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The inside guide to Byron Bay, Australia's boho surf spot

With its laid-back lifestyle, fine food and host of outdoor adventures, Australia’s boho surf town dazzles on both land and water.

Published 25 Feb 2021, 13:09 GMT
The bohemian flair and sun-drenched lifestyle of Australia’s most easterly point lures travellers from across the ...

The bohemian flair and sun-drenched lifestyle of Australia’s most easterly point lures travellers from across the globe.

Photograph by Getty Images

With hipsters and Hollywood stars ambling down the high street, Byron Bay's come a long way from its days as a quiet timber-logging town. And while the internationally renowned Aussie hotspot can get a bit crowded at times, the bohemian flair and sun-drenched lifestyle of Australia’s most easterly point still manages to lure travellers from across the globe.

Byron isn’t about tick-the-box attractions; the simple things make for good exploring, such as walking up to the famous Cape Byron Lighthouse. Volunteer-led tours run daily for a small donation, and there’s also a small display on indigenous Arakwal culture at the keeper’s cottage. This stretch of coast is also popular for humpback whale-watching in the winter months (May to November).

From there, turn your gaze south towards Tallow Beach and the area of Suffolk Park. It’s here you’ll find the Byron at Byron resort, home to Forest restaurant, which serves such dishes as Mooloolaba prawns and kangaroo tartare with lemon myrtle mayo. If you’re in the area, be sure to swing by Mexican diner Chupacabra, too, for grilled fish tacos and a margarita.

Byron isn’t about tick-the-box attractions; the simple things make for good exploring, such as walking up to the famous Cape Byron Lighthouse.

Photograph by Getty Images

These aren’t the only foodie hotspots in the area — Bryon and its surroundings have drawn some of Australia’s best chefs thanks to lush local produce. Case in point is Three Blue Ducks, a prime lunch spot serving up sustainably sourced fare from The Farm, a collective of micro-businesses. Over in the seaside town Brunswick Heads, book ahead at 14-seat Fleet.

For drinks, The Surf House, which opened in July 2020, boasts Byron’s only rooftop bar, and on the same block is photogenic favourite The Balcony Bar & Oyster Co. Located above Byron’s main drag, it’s here you’ll find the style set watching the world go by. Overlooking Main Beach, meanwhile, Beach Hotel, Byron Bay is another popular spot, but locals love the live music and relaxed vibe at The Rails bar, part of the former train station.

Although the train from Sydney hasn’t pulled into Byron in over a decade, a short disused section of track has found new life for the Byron Bay Train — the world’s first 100% solar-powered train. It’s a favourite with adults and kids alike, and the 10-minute ride will take you through the mangroves to craft brewery Stone & Wood Brewing Co and the luxurious beachfront hotel, Elements of Byron.

Set in the hills at Skennars Head, a tour of Cape Byron Distillery is a must. Over the course of 30 years, the local Brook family have restored a patch of cleared rainforest on the site of their macadamia farm and gin distillery. Try the sloe gin, made with Davidson plums.

Still, it would be sacrilege not to get in the water at Byron Bay, and Julian Rocks, located just off the coast, is considered one of Australia’s best dive sites — take the plunge with Sundive Byron Bay and look out for everything from green sea turtles to huge blue gropers. Alternatively, head out with Cape Byron Kayaks and sea kayak your way along the shore, eyes peeled for glimpses of whales and dolphins. But what Byron’s best-known for, of course, is its surf breaks. Board hire and lessons are available at schools all over town, such as the Byron Bay Surf School.

And if there’s a festival in town, the waves are guaranteed to be packed. Byron Bay Bluesfest (held every Easter weekend) has been running since 1990, while the more alternative, indie-rock Splendour in the Grass packs out the town in winter.

The Surf House, which opened in July 2020, boasts Byron’s only rooftop bar.

Photograph by Amy Whitfield

Like a local: Cooper Chapman's favourite surf spots

The pro surfer and mental health advocate moved to Byron Bay from Sydney. He also hosts his own podcast, Good Humans with Cooper Chapman.

1. Wategos Beach

I’d definitely recommend Wategos as the best place for beginners. Not only is it a great beach, but there’s also soft wave and it gets a little less swell than some of the other breaks because it’s so tucked-in there behind Australia’s easternmost tip.

2. The Pass

This spot is beautiful and they’ve got good surf schools, too. While the wave can get a little bit faster here, five out of seven days of the week it’s still gentle enough to head down there with a longboard. It’s without doubt a really good spot for beginners.

3. Lennox Head

You have to jump off the rocks to get out at Lennox Point, which can be quite tricky. The wave is quite fast and difficult to surf for novices — you’ll want to be a more experienced surfer to have a good time here.

Published in the March 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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