In this week’s guest post, we travel far down under, to the easterly tip of Australia, for a walk around the coastal town of Byron Bay. Our resident guide on the journey is Kim Wildman, fellow travel writer and world-hopper who blogs about her trips at Wild About Travel + Writing. Enjoy Kim’s article!
Living in Byron Bay I consider myself truly blessed. And who wouldn’t? Located on the most easterly tip of Australia in Northern New South Wales, this mesmerising coastal hamlet with its stunning beaches and balmy climate has become synonymous with the modern ideal of paradise. A one-time hippie hangout, it today attracts everyone from laid-back surfers and foreign backpackers to celebrities and cashed-up urbanites all keen to count Byron’s blessings as their own.
For most visitors Byron’s natural attractions are its biggest drawcard, the crowning glory of which is the Cape Byron Headland. This 92-hectare reserve straddles the most easterly point in Australia and is home to one of the country’s most iconic lighthouses. It might be high on the tourist trail, but the five-kilometre walk from Watego’s Beach up to the lighthouse is a ‘must do’ at any time of the day, especially at sunrise. From June to November, keep an eye out for migrating humpback whales.
If lazing on the beach is more your thing, busy Main Beach, at the end of Jonson Street, is the heart and soul of Byron. To escape the crowds, join the locals at Tallow Beach; a magnificent seven-kilometre strip of sand on the southern side of the headland which stretches all the way to Broken Head Reserve. For die-hard surfers, the best breaks are at The Pass, while families will love picture-perfect Watego’s Beach which is one of the few northerly facing beaches on the east coast. Down at Belongil Beach, clothes are an optional extra, though anyone interested in history might like to check out the wreck of SS Wollongbar which was washed from Byron’s jetty in the 1920s.
Byron Bay’s egalitarian spirit is best epitomised by its dining scene, which ranges from casual beach cafes to fine dining establishments. My favourite spot for a sunset drink is the longstanding Balcony which buzzes from sunup to well past sundown. Most people come to drink in the view, overlooking Byron’s main drag, but the menu is also a worth a look. Try the paella valenciana – it’s superb. For the best seaside seat, book a table at Fishheads. Located in a converted old bather’s pavilion right on Main Beach, this once humble little fish and chip shop is now the hottest seafood restaurant in town.
If you want to dine like a local, the best thing to do is to head to the Green Garage to stock up the pantry. This fabulous organic grocer stocks all kinds of locally sourced goodies from crate loads of seasonal fruit and vegetables to gourmet delicacies and all-natural lotions and potions. There’s even an in-house chef, who’ll cook for you while you shop. For local markets, the biggest and most well-known is the Byron Bay Market, held on the first Sunday of every month. But for the best fresh produce, you can’t beat the Byron Farmers’ Market held each Thursday morning on Butler Street Reserve.
Byron’s fashion scene is booming, thanks to a myriad of innovative local designers and boutiques. For the best buys, skip Jonson Street, which is beginning to look like a strip mall, and take a wander down Fletcher Street where you’ll find an eclectic mix of fashions. In Sweet Papillon, local jewellery designer Nicole Sharratt creates exquisite, one-off hand-made pieces. For homegrown Aussie labels such as Sass & Bide and Alice McCall, Madame Pompidou is the place to shop, while nearby Hunter stocks all the best international brands.
A little bit further out of town, Byron’s Arts and Industry Estate is the place to go for hidden local designers, unusual handmade items and unconventional treasures. Shops like Slingfings and Bird on Banksia Drive prove that fashion can be sustainable using recycled fabrics and materials to create a funky range of handbags, garments and homewares. In keeping with the “green” ethos of their designs, both companies run on solar energy.
Mind, body and soul
In spite of Byron’s gentrification, it still maintains its zeal for the mystical, magical and spiritual. Perhaps it is simply a hangover from its hippie heyday, but Byron now lays claim to having more spiritual guides and alternative healers per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. The locals make light of their reputation joking that if you shake any tree in town, a hundred healers will fall from its branches.
From psychics, astrologists and numerologists to massage therapy, homeopathy and aromatherapy there are plenty of ways to rediscover your inner Zen. My favourite place to start is the Spa and Wellness Centre at The Byron at Byron. Hidden under a canopy of subtropical rainforest near Tallow Beach, this world-class day spa has an expansive menu of treatments including heated stone massages and Moor mud body wraps as well as the only Vichy shower in Byron. Alternatively you can take your mind and body on a holistic journey of healing with yoga classes at the Byron Yoga Centre.
Whether or not you buy into Byron’s New Age hoodoo, there’s definitely something appealing about it. With its natural wonders and way of life that is a veritable salve for the soul, you’ll soon be hoping that all journeys end at Byron Bay.
For more information on Byron Bay, visit the Visitor’s Centre (Old Stationmaster’s Cottage, 80 Jonson Street) or go to www.visitbyronbay.com.