Byron Bay has been on my personal Australian travel bucket list for some time now. I had heard a lot about the place from friends who had holidayed there and was told that it was better than Margaret River; an idyllic coastal surf town fringed by pristine green wilderness, where the focus is on a local, organic and laid back life style. This was the sort of lifestyle that Siu On and have been more diligent in living out over the last few years, and with the stresses of city life taking its toll on us in 2016, we felt it was time we checked out the Byron vibe and see what all the fuss was about.
Getting there and away
There are a few ways to get up here and the easiest would be to fly in to Ballina airport and hire a car, otherwise you can get a bus or drive yourself here. From Brisbane it’s a short two and a half hour drive, and from Sydney it’ll take you longer at nine to ten hours (depending on how many times you stop and for how long).
There are some great stops along the way if you’re coming up from Sydney with large towns including Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour (a pic with the Big Banana anyone?), and some smaller ones where you can do a quick surf check, such as at Crescent Head.
Where to stay
Unfortunately for travellers on a budget there is absolutely no free camping allowed within the Byron Bay shire, nor is sleeping in your car anywhere you like, acceptable practice. Byron Bay has become so popular with the backpacker travel set that the Council has cracked down on free camping in a bid to clean up the town and attract a different clientele of traveller and fair enough since it is a beautiful place you would want it to be kept in good condition and accessible for everyone.
Your best priced options include staying at the caravan parks or the many hostels in town, alternatively if you want to splash out there is an abundance of Hotels and Resorts, as well as and private accommodation for rent. We were told that during the busy Christmas and Easter periods even the locals list their digs on AirBnB and get away! Prices are at their highest during this time so keep that it mind when budgeting. On this trip we stayed just outside of town at the Byron Holiday Park, which backs onto Tallows Beach and is a short 5 minute drive into town. The Byron Holiday Park had good facilities and were always pretty clean (though that was severely tested over the New Year period with some unsightly leftovers, though the Park staff did the best they could to keep the place clean).
What to do and see
1 | Beaches
Byron Bay is the epitome of the laid-back Aussie beach town and you’ll have access to more beaches than you can fit into a week long trip here. If you’re looking for beaches that are walking distance from town you can choose from Main Beach and Belongil Beach, and a little further afield there are the beaches below the Lighthouse of the Pass and Watego’s Beach.
With a car you should definitely head out to the other side of the Lighthouse and visit Cosy’s Corner which is a beautiful stretch of white sand that somewhere turns into the wild and windy Tallows Beach. And even further still drive past Broken Head along a dirt track road there is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of stairs that is Whites beach, and the smaller secluded beaches that are accessed at low tide. This was our favourite beach by far and worth the drive out to!
2 | Eating and drinking
Eating and drinking runs the gamut from high end restaurants and cheap kebab shops, so whatever your tastes or budget will be catered to. However, a visit to Byron should include a lot of healthy, organic and locally produced and sourced food because there are some real gems here.
We loved the food at Combi Cafe in Byron’s CBD with its blend of organic, raw and gluten free options; Siu On got to have his bacon and I got to eat my raw cake too. This place gets packed really quickly and it’s worth coming early to get a good spot inside. Another great place was Folk which is located just on the outskirts of town and serves up plant based organic food. I really enjoyed my vegan burrito and coconut cold brew and this was our favourite breakfast place for both the food and the vibe of the place; great staff and awesome seating in the front garden.
Siu On and I did splash out for Japanese food at Kura which set us back $70 for dinner and drinks, and kept us very full. We really like sitting at the kitchen bench and watching the chef cutting up our sashimi, and cooking our okonomiyaki.
Although we mostly opted to buy our own beers to enjoy back at the caravan park, we did check out both pubs in town and really enjoyed the Byron Bay Brewery so much that we came back twice! They do a good little pale ale, have a great beer garden out the back and was a lot more spacious and quieter than the Railway Friendly Pub which was very, very busy with backpackers.
Our favourite coffee place was hands down Barefoot Brew Room in the CBD. Just down one of the laneways this little hole in the wall always came good with the goods.
3 | Byron Bay Lighthouse
The other big draw card at Byron Bay is the famous Lighthouse. This place packs out at both dusk and dawn for both the sunrise and sunset, and like the rest of Byron Bay town, you gotta pay for parking here, so aim to get there by 6am if you want to snag a parking spot and get an hour worth of free parking.
There is a short 3.7km loop called the Cape Byron Walking track that you can do which takes you past the beaches below the Lighthouse, and to the most easterly point of the Australian mainland. It’s not terribly difficult, though there are a few sections of stairs which will get the heart pumping, but the track can be done easily in two hours and is one of the big bucket list items to do in Byron Bay.
4 | When in Byron things to do
The CBD may be small but the shopping is intense! I was pretty surprise by the variety of things I could spend money on in town, with all the main chain stores you’d expect to find in Sydney and then some all available. I found two excellent vintage stores which were stocked with amazing items at Miss Browns Vintage and Trash Vintage, as well as the Byron Bay boho-esque clothing boutiques such as Spell Boutique catering to the wealthy ‘gyp-set’ crowd, and abundance of surf stores for all the beach babes and boys. I splashed out on some vintage wares (since all my clothes were either sea salt soaked or dirty) and some marked down Patagonia bikini’s because… why not.
One thing that Siu On and I did do on a whim was to get our palms read by Peter, Byron’s iconic palm reader. He’s a nice fella sitting near the community centre with a little sign offering palm readings. I won’t tell you what he read for us, but catch him after 8am when he’s had his coffee and woken up to his reading and you’re good to go!
Okay, so I’ve danced around the pink elephant in the room enough and you’re probably wondering about the surf. Yes. There is a lot of surf here, and good surf too. And since neither Siu On and I are surfers, that’s about as much as we’ll say here so for more elaborate reporting on the surfing options at Byron here are a few websites to help you out:
- Coastal Watch Surf Camera – Byron Bay
- Broken Head Holiday Park – Top 10 surf picks for Byron Bay beaches
5 | Other useful information
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was that parking in the CBD is all paid, and it’ll cost you a hefty $4.90 an hour. Also, be aware that during the busy holiday seasons the parking inspectors are out in full force, checking and fining. Our friend was fined $180 for parking along the dirt road at Whites Beach, and we saw many vans fined for not paying for parking at the beaches near town. Additionally parking is paid and very limited at the beaches around the Lighthouse, and if you’re planning on hitting the waves there you should plan to arrive early to snag a spot.
Our Byron Bay round up
The big question is did it live up to the hype. Yes and no.
It did live up to its hype as a surfies paradise, with beautiful beaches and an abundance of waves to catch, however the laid back vibe was absent and that would have more to do with the time of year we visited, rather than the town itself. If we were to do it again, we’d definitely avoid the busy Christmas and New Year period and go when it’s not school holiday time as well; a local recommended we visit during March or September when the crowds are non existent and the water is still warm.
Siu On and I would also stay a little further outside of town, that way we could explore more of the surrounding area without being in the car for so long. It is unfortunate that there wasn’t an alternative route to get to the other end of Byron Bay town without driving smack bang through the middle of it, and we got caught up in a lot of traffic as a result.
And the second big question is, would we come back? YES.
It really is a lovely place, and very reminiscent of my beloved Margaret River back in Western Australia. Siu On and I would love to explore more of the hinterland and the coastline, and even talked about coming up here and learning to surf – never say never right? Next time we’ll stay for a lot longer as well, and really get stuck into relaxing and getting into the local vibe.
We hope this helps you to plan your escape to Byron Bay and if you’re looking for other ideas around New South Wales we have a heap of articles on the site to help you out. Check out more New South Wales ideas right here and don’t forget to follow along with us on Instagram (@thetravelleur) for up to date snaps of where we’re at!
Jelena and Siu On