Every summer, it seems that just about every conversation in Sydney includes either the phrase “when I was in Byron last week”, or “when I’ll be in Byron next week”. Clearly, the migration is on.
Geographically Byron Bay is special – the Cape Byron Lighthouse marks the easternmost point of continental Australia. Historically, the ubiquitous Captain Cook named it after Admiral John Byron in May 1770 – not the admiral’s grandson, the more intriguing Lord George Gordon Byron (despite the fact that other English poets lend their names to many of the town’s streets).
Scenically, it’s spectacular – from hang gliders floating past the headland to surfers along the long beaches south and north. There really was an era when Byron was a sleepy little coastal village visited only by surfers and fishing folk. Those days are long gone and the houses in the best streets of Byron Bay attract sale prices not far removed from prices in the top suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.
However, it’s still a beach holiday destination and visitors need little more than a towel and pair of swimmers to have a good time here. That word has certainly extended to the international backpacker community that arrives in a solid stream throughout the year.
Byron Bay lighthouse – the easternmost point of continental Australia
There are hundreds of miles of pristine beach along the East Coast so why does Byron get so much of the attention? Of course, the climate helps – it’s far enough north to be warm and semi-tropical but not far enough north to be monsoonal. However, that is true for much of the NSW North Coast. It has the population centres of Brisbane and Sydney to draw visitors from, as do coastal communities from Coffs Harbour to Tweed Heads.
Byron is a melting pot of surf and alternative lifestyle, rich and poor, surfer and hippy, traveller and local. The hills behind are arguably more beautiful than the coast and have their own rich culture, or counter culture. It’s as if this easternmost point attracts an intensity of lifestyles.
In Byron there’s an array of beaches to chose from. To the south there’s less-frequented Tallow Beach. From the lighthouse heading along the northwest shore you’ll find secluded Little Watego’s then Watego’s; Clarkes Beach attracts surfers to its break; Main Beach is patrolled and busy with everyone from yoga classes to buskers; the Wreck has a right-hand break and Belongil Beach is far enough from the crowds for clothing to be optional.
Enjoy the fresh, local produce at the Byron Farmers' Market
(Image: Facebook / Byron Farmers Market)
Byron Bay has a thriving Farmers’ Market (every Thursday morning) as well as an Artisan Night Market (weekly each summer Saturday) and the Community Market (first Sunday of the month plus third Sunday of December and January) is huge with food, music, produce and as many alternative ways of living as you could ever wish. The September/October long weekend, the first week of January and Easter Saturday see the Beachside Markets set up over half a kilometre of Main Beach to sell everything from clothing and home wares to glass works and sculpture.
However, if you are in the area on any Friday morning the place to be is the Farmers Market in Mullumbimby. This is as much a social and cultural gathering as it is a food outlet. The hinterland is a haven for alternative lifestyles in a rich rainforest environment and “Mullum” is just one of several quaint communities up in the hills.
Whether your interest is arts and crafts or mind and body, Byron and its environs is the place to be. If your focus is less internal, you can go horse riding on the beach, beer tasting at a craft brewery, kayaking on the Brunswick River or mountain biking up in the hills. On the water you can kayak or fish, whale watch or learn to surf, scuba or snorkel, or go catching mud crabs. You can also try hang gliding, ballooning or fly in a glider out at Tyagarah.
Why not relax and revitalise at the beautiful resorts and spas?
(Image: Facebook / The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa)
Besides its excellent spa and wellness centre, the Byron at Byron is a haven in a natural wilderness just minutes from the heart of town. There’s myriad other accommodation options for all budgets. The tourist office can help out here.
Of course, all this intensity can become overwhelming. Many locals will tell you that they get away from the Byron Bay rush by heading a short distance up the coast to Brunswick Heads, which operates at a slower pace and has the sprawling Hotel Brunswick if you just wish to relax in a coastal beer garden.
On the other hand, if all this nature and self-awareness becomes too much, it's less than an hour’s drive north to cross the Tweed River and enter Queensland’s Coolangatta and the Gold Coast. But that’s a whole other story.
Where’s your favourite holiday spot on the coast?