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Byron Bay’s most famous hotel reopens

Byron Bay’s icon of bohemian luxury, Rae’s on Wategos, has unveiled a new look – and the pictures speak for themselves.

By Georgia Rickard
Published: 23 May, 2017

Sir Richard Branson has called it his favourite hotel in the world – and it’s easy to see why. Tucked away in the free-spirited surf town of Byron Bay, Rae’s on Wategos has been on the hotel industry’s best-dressed lists since it first opened its doors in 1994. Now, like so many of its guests (which have included everyone from Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow to Lenny Kravitz and Kate Winslet) the property has reinvented itself. This month, Rae’s has unveiled a fresh new look – guaranteed to complement any of the season’s hottest colours.


Rae's on Wategos, Byron Bay, New South Wales

Rae’s has always been outrageously good-looking, mind you. Thanks to its tropical gardens (reportedly designed by Salvador Dalí, said to be a relative to the original owner), ultra-luxurious rooms and an enviable front-row position on prime real estate at Wategos Beach, this whitewashed villa became Australia’s most sought-after stay almost as soon as it opened. With its celebrity clientele and unusual styling, its reputation soon stretched beyond Australia’s borders. In a time when traditional luxury hotels dominated global accommodation trends, Rae’s at Wategos offered the opposite: Moorish pink tiled walls, marble floors and an exotic assortment of art and antiques. Not only did the hotel capture the imagination of fashionable travellers everywhere, but it perfectly embodied Byron Bay’s bohemian countercultural spirit, helping to establish the town’s international reputation and catapult it onto most-wanted destination lists across the globe.


Rae's on Wategos, Byron Bay, New South Wales

Thankfully, the hotel’s makeover has done nothing to dishonour this heritage. Overseen by celebrated New York-based Australian designer Tamsin Johnson, the hotel’s updated look incorporates natural fabrics, handwoven furniture and streamlined custom lighting, as well as organic materials such as sandstone, limestone and timber. In keeping with the hotel’s global reputation, several items were sourced internationally – including a wrought-iron chandelier from an antique fair in Parma. However, many of the updated aspects have been sourced from closer to home. Byron Bay artist Todd Hunter’s works sit in the reception, and local artisans are responsible for the joinery and solid dip-dyed concrete bedside tables. All upholstery was custom made.


Rae's on Wategos, Byron Bay, New South Wales

Rae’s legacy of success is thanks to flamboyant Australian chef, Vincent “Vinnie” Rae. Having already run several well-known restaurants (including Rae’s on Mary, in Brisbane), he developed Rae’s on Wategos as not just a sought-after place to stay but one of the nation’s most celebrated dining experiences, and today the restaurant remains a drawcard on its own. Helmed by head chef Guy Skinner-Hutchison, the property’s alfresco restaurant serves beautifully presented fare under an open sky, and offers intimate views of Byron Bay’s favourite beach, often with pods of dolphins in the nearby water. There’s no denying it: this really is a special place.


Rae's on Wategos, Byron Bay, New South Wales

At Rae’s, as is the case with many icons, ambition is always waiting in the wings. There are bigger plans still for this famous hotspot’s future. Later this year, the restaurant is slated to undergo its own mini nip and tuck, while the staff’s uniforms will receive an update in the form of fresh designs by Australian up-and-comer, Lucy Folk. Plans are also in the works to develop Rae’s Collection: a suite of hotel toys that will include a private jet and super yacht, so guests can travel to and from the hotel in signature Rae’s style. As you do.