Take a Detour: Byron

Byron is a favourite town among writers and readers — and whales — because 
of its beautiful, welcoming ocean. Its surf breaks are legendary, as is its one-time reputation as the counter-culture capital of Australia. A sunset drumming circle still thunders almost every night on the beach, but much of Byron has moved upmarket and mainstream. Now you would be more likely to meet a warlock or crystal sound healer in nearby Mullumbimby.

EAT

What Byron might have shed in edge, it has gained in finesse. The shire is home to plenty of fine-dining restaurants, from Fleet in Brunswick Heads, where a Noma-trained chef cooks for a shared table that seats only 14 people (or 22 if it’s not raining and you can sit outside — just a tip: book way, way in advance) to the Japanese food at the Federal Doma Cafe. In Byron itself, you’ll find long-time favourite Rae’s on Wategos, with its popular boutique hotel, and relative newcomer 100 Mile Table, a wonderful cafe where the green curry fish is divine. The eatery was one of the first of its kind in the Byron Arts & Industry Estate, and now shares the defiantly urban site with many other cafes and the Argentine-inspired restaurant Barrio. Its tender grilled beef rib with chimichurri is best enjoyed with produce from The Bread Social bakery, located at The Farm Byron Bay. Byron’s cuisine is often free-range and organic, paired with a glass of kefir or a nice jar of kombucha. The local kombucha of choice is The Bucha of Byron, made at Stone & Wood brewery. Try it at The Top Shop cafe. 

Byron’s nightlife has long been dominated by its large pubs, but a couple of very cool smaller bars have cropped up, such as The Bolt Hole and The Roadhouse Byron Bay, both of which specialise in whiskies.

SHOP

The walkway from Captain Cook Lookout to Wategos Beach is great for photography and people-watching. In warm weather, half the population walks around in skimpy swimwear, but linen is worn year-round. St Agni, in the Arts and Industry Estate, is a well-liked fashion brand. Byron is also home to Spell & the Gypsy Collective, which was set up by three sisters to make boho-hippie clothing, now worn by the likes of Miley Cyrus and Elsa Pataky.

STAY

The Byron at Byron, Rae’s on Wategos and Elements of Byron are the pick of the local accommodation. Elements has sponsored what is apparently the world’s first solar-powered train, which runs from the resort into town for $3 each way. Most Writers Festival events will be held in grounds adjacent to Elements. 

The Mayor of Byron Shire, Simon Richardson, says, “The great thing about Byron Bay is that it has a character of itself as a community that’s as much of a drawcard as its location. People come here for what the community creates as much as what the Earth has created. It has world-renowned surf and whale-watching sites, but it also has a nude bike ride or street protest with a nude swim. At Byron you can have a beer next to a forest activist on one side and a billionaire on the other and have a great conversation with both.”

THE MAYOR’S CHOICES

We asked Richardson for his pick of the best attractions. He answered like a politician: “I’m probably going to lose more votes than I’ll gain… Doma in Federal is worth a visit. It’s great Japanese food in a beautiful hinterland setting. It is hard to go past a beer at the Beach Hotel, where you can see whales flopping out of the ocean. Brunswick Heads has got some jewels like Fleet. In Mullumbimby, The Rock & Roll Coffee Company is fantastic — great Thai food. 

“One of the best things to do is the markets. You could be helping to create the next ‘Spell’. We have got so many brands that started at market stalls. My tip is get there a bit later and stay a bit later. At the end, the drumming starts, and local Byron flair is still there.”

GETTING THERE

To book your flight to BALLINA/BYRON, visit www.virginaustralia.com.

Words by Mark Dapin - Published 6 December 2018
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