It’s official, Queensland’s border is open to parts (hopefully soon all) of NSW, so now Queenslanders can flock to Byron Bay and try to snag Zac Efron for themselves. The laid back coastal town needs no introduction, it’s that place you go on holidays and within minutes (seconds?) are wondering how quickly you can sell up in the big smoke and move in. So what’s so special about it?
As a regular visitor to this haven on New South Wales’ north coast, from family holidays as a kid to my parents now residents in the Byron hinterland for the past 20 years, I’ve watched this sleepy surfer town transform into a world-class wunderkind of global music festivals, cultural events, eclectic boutiques and foodie finds without losing its intrinsic appeal.
5 thing to do while in town
- A cocktail at Raes on Wategos
- A hinterland drive, stopping for a shop and bite to eat in Bangalow, Newrybar and Mullumbimby
- Breakfast at Top Shop, Carlyle Street
- Visit The Farm Byron Bay for food, produce and time in the outdoors
- Hit the high street for a spot of shopping including cult brands Spell and Marr-Kett
It has a community feel with big-city amenities where you can order your organic, non-dairy chai latte while rubbing shoulders with pro surfers, musicians, fashion identities and assorted Hemsworth brothers at the local green co-op. Not surprisingly, Byron Bay is a popular haunt for millennial start-ups with plenty of Wi-Fi-enabled cafes to plug in and plot world domination with your niche product.
Just two hours’ drive from Brisbane or a 45-minute highway trip from Gold Coast Airport, watch as the urban scenery cedes to lush, green foliage and rolling hills before cascading down to white-sand beaches and rolling waves. You can actually feel the urban angst peel away as the fresh air and wide, open space embrace you.
It’s one lane into Byron Bay from the north, but you won’t mind the traffic as you idly watch bronzed surfers clutching their boards with one hand while pedalling into town alongside happy pups trotting to the beach with their owners.
The people-watching possibilities in town are just as fascinating. Where else can you pass wizened, dreadlocked hippies, linen-swathed matrons and young, barefoot families while hearing Hebrew and Swedish spoken by sun-kissed backpackers? Albeit perhaps less of this post-covid.
The best spot to take in the scene and the great blue yonder is from Cape Byron Lighthouse – Australia’s most easterly point, an easy walk or run up Lawson Street to the top. Here you can spy pods of dolphins, turtles swimming or even humpback whales during their annual migration. In town, Main Beach tapers off to silky sand and the blue Pacific Ocean. Look out to Julian Rocks – a popular drop-off dive site – or survey the scalloped bays to the north. The consistent swell of Belongil Beach is ideal for surf novices, while experienced surfers can check out the breaks at The Wreck, The Pass or Clarkes Beach.
The town centre and hinterland has steadily attracted an array of well-known names – from edgy restauranteurs to fashion folk – that embody the spirit of collaboration and innovation. The sister duo behind Spell Designs inspires wanderlust with their ‘gypset’ lifestyle attire, while Darren Robertson’s Three Blue Ducks restaurant entices with meals crafted from ingredients sourced directly from the onsite farm.
Byron’s golden glow has also added shine to nearby coastal enclaves such as Brunswick Heads and Bangalow, like-minded yet under-the-radar locales that embrace the eco ethos, community-minded feel and laidback beachy vibe of the bay.
My parents are adamant that even the local magpies are friendly – perhaps these notorious swooping birds have adopted the mantra of the Byron Bay welcome sign: “Cheer up, slow down, chillout”. I know I have.