Over the past three months, I’ve slept in many different beds in all sorts of hostels. Hostels are the backbone of the international backpacker culture. We eat, drink, sleep, and meet most of our new friends in these cheap accommodations. Some are party hostels, where you can either join the communal craziness or lay awake in bed trying to ignore the ruckess. Others are non-social hostels that simply provide a bed to sleep in while you spend most of your time in the city. Then there’s the Arts Factory in Byron Bay. I’ve never experienced a vibe like this at any hostel. It’s going to be very difficult to put into words.
Legend goes that in the early 70’s, the Arts Factory was founded by some hippies backpacking in Byron Bay. The cooky lady who checked Jake and me in to the hostel could have easily been one of these hippies. As we walked to our dorm room, I passed people doing yoga, playing the didgeridoo , and banging on steel drums. A lot has happened in 40 years, but nothing has changed at the Arts Factory.The hostel is a 10 minute walk from the main drag of Byron Bay. It’s sort of in the middle of the woods, next to a microbrewery in a nice suburban style neighborhood. The main building houses an amazing cafe serving cheap food, two pool tables, a pacman machine, a smelly kitchen, and a reading room. Between this building and the dorms is a sizable swimming pool and jacuzzi. Next to the dorms is a ping pong table and beach volleyball court. This all boarders a small lake, which is surrounded by big permanent tepees and lake huts for more guests to sleep in. Hidden behind all of this, deeper into the woods, is a campground where serious campers stay in tents.
Finally, there’s a big parking lot for backpackers to park and sleep in their rental camper vans (a very common means of traveling through Australia). The entire hostel grounds is flush with tables and couches for chilling. Every wall has tasteful graffiti style street art.
Aussie backpackers get stuck in Byron Bay for longer than they expected. It’s a quaint beach town that doesn’t have a single high rise building or condominium. People come to Byron to hang out and surf. Nothing else. It’s a simple place for people who want to be lazy. The Arts Factory facilitates this Byron mindset. For three days, Jake and I sat around the hostel, explored the picturesque beach coastline, and even tried surfing.We made friends from Spain, England, Germany, Israel, and New Zealand. At night, people sat around the hostel drinking beers and smoking. Some slept while others went out. The party vibe is there but completely optional. The hippie culture is present, as seen in the daily didgeridoo lessons and yoga meditative sessions, but not in-your-face. The Arts Factory is similar to Key West in that you could have two heads and no one would look at you any differently.
These three days were certainly some of the best on my entire trip. My stay in Byron Bay was unique, and different is what I’m looking for down here. I hope that my description of the Arts Factory does some justice to the place because it’s something that I wish all my friends could experience.