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Judy Bailey’s sea of change in Byron Bay

Judy Bailey goes on a journey of self-discovery in majestic Byron Bay.

They say that when you visit Byron Bay you come away a different person. It has a way of stealing into your soul and changing the way you look at things. Certainly lots of people seem to come here looking for something – even if it’s just a little peace and some time to get off life’s merry-go-round.

Byron is 40 minutes drive south of Coolangatta airport, a direct flight from Auckland. It became a mecca for hippies and surfies in the 1960s, and the township is still crammed wall to wall with surf shops and tie-dyed wearing, incense-burning crystal sellers.

Many Kiwis will know it for its famous international blues festival – one of the better festivals on the world stage. But to return to the theme of life changing, I did indeed have a life-changing experience. I’ve never surfed in my life, but there are certain things you have to try once – and there’s added incentive when there’s a camera pointing your way… Mr not!

There’s no better place to start a surfing adventure than with the legendary Bob McTavish. Bob is the elder statesman of Australian surfi ng and the man who revolutionised the sport with his invention of the short board. He lives in Byron and builds his boards here. Bob’s a stocky, weatherbeaten, powerhouse of a man. You can see he’s spent a lifetime in the waves.

We spend a couple of hours chatting on the beach. Surely, he must have some tips for me. “Don’t think too hard” is the best he can do. And so to my lesson with a tall, blonde, bronzed god of a man. Paul is his name and he is infinitely patient. He makes me practise on the beach before we hit the water. I lie down on the board, I get up, I lie down, I get up.

On and on it goes until I’m so knackered I can hardly move. Then, and only then am I allowed to venture into the waves. Happily, Paul tows me out onto the water. The wave comes and I instantly forget everything he’s told me. I plummet into the briny.

Again and again it happens, and then finally, in one glorious moment, the wave, board and I are one. I feel the power of the tide and I will never be the same again. It’s a tiny but significant triumph for me, the most unco-ordinated person on the planet. I vow not to listen to those little voices in my head that tell me I can’t do things – I know now I can!

We are staying at the Byron at Byron Resort & Spa, a hotel set a little out of town in the midst of its own rainforest. It’s a tranquil setting and a beautiful hotel, but the thing that really sets this place apart from so many of the hotel experiences I’ve had is the staff.

They are an extraordinary group of people. Friendly, approachable, there to greet their guests at the door when they arrive and farewell them when they leave. They are not obsequious or over the top, nor are they off hand and dismissive. They seem to have the knack of making their guests feel welcome and relaxed. They’re knowledgeable and helpful about the local area. They know their stuff.

Why is it that good front of house is so hard to find? After all, it’s not rocket science is it? It boils down to understanding people and being prepared to give a little. It can make the world of difference to a guest’s stay or a customer’s experience. The power of good front of house should never be underestimated!

In the hills behind Byron Bay is a market that is not to be missed. It runs the fourth Sunday of each month at Bangalow. It’s a cross between a growers’ market, a craft market and a music festival. There is a wealth of characters to be found here. Bangalow really captures the essence of the Byron of days gone by. Go there, immerse yourself in it, eat the donuts and chat to the locals. Trust me – it will restore your faith in mankind.

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