Unearthed by surfers as a holiday destination in the 1960s, Byron Bay has always marched to the beat of its own drum.
The epicentre of the Northern Rivers region in northern NSW, 800km north of Sydney and 200km south of Brisbane, it’s sunshine and dolphins, beaches and bare feet, hippies in campervans and buskers on Jonson Street.
You could come just for its idyllic setting alone. Nestled in belly of an extinct volcano (Mt Warning, originally called Wollumbin) at the foot of Cape Byron, the most easterly point in mainland Australia, Byron (as it’s known) is blessed with beautiful beaches and crystal-clear water ideal for year-round swimming and surfing thanks to its warm, north coast climate.
But there are plenty of other reasons to visit. A relaxed, earth-loving atmosphere, a lush hinterland littered with farmers’ markets and farm-to-table restaurants, an openness to all things counterculture; it’s the kind of place where babies are named Bodhi, there are no traffic lights and every bare wall is a canvas for consciousness-raising street art.
It can be touristy – particularly in summer and at Easter when Byron’s Bluesfest is on – but it’s also big-hearted, a place where everyone’s welcome, possibly because everyone comes from somewhere else. In the regional Aboriginal language, Arakwal, it was called Cavvanbah, in fact, which means “meeting place”, so it figures that Byron is still a place for people of all stripes to gather, exchange ideas, enjoy each other’s company and drift away again.
Start with these Byron Bay Itineraries
Byron Bay for First-Timers … How to fall head over heels for this magical paradise
Lovely as the town and its surrounding beaches are – Main Beach, The Pass, Wategos, Tallows – a drive into the green hills behind Byron is a must, for pastoral panoramas and hidden gems around every corner. Unsignposted waterfalls, rickety roadside produce stalls with honesty boxes, hamlets with enchanted names such as The Pocket and Possum Creek, the southern hemisphere’s only Buddhist stupa (at the Crystal Castle), not to mention historic buildings and chic cafes in Bangalow. Make sure you explore up and down the coast either side of Byron too, north to charming Brunswick Heads or south to Lennox Head and Ballina.
Want to know the secret to enjoying Byron’s endless summer vibe, no matter what time of year you’re there? Do as the welcome sign on the way into town advises – “Cheer up. Slow down. Chill out.”
Byron is an ideal holiday destination any time of the year, but shines particularly brightly around the southern hemisphere winter (May-October) when the days are sunny and the water’s still warm enough to swim.
There’s no bad time to visit Byron, but the little town can get choked with traffic and out-of-towners at Easter, when Bluesfest draws up to 20,000 people for one of Australia’s best-loved blues and rock festivals. Summer holidays are also a busy time: from the week before Christmas Day until Australia Day on January 26. Byron is also popular with school-leavers (Year 12 students finishing high school) for a couple of weeks after their final exams around the end of November.
Having said this, even during busy times, there’s something magical about Byron: shopkeepers are still friendly, people still smile at each other in the street, drivers still let in merging traffic (remember to give a thank-you wave) and there’s an endless summer-holiday vibe that never seems to go away.
For surfers, there can be swell any time of the year too, but cyclone season (November-February) is often best for the area’s famous point breaks, The Pass and Lennox Head (15 minutes south of Byron). You’ll be able to surf in little more than boardshorts for most of the year, maybe a wetsuit vest or spring suit in autumn and spring, but you’ll need a full wetsuit in winter.
January 1: New Year’s Day
January 26: Australia Day
March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 25: Anzac Day
June (second Monday): Queen’s Birthday
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day
On national public holidays, banks, post offices and liquor outlets may be closed or open for limited hours.
Each state and territory also has additional holidays.
Byron Bay is in New South Wales. To check the local time in Byron Bay, click here.
Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia.
When it’s noon in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.
All states observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer, typically between October and April – except Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
Daylight Saving Time begins at 2AM on the first Sunday in October when clocks are advanced one hour. It ends on the first Sunday in April at 2AM, when clocks shift back one hour to standard time.
Note that not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.
It’s always a good idea to have some idea of what you can expect to pay for various products and services in your destination.
The problem is that prices vary depending on when you travel, special offers and other factors, and we don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become out of date.
So to give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, we’ve indicated throughout this guide, particularly for Points of Interest mentioned, general price ranges you can expect. Following is the key to guide you.
Remember that all price ranges are quoted in Australian dollars. For more on exchange rates and currency, click here.
See & Do (Activities)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $21-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $71 per person
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $201-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $301 for a double
Eat (Cafes & restaurants)
$ => Up to $20 per meal or for an average main at dinner
$$ => $21-35 per meal or for an average main at dinner
$$$ => $36 per meal or for an average main at dinner
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $21-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $51 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need them to be low, they’re high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type in your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll be notified about it immediately.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site: some of their really great deals don’t show up on the airfare aggregator sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates can be all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, such as Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company to fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Ride-sharing companies such as Uber X (the Australian branch of American company Uber) and GoCar, which started operating in 2016, are relatively new in Australia and limited to the major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast. Rides are booked through a smartphone app, no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long you’ll have to wait.
Hopefully, your trip to Australia goes without a hitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies can cover unexpected costs and help you when problems arise. The premium you pay is typically based on the cost of the trip, your destination and your age, among other factors.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation: About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical expenses: Whether you break a leg or need to be evacuated, your medical expenses are likely to be far more than you might pay at home. Air ambulances alone can cost $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption: For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay: Insurance usually covers incidentals such as meals and accommodation while you wait to travel home.
Baggage: Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies offer policies that allow you to cancel your trip for any reason, but the premium is usually about 10% higher, or more.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs more than $4,000, it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are other factors to take into account. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers planning to dive the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework and shop around. The largest insurers in the US include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller, reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates such as Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight, which often underwritten by the above major players.
If you pay for your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with your bank to find out exactly what’s covered, as many of these policies offer “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
Note: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
Australian dollars come in $1 and $2 coins and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. Each note is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart, and they are made of plastic. Other coins are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. The $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.
Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1 or 2 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.78), a relic from the days before 1-cent and 2-cent pieces were phased out. In these cases, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents, so 52 cents rounds down to 50 cents and 78 cents rounds up to 80 cents.
Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practised or expected in Australia.
How much to tip? Around 10-15% (or round up to the nearest $A10) in a restaurant. It’s common to round up to the nearest round figure for taxi rides, but it’s also okay to insist on every bit of change back.
Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists, spa employees or hairdressers.
Other costs: There are always incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Supermarkets and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Byron Bay is about 800km north of Sydney and 165km south of Brisbane. The best way to get there is to fly and there are three airports within cooee.
Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport is the closest (it’s 25 minutes south of Byron; shuttle buses such as Byron Easy Bus regularly run between Ballina and Byron Bay). You can fly to Ballina from Sydney or Newcastle (both in NSW) or Melbourne (in Victoria).
Gold Coast Airport is about 45 minutes north of Byron in Coolangatta, Queensland, and is a larger, international airport with more flights to and from more destinations.
Brisbane Airport is the largest airport near Byron; it’s about two hours north and on the north side of Brisbane, the capital of Queensland.
Travel tip for travellers arriving and/or departing from Gold Coast or Brisbane: Because these airports are in Queensland, they’re on a different time zone to Byron Bay, which is in NSW, for six months of the year. Between October and May, Byron Bay is one hour ahead of the Gold Coast and Brisbane. For more on this, see Time Zone.
If you’re staying right in Byron Bay, almost everything will be within walking distance and it’s a very stroll-able town: it’s flat, at sea level and there are lots of interesting shops and cafes to take in.
Renting a bicycle is also a good idea; there are lots of bike paths, or shared bike/footpaths, the traffic generally moves at a sedate (and safe) pace through the town centre and most drivers tend to be bike-aware (which can’t always be said for drivers in larger Australian cities, unfortunately). Ask at your accommodation for the nearest bike rental shop.
There are also bike tours in and around Byron; see Mountain Bike Tours.
A word about bicycle helmets: Bike helmets are required by law in NSW, and there are stiff fines for cyclists who dare to ride with the wind in their hair, but Byron is one of the few places you can get away with not wearing one, either because there aren’t enough police officers on the beat to enforce the law or because of the pervading ethic of being responsible for your own safety – take your pick.
A rental car can also be a good idea, if only for a couple of days, because this region has so many beautiful spots worth seeing up and down the coast and inland from Byron.
Just take care when parking in Byron’s town centre and carry $1 and $2 coins: since parking meters were introduced in December 2015, it now costs $3 an hour to park in all the main streets between 9am and 6pm any day of the week, with a one- or two-hour limit (check the signs and watch for parking rangers).