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Nimbin and Northern NSW's Rainbow Region

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by Julian Groneberg (subscribe)
Freelance copywriter and blogger. Avid dog owner, living in East Brisbane. If you like my articles please hit subscribe or 'like' at the end of the post! To hire me visit for a range of copywriting services
Published July 3rd 2012
Nimbin and the Rainbow Region

The 'grass' definitely is green in this part of the world. That's not a direct drug reference mind you, since the valleys surrounding this Northern New South Wales village are as lush as they come. A reference it may as well be however since Nimbin has the unofficial title of being the 'drug capital of Australia.'

Because of this title hordes of visitors, domestic and international, are compelled to take a 'trip' to Nimbin and visit the other areas of the Rainbow Region of far northern New South Wales. Receiving such a title has proved both a blessing and a curse for the tiny town in the hills. On one hand the tourist dollar has given the local economy a needed boost, but as with any other sleepy town which is bombarded with large visitor influxes, the place can often become a victim of its own success becoming less of what it originally was and more of what it tries to be.

A prime example of this phenomenon is nearby Byron Bay which once was an alternative outpost for those seeking a sea change but since has seen wealthy suburbanites arrive en masse and before you know it the place is more yuppie than hippie.

Nimbin while having grown in size has managed to slow this process down thanks in part to passionate locals who aren't afraid to become activists as soon as they are called upon fighting to maintain their unique counterculture lifestyle. This and the fact that Nimbin is relatively isolated from major highways and a major closeby urban centre gives the town a feeling of authentic remoteness in a region quickly becoming the next big thing.

Arriving at Nimbin (ignore the mud on the jeans)

Let the Journey Begin

The anticipation was killing me by the time we had crossed the state border and had headed into the Tweed Valley passing through the regional centre of Murwillumbah. From here on the roads become very 'country' so expect less highway and more goat track and you'll need to slow down while traversing the bends. On the drive to Nimbin you'll pass the turnoff to Mt Warning National Park which is an icon in the region and a fantastic place for bushwalking and hiking if you are having an extended visit. From the summit clear views of the Tweed Valley extending all the way to the Gold Coast can be admired. For more information click here

The goat track to Nimbin seemed to take forever and I was getting quite hungry which meant that my mood was quickly deteriorating despite the aesthetically pleasing scenery around me. When we finally arrived food was the first thing on my mind and so it was with that we called into the first food place that we saw in town. The place also happened to sell beer which was ideal as we were all in the mood for a mid-day beer buzz after the long drive. Alas we had chosen the town's pub.

Entrance to Nimbin's pub on Cullen St

Now as you might expect in the pub there happened to be a few - call it 'differently dressed' characters making up the clientele. The fact we were visitors was obvious and we stood out like sore thumbs amongst the locals in the confines of the bar. Luckily we discovered that there was a generous deck and food service area out the back of the pub overlooking the valley and hills so we gratefully retreated there after ordering our food. (myself a reasonably priced steak sandwich)

Shopping in Nimbin

After lunch and a couple of beers we decided we were well ready to explore. So we took to the streets – or should I say street since Nimbin only has one main colourful street where all the action is. To sum up the experience walking along this street would be to say it was a little bit like a taking timewarp back to the 60s. People were playing bongo drums with dreadlocks. A couple of street vendors had stalls up trying to hock their wares and we were given ample opportunities for purchase 'herbaceous' cookies if you know what I mean. The colours of the shopfronts were painted rainbow with indigenous influences in the style and design. One shop known as 'BRINGABONG' was selling a huge range of alternative and colourful clothes for purchase by tourists who hopefully didn't confuse the name with the famed surf-wear manufacturer Billabong.

Bringabong - a tourist hotspot in town

We entered a gift store which was a treasure trove of all thing funky coloured and ty-dyed. Gifts and knick knacks were found in abundance. Clothes, hessian pants and hemp hats were also all available to purchase in all shades of OUT-THERE.

Speaking of Hemp, one of the town's most iconic stores and most prominent in its prime location in the Nimbin street-scape is 'The Hemp Embassy'. A store as much of community hub, the Hemp Embassy is the place in town for those who celebrate weed culture and promote the push for legalization of cannabis.

Available for purchase was many forms of paraphernalia and instruments along with clothing and souvenirs all proudly bearing the marijuana leaf in all its glorious symmetry. For legal highs Happy High Herbs across the street offers varying herbal remedies for that 'added boost' and party alternatives on a perfectly legal basis.

Nimbin streetscape

The Nimbin Museum

Shopping aside however the main attraction each visitor in Nimbin should experience is the Nimbin Museum which is a walk through journey of… well I don't know what exactly. What it showcases however is all sorts of items including paper mache sculptures, artwork, painted tunnels and combie vans. Combing through the museum really was a psychedelic and colourful experience with so much detail, colour and art it was hard to know where to look.

The museum also documents the story of hippie culture in Australia as people began seeking Nimbin as the site for counterculture refuge. While the museum is free a gold coin donation is appreciated for ongoing support and maintenance.

The arrow on the combie points the path to take.

Exploring the museum.. Where to look

Nimbin Candle Factory

Candels @ Nimbin Candle Factory. Photo:

After we'd satisfied ourself looking at the museum and exhausted ourselves at various shopping and souvenir stops in the main street we headed back just out of town to the famed Nimbin Candle Factory. These aren't just any candles since this is the place where all sizes of candles including absolutely enormous rainbow pyramid candles are made.

At the factory you can watch candles being made in real time as they are dipped into giant vats of coloured wax again and again. Once the town's butter factory, the Nimbin candle factory is definitely worth a look for a unique or special present or for yourself since candles brighten up any household. If you prefer more neutral tones you won't find it here since because these candles were all the colours of Nimbin.

Giant pots of hot wax. Photo:

After the candle showings and about all the colour that we could absorb it was time to leave the unique realm of Nimbin and head back to our urban realities. We did have a decent length car trip ahead of us after all. A visit to Nimbin makes an incredibly interesting experience and is a real eye opener in learning about alternative cultures and philosophy.

After my visit to Nimbin I had less of the impression of the town as Australia's 'drug capital' and more of the impression that I had just discovered Australia's alternative lifestyle capital, which to be fair is equally what the town is recognised for. So next weekend instead off Byron Bay for a dose of hippie culture for a real alternative escape, make to journey to Nimbin and experience all of what northern New South Wales's rainbow region and this town have to offer.
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Why? For an authentic alternative lifestyle city escape
When: Anytime
Where: Nimbin NSW, 2480
Cost: Pay for the petrol to get you there
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