As you drive along Ewingsdale Road into Byron Bay, you can almost feel your energy change down a gear because one of the things that is so noticeable about Byron is the very chilled out nature of the place. A long time favourite of surfers, Byron Bay has managed to keep a quaint, village like feel, tinged with a salty, surfer style that is combined with fabulous, often organic food and a landscape and coastline that is world class.
If you’ve driven here from Coolangatta, one of the first things to do to get yourself into the vibe is to grab an outdoor table, a fish taco and a margarita from Miss Margarita on Jonson Street, because nothing makes you happier than a little cocktail and a guacamole topped nacho. You can people watch from your verandah perch as the restaurant is a cool turn of the head from the beach and the main strip. The menu is Mexican and tasty with a distinctive nod to the sea, so snapper burritos, prawn tacos and a variety of nacho options means everyone is catered for. It’s often pumping, so if you can’t arrive early or later in the day, then leave your mobile number with the staff and explore the area until your table comes free. It’s definitely worth the wait.
Hopefully now you’ll have kicked off your city rush and adopted a slightly more relaxed pace, so head straight down to Main Beach, kick off your jandals and take a wee stroll either along Main Beach towards The Pass, or turn in a westerly direction and head towards Belongil Beach. Either way, it’s a lovely way to gently burn off some of your lunch and more importantly to check out your swim spot for later in the day. Main Beach is great for swimming but for surfing also check out The Pass at the Eastern end of Main Beach which has consistent waves which have wrapped around the cape before lining up and cruising into The Pass. And in the other direction from the Main Beach carpark, to the North of the seawall, lies The Wreck, the rusting iron remains of the SS Wollongbar. The shipwreck has created a series of sand bars, so you get a great swell - perfect for surfing. And if surfing’s not your gig, then grab a snorkel and mask and check out all of the creatures who have inhabited the skeletal remains of the ship. However, please remember, this area of the beach isn’t patrolled and can sometimes be quite rough.
If you are a surfer, but haven’t brought your board with you, or you want to learn to surf, or even to brush up on your style, then pop your head into Soul Surf on Bay Street. The very friendly folk at Soul Surf will kit you out with a board and a wetsuit, a group lesson or private lesson depending on what your needs or whims are. They have lessons everyday and these 2 ½ lessons will take you where the surfs up. They may well even take you to the tea tree lake, a cola coloured lake (more commonly known as Lake Ainsworth) where you can swim in the tepid brown waters and reap the benefits of tea tree infused waters. If sufing isn’t your thing then the Soul Surf crew can rent you a bike to explore Byron Bay's lanes and byways on, so you can check the place out at a leisurely pace. You can even ride your bike across to Tallows Beach and cycle the length of it’s squeaky white sands.
After a great afternoon’s surfing, make sure you stop at Beach Byron Bay to replenish yourself. It’s another superb foodie stop and if you have rented a bike, you’re sorted as you can just scoot along to the end of Main Beach. (If not, drive towards The Pass and stop at the carpark at the southern end of Main Beach). You can dine here for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and grab a coffee and a cocktail most times in between (sort of when it comes to the cocktail.) With a distinctly Italian feel the food can only be described as delicious. Book for lunch and dinner and try to get a table on the verandah so you can be serenaded by the sounds of the waves crashing on the sand whilst you devour the squid ink spaghetti, baccala, agnolotti or fish of the day (go the fish of the day). Finish up with the truly sublime tiramisu and a glass of grappa or amaro. The staff at Beach are super helpful, very friendly and know intimately their agnolotti vs their spaghetti.
One of the must do’s in Byron Bay, and one that you’ll be automatically drawn to, is a visit to the Cape Byron Lighthouse that has protected sailors and ships alike from a close encounter with the rocky Easternmost point of Australia. The pristine lighthouse was built in 1901 and stands proudly at the apex of the cape. And whilst the light pans around the cape every evening, it is a destination in itself for many explorers during the day.
Most of the 4 km walk tramps over boardwalks and paths (however there is a short part where there is no footpath or boardwalk, so please be careful on these parts). The road climbs through rainforest with lush palms and curious hanging vines, and there are several superb look out points on the way up - one great selfie spot looks out over the Arakwal National Park to the white sands of Tallows Beach. Once you reach the lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers cottages (that you can rent if you really want to spend some time immersing yourself with this wild and beautiful place) you’ll be blown away with the views - out to sea, across Byron Bay’s beaches on one side and along to Tallows Beach on the other. Do pause and look out into the emerald green sea as you may well spot pods of dolphins surfing on the waves, and you’ll catch glimpses (and earfuls) of all manner of bird life going about their daily tasks amongst the trees and bush.
If you can’t get enough of this place and this walk, keep going up the path, that climbs along the coastline from the Westerly end of Wategos. It will lead you along a boardwalk (cleverly done so that you experience the landscape whilst not trampling on it) up and over the hill to The Pass, from scrubby bush back into lush rainforest. At The Pass you can grab a coffee or a bite to eat from the The Pass Cafe, or take your towel and a book and go for a well deserved swim and a chill out on the beach watching the surfers and the waves.
For those who are super fit, you can do the whole walk in reverse. But please be aware that the stairs are numerous and steep so, whilst you definitely won’t need the gym that day, it isn’t a great direction for those wanting a leisurely stroll (and definitely not suitable for strollers). If you are in a rush, then you can always opt to drive up to the lighthouse. There is an $8 parking fee, but it’s well worth it and the money is used for protecting the wildlife and upkeep of the park. There is a cafe between the cottages and the lighthouse, which commands views across Byron Bay’s beaches, so if you aren’t walking back down - or even if you are - pop in a have a coffee and a look before setting out again.
Because everyone loves a coffee and in Byron coffee must be accompanied by a croissant or Danish pastry (or even a doughnut - because you’re on holiday), the next place to visit is a little cafe slightly off the main drag. And slightly off track nature adds to its allure. Venture off Lawson Street up Massinger St, and on the Corner of Carlyle Street you’ll discover Top Shop. Grab a blanket from the basket and sit on their little strip of lawn and enjoy great coffee, the most glorious custard filled danish topped with fresh raspberries, an acai bowl or smashed avocado on sourdough. They make all of their pastries onsite and the staff are super friendly, the lawn filled with locals and visitors alike, all sunning themselves and enjoying this little piece of foodilicious paradise.
You’ve seen it from the hill leading to the lighthouse, but walking along the deserted and wild Tallows Beach is the best way to really get a feel for this beautiful and desolate place (and to walk off a little of the pastry fiesta - or justify having two…) Framed by the windswept Arakwal National Park, visiting this beach really gives you a feeling of how magnificent Australia was before we all came along and developed the lands. Follow the little paths through the National Park, but please do be mindful that this is a special place to the Arakwal people, and the wildlife that lives within. Please make sure you don't trample on the delicate flora, or the nests and burrows of the fauna. Please take all of your rubbish with you (and any that you might encounter on the way) and be respectful and keep your distance of the wildlife you will undoubtedly encounter on your walk.
The beach itself is wild and loud and you may well be one of the only people wandering it’s lengths. However swimming here isn’t a great idea as the surf is powerful and there are rips and strong currents, so if you’re in need of a swim, then head off to Lennox Head and it’s kooky, but beautiful Lake Ainsworth.
Framed by Australian tea trees and rushes, Lake Ainsworth at the Northern end of Pacific Parade is very picturesque. But what makes it really special is it’s almost cola colour due to the infusion of tea tree leaf oils - which mean the lake has great hydrating and rejuvenating qualities - for the skin not the digestive system. Take a leisurely dip, kayak or SUP across to the far shores, or for those seeking a more meditative state, simply float around on the your back gazing up to the heavens.
Back to Byron and the buzz of Jonson Street, take a table on the footpath or under the awning at Byron Fresh. Their pastries and cakes are stupendous - go the Portuguese tarts - the coffee is strong and their menu focuses on superfoods, free range and organic produce, (see, there’s a theme here), locally sourced wherever they possibly can. Do bring your Keep Cup in as they offer $1 off all takeaway coffees in Keep Cups and the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. In fact you will feel healthier just being there, people watching whilst you enjoy feats of deliciousness from the kitchen. The menu ranges from salads, halloumi rolls, local fish and meats prepared all sorts of ways, and there are lots of vegan options. So everyone is covered.
Accomodation in Byron is vast and varied for every budget. You can choose from youth hostels, boutique hotels to a huge number of homes for rent. So if you want to self cater every now and then there are great organic shops (as well as a supermarket) to stock up your rental kitchen from. Pop into Fundies and grab all manner of organic crisps, vegan cheeses, organic fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, along with larder essentials such as oils and vinegars.
Before you leave the wonders of Byron Bay, give yourself one last gourmet, environmentally conscious treat and pop into The Farm, 11 Ewingsdale Road, Ewingsdale. The Farm is intent on bringing a sustainable platform to farming, growing everything from cows to sunflowers, ensuring that all of the animals existing on the property lead happy, contented lives and that the food they produce is clean and as nourishing as possible. And boy is it tasty to boot.
The restaurant, brought to you by the chaps from Three Blue Ducks, is a taste sensation. Think ceviche, flavourful mussels in thai broth, burrata, exotic salads fresh from the garden, ploughmans lunches, it’s endless and so very hard to chose. On top of this, there is a playground for the kids, an ice cream caravan and you can wander around and meet the animals - the pigs is a particularly joyous looking lady - or simply sit amongst the macadamias, cracking nuts and reflecting on the peacefulness of the stand and your time in Byron Bay.