Lonely Planet refers to the Arts Factory as "an archetypal Byron experience" and they're spot on. The thing with Byron is that you're either going to love it or hate it.
My favourite things about the hostel are the events that occur during the day and my favourite had to be watching and listening to the African drumming sessions (which you can join if you so wish). Relax in the shade of one of the plentiful trees on the wonderful site, and you can easily wile away over an hour relaxing with the beat of the drum session.
There seem to be plenty of events on offer and there's a lady on site who does massage and readings. The staff here are friendly, the general ambience is chilled and the hostel reflects the very best of Byron.
Plenty of accommodation on offer - I stayed in one of the teepees (because you have to, right?) which was a great experience. Word of warning though - the teepee gets freezing cold at night so pick up a blanket from reception. The other types of accommodation I saw seemed equally clean and tidy, as were the showers.
Byron Bay itself reminds me of a very small San Francisco. It prides itself on its hippie past and the ideals of love and freedom, but it just can't live up to them. I think this is mainly due to the fact that with hippies come drugs, with drugs come drug dealers, and with them comes trouble. At any time in town you may come across characters that range from 'colourful' to downright disturbing.
Sadly the atmosphere at the hostel can also reflect that at Byron, beneath the appearance of freedom and peace, there lies something darker, uglier. In just 4 nights stay I witnessed drug taking and mental illness (a guy was taken away 'for his own protection') which was likely to have been caused by long-term exposure to the former.
The hostel, like Byron, can't seem to be able to live up to its own ideals, with signs everywhere saying "no drugs" and " no noise after 11pm". My first night there was a full on argument between some guys going on until 4am.
The only other negative thing to mention is the bus pick-up. It seems to be a bit of a work of fiction. I booked over the phone and was told there was going to be a pick up at a certain time. There wasn't so I had to walk to the hostel. No big issue as it's just a 10-15 minute walk.
I thought it was just my bad luck, but met some backpackers later that day who were doing the same walk. Met up with a friend who lives in Byron and he told me that the hostel were well known for leaving their guests stranded. There is supposed to be a shuttle every 5/10 minutes to and from the hostel between 10pm and 4am. Testing out the theory, I turned up at the stop in town at 10.25pm and waited...for 30 minutes. No bus. Walked back in the dark for 15 minutes and did not pass the bus.
I did however manage to get the shuttle a couple of times from the hostel during the day (times are posted near reception) so that's a better bet than getting one from town on the return journey.
So should you come to Byron and stay at the Arts Factory? In a word, yes. Come for a night or two, enjoy the daytime ambience and there's a great pub attached to the hostel too. But then get out of town and be happy you managed to leave unscathed.
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- Also Known As:
- The Arts Factory Backpackers Hotel Byron Bay