Top places to explore in blissful Byron

Laid-back surf town meets luxury retreat at this northern New South Wales coastal idyll - our top places to explore in Byron Bay.

A girl embracing the horizon on a coastline
  • Krysia Bonkowski
  • May 2018

On the rocks overlooking Byron Bay’s main beach, a young man in happy pants sways to a tribal drumbeat with a beer in hand. Only yesterday, he was dressed in a crisp chambray shirt and chinos, driving wealthy tourists to luxury villas in a golf buggy. That’s Byron Bay for you.

Just the mention of this picturesque seaside town is enough to send many Australians into a dreamy-eyed stupor. Byron Bay has attracted generations of seachangers, and draws a constant stream of migratory backpackers chasing sun and surf.

New-model cars may near outnumber classic Kombi vans traversing the backstreets these days, but the coastal vibe and sub-tropical riches that made Byron one of Australia’s most beloved destinations remain.

People at a white sand beach
The pass, Byron Bay

On the beach

Nothing captures the bundle of contradictions that is Byron quite like the beach. Multi-million-dollar shacks sit above the dunes, while backpackers sleep on the sands below. During dawn yoga at recently opened eco-resort Elements of Byron, a naked man in a cowboy hat wanders by on “nude-friendly” Belongil Beach.

A lighthouse on Byron Bay cape
Lighthouse at Cape Byron, Byron Bay

Take it all in with a hike to the iconic lighthouse perched on Australia’s eastern-most tip. The Cape Byron walking track starts at Lawson Street and climbs over Clarkes Beach and Wategos to the summit. If you’re perky enough for a pre-dawn climb, you’ll be rewarded with the first sunrise to hit mainland Australia.

Back at Lawson Street, Beach Byron Bay is an airy setting for some post-walk sustenance. Enjoy an indulgent breakfast (waffles with bananas and cinnamon mascarpone anyone?) on a balcony peeking out through the vegetation onto surfers bobbing on The Pass.

People on a shoreline at a sunset setting
Surfers at sunset, Byron Bay

The Pass, a famous surf break on the point between Wategos and Clarkes, is crowded from sunrise onwards by rookies on longboards and diehard locals. Paddle past after breakfast on a Cape Byron Kayaks tour, and you may encounter Byron’s population of bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles and, between June and November, humpback whales.

If you want to get off the main beach, the breezy town of Brunswick Heads is just north, while 15 minutes south you’ll find surfing hotspot Lennox Head. Make time for a long lunch at local favourite Foam Food + Wine, and possibly the best oysters you’ll ever eat (think Sydney Rock Oysters with a finger lime vinaigrette).

Come evening, anyone in search of a lively night will find themselves back in town: jostle for elbow room at buzzing Mexican diner Miss Margarita, or share tapas at St Elmo Dining Room & Bar.

Into the hills

No trip to the Byron Shire is complete without a drive through the dreamy hinterland, each turn revealing glimpses of the ocean or a patchwork of hills, forest and fields.

Stop by Newrybar and Bangalow, where quaint weatherboard houses sit cheek-to-cheek with hip cafés and high-end homewares stores. At Newrybar’s Harvest Café, diners sit on the veranda of a heritage cottage feasting on dishes made using produce from Harvest’s own kitchen garden and local farmers.

This paddock-to-plate ethos drew the team behind Sydney’s popular Three Blue Ducks. Their most ambitious project yet, The Farm, includes a bakery, produce store, florist, Three Blue Ducks restaurant and a working farm growing organic crops and raising poultry, pigs and cattle.

See the locavore ethos on a smaller scale at trendy Folk café, next to the caravan park in North Byron, and sister café Woods, in Bangalow. In the Shire’s booming dining scene, it would take a week of breakfasts, lunches and dinners to touch the sides. All you need is a car and a bottomless stomach.

Witness the regions’ agricultural wealth first hand at the Mullumbimby markets. Every Friday morning, stalls are piled high with luscious local produce. Claim a chair under the fig trees for a hearty organic breakfast.

Find inner peace

There are plenty of ways to bliss out in Byron, whether your idea of calm involves spa treatments or chakras. Deep in the rainforest, free-spirited, kombucha-sipping old Byron is alive and well at Crystal Castle. After a wander through the serene Shambhala gardens, try vegetarian treats at Lotus Café with its views of the misty hills, or see the colour of your soul in an aura photo.

Byron’s hippie legacy has also made it a magnet for yoga aficionados. Crystal Castle offers yoga and meditation sessions with visiting yogis, Elements’ in-house yogi leads daily dawn sessions high over Belongil and the Byron Yoga Centre, one of Australia’s longest-running yoga schools, offers drop-in classes and wellness retreats.

Krysia Bonkowski was a guest of Elements of Byron and Destination Byron.

Where to stay

Beachfront luxury

Chic Elements of Byron opens in new window offers a resort experience infused with a laid-back coastal vibe. Single story, eco-friendly villas suggest restraint from the outside and luxury within. Laze in a poolside cabana while sipping native-produce cocktails from the open Graze restaurant.

A holiday home in the trees

The self-contained Bayshore Bungalows opens in new window sit in lush, tropical gardens. With large kitchens and plenty of space, the one- and two-room bungalows offer families and couples a welcome respite just out of Byron.

Pickup a rental car in Ballina Byron Airport, 30 minutes from Byron Bay.