Nimbin: Australia’s Answer to Woodstock

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Sydney, Australia visiting my good friend Sarah. Rather than hang around in Sydney, we elected to road trip up to Byron Bay. Byron is a great little beach town in the northern portion of New South Wales and we had a great trip. But that’s a post for another day. Because, while we were in Byron Bay, we took a side trip to Nimbin. Everyone in Sydney had told us that if we were heading up to Byron Bay, that we had to go to Nimbin. It’s a “must see,” they told us. And it has that reputation for one reason and one reason only. Marijuana.

It’s about an hour drive to Nimbin from Byron Bay. As you leave the coast, you enter a landscape made up of farms, meadows and rolling hills. It’s breathtaking. The trip is along winding country roads and you wonder if you’ll ever encounter a town as things become more and more rural. Eventually, though, seemingly out of nowhere, the village of Nimbin appears.

We pulled right into the village and parked on the main street. The street was lined with shops specializing in hemp products, organic foods, information on medical marijuana and tourists. By no means were the sidewalks packed, but we certainly were not the only out-of-towners popping into Nimbin to see the hippies, snap some photos and check out the cannabis-crazed town.

It’s worth noting at this point that marijuana is illegal in Australia. Penalties and policies vary by state, but typically possession of small amounts can result in nothing more than a warning. For years, police looked the other way in Nimbin as marijuana sales grew more and more common. The annual Mardigrass festival brought tourists (and money) into Nimbin as people gathered to promote the repeal of cannabis prohibition. But as the drug trade grew and gangs took over the trafficking, police began to crack down and close establishments that allowed the sale or use of cannabis.

Still, everyone I spoke to said that you could buy marijuana with great ease in Nimbin. One person even told me that he was accosted by a girl with a suitcase full of cannabis looking to make a sale. Of course, neither Gadling nor I promote or encourage drug use or the violation of the laws of your country or a country in which you are traveling. I’m telling you this story purely for entertainment and educational purposes.

We strolled the main street for a bit, poked our heads into shops selling hemp clothing and pot leaf necklaces and mostly laughed at how Nimbin looks like the set of a bad movie about a hippie town. But Nimbin is very real and people take their cannabis products and promotion seriously. No one offered us drugs while on the main street, though. In fact, a police car was parked right in the middle of town and officers were walking amongst the tourists. And shopkeepers will thank you not to ask them about where you can purchase narcotics.

We were about to head back to Byron Bay, feeling a tad like failures for not having had the “true” Nimbin experience of having been offered marijuana, when I noticed a sign next to a cafe. It pointed towards “Mingle Park.” On a whim, I decided to walk into this back alley behind the cafe. American hip hop music was blasting from the speakers inside. Immediately upon reaching the “park” (it was more of a vacant lot), two young men asked us if we were looking to buy.

Discretion being the better part of valor, I played dumb. “What are looking for?,” one of them asked us. “What do you have?,” I replied.” In response, he unfurled a large plastic bag filled with marijuana. Clearly, he was comfortable with public transactions. I inquired some more about prices, quality and the like. We did this all under the clear blue Australian sky in an open space loosely occupied by about ten people leisurely milling about. I felt exposed. But I also felt like my trip to Nimbin was complete.

What happened next? Did I leave Nimbin with a special souvenir? Whoa, are you a NARC?

I guess some stories are best left unfinished. And I think this is one of them.

Check out some of my photos from Nimbin in the gallery below.