It’s a good idea to stay right in town, so you can walk or ride a bike everywhere you need to go. There are accommodation options to suit every budget, from backpacker lodges (try Cape Byron YHA) and bay-side motels to the apartment-style East on Byron and blow-the-budget luxury digs such as Rae’s on Wategos (for that romantic weekend away or a special occasion) and The Byron at Byron (which is actually 5km out of town, but has a complimentary shuttle bus for guests).
To get your bearings, a stroll on the Cape Byron Walking Track to the lighthouse perched on the most easterly point on mainland Australia is a must. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled (as we say here) for dolphins, sea eagles and, between June and October, migrating humpback whales.
Or stop for a swim en route. Surfers regularly see dolphins at The Pass and Wategos, Byron’s most popular surfing beaches. A word of warning, however: inviting as the turquoise waves are, The Pass gets hellishly crowded even on weekdays (doesn’t anyone around here work any more?). Wategos is more mellow, but a few smiles and a little respect go a long way.
If you don’t know how to surf, but have always wanted to try you’ve come to the right place. Byron is an excellent place to learn because of its year-round warm water and because Cape Byron protects the bay from big swells. There are also plenty of role models to inspire you. One of them, Rusty Miller, offers private surfing lessons. If you need moral support, join a small-group lesson with one of the many surf schools, such as Let’s Go Surfing.
If you just want to relax on the beach and go swimming, Byron has beaches for that too. In town, there’s Main Beach, Clarkes and Belongil. About 10 minutes north is Brunswick Heads, where you can swim at a gorgeous little beach just inside the river mouth; or head about 20 minutes south to the beaches between Lennox Head and Ballina.
Another side of Byron is its edible ethics – organic, healthy and sustainable food is big here. You’ll see it at Byron Farmers’ Market (8-11am Thursdays); and at Beach Byron Bay, which is ideal for brunch or coffee after a morning walk on the beach or dinner for that matter; and The Farm, the brainchild of a group of Sydney chefs keen to get back to the source and take their diners with them. Another way into Byron’s food scene is to do a walking tour with Nourish Food Safaris (do it early in your stay to find out all the best eateries and cafes).
Make sure you venture out of town at least once during your visit; that’s where you’ll find the “real” Northern Rivers. This is one of the most beautiful corners of Australia’s east coast: lush green hills, macadamia farms, rustic hamlets oozing country charm.
The main spots are: Brunswick Heads with its cute shops and cafes, Mullumbimby (where farm machinery and hardware stores mingle with hip cafes and alternative therapy centres, it’s a country town with an enlightened heart), the Crystal Castle (a local gem, if you’ll pardon the pun) and Bangalow (a little bit of Sydney style in the Northern Rivers, with the price tag to match).
Where to go when the sun goes down? Byron loves live music. Head for The Great Northern Hotel, The Railway Hotel (“the Rails”) and the Beach Hotel, all on Jonson Street. Or the Hotel Brunswick on Sunday afternoons. Or time your visit to coincide with one of the big music festivals throughout the year; best known are Bluesfest every Easter and Splendour in the Grass in July.
For nightlife of a different kind, there are Night Vision walks after dark in a nearby national park to commune with native nocturnal wildlife, a world first and just one more reason to love Byron.