because you know that your experience will never be replicated in the same way ever again and you’ll miss it when you’re gone, yet you’re looking forward to the next step. The end of one journey manifests another.
I passed through Byron Bay as I travelled up the East Coast of Australia. On my third and final morning, I woke up before dawn and walked up to the lighthouse as the sun rose slowly across the horizon, casting it’s orange-pink-red shadows over the restless ocean. As we walked back across The Pass beach, with the early morning surfers catching the first waves of the day and our feet leaving the first footprints of the day in the sand, I knew this place was special. I knew it was holding something for me and I knew I was coming back.
Six weeks later and I was back in the Bay. It was still the only place along the coast that I felt calling me back. I found myself driving out of town and into the Hinterlands with a beautiful, inspiring young woman called Vicki. I was going to help on her property for the next week in exchange for a bed, until I found a job in town. We drove off-road, down a rickety old track which led through hilly woodland, before opening up to a huge green valley on either side with the ‘farm’ set in the middle flatbed. The frames of two teepees stood there and horses wandered around free. It was a stunning location. The farm was a lot more basic than I was expecting – there was no house. Vicki lives in a caravan and I was sleeping on a mattress in the barn which had no walls. I was introduced to Az and Dave, the landscapers – they sleep in teepee tents. Compost toilets and outside showers – which I grew to love as I’d watch the sun set over the hillside as I stood out in the rain and sun, and showered under the open sky. As well as the ten horses that wandered around loose, there was a young sheepdog and two kittens.
The next week was bliss. The most transformational and peaceful week of my life. Vicki was away at a music festival in town and I found myself completely stranded in this green hidden valley. I woke up early and worked on the land, weeding the paddocks under the boiling hot sun. I listened to Az play on his guitar, watched Dave preparing new recipes with his home grown vegetables and learned how to play the didgeridoo. I had the type of conversations I had never experienced before – completely open and honest and unapologetic. The boys told me about their past relationships and discussed love in a way that I had never thought to view it before. Az sung his own music for me, his voice rising up into the late afternoon sky: “my head is a jungle but in there I can find the perfect garden for the two of us”. Every morning we discussed our dreams from the night before, in a way that gave them the importance and significance which most people brush off. I learned about good energy and bad energy and the earth’s energy – call it what you like – and I FELT that energy. I felt the energy pulsing down from the sun, through the soil, in the air. The valley was so huge that you could see the sky changing from a distance, the storm pushing its way over.
I’m no experienced gardener, which I realised desperately with my first dig, but soon enough I was digging into the soil with my bare hands, ripping the roots out from deep below and feeling the dirt under my nails. I saved all the worms I could. Nights were spent in fitful sleeps, with the horses shifting outside and the rats scurrying above my head and the kittens jumping on me and the heavy hum of mosquitoes buzzing around my head. In the late afternoon, when the golden sun was hanging low in the sky, I walked out of the open valley and down into the shaded forest, past the secret woodland home that Maddie and Pete – a young, wonderfully bohemian couple, had built from scratch, living completely off grid and self sustainably. I walked past their home to the creek where I let the water wash over my feet. Vicki came back on my last night and brought a lot of cider. We spent the evening getting drunk, which felt indulgent after a week of being on rations. When I showered that evening, there was a beautiful pink sky over the hills. Vicki drove me back through the Hinterlands the next day with Xavier Rudd playing in the car, and I have honestly never felt so at peace.
After I’d been dropped back off in Byron, I found myself pining for the farm and for the people there. My heart ached for it. I felt a restless energy within me, but also completely still and peaceful. Within a few days, I understood that the universe works to prepare you. I think everything is brought to you in the right moment but you need to be open to it and ready to accept it. The purpose of Hidden Valley taught me to let go of past ties; to live in the present. This acceptance left me open for the amazing new relationships that I was about to experience while living in Byron.
It’s hard to sum up the following three months. In short, I started working at one of the hostels for my accommodation and was lucky enough to have a group of wonderful people all start around the same time that became my new family. We made a lifetime of memories together there. But to think back to those days is like flicking through a photo album. I now have smells and music and tastes that take me back in a moment.
Losing my shoes very early after I moved there and learning to love walking barefoot everywhere. Long, slow walks up to the lighthouse, tripping up steep stone steps and turning the corner to reveal a huge expanse of sparkling blue ocean. Huge schools of dolphins playing all along the coastline, surfing the waves. Whale spotting. Snorkelling along The Pass and free diving to follow a huge, old turtle along the sandbank as he slowly swum westwards. Tanning our skin under the hot sun and singing along to Riptide. Surf lessons and kayaking with dolphins. The most delicious falafel I’ve ever tasted. Reading ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Toll. Drops of Jupiter echoing out at Cape Byron as night turned to morning. The sunsets that made me cry from the beauty every night. Never knowing which colour the sky was going to turn. Pastel purples and fluorescent pinks. Turning the beach a violent red. The drum circle and the dancers clapping to the beat. The concentric sand art, the significance of circles. Totality, perfection, eternity.
Playing with poi balls and hoops, learning new circus tricks which we practised everywhere, on the beach and at pre drinks, to pass time between shifts and before dinner. Reggae music playing out of a tinny old phone speaker. Our staff room, a wonderfully claustrophobic and dirty environment of twelve beds with little space to move, surrounded by white tent sheets. Our little terrace outside, the chill area. Glen the pineapple man. Quentin, the security guy, who everyone dreamed of marrying one day. Shifts at work when I consistently never had enough sleep. Learning to love chai lattes. Falling asleep in hammocks, day and night. Three carloads of us, taking a roadtrip out to explore new beaches. Getting rained into a cave and running over the sand through the rain because there was a shark in the water and we needed to bring the surfers in. Adventures out to Nimbin, bringing edibles back to eat on the beach. Laughing harder than ever before and having to resort to drawing picture in the sand when words eventually failed. Squeezing three people onto a bicycle – one in front and one behind – and free wheeling the whole way down the coastal hill, going as far as possible without braking because we’d all fall off. Painful piercings. Living like queens for one night only in Surfers Paradise – bright lights and free drinks and wild dancing and hotel rooms. Renting cars and taking days out to explore nearby waterfalls. The magic of Crystal Castle. Belongil, Mullumbimby, Ballina. Skipping around Splendour in the Grass music festival, carefree and happy.
Endless celebrations. The Holy Trinity – Beachy, Cheekys and Woodys. Reggae night and Sticky Fingers. Watching Tash Sultana work her live music magic. Vodka and falling over and getting injured and making mistakes and having passionate fights and laughing it all off the next morning. The full moon, once a month. Countless nighttime beach walks. Walking and talking until the sun came up, appearing like a gold disc on the eastern horizon. Bonfires on the beach. Talking about how tiny and insignificant we are when you look up the sky and consider the entire universe, but how to a cell or an ant, we are incredibly complex and important beings – we are their universe. The incredible night sky and the perfect fairy light trail of the Milky Way – a haze of white illuminated against the eternal darkness. Walking miles along Tallows Beach to find the party. Phosphorescent algae lighting up the sand under our feet like a disco floor. And then dancing at the beach rave, pulsing under the lights and the huge night sky and the stars that were reflected in the tea tree lake. Wide eyed, dancing against each other, til dawn broke through the darkness and the sun came up over the horizon. The dark outline of a man in a Stetson hat silhouetted against the dawn sky. A pelican flying in from over the ocean and landing on the lake and everyone whooping and cheering for its safe return home. Sharing a bottle and a smoke with strangers. Singing, laughing, crying, drinking, sharing stories. Falling in love. There was so much love going around that place.
And always, always with that steady and noble lighthouse in the background.
I just know that decades from now, I’ll always remember this fondly. I was surrounded by such beautiful souls with such vibrant energy. I listened to their music and heard their stories. I returned to Hidden Valley one afternoon for a barbeque and it was so good to see those people again. Often, I’d cry from sheer happiness. It’s a wonderful habit I’ve picked up during my time travelling. Sometimes the joy of being alive can be so overwhelming and my heart feels like it could burst. I would look up at the night sky and the sea of stars looked right back down reminding how whole I am. These are the kind of nights that seep through the depths of me. I can feel myself expanding, recognise the changes taking place within me. It’s one of the most liberating things I’ve ever felt.