Nimbin – the nonconformist heart of the Northern Rivers

Colourful signs are part of the unique character of Nimbin's Cullen Street.
Colourful signs are part of the unique character of Nimbin's Cullen Street.
‘How absurd is a law that seeks to classify a plant as a crime, as if there were something feloniously wrong with nature?’ Supreme Court Justice Jim Staples

Renowned for its history of social and political activism and as a haven for those seeking an alternative lifestyle, Nimbin is Australia’s original model for sustainable living, alternative therapies and nonconformist lifestyles, writes Gabby Watson.

Nimbin, it has to be said, doesn’t shy away from the real stuff of life and a walk down the main street can be a cultural eye opener. Cullen Street is a buzzing microcosm of local life where friendly dogs sprawl on the pavement, marijuana is sold openly and locals and visitors mingle in the alfresco cafes lined along the footpath. The vibrant streetscape, eccentric hippies and laid back musos are all part of the Nimbin experience.


It’s worth taking a walk along either side of the main street to admire the much photographed painted facades of Nimbin’s buildings where depictions of the alternative lifestyle of the locals, indigenous murals and the surrounding rainforest make for a striking streetscape. Cullen Street also offers an amazing array of cafes, galleries and craft shops. Perceptio Bookshop is a small nook crammed with a diverse array of reading on everything from tree houses to alternative health and esoteric texts. Next door, the Nimbin Artists Gallery stocks a high quality range of works from over 100 artists living in and around Nimbin. The gallery exhibits everything from paintings to sculpture, digital prints, glass, jewellery, ceramics, clothing, baskets and more. Established in 1998, Happy High Herbs was the first shop in the expanding Happy Herb Company franchise. Visitors can check out the large range of herbs for health, well-being, libido and fun and talk to the staff for help and advice in selecting the right products.

It's all a question of perception at Nimbin's Perceptio Bookshop.

It’s all a question of perception at Nimbin’s Perceptio Bookshop.

One of the best reasons to visit Nimbin is for its comprehensive range of alternative therapies. Acupuncture, massage, reiki and reflexology are just some of the myriad treatments available to renew the mind and body. Or if it’s spiritual guidance you need, astrology, tarot or psychic readings are all practiced here.The Nimbin Community Centre is a hub for community and creative services and represents the diversity and dynamism of the locals. Operating from the Community centre, Artemis Medicinals offers naturopathic services, herbal dispensary, astrological consultations and practitioners of Kahuna, intuitive, and remedial Massage. Like many residents, owner Fiona Maunder tells me:  “I moved to the area 20 years ago drawn by the healthy, sustainable lifestyle and to practice naturopathy. With my partner we’ve raised children, gardens of herbs, vegetables, and subtropical fruits while living sustainably on solar power, and collected rainwater”. In supporting both the local and broader community, Fiona runs a Peoples Clinic on the last Monday of the month, is a volunteer for the One Health Organisation and stocks Traditional Indigenous Bush Balm products from central Australia out of her practice.

The Grasshopper Bus does a daily run from Byron Bay to Nimbin.

The Grasshopper Bus does a daily run from Byron Bay to Nimbin.

Nimbin markets are a great way to check out what the locals have on offer in the way of food, clothing and jewellery along with recycled, up-cycled and handmade arts and crafts. The diversity of food from Persian to pizzas, curries to coffee and more makes it worth the trip alone. Impromptu music performances take place throughout the day and are an expression of the musical diversity to be found in the area. Located in the grounds of the Nimbin Community Centre, the markets are held every 4th and 5th Sunday of the month.


The Nimbin Artist's Gallery.

The Nimbin Artist’s Gallery.

Elsewhere in town, the food is just as tempting. There are plenty of colourful cafes lining the street to choose from including The Hemp Bar and the always busy Oasis Café. A stalwart of the local food scene since it opened in 1991, Nimbin Pizza and Trattoria offers weekly specials plus a wide range of pizzas, pastas, seafood and desserts. Located in the Nimbin Hotel & Backpackers, The Hummingbird Bistro has alfresco dining with picturesque views of the valley from the balcony. The menu utilises locally sourced produce with free-range eggs, organic meats and daily specials. The restaurant is child friendly and has organic, vegetarian and vegan options.

When you’ve partaken of all that Nimbin has to offer you shouldn’t  miss the opportunity to view part of the local indigenous cultural landscape that is the Nimbin Rocks. Three kilometres south of Nimbin on the Lismore road and estimated to be over 20 million years old, the rocks hold special meaning for the local Bundjalung people where it is believed to have been a sacred initiation ground for boys making the transition into manhood. Due to their spiritual significance, the rocks are off limits to the public, however there is a viewing area beside the road where you can stop to take photos and admire the views.

Nimbin is a town that wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s a place of unique cultural expression and bohemian values where entrepreneurs mix with hippies and creativity abounds. Whether you come to decompress at a meditation retreat or have a beer with the locals at the pub, Nimbin’s landscape and lifestyle is sure to leave you captivated.

Photographs and story by Gabby Watson




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