Vanlife Gathering #10 - Cudgen, NSW Australia
Vanlife Diaries Gathering #10 took place in late May in Cudgen, located in the Byron Bay region of New South Wales, amidst glorious mountains and nearby to the beautiful NSW coastline. This was the last stop on The Meaning of Vanlife documentary tour before the Aussie crew headed over to Canada and the USA to keep filming.
What a turn out!
This was my first Vanlife Gathering. It had a profound impact on me. I rolled up with my brother, who is currently converting his second van, and along with many other first-timers, I was welcomed with open arms by the vanlife community.
A community like no other I've experienced - a mixture of new vanlifers, longtimers, solo travellers, nomads, couples, and families, many with pets in tow.
We were some of the first to arrive. And as the sun set, more vans (and a rather large bus!) rolled in as those set up watched on, eager to greet their neighbours for the night and check out their digs. It was like the world's friendliest barbecue at this point - it felt like we were greeting old friends as people willingly invited you in to see their tiny homes.
I saw pre-loved fit-outs, designed and loved by another, then carefully handed on for more adventures in the hands of the next budding traveller. There were vans painstakingly handcrafted inside and out (with incredibly evident love and creativity). Some adorned with fairy lights and happy snaps befit for cosy nights under the stars, others purposefully shaped and curved just so to carry the minimal possessions an on-the-roader relishes - surfboards, cameras, cosy jackets, well-read books, and keepsakes from home. Some vans were blank canvases, work in progress not quite lived in, and there were those slap-dashed together, favouring function over fashion for now.
In each tiny home, I saw the owner(s) shine through. Their love of the sea, the great outdoors, or for their craft or passion. Their appreciation for minimalism, for the meditation a simple life nurtures. And for vanlife families and lovers, their adoration for each other. I sensed these folk knew the real essence and value of connection to each other, and to the land.
The Gathering, as always, was driven by community collaboration and involvement. Among them, a number of musicians.
So naturally, on the first night, a stage was willingly set up by the boys behind Vanderaa, Aaron and Levi. People set up and gathered where the music flowed, or lay in the back of their vans listening to the juicy tunes of one after the next artist, spontaneously picking up a guitar. There were soothing vocals, sounds that left me awe-struck and peaceful, and lyrics that told familiar stories - a collective expression of wondering, wandering, and embracing life on the road, by the sea, and living simply.
Luminous from the previous night's fireplace glow, and blissed out from heart-filled conversation, many started Saturday morning doing yoga and meditation led by Chrystal Fitzgerald. Others stayed in, or wandered over to buy Mindfulness Coffee.
Chilled chats followed, before most headed to the beach to clean it up - an initiative widely embraced by the vanlife community, and the mission of Take 3 for the Sea. This rad group advocate simply picking up three pieces of rubbish every time you visit a waterway or beach to do your bit in keeping them clean and healthy ecosystems.
Heading back from salty swims and sun-kissed lunch spots, Saturday's sunset coaxed people to their vans and picnic rugs, to hear Jonny have a candid on-stage chat with surfer and surfboard designer Joel Fitzgerald about his handcrafted and eco-conscious boards.
Fire-fuelled or camp style dinners (the best kind!) moved on to a very memorable highlight of the weekend for many - a yarn by the campfire with Yarn Australia - which aims to build connections between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-indigenous Australia. Warren engaged us in a yarn - a chat about what community meant to each of us. Answers called out included respect, adventure, culture, diversity, communication, food, and friendship. Qualities that were in full force that weekend.
Ever with a desire to look after our environment and each other, we also heard from Goal Zero Australia about the work they are doing to bring portable solar light to places that have none. This inspired many to enquire with the crew after.
Of course Jonny came out with the saxophone at some point, much to the delight of many. And as the music picked up again other artists joined in, including Jack the Fox.
Throughout the whole weekend the vibe on stage was always one of exploration and collaboration - like an endless jam with friends joining in and jumping out. People danced until late that night, before migrating back to the campfire, where an 'open mic' broke out. Many picked up a guitar or sang along here.
The Vanlife Gathering reassured me (and I'm pretty sure everyone) that true community exists. It reminded me that the simple life - one in which a relationship with, and care for, nature is paramount, and where respect - and a desire to genuinely help each other out - is strong.
Connection, individuality, and good vibes are sought after and T H R I V I N G in the vanlife community. I know I speak for many when I say this weekend felt like home.
Vanlife Diary written, edited & published by Jai Morton, who lately, dreams mostly about van-ventures (until she gets her own van) and has plans to downsize her life. A marketer and content writer by day, she finds joy in learning and telling the stories of those she meets, or who inspire her, and is a freelance writer for Vanlife Diaries and TEDxBrisbane in her spare time. Otherwise, you'll find her rock climbing, or somewhere in nature. You can follow or connect with her at @sundayskin on Instagram, or read her travel meanderings and general ponderings here (until her pending website is complete!).