If Byron Bay is the rose in this festival flower crown, then the satellite towns dotting the Byron Bay Hinterland are the many and varied blooms that make up the rest. From rolling green hills to sheer mountains, and rough surf to laid back city feels, the Byron Bay Hinterland really does have it all. As Siu On and I soon found out, the real gem in this area are the unique and beautiful towns that surround Byron Bay. So if you’re after more than beaches and surf, then you should definitely take the time to explore the many towns around the area or even try out a new surf spot further up the coast.
A short 20 minute drive from Byron Bay will take you to the delightful town of Bangalow. This lovely country town is full of charm and will take you pass lush green fields, old cottages complete with bull-nosed verandah’s, and many boutique stores and cafes along the main strip of Byron Road.
Siu On and I loved Red Ginger for the curious Asian bits and pieces, as well as their dim sum and tea (there are two branches with the other store located in Byron Bay, however, the Bangalow store is much nicer as it’s off the main street and has a lovely outdoor setting). Also, there is a regular local market that draws a crowd (we were told), though we missed out as it wasn’t running over the Christmas period, but it would be one we’d definitely visit if we’re lucky enough to return. Bangalow is a great place to spend a lazy morning having a coffee and relaxing breakfast followed by a browse of its many boutique stores.
If you keep driving past the turnoff for Bangalow, you’ll get to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Newrybar. The township is tiny and the main drawcard is the famous Harvest Cafe. This expansive restaurant, bakery and deli encompasses three restored historic properties and is very highly rated, which makes it very hard to get a table if you don’t have a booking over the Christmas and New Year period! Other times of the year (excluding the Easter period) it is a lot easier to score a good spot. Since Siu On and I weren’t able to get a table we had to settle for a drink on the front verandah and opted to eat elsewhere as the wait on food was too long for our stomachs to handle.
There are some boutique stores adjacent to and across the road from Harvest, which we loved browsing. Our pick was the incredible crafts and products at the Newrybar Merchants, which is located in an old home with each room dedicated to a different artist or collective.
Depending on your level of hippy, a visit to the Byron Bay hinterland isn’t complete without a trip out this this old throwback to the sixties. Home to the original Aquarius Festival, Nimbin is notorious for its lax attitude to marijuana, and even hosts an annual Mardi Grass Festival, which seeks to draw attention to, educate and advocate for the legalisation of cannabis, whilst celebrating the alternative culture of Nimbin.
Personally, Siu On and found the town very run down and quite odd to be honest, the locals looked irritated at the tourists gawking at everything, and even we were annoyed at being constantly approached with offers of weed and pot cookies so much so we didn’t even bother hanging around long enough to see if the Nimbin farmer’s market would actually materialise (something about ‘Nimbin time’ made me think this would be unlikely). Though I could see the potential for this town to be something more as the surrounding environment is incredibly beautiful, however, I would give this place a miss unless you’re really into your hemp and tie dye.
After Nimbin we kept driving and ended up eating one of our best meals during this trip at Mavis’s Kitchen. This incredible restaurant and accommodation is located in a beautifully restored Queenslander overlooking an organic country garden and the lush lower slopes of Mount Warning, complete with a natural creek running past the property. We managed to snag a table before the lunch time rush came through and were even treated with some juices on the house! I would definitely return to spend more time wandering the expansive grounds and to eat as the menu rotates and is seasonally based.
Another reason to come to Uki is to check out Mount Warning, which is a short drive up the road from Mavis’s Kitchen. Aside from being the tallest point in the area, Mount Warning was once a volcano but is now a popular spot for hiking, camping, and experiencing the unique subtropical rainforest ecosystem that has grown around it. Since we ate way too much at Mavis’s Kitchen we opted to do the very short Lyrebird track which takes you over creeks and up into the subtropical rainforest floor, so summiting the main track will have to wait for the next visit.
Additionally, if you’re driving from Byron Bay it’ll take you an hour but I would recommend driving from Nimbin (30 minutes) as it’s a much more scenic stretch of road.
Although we didn’t go into Mullumbimby town itself, we did enjoy the drive through this beautiful part of the hinterland to visit the famous Crystal Castle. At just under 30 minutes drive from Byron Bay, as cheesy as it sounds to visit a crystal park and cleanse your chakras, for those not so in touch with their spiritual yoga loving self it’s not as cheese as it sounds. First things first, there are crystals everywhere here – gigantic crystals – but there are also beautifully kept gardens, water features, and monuments that help balance the hippy vibe out.
Ok so I do have to admit that we did get a little bit in touch with our hippy sides with having our aura’s photographed (who would have thought that I could have pink aura?!) and I may have fondled more than my fair share of giant amethyst clusters; as well as gone a little overboard with stocking up on crystals to help balance out my energy for our eventual return to Sydney, but hey, when in Byron… right? Nevertheless it was worth it as this place is beautiful, and they have a great little cafe which overlooks the gardens and valley’s beyond. Entry is $25 per person (there are various discounts available) and you can do a whole range of experiences at additional prices, such as the aura photograph we did which set us back $79 for two people; next time we’ll do the tarot reading if I can convince Siu On!
Originally we headed up to Hastings Point (40 minutes north of Byron Bay) to check out the freediving potential as Google Maps indicated that there was a reef not too far off its rocky shoreline, however with how wild the winds were and the large amount of white wash hitting the rocks, we opted to just chill out at the beach instead. This area was teeming with surfers though and there is a seasonal camp ground located a short walk away from the beach, which was packed with people who appeared to be going nowhere for a long time. We still haven’t figured out how this camp ground operates or how much it costs so if any of you reading this know, please let us know!
As much as we liked Byron Bay, we actually loved the Byron Bay Hinterland more. The surrounding landscape is absolutely stunning and fertile, and I was enchanted by the small country towns that all had their own personalities. To be within an hours drive to visit these places definitely made our stay in Byron Bay even more enjoyable, as we were able to escape the crowds in Byron easily with half day trips out to explore something different.
The next time we are up here I think we will definitely look to summit and camp on top of Mount Warning, check out the many farmers markets and fresh produce stalls out the front of people’s homes, and visit more waterfalls and waterholes (though not in the middle of summer when they were all dried up). And I’ll convince Siu On to visit the Crystal Castle again so I can meditate inside the amethyst crystal cave and have another aura reading because I’m adamant that my aura is not always pink!
Are you planning a trip up to Byron? Check out our write up on Byron Bay and read more of our articles about our travels in New South Wales. Don’t forget to follow along with our travels on Instagram, just search for us (@thetravelleur).
Jelena and Siu On