As far as Australian beachside towns go, it doesn’t get more hyped than Byron Bay, the most easterly point in Australia located at the top end of NSW and under an hour’s drive south from the Gold Coast.
This is where hippy dropouts once lived in abundance in the ’60s and ’70s and where today’s world travellers and cashed-up celebrities have adopted as their destination of choice. It’s the mix of hippy shakedown and beachside luxury reimagined that’s given Byron Bay a new lease of life in the modern era of travel in a bid to lure stressed-out city folk to its calm state of mind and place.
Byron Bay is the place you go for a wellness getaway to realign your chakra, drink single-origin coffee, swim all year round and where mindfulness has always been part of its DNA. This is where tea leaves are brewed for yin and yang’s sake and yoga on the beach is a real thing.
Hollywood actors like Chris Hemsworth and Matt Damon have purchased homes in the area—some reports are even calling it the Hemsworth effect with rumours that his brother Liam is also in the market to buy a home there.
Actresses Margot Robbie and Isabel Lucas, Aussie documentary filmmaker Damon Gameau and international supermodels Jordan Barrett and Gemma Ward all have ties to the popular holiday spot.
Byron is where you can watch whales at the right time of year—they migrate south between May and November—and climb to the top of the famous lighthouse for the most easterly breathtaking coastline view.
Those who want to shop local can head to the organic markets as they weave from spots in Byron Bay to Bangalow, another gorgeous hideout tucked in the hills of the Northern Rivers.
It’s also the home of the annual Byron Bay Bluesfest, which is held every year over the Easter weekend. This year, Lenny Kravitz, the Dave Matthews Band and George Benson will headline the bill.
The festival, which has been running for more than 30 years, is renowned for its ability to score huge headline acts and has been compared to the likes of Glastonbury and Rock in Rio in Rio De Janiero, Brazil.
“Byron has perfect weather pretty much all year round,” says Australian promoter and entrepreneur Peter Noble, festival director of Bluesfest. “We have a 24 degrees average in autumn and our region is where the rainforest comes right down to the sea. Those who come here do so for the festival, but also for everything on offer too. It’s the second most toured place in NSW and the blues festival is a destination event where people love to come and we give them an excuse to stay.”
New York’s godmother of punk Patti Smith returns for a second time and the Dave Matthews Band will clock their third time on the bill this year.
“We’re a festival bands love to play,” says Noble. “And we’re up there with Glastonbury, but we’re capped at 30,000 people and provide a premium event. It’s great for families and I remember Earth Wind and Fire telling me after they played that they wanted to take the audience with them. They’re engaged and watching, they aren’t distracted entirely by their phones.”
The key to a great time is sorting your accommodation well in advance of the festival itself as hotels, resorts and Airbnb charge inflated prices in this popular period. The hottest tip is to share with friends to split your costs.
But it’s the rise of luxury and bespoke accommodation that’s truly a reflection that Byron Bay is realigning her chakra to fit with the demand for better quality places to stay and eat.
It’s become a foodie’s paradise with an abundance of local produce that shines in restaurants and cafes, where organic, biodynamic and sustainable are fused with a philosophy that’s akin to this seaside town.
The arrival of Elements of Byron three years ago is proof that travellers want luxury, convenience, a place to chill, a quality spot to dine and a top-notch spa to boot.
There are over 200 self-contained villas with an eco-friendly nod. There’s a large outdoor pool suitable for families yet private enough with cabanas, while a private adult area pool is the latest addition and where you’ll find a Mexican theme for all drinks and food supplies.
While the destination is hugely popular among Australians, more international visitors are coming here too. Families usually opt for a two-bedroom villa with two bathrooms and zero cabin fever attached. According to Elements of Byron’s Jeremy Holmes, nature plays a strong part in the resort’s message.
“You never really feel like there are as many people here as the villas are all detached and offer total privacy and seclusion,” says Holmes. “The resort is tucked into a gorgeous landscape of mature trees of different ecologies, fringed by endangered rainforests that we look after and by the Pacific Ocean and Belongil estuary on one side. The entire property is enveloped by nature and it is a key part of our story how we designed the resort.”
Those keen to make Byron Bay a permanent place to live is the reason why Habitat at Byron Bay is expanding on the fringe of this town.
This is where old-school hippy values merge with curated modernism. It’s where bars, cafes, a fitness centre and shopping precinct live in harmony in the name of work-life balance.
Habitat’s Easy Street Living apartments enter the market this January. Think modern residential and architecturally designed homes that come with free e-bikes, on-site car shares, unlimited use of a solar train that takes you to the centre of town, surfboard lockers and a Subpod compost system in your private garden.
If this is the New Age then Habitat wants you to slow down and consider the planet before you move in.
Housed within the precinct is Habitat Collective, a local concept store with a purpose. All profits are donated to support the homeless in Byron Bay while also supporting local artisans who sell their wares.
While Byron Bay streets are still ruled by tie-dye wearing fire twirlers, you’ll find a new fashion brigade changing the street style, where linen resort looks have found their way on the Byron Bay Instagram hashtag which now has more than 2.5 million followers.
At Bower at Byron Bay, a hotel- meets-motel accommodation comes with a 1960s kitsch layout complete with New York boutique hotel makeover.
The Bower offers a range of rooms from a deluxe king with a bath, super queen with an extra single bed and the Bower barn and large House for extra bedding options. The circular pool is ideal for adult time, although also suitable for families, but you get the feeling this is the place for a good-looking crew who want to fake it until they make it. The staff is super friendly, the rooms well-appointed.
They host plenty of events, such as Activated Probiotics launches for a wellness nod, while footballers and their partners book in for a pre-wedding feast up the road at Elements.
We can thank the surfers of the ’60s for rediscovering Byron Bay because it’s led the rest of the world to be captured by her charm. Whether you go there for an alternative lifestyle choice, a healthy one or a reason to unplug from the rat race, Byron won’t disappoint.
A modern bayside Spanish-inspired eatery located at Habitat and run by the team behind Harvest in Newrybar. This is where Argentinian-style food is flame-grilled and locals love to dine. The kitchen is run by Argentinian-born chef Francisco Smoje. A cocktail and a decent wine list too.
Located at The Farm, where chooks, pigs and cows are a huge attraction for families on a property that spans 80 acres, is also where you’ll find Three Blue Ducks. It’s a bustling place that’s always packed with diners keen to eat the local produce. It’s all about community here, farm to table is the food philosophy and ethical growers, interesting dishes and the goodness of local produce shines.
The closest place to eat breakfast when you stay at Bower is the General Store, which has been around since 1947 and converted into a health-conscious destination for delicious brekkies to creative burgers and the peanut butter cacao bowl for some earthy goodness.
A hilltop chilled-out place to eat, serving breakfast and single-origin coffee with burgers on the side. It's become a foodie institution where organic, paleo and gluten-free don’t get death stares. www.topshopbyronbay.com.au
If you like your breakfast in a light and industrial setting, then Bayleaf is your ticket. This is where you go for creative meals like coconut quinoa bowls, breakfast greens and where you’ll find the delicious Mork chocolate for your next hot choc order. You get the idea that everywhere you go, there’s something wholesome on the menu.
An exclusive resort fit enough for the Rolling Stones when they visit, this is still the main attraction for those who want boutique luxury. The restaurant within offers contemporary Australian cuisine with a Mediterranean influence, where head chef Jason Saxby serves local burrata with charred asparagus and macadamias and free pork cotoletta is delivered with salsa verde, rocket and horseradish. We also love the spa and luxe rooms. What’s more, you get the secluded Watego’s Beach to greet you in the morning.
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