Byron Bay: Australia’s New Age Wonder Beach Town
One of the beaches on Byron Bay – photos by Kent
E. St. John
Byron Bay: Australia’s New Age Wonder Beach Town
By Senior Travel Editor Kent E. St. John
In Australia, Byron Bay is an beach town icon and conjures up great memories for Aussies who have visited there. Surfers, hippies, new agers and the well-to-do, all return repeatedly and each find their slice of heaven. Many have stayed and built lives amidst the visual splendor of the location.
Near the town is an area of hill towns called the hinterlands, pastoral hills covered with macadamia plantations and, it is said, numerous pot plots. In a country known for its laid-back friendly attitude, this New South Wales destination kicks it up a notch.
In many ways it reminds me of growing up near Woodstock, New York with all its counter culture idioms, a place unto itself. Sit at the Balcony Restaurant and I am willing to bet that you will have trouble picking out backpacker from billionaire; I love a town that is culturally democratic. I dressed down.
Like Woodstock, Byron’s draw besides nature was festivals starting with the Aquarius Festival in 1972, peace, pot and growth were all parts of the pie.
On the other side of the chart are sky-high real estate prices, and Oz stars build stellar retreats to avoid each other. Elle Macpherson, Olivia Newton John and Paul Hogan would be prime examples. Somehow the pie chart balances as night clubs filled with Aussie University students still find cheap digs to burrow in, a blend I hope remains.
Byron Beach is located about 500 miles north of Sydney and while I was told that drive was lovely, with a limit of time I chose to fly up. The hour-long flight put me in the town of Ballina, about a half-hour drive from Byron. There I hopped on a Summerland Coach and headed to one of my new favorite hotels, the Byron at Byron.
A Byron Bay game warden with an injured bird
Staying in My Own Slice of Heaven
Within seconds of arriving at the Byron I was given a glass of sparkling wine with a hibiscus flower floating in it. Just as delightful was the demeanor of the server, Lyn Parche, half of the husband and wife team that manage the Byron.
During my stay I was to enjoy the pleasure of Lyn and John’s warm hospitality and company. This is a place where all are treated as far more than a guest; the Byron becomes your home.
The hotel is located on a 45-acre rainforest with an eye to preserving it. After walking to my room through the forest I entered one of the best laid out hotel spaces I’ve ever encountered, sleek, roomy and nestled in nature.
Two features that hit immediately were the small kitchen area and huge bathtub, the combination washer and dryer also added some money saving amenities. All in all with the setting and service I found the Byron a travel value. Use the kitchen somewhat and splurge, you will not regret it.
After leaving the incredible food scene of Sydney I wasn’t sure what to expect up north. I was pleasantly surprised as I chose to dine in-house or should I say in-forest. The Parches use all local produce and wines as well as trainees who strive to please.
As I chatted with the couple over a glass of wine the local game warden strolled in with a bird that had been clipped by a car. She uncaged it and it flew up onto the rain forest canopy; it also found a home at the Byron at Byron.
Yoga instruction is free at the Byron.
The sounds of birds that I might find annoying back home seem to be attuned to my new found Aussie inner self, one that seemed to have been acquired recently. The plunge brewed locally grown coffee set the mood or possibly it was the five-minute walk to an empty pristine beach done pre coffee.
In this world of added prices, I readily agree to try my first experience at yoga, for free. Lyn promised over a second cup of coffee at the buffet breakfast that I would love Sheldon the instructor. I did.
“Breathe deep and pull your belly button into your spine” Sheldon repeated. What I liked about the class was even though that was impossible due to a tremendous dinner at the Byron the night before, Sheldon still encouraged me. I felt four inches taller as I caught a cab into Byron Town afterward. My cabbie, a local, picked me up, and it was his first day on the job. We both approached the town with new eyes.
Backpacker, surf shop or art gallery, pick your favorite way of disposing of your disposable income, it’s all within a few blocks. It truly is within the town that you just might realize that your travel style is a blend.
After purchasing some surfer shorts, I picked up some sandalwood incense followed by a slick fruit punch made with local produce. While filling up on anti-oxidants I watched the boarders drag their boards down the main street to the huge beach that fronts the town. Young and old alike seemed to have surf break included in their work schedules.
Byron Bay got its start as a whaling town and the rugged roots and links to the ocean remain evident. With seven different beaches in the surrounding area it isn’t surprising.
Surfers in Byron Bay
As I sat by the main beach I felt like I was watching the surf movie Endless Summer. Slick moves and bravado were well on display.
If you chose, surfing lessons are available from just about any surf shop. It was evident from talking to people on the street that many have migrated, lured by Byron’s energy and vibe. The shops bustle and throngs walk through town planning evening activities.
Shouts of “meet you at the Great Western” or at the Balcony were heard countless times. It was the Woodstock Nation Oz style. It was easy to cop a spot and watch the passing people all day but with the Hinterlands a scant 10 miles inland I headed even further into laid back heaven.
Hinterlands and Heaven
It has been compared to rural Ireland, Tuscany and Provencal but that really doesn’t do it justice; it is own place. The rolling hills of macadamia nut plantations and hidden pot plots are a perfect place to lose track of time.
The town of Bangalow is a perfect example of New South Wales’s agricultural roots. Nineteenth century brick buildings blended with shady porches and antique shops. Coffee cafes served the locally grown coffee that is naturally low in caffeine were perfect and even Byron Bay seemed to move at a hectic pace in comparison.
Surfboards for sale or rent in Byron Town
As the sun set over the green hills I changed venues to what in Australia is often called a hotel. In the hinterlands that is often a pub and the meeting place for the locals.
The Bangalow Hotel was Hollywood perfect with one exception, it was real. The pool table was busy as was the small betting windows, the laughs bounced off the walls covered with pictures dating back to the turn of the century hay days.
Once the local blokes saw me dipping into the macadamia nuts spiced with bush pepper and sipping a Bunaberg Rum, conversations were constant and I was a myself a local.
As I sat at the Fresca Restaurant that is a part of the hotel’s outdoor porch a major storm passed with ferocious lightning that covered the sky sideways. It made me pull out the Aura Imaging picture taken earlier at the Crystal Palace. Like the picture of violent reds and blues the sky seemed to be spreading its own aura; nirvana was achieved!
Reaching Nirvana Yourself
My odyssey to Oz began in New York and I was captured by Air Tahiti Nui’s slogan, “relax instead of LAX”. After several trips Down Under, the option of a stop over on my return to NY in Tahiti was too good to be true.
After reading the airlines great reviews on Skychex.com I never wavered and am glad I didn’t. On boarding I was given a small orchid that I placed behind my ear, Tahiti style. The service was great and amenities above par. This airline is aggressively pursuing a new market and that pays big dividends to travelers.
The Byron at Byron is a beacon of specialized stays, a value with dividends. The ability to wander a rainforest, walk to a splendid beach and live like a king or queen is a travel fantasy. The staff was extremely helpful and the GMs reminded me of a type of service that is gone with the wind! The rooms were the best laid out I have ever encountered in visits to 89 countries.
For lovers of nature and outdoor activities Byron Bay has plenty to see and do. Lively, liquid and just plan fun sums it up. The open lifestyle is fundamental to its unique demeanor.
Surfing is king and with the plethora of golden sand beaches hiking miles of shore ranks right after surfing. Trails that head up to the Byron Lighthouse offer stunning views and whale watching from there is possible at certain times of the year. Night life is varied and rampant yet not big resort style.
Lodgings of all styles from luxury to hostel are plentiful, for options click here.
Dining and bars are found at this link.
Bangalow and the hinterlands should not be missed period. The realness of rural life in New South Wales is a treat as is the small villages that provide great shopping and food. The hills and macadamia plantations make tooling around more than enjoyable. Click here.
The New South Wales tourism site is chuck full of links and info to my favorite Australian Beach destination.
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Kent St John
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