Take a day trip or spend a week. There is a lot to discover in the World Heritage-listed rainforests, historic villages and green valleys of the Byron Bay Hinterland.
By Lee Atkinson
The beautiful beaches may draw visitors to Byron Bay, but most people soon discover that the hinterland is also worth exploring. With its green rolling hills, fertile farmlands, historic towns and rainforest, it offers a scenic and cultural contrast to Byron's beach lifestyle. Cruise the maze of country roads and you'll soon discover numerous eco-friendly, alternative lifestyle communities and tiny, picturesque villages. The hinterland is home to some of the state's best fine dining experiences and shopping, as well as World Heritage-listed tracts of ancient, untouched rainforest.
- Drive the scenic backroads though the Byron Bay hinterland's rainforests and historic villages
- Watch the sun rise from the plug of an ancient volcano, Mount Warning
- Pick up a quirky handmade souvenir at one of the local markets
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Top things to do in the Byron Bay Hinterland
Eat local in Newrybar
All the best cafés and restaurants in Byron Bay and its surrounds pride themselves on serving local produce. If you really want to get a taste of the Byron Bay hinterland, head 20 kilometres (12 miles) south-west from Byron Bay to the village of Newrybar. Here you'll find Harvest restaurant, deli and bakery, which serves up the best of the Byron hinterland's organic fruit and produce, from breakfast till dinner. What the owners can’t source locally, they grow themselves in their kitchen garden, visible from your table. Work up an appetite before you eat by browsing through the village's galleries, clothing stores and artist workshops.
Eat and shop in Bangalow
Stock up your picnic hamper with home-grown supplies or pick up a unique souvenir at the weekend markets in Bangalow, another typical hinterland town about 20 minutes drive south-west of Byron Bay. This is where Byron locals come to eat, shop and escape the summer holiday crowds. The historic main street shopping strip has an eclectic mix of fashion, homewares, antiques, art and gifts. Look out for Island Luxe, a beautifully curated store boasting a fashionable selection of homewares and clothing. Don't leave town without trying some locally grown coffee in one of the many cafés and eateries. The Stockpot Kitchen at the local bowling club is an unexpectedly good foodie find.
Hang with the hippies in Nimbin
The small, sleepy dairy farming town of Nimbin, 65 kilometres (40 miles) west of Byron Bay, became the Australian heart of the hippy movement when it hosted the Aquarius Festival in 1973, and many of its friendly locals still follow an alternative lifestyle. Most of the area's farms are low-impact, organic or biodynamic and some shops are run on a co-operative profit-sharing model. Psychedelic murals adorn the streets, shops like The Green Bank, Creative Terra and Hemping Around sell hand-made eco-friendly clothes and gifts and new-age cafés serve sustainably farmed produce - head to Truffula Seeds for organic gluten-free and vegan treats or the Abundance Cafe in the Djanbung Gardens Permaculture College for dishes made with home-grown organic produce and rain-fed rice. For something sweet The Contented Tummy has the best selection of home-made slices and serves locally-grown coffee.
Be first to see the sun rise
No holiday in Byron is complete without boasting that you were the first in the country to see the sun rise. The majority of travellers do it from Cape Byron, the most easterly point on the Australia's mainland, which is an hour's walk or a 10-minute drive from Byron's town centre. However, Mount Warning, the plug of an ancient volcano, a one-hour drive north-west of Byron Bay, is actually the first place in mainland Australia to be touched by the morning sun. The self-guided walk to the top takes about 2 1/2 hours, so it's an early start, but there's something very special about greeting the first rays of the day from the small viewing platform at the summit. Byron Bay Adventure Tours has an AUD $189 overnight camping tour that includes a sunrise climb.
Taste fresh gourmet nuts in Alstonville
Native to Australia, the macadamia nut is prized for its delicious buttery taste, and Alstonville, about a half-hour drive south-west of Byron Bay, grows a lot of them. The world's first commercial orchard of macadamia trees was planted here in the early 1880s and the nuts are now one of the region's largest industries. Macadamias are a popular delicacy in fine dining restaurants, but you can buy buckets of nuts from farm gate stalls in and around Alstonville for just a few dollars.
Walk through ancient rainforests
Massive tree ferns and tall trees festooned with flowering orchids, lush palms and clear streams cascading down moss-covered rocks are just some of the things you'll find in the World Heritage-listed Gondwana rainforests. There are 41 Gondwana rainforest national parks and reserves along Australia's east coast, and five of them – Border Ranges, Wollumbin, Mebbin, Nightcap and Limpinwood – are in the Byron Bay hinterland. There's a range of walks in these parks, from easy 20-minute strolls to all-day hikes, or you can follow one of the half-day driving loops on the Rainforest Way. One of the prettiest is the Wollumbin-Mount Warning Circuit, which starts in Murwillumbah, 57 kilometres (35 miles) north of Byron Bay, and goes around the base of Mount Warning.
How to get there
The nine-hour drive from Sydney north to Byron Bay up the Pacific Highway is a much-loved summer holiday road trip for Sydneysiders. You can also easily fly into Ballina Byron Airport from the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle. Byron Bay is a two-hour drive south of Brisbane and just one hour south of the Gold Coast, both of which also have international airports. The best way to explore the hinterland is with a car, which you can hire from any of the airports or Byron Bay's town centre.