It’s funny how we seem to gravitate towards quirky places on holiday.
For years tourists have descended in droves upon hippy towns. Byron Bay was the classic, a surfers’ paradise that once upon a time was full of tie-dye and dream catchers before the wealthy elite moved in and gentrification hit in full force. Daylesford, the famous hot springs town in Victoria, had similarly fun-but-offbeat vibes. So did Kuranda, high up on North Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands.
I don’t know about you, but for someone who works 9am-5pm in an office and frequently eats lunch “al desko”, I always seem to end up unleashing my inner hippy. So when I heard the sound of singing bowls and a drum on an early morning walk, of course, I went for a look. I mean, how could you not?
Following a rocky path, I found a group of women burning sage, reading tarot cards, and playing spontaneous sounds on their instruments that were somehow incredibly relaxing. They invited me to join, so I sat and before I knew it, I too was playing along. We stayed that way for about an hour.
I’m in Bellingen, by the way. It’s a town of about 13,141 people on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales. It’s about 550km north of Sydney, 400km south of Brisbane, or 35km west of Coffs Harbour. It feels like a rainforest version of Byron Bay, or at least, Byron Bay as we knew it back in the day.
The setting is magnificent. It’s been raining non-stop in the days leading up to my visit, and the Bellinger River is close to flooding as the mighty current rushes past the town.
The foliage is vibrant green and glistening. The scenic 185km Waterfall Way, which passes straight through town, encompasses five national parks and countless cascades, which means there is a multitude of Insta-worthy stops. Plan to stay for a weekend to ensure you have enough time to tackle some of the beautiful bush walks.
Bellingen is just the right amount of weird. The main street is bustling, with heritage facades next to contemporary retail spaces. There’s a didgeridoo store just down the road from some fashion boutiques with copious amounts of linen and a hemp store (as required by any self-respecting hippy town).
Right next to the public amenities is a “Cupboard of Plenty”, where locals can donate essential supplies for those in need, as well as a sign that warns “The Lizard People Live Among Us”. There are kitsch shops and free books. A talented folk musician is busking outside an ice-cream shop, which seems fitting.
And then there’s the food. For those who love to cook, Bellingen is home to old-fashioned butchers, green grocers, the Bellingen Growers’ Market which is on every Saturday at the Bellingen Showground, and the Bellingen Farmers & Producers Markets which is on every Wednesday on Church Street.
There are all kinds of delicious treats available, from local fruit and vegetables (much of which is certified organic), as well as local eggs, honey, meats, breads, jams, preserves, nuts, dips, and more.
On the restaurant front, it’s hard to go past Hyde Bellingen for coffee and Hearthfire Bakery for lunch – after all, no visit to a country town is complete without sampling one of the pies. Cedar Bar and Kitchen is a great choice in the evening, with live music and comedy, and so is Bruno’s, which has a beautiful Mediterranean-inspired menu with a good wine list.
Of course, it’s necessary to visit the local pub to pay your respects – and the Federal Hotel has got you covered, with classic meals and a great atmosphere.
Quirky destinations are about breaking the norm – meeting new people, trying new things, and making new memories. In that sense, Bellingen ticks all of the boxes, and I can’t wait to visit again.
This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com