24 March 2017 | BY ANDJELKA JANKOVIC | City Guides , Travel
Because our hearts don't beat the same as they did before
Byron Bay is the Bali of Australia. A cross between a small country town, beach getaway and wellness haven – Byron Bay has the magical combination of ocean air, understated glamour, and laid-back hospitality.
It is the kind of place you’ll love the minute you arrive. Byron Bay should be renamed Byron Babe for the ridiculously good looking locals that roam everywhere in this coastal New South Wales town, a 2-hour drive from Brisbane and 800 kms from Sydney.
Locals rise early to catch the surf before work and retreat to bed early, while tourists are the ones out late at night. Synchronicity is ever-present in Byron Bay; I walked past an ordinary looking chalkboard that read ‘Garrett Kato – Tonight, 8pm’ being one of my favourite Canadian singer-songwriters playing a free gig at the local Byron Bay pub the day I arrived. For the gluten-free traveller, Byron Bay is a bounty of health elixirs, local produce, and nourishing delicious food.
Elevated cafe fare with a local and seasonal twist. My post-flight ritual is to find the best local cafe and indulge in wellness – I had the ocean trout, raw kale and wakame salad with a moonlight white tea, elderflower and sacred lotus kombucha for a probiotic kick. Be sure try a deconstructed coconut cold brew or an almond chai latte served in a handmade bowl by local ceramicist Sit Still Lauren.
If organic, raw and ridiculously healthy is your thing, Naked Treaties has your name all over it. A tucked away cafe that greets you with a giant menu of smoothies and health elixirs, plus a fridge full of takeaway gourmet meals and snacks to pack for your next hike or swim.
Plan to be in town on a Thursday so you don’t miss the incredible Byron Farmers’ Market from 8am-11am. A local institution, you’ll find vibrant produce like chocolate pudding fruit (black sapote) and galangal, local treasures like turmeric-lime cane sugar juice and Rainforest Foods macadamia nuts, plus organic coffee, artisan pastries, and a delicious breakfast wrap from Mumma Raw.
Three words spoke to me on a chalkboard: Crispy Snapper Laksa. The Malaysian-style coconut laksa with noodles, vegetables, fresh herbs and crispy (gluten-free) pieces of snapper is one of the best I’ve ever had at this Asian street food stop down a laneway.
THE most Instagrammed cafe in Byron Bay that actually lives up to the hype. Located just outside the main town in front of a caravan park, Folk is styled like a Fleetwood Mac song and pumping sweet 70s tunes along with abundance bowls served in beautiful wooden bowls and wellness elixirs like mushroom lattes and beetroot and lucuma love potion. The food is organic, ethical and plant based; edible and irresistible – my advice is to stay for back-to-back meals with a good book.
Sea salt in the breeze, woodfired oven aroma, laidback tunes, palm trees and a wooden deck; be still my heart. Looking for peace and pizza; I biked to Treehouse on Belongil and instantly felt like I had struck local gold. An extensive menu of fresh comfort food, I devoured a gluten-free seafood pizza and garden salad by candlelight as a magnificent storm rolled in.
Basically heaven on Earth; a working farm meets award-winning restaurant and bakery meets flower shop. Three Blue Ducks on The Farm should be your first stop for eating when you arrive in Byron Bay – the concept is wholly inspiring and the grounds are truly magical. Sunday nights are roast night; and after a day of surfing, I have never tasted better crispy chicken with farm vegetables. The produce shop stocks local artisan Tea Tribe organic tea, Earth Man Foods turmeric tonics, Rainforest Foods tamarind jam, and The Farm native relishes.
A one-stop organic shop and grocer that champions local food artisans and makers, here is where you will find every product that is made in and around Byron Bay. I discovered so many great products like Kitty Kadamba raw vegan ice cream sandwiches, hand blended chai tea, vegan pastries, and Tridosha gourmet salt and pepper (Indian Summer is the bomb!).
A short way out of town but worth every bike pedal, The Roadhouse is refined food in a rustic setting that will make you wish you were a Byron Bay local in an instant. Try the famous fish tacos that are (almost) too beautiful to eat and the matcha milkshake with lucuma.
A hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint in an arcade with the best organic tacos in town, fresh corn cobs with chipotle, and Mexican city fries with house salt and cumin aioli. Skip the hype of Miss Margarita on the main street, and head here for a low-key meal.
EXTRA FOOD LOVE: Japonaise Kitchen (creative Japanese fusion), Combi (new vegan cafe in town), Top Shop (burgers in an old school corner store), Garage Grocer (organic coffee, light snacks and gourmet treats), Beaches and Cream (You Go Glen Coco coconut gelato, donut holes and a game of Space Invaders), 100 Mile Table (locavore cafe with all food sourced within 100 miles), Espressohead (stop in for a strong Merlo coffee on the way to the beach), St Elmo (buzzy Spanish tapas with the best wine list in Byron Bay), and Stone & Wood (handcrafted beers mecca in the Industrial Estate).
Byron Bay Arts and Industrial Estate is the heart of Byron’s creative community with fashion labels, vintage stores, quirky cafes and wellness gems. Best explored by bike, make a day of getting around to the bounty of local makers here and in Byron town: Nikau, Yoli & Otis, St Agni, Spell & The Gypsy Collective, Mister Zimi, The Candle Library, Divine Goddess, Bare Blends, Shemana, Mary Ryan’s Books, Mayde Tea, Hope & May, and Hendrix & Harlow.
The studio for yoga in Byron Bay; now in an upgraded space in the Industrial Estate. The beautiful owner Bessy runs blissful early morning hatha yoga, with over 20 classes every week from vinyasa to yin. I enjoyed a therapeutic Yang to Yin class with an on-point soundtrack and would plan my next trip around a Creature Yoga workshop with visiting international teachers.
On my first afternoon in Byron Bay, I walked into Thai Saba for a post-flight neck massage with a friendly Thai masseuse. The space is reasonably tranquil and the prices are very reasonable, and would return for a Thai Herbal Ball Massage using a cotton bag filled with more than ten varieties of Thai herbs.
Every trip needs to have one experience of opulence so I booked a relaxation massage at The Byron at Byron; an award-winning spa nestled in Byron Resort & Spa but without the generic ‘resort day spa’ vibes. I was greeted with Butterfly Pea Flower Tea (that is naturally blue in colour!), magazines and the best part – complimentary use of the hot sauna and spa before the treatment.
Run by students from the Byron Ayurveda College who undertake two to four years of training, I had an Indian head massage with warm oils.The space is welcoming but small, with no resemblance to the comforts of a day spa. But the treatments are authentic and a worthwhile experience for lovers of Ayurveda.
EXTRA WELLNESS LOVE: Body Alignment (Creature Yoga owner Bessy recommended Adrian for remedial massages), Gaia Retreat & Spa (a wellness escape hidden in nature), Future Dreamers (an creative community space to inspire girls from childhood to teen years), and Byron Medicine Wheel (a health and wellness collective that champions local practitioners in alternative healing, spirituality and psychic readings).
The best introduction to Byron Bay is a walk up to the Cape Byron Lighthouse, the most Easterly point of Australia, followed by a meditative walk through a rainforest on the way back. The bush and beach track combo is a truly unique 2 hour return hike that covers sweeping cliff views, mesmerising beach scenes at Watanga Beach and panoramic nature views of Cozy Corner and beyond. Do more than once.
Confession: my greatest fears are sharks and towering waves. How to best combat that? With a surf lesson in Byron Bay! The 4-hour class started at the Backpackers Inn and before walked our long boards to the nearby beach for 101 sand training before jumping into the ocean with two enthusiastic surf coaches showing us how to paddle and catch waves. I managed to stand up for about four seconds and have never experienced such a thrilling full body work out!
The home of the biggest collection of crystals in the world. Located in the Byron Bay hinterland, I was transfixed with the mesmerising Great Bell Chant by Thich Nhat Hanh that plays on the hour at the Kalachakra World Peace Stupa. One of the most serene moments of my trip was the Peace Experience (at 3.10pm daily) that involved a sound healing bath, a visualisation meditation and a sacred Kora Walk around Crystal Castle.
EXTRA ADVENTURE LOVE: Dalwood Falls and Minyon Falls (before you go chasing them, check to see the rainfall) Mount Warning (picturesque rainforest hike to the summit), Drumming Circle Byron Bay (at sunset most evenings on the main beach), Whale Watching (from July to September see migrating humpback whales from the Cape Byron Lighthouse).
ROAD TRIP OUTSIDE BYRON BAY
The town is an eclectic mix of main street charm, cobblestone side streets, and impeccably curated stores. Check out Poet Store (organic tea atelier and bookshop), Woods (sister to Folk Cafe), Goddess of Babylon (sensual and spiritual female fashion), Worn Store (a good taste concept store), Our Corner Store (local jewellery and handmade homewares), Queen Mab’s (exquisite curated clothing), Herbal Wisdom (impressive health emporium) and Bangalow Market on the fourth Sunday of each month.
A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town except for the exceptional Harvest – a gourmet restaurant nestled in a historic cottage, perfect for a long lunch. Across the road is Newrybar Merchants – a concept store occupying a rustic 1980’s country house and showcasing local artisans and makers. A truly unique collaborative space in a town that stole my heart.
In the tiny country town of Federal is the much-talked DOMA Cafe, a charming Japanese restaurant in an old-style house and farmyard. The locally sourced rustic Japanese food blew me away; think grilled miso eggplant with pomegranate seeds, radish, and quinoa, and cone-shaped sushi hand rolls with brown rice and in-house made pickled ginger.
After a four-day stay at The Atlantic for The Broad Place’s Vedic Meditation Retreat, I can’t imagine wanting to stay anywhere else in Byron Bay. Centrally located but mentally miles away, the compound of rooms and villas is a sanctuary of towering palm trees, nature spaces, big porches, and impeccable beach chic furnishings. I stayed in a private room with a giant shower and definitely had my eye on a cottage or the refurbished vintage Airstream for future stays.
A private rental perfect for one or a couple tucked behind a house, Studio 9 feels like an architect’s passion project with an elevated bedroom, eclectic homewares and clever ‘tiny house’ use of the small space. About a 10-minute walk into town and a 5-minute walk to the Byron Farmers’ Market (that you promise me you will go to!).
Many locals and expats have equally as beautiful homes to stay in, I stayed in an Airbnb house in the Industrial Estate with two friendly German sisters who took me on a magical morning hike in a lightning storm and lent me a magnificent green bike for a week of adventures.