Glide with dolphins, explore beautiful hinterland villages and enjoy fine organic dining in the iconic beach town of Byron Bay.
By Simon Webster
What to expect
- Stunning beaches next to organic restaurants
- Luxury retreats and stylish shopping
- Tiny villages in the rainforest hinterland
- Time: 3 days
- Distance: 240 kilometres (150 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Brisbane
- Price: $$$
If you thought the world’s best beaches were all in the middle of nowhere, Byron Bay is going to make you think again. Australia’s most famous beach town beguiles everyone from backpackers to Hollywood celebrities with its stunning stretches of sand and world-class surf breaks, right alongside an amazing array of restaurants, resorts, wellness activities, alternative culture and adventure.
Day 1: Check in, explore, and meet some dolphins
Pick up your hire car at Ballina Byron Gateway Airport and take the 33 kilometre (21-mile), 30 minute drive to your Byron Bay accommodation. Elements of Byron has been called one of the 25 coolest hotels in the world, so let’s head straight there and check in to your private luxury villa among the gum trees. Like many of the best things in Byron Bay, Elements is right by the beach, in this case, Belongil Beach, which offers 10 kilometres (six miles) of golden sand that feels like it could be miles from anywhere, but happens to be right next to one of the funkiest towns on the planet. Stroll to the surf, have a dip and soak up some sea air, then wander back to jump aboard the world’s first solar train for the 10 minute ride into town.
Your lunch destination is Beach Byron Bay. Sophisticated but relaxed, it offers superb seasonal dining and views over Clarkes Beach that will make you want to linger all day. Not that you will – because a few minutes’ walk away is the starting point for your afternoon adventure with Go Sea Kayak, on which you’ll paddle beyond the breaking waves to get close to dolphins, migrating humpback whales and turtles, and quite possibly be moved to tears by the beauty of it all. Afterwards, a 10 minute walk will lead you to a cold drink at the famous Beach Hotel on Main Beach, where you can watch an eclectic array of visitors and locals walk by. Around the corner, you’ll have oysters and dinner overlooking the town from the Balcony Bar & Oyster Co, after which a 10 minute taxi ride will take you back to your hotel.
Day 2: Head for the hills
Salute the sun with yoga on the beach. It’s a particularly apt way to start proceedings on a day when you will be exploring the Byron Bay hinterland, and its thriving counterculture movement. The mountains, rainforest and rolling hills inland from Byron are as stunning as the coastline, so jump in the car and head for your first stop, Bangalow, which is just an 12-kilometre (seven-mile), 15-minute drive away. This pretty little village has become a not-so-secret gourmet hotspot in recent years, so grab a coffee at one of the cafés such as TOWN and have a stroll among the shops – perhaps picking up some stylish Byron-esque clothes and homewares from Island Luxe, or a gift from quirky selection at the Wax Jambu Emporium.
Drive to Newrybar: just six kilometres (four miles) down the road, it’s another charming village and home to your lunch venue, Harvest. A restaurant, deli and bakery housed in a classic Australian style of architecture, a ‘Queenslander’, it offers a relaxed atmosphere and a much-lauded menu featuring lots of local and organic ingredients. Now you’re venturing into Australia’s hippy heartland. Long-haired youngsters flocked here to the Northern Rivers region for the Aquarius Festival back in 1973, and many of them never left. Their finest hour was in the late ’70s, when they kept loggers away from the rainforest around the spectacular and now aptly named Protesters Falls. It’s 50 kilometres (31 miles), or an hour, from Newrybar and can be accessed via an easy 30 minute bushwalk. From here, it will take another 50 minutes to cover the 33 kilometres (21 miles) to Australia’s counterculture capital, Nimbin, a colourful (in more ways than one) village where alternative lifestyles are the norm. Have a wander up the main drag, Cullen Street, buy souvenirs at shops such as Hemping Around, and call in on the fascinating Nimbin Candle Factory. It’s just 74 kilometres (46 miles), or a little over an hour’s drive, back to Elements, and dinner by the pool at Graze.
Day 3: Be first to see the sun rise
You can’t visit Byron without going up to the lighthouse. Its perch atop Cape Byron is the most easterly point in mainland Australia, and this is the first spot in Australia to see the rising sun, so head up there for sunrise. The lighthouse is just an eight-kilometre (five-mile), or 15 minute drive from your hotel and offers unforgettable views, particularly if there are dolphins splashing about in the ocean below. Next, jump off the cliff. A tandem hang gliding flight will have you soaring like a bird over the Byron Bay coastline and give you a whole new appreciation of this incredible landscape in a surprisingly relaxing experience that ends with a soft landing on the sands of Tallow Beach. Time for lunch, which is going to be overlooking yet another Byron beach – Wategos. It’s just a 10 minute drive to Rae’s on Wategos, where you will enjoy some stylish al fresco dining overlooking what many people say is Byron’s prettiest stretch of sand (which is some accolade). Don’t be surprised if you spot a celebrity here; Byron’s mix of natural beauty, laid-back style and alternative thinking is becoming ever more popular with Hollywood types, and Rae’s has always attracted A-listers.
A tour of the hugely successful local artisan brewery, Stone & Wood, seems in order, followed by a bit of retail therapy (check out the very Byron bohemian fashions at Spell & The Gypsy Collective, and the beach-lifestyle clothes and homewares at Hope & May). Then head to The Farm. Just eight kilometres (five miles) from the centre of town, it’s a collection of sustainably-minded micro-businesses that raise animals, grow food, and sell fresh produce. Take a self-guided tour and stay for dinner at Three Blue Ducks, where all that sustainably grown food is turned into something sensational on a plate. Then it’s a 10 minute drive back to your hotel for your last night in Byron.
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