I’m ashamed to say that it’s taken me this long to visit Byron Bay. Its reputation precedes itself and as such, it has always been high on my list of Australian destinations. I am a further embarrassed by the fact that it is a mere 45 minute drive from my in-laws, who live just over the border in Queensland. But enough is enough, and on a recent trip up the coast to celebrate a very special 60th birthday, I ensured that this little sea-side town made it onto our busy itinerary.
You may have heard the phrase “The only trouble with paradise, is that everyone wants a piece of it.” This is particularly true of Byron Bay. The town was once famed for its hippies and hippie culture and pristine natural beauty – think golden haired surfers, white sandy beaches, subtropical emerald groves, tie-dye coloured t-shirts and equally colourful wildlife. A hedonistic haven if you will.
As expected, times have changed and what I imagine was once a hippie utopia of sorts, is now in some ways, a remnant of its former self. It is no longer the stomping ground of those hard-core, bellbottom wearing, free-loving, weed-smoking Australians. It appears that the throngs of alternative-lifestyle-seeking die-hards have been replaced with city urbanites seeking organic produce, honeymooners seeking a romantic hideaway and Australian (and international) tourists seeking a good spot to spend the weekend. But make no mistake, Byron is still one super cool town, attracting hordes of visitors who flock to the same sun-kissed beaches and to the town’s organic cafes, food stores and shops which sell all manner of quality produce from Byron Bay Cookies and Ayurvedic toothpaste to bongo drums. Another highlight is Cape Byron, a dramatic headland and Cape Byron lighthouse, both of which form the Eastern-most point of Australia. (Trivia lovers will appreciate that Cape Byron was named by James Cook after John Byron, circumnavigator of the world and grandfather of the poet, Lord Byron.)
After a few fabulous hours spent meandering up and down the streets, weaving in and out of cafes and stores and the fabulously coastal-chic grounds of The Atlantic, we also took a little drive to the nearby town of Bangalow. It’s often referred to as a less touristy version of Byron Bay, though in my view it’s not quite there – yet. In the same vein, I should also mention Nimbin, another nearby town, which originally became popular amongst hippies when it hosted the first Aquarius festival. According to my sources, it is also an alternative-lifestyle centre that is also home to the Hemp Embassy. Need I say more?
Here are a few places we loved plus a few others that come highly recommended:
Cafe Dip: Laid back cafe with great food
The Atlantic: Accommodation featuring self-catering timber cottages, guest villas and an airstream trailer
Bayshore Bungalows: Secluded bungalow accommodation near Belongil Beach
Island Luxe: Home-wares and fashion. One store in Byron and another in Bangalow. Beautifully curated.
Rae’s on Watego’s: Boutique accommodation right on the beach
Rae’s Fish Cafe: quality alfresco dining with a view
The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa – Beautiful suites set within a 45-acre subtropical rainforest.
Cape Byron: (incl Cape Byron Lighthouse), a dramatic headland and the easternmost point of mainland Australia
The Arts & Industry Park: Showcases many of the region’s artists and crafts people
Byron Farmer’s Market: Fresh produce on Thursdays in Byron and Saturdays in Bangalow
Targa: Laid back cafe known for their macaroons
Naked Treaties: 100% raw certified organic, vegan, gluten and dairy free treats
The Balcony: Perfect for an early evening or after dinner drink
The Top Shop: Good ol’ fashioned (healthy) Byron fare
The Rainbow Shop: For everything rainbow-coloured
Fundies Food Store: Natural and organic products
Heath’s Old Wares: Antiques, collectables & memorabilia
Brauerbirds: Homewares, collectables, fashion and accessories from around the globe
Our Corner Store: On-trend, Scandinavian style homewares and accessories
Byron Naturally: A great Byron Bay resource