An iconic sign hanging outside a shop on a Byron Bay sidewalk says it all.
In 1966, Bruce Brown released his seminal surfing movie “The Endless Summer” about two surfers, Mike Hyson and Robert August as they travelled the globe in search of the perfect wave, and the world changed forever. Suddenly surfing, a sport that had originated in the Hawaiian Islands and spread to the West Coast of the United States, was taking over every Australian beach. Every car had a surfboard on top and a blonde haired ‘surfie’ at the wheel, and every wave had a dozen surfers dropping in.
Byron Bay’s unique point breaks immediately became a mecca for surfers from around Australia and around the world. As word spread, this once sleepy seaside town quickly became the epicentre of Australian surfing culture. Six decades later, Byron Bay continues to enjoy legendary status amongst the world’ surfing fraternity.
A place of many faces
Today, magnificent coastal seascapes, pristine beaches and great surf breaks are complimented by high-end fashion boutiques, multi-million dollar houses, five-star resorts and some of the best restaurants in the country. It’s all here. Little wonder then that Byron Bay is a favourite destination for both well-healed tourists and budget-conscious families looking for an ‘endless summer’ experience. In more recent times it has also become a favoured destination for backpackers seeking to avoid bleak European winters. It’s also home to some of Australia’s most affluent, with property values in Byron Bay amongst the most expensive in the country. Chris Hemsworth of Thor movie fame has purchased property at Broken Head just south of Byron Bay and is building a $9 million mansion. What a marvel!
Byron Bay is also one of Australia’s most bohemian environments, reminiscent in many ways of Venice Beach in California – a place where the 1970s never really left town. There is something for everyone in Byron Bay. For backpackers travelling Australia on a tight budget, Byron Bay is a magnet for laid-back fun in the sun during the day and party time in the evenings. Stroll the streets. You’ll see them all. Surfers with long, shaggy hair and baggy board shorts. Young overseas visitors struggling under enormous backpacks, searching for hostel accommodation. The casually attired but obviously well-healed enjoying brunch or frequenting one of the numerous fashion boutiques. That’s the beautiful thing about Byron Bay, it’s a place of many faces.
Byron Bay has always been a favourite destination of Dinah’s and mine. This place really established itself during the 1960s and 70s when, at the start of the surfing boom young surfers travelled from one end of the country to the other in search of the perfect wave. Many came to Byron Bay…and some never left! It remains a surfing mecca, the location of many of the most perfect surfing breaks on the east coast of Australia. I have enjoyed some of the best surfing days of my life at Main Beach, Clarkes, The Pass, Wategos and Tallow’s Beach. The thing surfers love, and have always loved about this place is the variety of surf breaks. Regardless of which direction the prevailing winds are blowing, one of Byron Bay’s breaks is sure to be working. So, you can always get wet.
Something for everyone
Byron Bay is famous for many things, but most of all it’s famous for its creative, laid-back lifestyle. This is a place to relax and enjoy great surf, delicious food, spell-binding scenery, vibrant markets and music festivals. You can throw a surfboard in at any one of Byron Bay’s perfect beaches, take a kayaking tour to see dolphins, a whale-watching cruise during the annual migration, or go diving around Julian Rocks. In July, you can join the thousands of music lovers who flock to the annual Splendour in the Grass Music Festival in the North Byron Parklands, to camp out and enjoy the cream of Australian and international contemporary music talent. The Byron Bay region abounds in rich and fertile farmland, so not surprisingly fresh produce is a hallmark of the area and is yours to enjoy in the many quality local restaurants and eateries. You can also purchase fresh from the farm at any of the local markets, including the Byron Bay Community Markets held each Sunday in Byron Bay, or at the close-by Bangalow and Mullumbimby markets. Speaking of Bangalow and Mullumbimby, or ‘Mullum’ as it is referred to, these two local hamlets must be on your to-visit list. Just a short drive from Byron Bay, these hinterland gems bring a quaint and creative perspective to the region, with locally produced goods on sale as you stroll the streets. Personally, I think that Bangalow is one of the most picturesque towns in Australia. I never tire of visiting it and meandering its vibrant main street.
Not to be missed is a visit to the Byron Bay Lighthouse. The lighthouse is an icon of the area and is immediately visible as you enter Byron Bay. Constructed in 1899, the lighthouse sits majestically atop Cape Byron, Australia’s most easterly point. Now managed by the Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales, you can take a guided tour, stepping back in time to relive the daily duties of lighthouse keepers and their families, while enjoying one of the greatest ocean views on the Australian coastline. I recall visiting Byron Bay in my younger days and watching in awe as mountain goats grazed on the near-vertical cliffs of the Cape Byron headland. Sadly, the last of these fabled goats, affectionately called ‘Wate-goat’ was relocated in 2013.
Each February, Dinah and I undertake our annual pilgrimage south from the Sunshine Coast in our Aura caravan. Our destination, the northern New South Wales Coast. Byron Bay is about 275 kilometres south of the Sunshine Coast in South East Queensland and about 750 kilometres north of Sydney. For two weeks we enjoy the simple pleasures of caravanning along the coast; swimming, surfing, sunbathing and relaxing. Early February is a great time of year to enjoy this region. The January school holidays are over and families have returned home for another year of work and school. This means that everywhere is less crowded and less expensive. Yet it is still summer, the water is still warm, and the weather is still perfect.
Accommodation options abound in Byron Bay and surrounds; from expensive apartments and world-class beachfront resorts, right through to budget hostels. And in the adjacent hinterlands, rustic hideaways offer a unique holiday experience, but still only minutes from all the coastal action. For the migratory backpacker community there are numerous hostels in Byron Bay offering dorm, twin and private rooms. Some are located within metres of the beach, most within easy walking distance of the centre of town. You’ll find all the hostel accommodation options listed on: www.byron-bay.com/hostel or for a broader overview of what accommodation is available in Byron Bay go to: www.byron.bay.com/accommodation
These days, caravan parks are the go for Dinah and me, and there are any number of good holiday parks to choose from in and around Byron Bay. If you want to stay close to town, Reflections Holiday Parks Clarkes Beach on Lighthouse Road is just a 10 minute walk to the centre of town and offers direct access to one of the most beautiful beaches on the east coast of Australia.www.reflectionsholidayparks.com.au
Facing due east, First Sun Holiday Park is on Lawson Street on the beachfront and again, is an easy walk to town. It also has great views towards the Wreck, Byron Lighthouse, and Mount Warning and beyond. www.firstsunholidaypark.com.au
A little further around at Tallow Beach is the Big4 Byron Holiday Park on Broken Head Road. Set on approximately 30 acres, the park has direct access to Tallow Beach and is just a 5 minute drive from the heart of Byron Bay. This is an ideal family-friendly park. www.big4.com.au
If you’d prefer to stay a little out of town, head south to Suffolk Beachfront Holiday Park, a classic holiday park with modern facilities and old world charm. This is one of the best natural holiday park locations in the area, also with direct access to Tallow Beach. www.suffolkbeachfront.com.au
Drive 10 minutes south of Byron Bay on the coast road towards Ballina and you’ll discover Broken Head. This has to be one of the best kept secrets on the coast. A smaller, more intimate park in a spectacular setting right on a beach and framed by a magnificent craggy headland, this is a very special place to stay and enjoy a close affinity with nature. Absolutely worth checking out at: www.brokenheadholidaypark.com.au
Finally, 17 kilometres south of Byron Bay is Lennox Head. This is our favourite spot to stay on the NSW north coast. Great camping on the shores of Lake Ainsworth and just a 15 minute drive to Byron Bay. See my previous February 2017 story ‘The Legend Lives On’for more information on Lennox Head.
Getting to Byron Bay
Located just south of the Gold Coast in northern New South Wales, Byron Bay is easily accessible. Many overseas airlines operate out of the Gold Coast Airport on the southern end of the Gold Coast. These include Air New Zealand, Tigerair, Jetstar, Virgin Australia, Air Asia X, Qantas, Scoot and Hong Kong Airlines. Arriving from overseas, you can catch an airport shuttle or hire a car and drive the 60 kilometres from the Gold Coast Airport to Byron Bay. If you are already in Australia, you may be able to fly from your current location directly to the Gold Coast and transit to Byron Bay. Many Australian visitors, including families, simply drive to Byron Bay. Located just south of the Queensland border, Byron Bay is an easy journey from either the north or south.
Tips for the Trip
Tips for the Trip
Pre-plan your travel to Byron Bay. Internal air travelin Australia can be expensive, but there are always low cost/discount airfares available if you are flexible as to when you want to travel. If you are flying into the Gold Coast, consider how you will get from the airport to Byron Bay. There is no real public transportand a 60 kilometre taxi fare could cost you $150 or more. An airport shuttle at around $32 is a better option. Or, if you plan to travel while you are in the region, why not hire a motor vehicle to pick up at the airport?
Caution – the streets of Byron Bay are metred. If you are driving, it will cost you to park your car, including at beachside parking precincts. Make sure that you have ‘fed the meter’. You don’t need an expensive parking fine blowing out your holiday budget!
Finally, it is a good idea to book your accommodationin advance. While Byron Bay accommodation costs do fluctuate according to seasons, it is a popular holiday destination all year round, particularly with overseas visitors, so demand is always strong.
So, if you’re in search of the endless summer or simply endless fun, do your homework before you arrive. There are so many things to do and places to see in the Byron Bay region, you don’t want to miss a thing! And look out for Chris Hemsworth as you walk about town. He’s a local.
Main picture: A sign hanging outside a beach fashion shop in Byron Bay says it all
- Backpacker bus. Seems like the 1970s never left town
- The Pass, one of the few north-facing beaches in Australia
- Waiting to paddle out at Main Beach
- Crystal clear water and great surf at Wategos Beach
- Says it all!
- The wildlife at The Pass
- Can you point me in the direction of a backpacker hostel?
- The cafe culture is alive and well in the Bay
- Beach fashion
- An iconic watering hole for locals and visitors alike
- The majestic Cape Byron lighthouse