Photo above by Sera of Photography Byron Bay
Byron Bay was once renowned as being the hippy epicenter of Australia, but over the years has fast become known as an exclusive travel destination. People of all ages and from all walks of life visit the region to rejuvenate, relax, indulge and have fun. The uplifting vibe of Byron Bay promises that you’ll leave with the most magical of memories, making an escape to the region an absolute must on your Australian travel list. Byron hosts many attributes including its hard to beat natural coastline, temperate climate, characterful beaches, white sands, and crystal clear waters. With views to die for, you’re likely to spot dolphin pods, turtles, and even whales. Byron is situated on the Far North of New South Wales. It is the most easterly point of mainland Australia and is a welcome contrast to the more built up areas of places like the Gold Coast. The centre of Byron Bay is a bustling and vibrant mix of boutiques, cafes, bars, and restaurants, and as you drive inland you will be presented with a stunning and dramatic hinterland where fields are lined with macadamia trees and other produce which help to make the Northern Rivers one of the fastest growing artisan food regions in Australia. There are a lot of things to see and do in Byron Bay, so I’ve highlighted our absolute favourites; things that make for the perfect few days in this corner of paradise, and we should know – we loved Byron Bay so much that we actually moved here and now call this part of the world home. Yep, we can’t believe it either. What a dream.
Byron Bay is a protected marine park which means we are lucky enough to have an abundance of wildlife. In my opinion, this is probably Byron’s biggest and proudest drawcard. Further inland you will find the Arakwal and hinterland national parks that recognise the local indigenous culture and protect the culturally significant mountain range beyond. From waterfalls to reefs, it is predominantly nature that gives Byron its ongoing appeal. Here’s how you can fully appreciate it…
The lighthouse walk is an iconic activity that you simply cannot afford to miss. It’s good for the body and even better for the soul. It captures Byron in all its glory. You can make the walk as long as you like. You can start in town if you’re feeling really enthusiastic. If you’re with your family as we tend to be, then we usually park at Wategos Beach and go from there. It’s still a good trek in my opinion. You’ll look down on the crystal clear waters, and are likely to spot dolphins, often turtles, and even whales during the migration season. The whales come into the bay and put on a spectacular performance for locals and visitors alike. On the walk you can take an obligatory photo at the most easterly point of mainland Australia. There are viewpoints all along the walk and you finish at the lighthouse with spectacular views of the coast in both directions. We like to finish our little trek to the lighthouse with a quick dunk in the inviting waters of Wategos. A short drive away is The Top Shop café which is the perfect post walk breakfast stop.
Kayaking is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in nature and have some fun. The abundance of wildlife and stunning natural scenery on this national marine park will have you smiling for weeks on end. On our last trip out (we often take family when they visit) we met our guides from Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay near the beach, squeezed into full-length wetsuits (it was winter after all), and gathered with our group for a quick safety talk before heading out to the glistening ocean. We had picked the perfect day for it – blue skies, a light breeze, and small waves breaking on the shore. We paddled in pairs past the infamous surf break known as The Pass, and over the reef looking for signs of turtles. We could see that there was plenty of wildlife action happening before us, as the gannets dived frequently into the water where big balls of baitfish swarmed beneath. It wasn’t long before one of our guides spotted a whale right in front of our group, and then lo and behold two beauties rose out of the sea – everyone gasping and laughing with joy. The entertainment went on for a good fifteen minutes before they continued on their journey. Whilst winter may be a bit chillier to venture into the ocean, one of the absolute benefits in taking your tour at this time of year is the high possibility of seeing a whale or two. In fact, it is thought that around 20,000 of these mighty creatures migrate past the east coast every single year. The season usually starts in late May and ends around October as they head back down the coast with their playful young. As we paddled on, the whales breached right out of the water as if to say goodbye. What a special moment. Just when we thought life couldn’t get any better, we were greeted by a huge pod of dolphins dashing towards the shore. Right before our group of kayaks one of the younger dolphins leaped with curiosity, as we all looked on in awe. The Go Sea Kayak guides were extremely knowledgeable about local wildlife and history and also spoke passionately about the importance of eco-tourism. It’s reassuring to see companies like this spreading such an important message. Make sure you look these guys up if you’re in town.
One of my favourite things about Byron is its beaches, and top of my list is Wategos. Just a short drive from town you’ll find this smaller and picture perfect bay. Surrounded by bush and some of the most prestige houses in the region, you can’t help but fall in love with the place. Take a picnic and spend the day in and out of the water. Just be mindful of rips and currents. Like anywhere in Australia, you need to respect the power of the ocean.
I love watersports, so when I moved to Australia I put learning to surf on my wish list. I may not have made it to pro-level, far from it (much to my competitive self’s disappointment), but I did fall in love with the sport. Messing around in the waves makes my inner child light up. It really is as addictive as they say, regardless as to what level you are. And the number one place to learn to surf in this area has to be The Pass. A couple of things to remember; always wear a leash so that your board is unlikely to hurt anyone else, and make sure you follow general surf etiquette. The Pass is a wonderful place for families. I love playing in the shallow waters with our daughter, and she loves to get on a board here too. Make sure you take the very short walk up to the lookout and enjoy the epic views and wildlife just below. Tip: parking can be hard in peak season, but just be patient and you’ll get one for sure.
Where to start! There are hundreds of places to eat out, from fine dining, high-end tapas, through to street food, Asian food, and small characterful vendors down the bustling back lanes. Part of the beauty of Byron is taking it as it comes. You can walk through the town with ease and try different places as you go, but here are a couple of our faves: Balcony Bar & Oyster Co. This place is a Byron institution. You cannot come to the Bay without a visit or two. So, what is to love about this place? It’s a long list; the quirky building; the atmosphere; the relaxed seating areas (try and book one of the sofa areas on the balcony if you can); the cocktails; the tapas menu; the oysters; etc. You can hang out at the Balcony after a trip to the beach, or get dressed up and make a night of it. I always have a huge grin on my face when I’m at the Balcony. It may be the delicious cocktails, or just because it has a wonderful uplifting vibe. On the menu you can enjoy oysters, crab and lettuce tacos with chardonnay vinaigrette, chilli, salmon caviar and chives (so yummy), ceviche, cauliflower popcorn (one of my daughters faves), chicken lollipops with a chilli and molasses dip, steak tartare, fish tacos, eye fillet, duck fat chips, and more. The Balcony Bar & Oyster Co. is really relaxed with no dress code. It caters for everyone, and does it in style, making a perfect representation of Byron Bay itself.
Raes on Wategos Raes should be on your list if you’re looking for a special location to dine out. Arguably the most well-positioned restaurant in the entire region. On our last visit, we strolled up to the pretty premises and took excitable note of the new cocktail bar and nook. We made our way to our table with the most perfect views of Wategos Beach. The water glistened as we watched people swimming and surfing, whilst sipping blissfully on our first cocktail – and then suddenly we saw a whale breech not far from shore. The atmosphere was set and I was feeling all kinds of happy. I think that is what brings me back to Raes time and time again – the atmosphere of relaxed indulgence in the most perfect of settings. Raes on Wategos has a newly appointed head chef and the menu features dishes such as Kangaroo tartare with lemon, parsley, and beetroot, Kingfish crudo with melon and mint, Yamba pork loin, and Rangers Valley wagyu. They also have a delicious cocktail menu. If you enjoy a sours then try the Penicillin Sour, mixed with Scotch whiskey, ginger, turmeric, egg white, and fresh lemon juice (soooo good). With attentive staff, a fantastic menu featuring local and distinctive Australian produce, and the most laid back of atmospheres, this makes Raes one of our must-visit restaurants whilst in the Bay.
If I’m honest (because that’s what articles like this should be right?), I’ve never been a fan of shopping (the only woman alive to not enjoy shopping I think). But browsing through the boutiques in Byron is far more attractive to me than the big shopping malls found in our cities. I’m a country girl and shopping in all that hustle and bustle has just never really appealed. BUT…if you find yourself with some spare time, or like most people, you love a good spend, then you will be in heaven here. My favourite boutiques are Spell & The Gypsy Collective (you’ve probably heard of them already), Arnhem, and Enzo & Toto which is where I always buy my Fallen Broken Street hats from (people often ask where I get my hats – so now you know). They last forever, and you can’t be without a good hat in the heat of Australia.
Byron offers everything from boutique rentals, and larger luxury spa hotels, through to motels and backpackers. Take your pick but book in advance. Byron is a popular place and rightly so. It’s great to stay in town if you are short of time as you can be within easy reach of everything. As we live in the region we didn’t need to stay anywhere and can pop back any time (lucky us). If you want to stay out of town and experience the stunning hinterland then read our article all about Amileka. This place is out of this world amazing. But that’s a whole other story. Read about it here.
Byron Bay is positioned at the top of New South Wales and close to the border of Queensland. It’s pretty easy to get to really. Fly into the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport and take the leisurely 20-minute coast drive to Byron itself. Hop in a taxi or hire a car to have the flexibility to explore the region. If you can’t get a flight into the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport from your location (flights only come to this airport from some of the major cities and towns), then the Gold Coast Airport is another great alternative. It’s just an hour’s drive to Byron from there. Whilst a car is not essential in Byron Bay, I find it useful as you can get to places like the lighthouse and Wategos with ease. Bus transport is limited but available. Taxis are easy to get. There are no train routes into Byron Bay at present.
Get out and enjoy the beaches and nature. Try your hand at surfing and walk up to the lighthouse to see what Byron is so famous for. It’s these things that will leave you feeling as if your cup is full for a very long time. Don’t forget to sign up to receive all of our latest posts about where to visit next in this epic country.
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Parts of this trip were kindly gifted, but all opinions and recommendations are strictly our own.
Welcome along. I’m Clare, Founder of Take Me To Australia. Having moved to Australia six years ago, I made it my mission to learn more about this epic country we now call home. As we travel across the country to unique destinations, we share with fresh eyes the most extraordinary places we are lucky enough to experience. We aim to inspire others to follow in our footsteps, live their absolute best life, explore what Australia has to offer, and even encourage people further afield to make a similar move. We’ve grown a like-minded community of over 120,000 people. Be sure to join them by signing up to receive all the latest inspo, and connecting with us on Instagram and Facebook. See you soon.