What’s It Like To Visit Nimbin, Australia?
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During my research for my trip to Australia, one activity that kept popping up was taking a day trip to Nimbin from Byron Bay, New South Wales. I was intrigued. Nimbin is, apparently, the hippie haven of Australia – a kind of commune set up in the 60s for counter-culture enthusiasts to wear tie-dye and practice yoga to their heart’s content. I love yoga, I love ‘hippie’ vibes, healthy food, and talk about chakras and all the rest. I wanted to see what Nimbin was all about.
Heading over to Youtube, I checked out Christianne from Backpacking Bananas’ Nimbin road trip video. I was taken in by colourful buildings and the beautiful nature surrounding the town, and added it to bookmark list. Sure, Christianne said it was kind of odd, and had a weird vibe, but I felt that it would be a really laid-back, anything-goes kind of vibe.
I hadn’t been desperate to visit Nimbin when I arrived in Byron Bay because I believed I would just spend the whole time surfing. This assumption was also wrong. There was not so much as a ripple on the ocean the entire three days I spent there. So, in search of something to do, I asked the hostel if there were any day trips nearby. The most popular option was definitely a bus tour to Nimbin, so I decided to fork out the cash and go for it.
Besides, I love taking tours. I’d already had a great day exploring Moreton Island on a tour from Brisbane , and had the time of my life on a tour of Fraser Island. The standard of tours in Australia had been consistently high, so I set my expectations and booked my seat on the bus to Nimbin.
Getting to Nimbin from Byron Bay
There are two options for visiting Nimbin. If you have a car, Nimbin is about a 70 minute drive from Byron Bay in the state of New South Wales (NSW), and is a popular stop for road trippers in Australia. The driving distance from Byron Bay to Nimbin is around 65km.
The second option is to take an organised tour to Nimbin from Byron Bay. Since I didn’t want the hassle or expense of hiring a car, this is the option I went with.
Taking a Bus Tour to Nimbin From Byron Bay
If you want to take a bus tour of Nimbin from Byron there are two providers:
The Happy Coach (which I opted for) costs AUD 55 ($37) and includes a ‘gourmet’ BBQ lunch. It’s supposed to be a half-day tour, but I would say lasted from 10am-4:30pm. It also included a trip to a waterfall near to Nimbin.
The other option, Grasshoppers, is a ‘full day’ trip which costs AUD 79 ($53). The Grasshoppers day tour lasts a few hours longer than the Happy Coach, but has more of a focus on exploring the hinterland than Nimbin. It includes stopping off at Nightcap National Park and Minyon Falls. You can see Grasshoppers, and a few other tour providers, down below!
Grasshoppers seemed to be the more popular option with people from my hostel, presumably because of the extra hinterland stops. The fact that it’s more expensive was the deciding factor, and I opted for the Happy Coach. However, given how much I loved my time in the hinterland, I wish I had just spent the extra AUD 24 ($16) and joined Grasshoppers. I’d have loved to visit the National Park and seen a few more waterfalls on my way to Nimbin!
That isn’t to say Happy Coach is bad by any means, I just think the focus of each tour is different. Plus, the Happy Coach’s decoration is way cooler!
The Happy Coach picked me up from my hostel at 10am, and I was greeted by the driver who came to collect me. Our driver was a woman who introduced herself as Princess Fiona. Wearing a top hat, a pink tank top, black biker jacket, pink tutu and crocs, she really did look the part of Nimbin tour guide. Sure, it was an ‘out there’ approach to fashion, but each to their own! I hopped on board, embracing the ‘weirdness’ the day was surely going to bring.
Taking the Happy Coach to Nimbin
The interior of the bus was plastered with slogan stickers ranging from the funny to the downright weird, and the roof was painted just like the sky. Then, I took my seat, Princess Fiona cranked up the music and we set off. I was ready to live my best hippie life!
The interior of the Happy Coach
One issue? It was already 35°C outside, and the air con had broken.
I got chatting to the girl next to me whose name was Tuesday (yes, for real) as we barrelled into the Australian hinterland. Without giving away spoilers, the hinterland, in my opinion, is the real reason to take a Nimbin tour.
The countryside was unbelievably lush and green, and I couldn’t stop snapping photos. We passed the city of Lismore (population 27,000) and I couldn’t help but wonder what all its citizens do for fun around there. Getting into rural(ish) Australia was fascinating, and a real eye opener to me. Being from England, where you can’t go 15 minutes before coming across the next town, I couldn’t comprehend living so remotely.
The hinterland was empty, bewitching and HOT. It showed me a totally different side to Australia, a side I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t taken this tour.
We stopped off a roadside pub in the hinterland for a quick rest stop before hopping back in the bus to visit Killen Falls. I was in Australia during December 2019, when the country was experiencing huge drought and some of the worst bushfires the country had ever seen. This meant that the waterfall, although normally full and a popular stop on the way to Nimbin, was full of stagnant water and pretty dry. It was interesting to see just how much of a difference the weather had made!
Exploring Nimbin on a Bus Tour
As we pulled into Nimbin, I couldn’t believe the state some of the houses we passed were in. It looked residents hadn’t done any upkeep on them for fifty years! Surprisingly, Nimbin has a permanent population of just 300. I guess finding work outside of tourism in Nimbin would be tricky. Princess Fiona, after informing us that, of course, marijuana is illegal in Australia, then proceeded to give us instructions on how to get it and how to take it responsibly, if that was what we wanted to do.
Nimbin is informally known as the weed capital of Australia, and its residents are proud supporters of the legalise cannabis movement. Each May they hold the famous ‘MardiGrass’ festival, attracting thousands of tourists to the town for marijuana related fun and games. In spite of this, Princess Fiona giving advice on where to get weed was quite a surprise. We had around 90 minutes to explore the town, and I eagerly set off to explore.
This is where I came across an issue.
The town of Nimbin is basically just one street. Bizarrely, the buildings of the main street were all reminiscent of a wild-west frontier town. Some buildings even had saloon-style doors! The town was a jumbled mish-mash of styles and eras and colours, and it was definitely jarring to step into. It was different, sure, but the buildings looked super cool.
What to Do in Nimbin?
If you’re visiting outside of the Nimbin Mardi Grass Festival (a festival celebrating all things weed), you’ll struggle to fill more than an hour in Nimbin. A few shops (90% weed related) a hostel and a coffee shop are pretty much Nimbin high street’s complete offering. I bought a cute shell necklace before making my way along the street with a group of people I met on the bus. I recommend checking out the famous Nimbin Hemp Embassy and the other shops on the high street to try to find some cool tie-dye and trinkets. Perhaps stop by one of Nimbin’s cafes for a coffee and a snack.
As I was walking through the town, a sense of unease crept up on me. The town’s residents were definitely distinguishable from the tourists. Quite a few people we came across looked like they were living with an addiction, a severe mental illness or in poverty. It was kind of jarring. Out of nowhere, a guy across the street broke out into a complete rage, and then started screaming. He was arguing with nobody and kicking and hitting a street sign. My feelings towards Nimbin changed very rapidly.
I wanted to get the f*** out of there!
Is Weed Legal In Nimbin?
It seems that most visitors make their way here with plans of buying weed in Nimbin. I mean, the town hardly shies away from its love of it. There’s a Hemp Embassy, weed-themed shops, and huge weed murals on the streets.
Despite all the signs to the contrary, weed is still against the law in Nimbin, and there are renewed efforts every so often of the local police to clamp down on the buying and selling of weed in Nimbin. That being said, very little is done about it. There seems to be an understanding between law enforcement and the community that clamping down would kill Nimbin’s tourism.
I don’t personally partake, so unfortunately I have no idea if the weed is any good in Nimbin or how strong it is. What I do know is that you won’t have to look far if you’re planning on buying weed in Nimbin. Most residents will simply approach you and ask you if you want some. If you’re planning to do this, just remember to be discrete and be careful. You don’t want to be the unlucky tourist!
“Some cookies, girls?” croaked a woman stooped under a shop shade, emerging from the shadow like a cartoonish psychedelic witch. Tuesday, unsurprisingly, wanted to buy some, but only had 10 AUD ($6.75) with her. The woman debated for a while before insisting she get the full 20 AUD ($13.50) she was asking for.
“I normally would do it for ten, but I need to buy dog food tonight” she said.
Sure, this could have just been her bargaining technique, but I got a strong feeling it wasn’t. The fact she needed an extra 10 AUD to afford to buy dog food really left me with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach.
She seemed super caring, telling Tuesday exactly how much she should take, how long to wait etc.
After stopping in a few other shops flogging the usual array of hippie wares (tie dye t-shirts, bongs, incense, etc.) we still had loads of time to kill, so extended our walk past the main street. Here, we came across a lovely rainbow-painted area, where I got the cute photo I use for my bio. We learnt, on asking some passers-by, that this was the health centre. I think the world would be a better place if more health centres looked like this!
The perfect Instagram opportunity
Realising that we really had done everything we could, we made our way to the Nimbin Bowling Club to meet Princess Fiona for a BBQ lunch. Guys, it was 37°C in Nimbin that afternoon. I was struggling – the heat was immense. At every opportunity I frantically slathered on an extra layer of sun cream. There was not even a breeze to disrupt the sweltering heat. In fact, Princess Fiona explained, Nimbin sits in a crater, meaning any kind of breeze is rare.
Let me tell you, walking inside the bowling club to use the bathroom was one of the greatest moments of life. Their air conditioning felt incredible, and I never wanted to leave its lovely cool climate. As I ate my burger (not quite ‘gourmet’ as advertised, but still perfectly fine,) it seemed like half of the town’s residents were also with us at the bowling club, drinking on a Tuesday afternoon. Some guy who looked like he hadn’t washed in 3 weeks approached us and offered us cookies.
Is Nimbin Safe?
Summarising my Nimbin tour in one word, I’d say it was, well… weird. In spite of the colourful buildings and ‘hippie’ reputation, I felt uncomfortable there, and the vibes were just… off. I can’t really say that Nimbin feels unsafe, but I’m glad I wasn’t visiting alone. I felt like I’d walked into a Manson Family utopia. I was expecting hippies practicing yoga and love and peace and community. Instead, it felt like the entire town was on a bad trip.
I really dug the rainbow colour theme in Nimbin
So… Should I Take a Day Trip to Nimbin?
Look, if you’re in Byron Bay and have absolutely nothing else to do, why not. That being said, should you specifically add visiting Nimbin to your Byron Bay itinerary? Hell no! The fact that my favourite part of my Nimbin tour was looking out of the bus window at the hinterland scenery says it all.
Despite that, the Happy Coach was good value for money. Even if I did find the town itself slightly weird, and frankly quite boring town as exciting as it could be, to the point where the journey was the best bit! Obviously, Princess Fiona was an interesting character and a truly entertaining guide. If you are looking to visit Nimbin from Byron Bay I recommend them.
What did you think of Nimbin in Australia?
Looking to visit Nimbin from Byron Bay, Australia? Here's what to expect on a Nimbin bus tour – including whether or not it's worth visiting.