From alternative health treatments to beachfront breakfasts, Byron Bay specialises in relaxation.
By Sue Gough Henly
Perched on the eastern tip of the Australian mainland in subtropical New South Wales, Byron Bay (or simply "Byron", if you're local) is renowned not only for its astounding beauty but its diverse range of cultural and countercultural activities, from music festivals to farmers markets, yoga classes to organic health foods, and every kind of spa treatment known to humankind.
Byron Bay has a yoga experience for everyone. The Byron Yoga Centre offers a range of yoga, health and wellness retreats, but if you'd prefer to simply take a class, there are plenty of options. There are women's yoga classes, including prenatal yoga and yoga for new mums. There are yogalates classes that combine yoga and Pilates. Byron Yoga Centre and Byron Yoga Lounge offer more traditional yoga classes. And in case you were wondering, there are also beachside yoga classes at the Byron Bay Surf Club, where you can practise to the sound of the waves.
Byron Bay’s most famous pub, the Beach Hotel – or "the Beachy", as it's often called – has been welcoming locals and visitors for more than 25 years. It offers a chilled atmosphere throughout the day and evening, with a beer garden that overlooks the golden sands and aquamarine waters of Main Beach. There's excellent coffee and early bird breakfasts to kickstart your morning, as well as hearty after-surf lunches and ice-cold beers to quench your thirst after a day of sun, sand and salt at the beach. Make sure you spend a Sunday afternoon here: there's always a great local band playing music to suit the mood of the crowd. It's equally magical when the full moon rises over the Cape Byron Lighthouse and a pool of light streams across the ink-black ocean.
Byron Bay lies in the basin of an ancient volcano, with a foundation of black obsidian that some people believe infuses the area with a powerful energising force. It was a place for sacred rituals and healing for the original Aboriginal inhabitants, the Bundjalung people. Today Byron is the New Age epicentre of Australia, attracting naturopaths, psychics, healers and massage therapists. As such, you'll find tarot, palm and horoscope readings, as well as reflexology, iridology, kinesiology and reiki therapies on offer here, as well as meditation, belly dancing and drumming workshops, aromatherapy, music and art therapy sessions, aura readings and quantum alignment therapies. There are also all manner of facials, scrubs and wraps available at the area's many day spas, not to mention massages that span the spectrum from shiatsu and Ayurveda, to Swedish and Thai. A great place to start your journey is at the Byron Medicine Wheel, which offers all manner of psychic readings, healing and massages. If the practitioners there don't offer what you are looking for, they can tell you who does.
The Cape Byron Walking Track is on every Byron visitor's list – it's too beautiful to miss. Start your day with a long, lazy breakfast at the Beach Restaurant overlooking Clarkes Beach. Then stroll along the beach to the renowned surfing break, The Pass. From here take the track's 3.7-kilometre (2.3-mile) loop, which winds through Bangalow palms, across kangaroo grasslands, along pretty Wategos and Little Wategos beaches and out to the tip of the Cape Byron Headland, which is the easternmost point of mainland Australia. Your end point is the century-old whitewashed Byron Bay Lighthouse, which you can climb for a magnificent view south along Tallow Beach, east across the Pacific Ocean and west over a lime-green plain dotted with sugarcane, macadamia and dairy farms to the rainforest-covered hills. Keep an eye out for turtles, dolphins, stingrays and, during the winter months, humpback whales, which can breach so close to shore that you can hear their breathing.
Relax on comfortable custom couches (there's even a first row of lie-down seating) at Byron Bay’s alternative cinema, Pighouse Flicks. This renovated venue offers art house movies and international films in the chilled atmosphere of a converted piggery, which is now also the home of the excellent Byron Bay Brewery. Enjoy a locally brewed beer and updated pub food, sourced from locally grown produce, then head next door to enjoy a movie. This venue still channels the eccentric spirit of Byron Bay and was the original locale of the Byron Bay Bluesfest. Should you want to stay longer, the excellent Arts Factory backpacker lodge is also located on site.