Byron Bay

Surfer and dog, at Tallow Beach, Byron Bay (photo AAP image)
Tallow Beach, Byron Bay
"Walk up to the lighthouse and Australia's eastern-most point. The views are staggering — and totally worth the effort — and it's one of the best places for spotting whales."

We all know someone who gets a little twitchy away from the modern trappings of the big smoke. The perfect option for a small break away from home is Byron Bay. It's relaxed enough to make you feel as if you're on holidays but with all the comforts: excellent coffee, great food, clubs, pubs and cinemas. Add to that its stunning beachside locale and you have a destination that draws people from all walks of life — yes, including the fire-twirling, bidi-smoking hippies it's famous for. Be prepared though: you may not want to leave.

Getting there

Fly with Virgin Blue or Jetstar to Ballina, 20 minutes south of Byron. Both airlines, as well as Qantas, run more regular services to Coolangatta (40 minutes north) on the Gold Coast. Shuttle buses run between both airports and Byron Bay.

When you get there

Immerse yourself in the local culture by heading to The Railway Hotel (phone (02) 6685 7662) — or The Rails, as the locals call it. It's an outdoors pub with lots of picnic tables, fires in 44-gallon drums during the winter months, and plenty of atmosphere, including live music each night. The kitchen, which serves good pub grub at reasonable prices, stays open till 9pm.

Saturday

Start the day at the Bayleaf café (phone (02) 6685 8900), where those living in these parts will vouch you won't find a better brekka. From here, it's time to go for a walk and get your bearings. From Main Beach, walk up to the lighthouse and Australia's eastern-most point. The views are staggering — and totally worth the effort — and it's one of the best places for spotting whales. Make the return journey via the conservation park and back into town. If you amble and take a dip at Clarkes Beach, you'll fill most of the morning.

Back in town, grab some of the best fish and chips you'll ever wrap hungry lips around from Fishmongers Cafe, in Bay Lane behind the Beach Hotel, then have a picnic on Main Beach.

So many options for a sunny afternoon … If you've got kids, get them hanging 10. Black Dog Surfing three-and-a-half-hour group lessons for beginners, as well as private tuition. Those with a curiosity for creatures of the deep should join a snorkelling trip with Byron Bay Dive Centre. Depending on the season, you could see manta rays, leopard and wobbegong sharks — both species of shark are completely harmless — eagle rays, turtles and about 400 species of fish.

If these options sound like far too much activity, there are hundreds of masseuses and alternative-therapy practitioners in town. Ask a local for a recommendation or pick up a copy of the Byron Body & Soul Guide from the tourist office.

Late in the afternoon, take up residence in the beer garden of the Beach Hotel, where cold ales and hot views are the order of the day. The Beach Kitchen serves steaks, burgers, pasta, salads and the like in the beer garden or there's an upmarket option. The Pacific Dining Room, run by Melburnians John and Lisa van Haandal, is a casually sophisticated indoor-outdoor space with a menu influenced by Mediterranean cuisine.

There's plenty to do after dark in Byron. Most of the bars — Cheeky Monkeys and La La Land — have a younger, backpacker vibe if that's your thing, while live music lovers should check out what's on at the Great Northern.

Sunday

A bit posher than your average caff is Byron Beach Cafe on Clarkes Beach. Grab a seat outside in the sunshine and tuck into granola trifle with rhubarb and strawberry compote and vanilla yoghurt or fried eggs with char-grilled chorizo and homemade baked beans.

It's worth renting a car — Earthcar Rentals is a carbon-neutral car company which does half-day rates — to take the trip to Bangalow in the hinterland. It's a tiny, sleepy, picture-perfect town with a main drag hedged by historic buildings which have been converted into chic boutiques, cafes and galleries. Stop at Ate for perfectly presented meals made from local produce.

Heading back to Byron, head to Tallow Beach for one last dip. Just south of the lighthouse, it's less crowded than some of the strips of sand closer to town. Then again, it is 7km long, which could have something to do with its sense of spaciousness.

What to bring home

A tan, of course.

Where to stay

Byron or Bali? You could definitely be in either at The Garden Burées, next door to the Arts Factory backpackers (so some rooms can be a little noisy). Ranging from studios to three-bedrooms, they're fully self-contained, some with private courtyards and spas. From $175 per night.

Close to town and perfectly comfortable is the BreakFree Eco Beach Resort. Even the studio rooms have kitchenette facilities and some join to one-bedroom apartments if required to make a family room. From $174 per night.

You could hardly be more central than at the Beach Hotel Resort, with its 25 rooms and suites right across the road from Main Beach and within certain staggering distance of the best beer garden in town. They're a cut above your average pub rooms, too, with contemporary furnishings and free wi-fi. From $280 per night.

If you're a group or a family, a beach house might serve you well. Check the full range on the town's website or book one of the more stylish ones at Byron Style.

What to leave behind

Your suits and stilettos. Even if you were going to a wedding here, you'd be overdressed.

What to splurge on

We've already mentioned the Byron Bay Dive Centre's snorkelling trips, but anyone who's ever strapped on a tank will tell you it can't beat diving. Want to get a taste? Join the introductory dive course, which costs $150: it takes five hours and includes one pool dive and one dive at Julian Rocks. Be prepared to be hooked for life.

Book a deal to Byron Bay with Expedia .

Got any other suggestions? Share your insight below.

User comments
Who wrote thsi rubbish? I first went there 25 years ago and it was true then. I was there 6 weeks ago and I had a 15 min traffic jam getting in to do business. Same every day I am told. If you love backpackers and traffic - go for it. This article is seriously misleading. Get someone who is over 25 and knows what they are talking about. I don't expect a reply but get real with what you put on this site.I run a major travel company and get really upset with nonsense . Michael
If you can find any firetwirling, bidi smoking hippies could you send them back to byron bay so we can have some character back in the town cause there is definately none left here - much easier to spot a latte sipping rolly smoking yuppie these days truth journalism is the future
I have spent many holidays at Byron Bay since I was a very young child. I have seen so many changes over the years and I can assure you that not all of them are good. Now it is over crouded, dirty and people are just unfriendly unlike they where. Byron was always about getting away from the hussle and bussle of city life and spending time with the family. Now the drug problems are enourmous and it is a very unsafe place to go. I would roam free through Byron and my parents knew I was safe, but not anymore. Bring back the old Byron, not the Byron of today.
For a Kebab like you have never tasted before head to Cinar's Kebabs opposite The Great Northern in Johnson Street, Byron Bay. This shop is great because the staff are unbelievably friendly and the shop is so clean. And it's open till 5am so is great for after the nightclubs. Great Vibe.
If you want the best,and I mean the best coffee in Byron, go to the "Hole in the Wall" - it's a small goumet sandwich and coffee bar direct to the street, right next to the Handimarket store (across the road from the Balcony). Get Jess to make your favourite coffee - she is a great local coffee ikon - made with love and a sweet, sweet smile - it's worth it. It's the ONLY place to have the best coffee in town.
Just wanted to let everyone know that released in August is Byron Bay's own exclusive discount voucher booklet, not only giving you some of the best deals in and around town and help you plan your time here but also supporting local businesses too (some of which are mentioned above). More info can be found at www.therealbyronbay.com.au

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