BYRON BAY & BEYOND
Byron has gone through several transformations since the first European Cedar cutters set up occasional camps in the bay. In the early 1900’s its lush green hinterland sustained one of the largest dairy industries in the world, and since then the region has played host to a number of industries including whaling, sand mining, and of course tourism.
It was in the ‘60s when the first free spirited surfers discovered the regions abundance of perfect point breaks and the beginnings of an alternative lifestyle in Byron were birthed. Byron became a hub of surfboard making and innovation, giving rise to the short board revolution and shaping the sport of surfing as we know it. Hippy culture followed, and so did the inevitable tie-dye shirts and dreadlocks. Nowadays, this subtropical coastal town in New South Wales is a heady mix of all the stages of its evolution, and is home to a large community of creatives including musicians, writers, surfers, artists and filmmakers. The indigenous Arachwal people called this place Cavanbah (meeting place), and this it seems is something that will never change.
Byron on 5-Stars
Staying at 5-star haven, The Byron at Byron Spa & Resort is an adventure in itself. A walk from my suite to breakfast requires a meander along rainforest boardwalk, each path spiralling towards the 92 suites on site. Looking around, I am embraced in a cathedral of white cedar, bangalow palm, plum myrtle and paperbark. It’s not hard to see why this serene tropical retreat is popular with honeymooners.
After a generous breakfast buffet of fluffy pastry, scrambled eggs and chia pudding, by which head chef Gavin Hughes works magic on seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, I’m hungry to burn the calories. A short stroll from the complex is Tallow Beach, empty but for surfers, dog-walkers and lone osprey scouring the coast. Morning rays warm my skin as sand guides me towards Cape Byron, famous for being the most easterly point of mainland Australia.
For days when you’re not tempted to explore nearby shorelines, or take a dip in the jewel-coloured oasis of the resort’s on-site infinity pool, take a 15-minute drive to Byron Bay’s town centre. Venture through the colourful network of architecture and inhale the mélange of sea air, locally grown coffee and world class food. The recent gentrification of Byron only adds to its charm and despite the obvious procession of tourists that is an almost permanent fixture of the town these days, its surface still bristles with retro board carrying surfers and feather-locked, ageing hippies.
It’s unsurprising then, that some local stores retain a hint of the ethereal. Spell and the Gypsy Collective, a boho-chic fashion and accessories store, is a feast of feathers, turquoise and leather, boasting ample opportunity to step into character. If interiors are more your forte, head north to unearth hand-painted tiles, tasteful cushions and other fair paraphernalia at Jai Vasicek’s popular outlet, Ahoy Trader. Red Ginger on Johnson Street specialises in Asian-inspired foods and homewares and if you want to want to see the creative heart of Byron, venture just north of town to The Arts and Industrial Estate Park. The Arts and Industrial Estate is home to an ever growing collection of innovative small businesses including artists, artisans, filmmakers, fashion houses, beer brewers, designers and delicious food, showcasing the regions talent and providing a unique cultural exchange for locals and tourists alike. Byron is indeed a paradise of boutique stores and a truly unique shopping experience.
Wollumbin (cloud catcher) to the Arachwal people, Mt Warning is the remnant central plug of an ancient volcano that caused one of the great ice ages of our planets distant past. Considered by those who know about such things to be one of the major geomagnetic points on the earth’s surface, its effect on the surrounding countryside is considered by many to be the reason for the sometimes overwhelmingly good vibes in the region. With this in mind, and due reverence, do as so many intrepid explorers have done before you, and take the sunrise trek to the summit, you will not regret it!
Scaling the 9 kilometre, 4 hour self-guided peak requires stamina, but it is that which fills many a thrill-seeking bucket lister with delight. With the mountain situated an hour away from Byron Bay itself, it’s worth combing through nearby accommodation to limit your journey time the eve before. Safe to say, I wasn’t so smart.
In the pre-dawn darkness, the steep, volcanic terrain and winding track strewn with the roots of forest giants can at times be tough terrain to tackle. But, the beauty of the wet sclerophyll, subtropical and temperate rainforest, not to mention the enchanting bioluminescent display of the resident glow worms, is more than enough to spur the most out of shape explorer onwards.
I reach the summit as the starry night sky yields to the approaching dawn. The first soft rays of light ignite the horizon, and as the sun bursts into view, a dramatic blaze of orange, pink and purple pastels illuminate the sky; the vista is nothing short of magical. The sunrise reveals panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the precipitous peaks of the Byron Shire hinterland, as wispy fog ripples around their inky summits. Mt Warning is the first point on this vast continent to receive the sun’s rays every morning, I shiver from the cold, but a sense of euphoria washes over me as those first rays of sunshine start to warm my face. Check the weather forecast ahead of your hike as this is an experience best left for clear skies. Be sure to take a good torch and warm clothes—the temperature can drop dramatically just before sunrise.
When in Rome
After descending back to civilisation with barely more than a chain rope for support, I conclude that if ever there was a time to nurse my tired bones with a bout of the Bay’s famous holistic bodywork, today should be that day. As Australia’s healing capital, you’ll find every conceivable form of therapy from deep tissue massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, to spa therapy pregnancy massage and the list goes on. A hot stone massage at Quintessence is on my radar— the powerful treatment fuses hot ocean stones, aromatherapy and relaxation massage to melt all the tensions away.
If indulging in the wellness sector isn’t your thing, Byron Bay offers plenty of eclectic adventure at the helm instead. An outdoor-lover’s paradise, there is kayaking, surfing and snorkelling to trial, a beauteous picture-postcard scene of crystal azure ocean to splash around in. Hang gliding, for instance, available to those who prefer taking their adrenaline to the sky, where birds-eye views of Byron Shire leave you contemplating the pragmatic implications of remaining airborne, rather than heading back down to land.
A Meal on Wategos
However you choose to fill your day, round it off with a meal at Rae’s on Wategos. It may boast luxe bohemian accommodation for the elite, but its al fresco dining spot is the real champion here. I indulge in a fresh grilled snapper, zesty salad and chilled Chardonnay, a Western Australian Pierro blend, pondering how my lucky stars grew so fortunate. Pandanus palms frame a sensational scene at Wategos; a translucent swell, wrapping around the cape, home to wild dolphins frolicking with their calves.
Beach Byron Bay
Nestled in the dunes with panoramic views of Clarke’s Beach, Julian Rocks and the Pass, Beach is the only absolute beachfront dining venue in Byron Bay. Formerly Byron Beach Café, Beach underwent extensive renovation in 2015 and reopened as a collaboration between local restaurateurs Ben and Belinda Kirkwood and the Fink Group. Chef David Lovett emphasises locally sourced, seasonal produce and serves up simple yet sophisticated Italian influenced coastal flavours in a relaxed atmosphere. Beach Byron Bay offers an extensive range of premium international and Australian wines, including local brands Jilly Wines Stone and Wood, Ink Gin and Bucha of Byron. Takeaway is available from the kiosk during the daytime with a sunbathed grassy patch and picnic table out the front on which to enjoy it.
The Balcony Bar & Oyster Co.
Located amidst the lively streets of Byron Bay and within walking distance of the famous beach, The Balcony Bar & Oyster Co. is a laid-back restaurant bar that takes its influence from the ‘hippy come surf culture’ of the Bay. Under the ownership of award-winning Executive Chef Sean Connolly, Balcony Bar boasts ‘simple, honest, seasonal focused food’ using locally sourced and sustainable produce. Their oyster bar offers over 30 Australian varieties of freshly shucked oysters, which creates a perfect accompaniment to their signature cocktails. Balcony Bar also offers a range of event spaces and menu options, enabling it to cater for large group bookings as well as exclusive events for up to 200 guests.
The Mez Club
Inspired by Moroccan architecture and the Greek Islands, The Mez Club encompasses a shabby-chic vibe and the hope of taking its customers on a journey using authentic food. From the noisy ‘souks’ of Morocco to the traditional family feasts of Greece to the historic flavours of Turkey, their Mediterranean inspired menu caters to a range of appetites. Founders and local restaurateurs Emma and Greg Thomson believe that ‘the Mez Club was designed to offer locals and tourists alike a beautiful and feel good meeting place’ with a ‘flexible menu that works for both grazing and dining’. The eatery is also able to cater for parties and group events in the upstairs space fondly known as ‘The Souk’.
SPELL & THE GYPSY COLLECTIVE
Spell & The Gypsy Collective is a modern bohemian fashion brand founded by two sisters. Their inspiration lies in ‘far-off places, vintage treasures and childhood memories’, as they incorporate their love of flowing feminine dresses, turquoise, florals and age-old-lace into their creations. The brand alludes to nostalgia, beauty, expression, freedom, and vibrancy, and they aim to bring this ‘spirit to life’ within their products. Every garment is ethically produced in factories around the world and is designed and sampled in the Arts & Industry Estate of Byron Bay.
Hendrix & Harlow
Adhering to the philosophy ‘original creation with soul’, Hendrix & Harlow are an Australian brand that offers a unique and ‘ever-evolving’ collection of custom-made furniture, homewares, fashion, and art. Their products embody a rustic and natural feel that offers an ‘authentic style of living’. Their showroom in Byron Bay houses a selection of their furniture designs, all of which are presented in a lifestyle setting to give their customers a feel of what the collection has to offer a home environment. Hendrix & Harlow aims to deliver ‘craftsmanship, contemporary functionality and a relaxed signature style’.