10 Photos: Exploring Byron Bay, Australia

Mar 19, 2016

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TPG contributor Kathryn Romeyn takes us on a tour of Byron Bay’s stunning sands, powerful waters, musical eateries and top boutiques. (All photos by the author, except where noted).

When I decided to base myself in Sydney, Australia, for four months, virtually everyone I knew or met told me I should go to Byron Bay. That, they said, was where I would really fall in love with my surroundings.

This boho surfer enclave is located in New South Wales, the same state as Sydney, but it’s a totally different world this far north. With healthy, open-air restaurants, live music, indescribably beautiful beaches, hippie-chic boutiques and barefoot people everywhere, it sounded like my idea of paradise. During a two-week stay, my suspicions were confirmed: Byron Bay is heaven on earth.

Upon arrival at the teensy Ballina Byron Gateway Airport (BNK), just a short flight from Sydney (SYD), I found my shuttle, was whisked into a giant van and 30 minutes later, began spotting barefoot surfers and caftan-wearing glamazons. Everyone is beautiful in Byron. I checked into my Airbnb the town is notorious for not having any chain hotels, though it did have some stunning boutique properties (more on that later).

I immediately set off for the nearest batch of sand; the first one I came to was Clarkes Beach. Feet squeaking slightly on the fine white sand, I saw a mirrored reflection of puffy white clouds on the ocean as waves broke and retracted. And it was glorious. As the sun set, I took in the surf shops and had a cider at Beach Hotel (aka. Top Pub), a popular all-day pub with a vast patio, menu, free Wi-Fi and a packed schedule of live bands. I would return to this place often.

I especially liked Clarkes Beach.
I especially liked Clarkes Beach.

Another one of Byron Bay’s hot spots is The Farm Byron Bay, a working farm with pigs, chickens, sunflower fields and gardens that provides not just food shopping opportunities but tours, courses in natural living and one of the best restaurants in town, Three Blue Ducks. Everything they make is seasonal, fresh and pesticide-free, from wood-fired pizzas to vibrant salads, all washed down with your choice of Australian craft beers. Another edible experience I adored was at St. Elmo, a romantic Spanish tapas-themed restaurant.

Grounds of The Farm Byron Bay complex.
Grounds of The Farm Byron Bay complex.

I discovered why Byron Bay’s beaches are so legendary when I took a beach cruiser through the bush to reach Tallow Beach. There, even in the middle of summer, I saw maybe two other people, so far down the beach in the mist that they looked like a mirage. The vast stretch where powerful turquoise waters crashed on the soft, wide beach may be the most peaceful place I’ve ever encountered.

It doesn't get more peaceful than Tallow Beach.
It doesn’t get more peaceful than Tallow Beach.

For the trend-conscious — both male and female — Byron Bay is a shopping mecca. The signature style is quite diaphanous and earthy: think flowing printed robes, booties and oversized turquoise jewelry. My favorite shop quickly became Spell & the Gypsy Collective (a hip boutique I returned to several times), a homegrown label with a distinctive point of view that includes paisley, embroidery, birds and Western cow skull motifs. There, along with Hope & May (a clothing shop that sells shells by the pound) and Scallyrags (another clothing shop), I dreamed of incorporating vignettes into my own home in Los Angeles.

Boho-cool style at Spell & the Gypsy Collective.
Boho-cool style at Spell & the Gypsy Collective.

The same hip model-looking guys and gals who embody Byron Bay style hang out at The Roadhouse Cafe Bar, a coffee shop serving nourishing, organic muffins and locally sourced brunch dishes by morning and a lively eatery-turned-whisky bar by night.

The rustic-chic interior of The Roadhouse Cafe Bar. Image courtesy of Kirra Pendergast.
The rustic-chic interior of The Roadhouse Cafe Bar. Image courtesy of Kirra Pendergast.

Regardless of the hour it’s probably full, but Aussies are notoriously friendly — after ordering at the counter you can squeeze into a communal table or find a perch from which to survey the scene. More great people watching can be had at Railway Friendly Bar, (aka. The Rails), a slightly divey outdoor spot featuring live music nightly and lots of locals. The iconic venue to see rock bands is The Northern Hotel, which, in typical Australian fashion, is more classic pub than overnight accommodation.

Local, local, local cuisine. Image courtesy of Kirra Pendergast.
Local, local, local cuisine. Image courtesy of Kirra Pendergast.

It’s easy to get carried away at night in Byron Bay — there’s always a party somewhere thanks to the plethora of venues. But it’s also very easy to connect with nature, whether it’s surfing, snorkeling or practicing beachside yoga.

Wellness is top of mind, and no place speaks to that more than Byron Bay’s secret tea tree lake, located a 20-minute bike ride south of town in Suffolk Park. Historically, aborigines have used this place as a birthing lake due to the antibacterial and soothing properties of the tea trees that surround the shores and drip their oils into the water, giving it an eerie blood-red hue. Calm, cool and deserted, this spot is another go-to place to experience profound peace.

Don't be turned off by the blood-red water.
Don’t be turned off by the blood-red water.

From there it’s a little bit of a hike to stunning Broken Head Beach, and it’s well worth it. Not only is this another pristine example of Byron Bay’s superior shorelines, but since it’s a bit out of town, there’s a greater chance of running into some wildlife, like this charming pair of pelicans:

These guys were ready for their close-up.
These guys were ready for their close-up.

This popular fishing and picnic spot may get a bit more famous soon thanks to actor Chris Hemsworth recently buying a house nearby. In fact, his arrival has brought more attention to Byron Bay, which has traditionally been known more for its annual music festivals.

While a fear of sharks may scare visitors away from surfing or diving in the area, most don’t leave without climbing to the top of Cape Byron Lighthouse, an iconic point for locals, too.

The Cape Byron Lighthouse on a stormy day.
Cape Byron Lighthouse on a stormy day.

Opened in 1901, Cape Byron Lighthouse offers the best views anywhere, even when it’s rainy or overcast, like when I went. There, one has the feeling of being on the edge of the earth — it is the easternmost point of mainland Australia, after all. Go in the morning, bring your camera  (the ombre ocean below is definitely photo-worthy) and stop at Top Shop once you descend to grab a coffee or burger. It’s the Byron way.

The view from the easternmost point of mainland Australia.
The view from the easternmost point of mainland Australia.

Where to Stay

There are no chain hotels in Byron Bay, so staying here requires some creative planning. Elements of Byron Resort is a honeymoon-worthy beachside destination that’s also a member of MGallery Collection, thus falling under the AccorHotels umbrella. Rates here start at $286 per night in late-March, including breakfast.

The best way to book other hotels using points — like The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa, just steps from Tallow Beach — (if that’s something you really want to do) is by earning points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (2x the points on travel) or the Citi Premier Card (3 ThankYou points per dollar on travel) and redeeming them for free nights through their respective rewards programs. The Citi Prestige Card also gives you a fourth night free at any hotel you choose, so that might come in handy here as well. Remember that Airbnb is now an Amex Membership Rewards partner, allowing you to redeem points for Airbnb gift cards in denominations of $100 or $250.

Getting to Byron Bay

Getting to Byron Bay means first getting to Sydney or Brisbane, a roughly two-hour drive away in Queensland. Once you’ve figured out the hard part — finding a route to Australia with a Star Alliance, Oneworld or SkyTeam carrier — try these redemption options:

Oneworld: Qantas is a main operator in and out of the small Ballina Byron Gateway Airport (BNK). A round-trip economy award ticket between Sydney and BNK will run you 12,800 Qantas Points, while you’re looking at 24,000 Qantas Points for a round-trip economy award ticket between Brisbane and BNK. Round-trip economy award tickets from Melbourne are 19,200 Qantas Points. Note that business and first were not available options for flying to and from BNK. Coming from another Aussie airport? Plug your cities into this nifty Qantas Points Calculator to view your options. Note that you may also be able to redeem British Airways Avios for your Qantas flight by calling BA — awards to BNK don’t appear to be available on BA.com.

SkyTeam: Virgin Australia has a transpacific partnership with Delta, and offers many nonstop flights from Sydney to BNK, starting at 9,900 Velocity Frequent Flyer Points for a one-way economy award ticket, 14,800 points for a Saver fare or 30,700 points for a Flexi fare.

Have you ever been to Byron Bay? Tell us about your experience, below.


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