a guide to Byron Bay
I first wrote this guide almost three years ago when I was living just outside Byron in an old army shed in the forest. I put it together as a rundown of Things to Do as recommended by me and bunch of rad locals I met so that when you – my mates here on this blog – visit Byron, well, you’re sorted. You can also catch up on more Byron finds here.
* Updated January 2015
I regularly update the guide because it has proven so popular, so if you feel anything’s out-dated, please feel free to post a comment below!
As a bit of background, I went to Byron to rest and heal. Which is what it has done for thousands of years. For the local Arakwal Bumberlin people it’s always been a healing and fertility place. The locals say you come here to get healed. Once healed, you need to move on or, if you stay, you must heal others. After 18 months in Byron, I knew my time was up. But it will always be a special place for me.
Byron is a unique place. It’s a sleepy, old-school coastal hamlet in bits, but big bands and performers pass through regularly. It’s full of fancy city types, but the sense of community is potent. It’s transient, but everyone feels they belong. The ladies at the post office know my name. The bank manager chats with me in the street.
Everyone has a theory on the place and why certain phenomena exist. Like, the fact there are seven single women to every single man. (The theory on this one is that it’s due to the area being a female fertility site…men just can’t hack the energy!)
But to the guide…
For a great overview of what the locals are doing, and what gigs are worth seeing, check out Kirra Pendergast, Johnny Abegg and Tim Manton’s site Common Ground.
You might also like to read about the road trip I did in the area a while back.
Also, this video featuring my mate Tommy Franklin – who’s since appeared on X Factor – should give you a breezy feel for things…play it as asoundtrack to this post! If you see Tommy in town he’ll massage your shoulders if you ask nicely.
1. food and drink
The Roadhouse. My favourite venue for coffee and food is, hands down, The Roadhouse. By day they do organic coffee made with organic milk, fermented turmeric and ginger kombucha, avocado and coconut water smoothies that come in recycled jars, a pumpkin, homemade fermented labna, spec and herbs breakfast with sauerkraut…you get the picture, right? They’re totally Sally Fallon’ed up! At night, is a whisky bar and they churn out simple risottos and slow cooked stuff. Everything in the place is organic and mostly local. There is a fireplace. And herb gardens outside. Love it. Give Liam and Dwayne a kiss from me (cute, 20-something surfer boys).
I’m not the only one who loves The Roadhouse… Jordanna is our recipe developer for the 8-week program and a former Byron-dweller. She also votes for the Roadhouse, saying: “These kids know their stuff. I love the option of homemade activated almond milk. They don’t stock skim milk because they know it’s crap. They also make the best chai tea in the bay made with carefully selected spices and fresh turmeric and ginger juice. They also have fresh coconut water on tap!!! Hello! They take farm to plate to the extreme with half of the produce being grown on a farm just up the road. I love the small select menu, it means everything is super-fresh and made with love.”
Bangalow Hotel. I hear this place is awesome. The menu draws inspiration from and showcases seasonal produce from the Byron Bay Hinterland and NSW Northern Rivers. You can find their menu here.
Bayleaf. The breakfast greens (with or without pulled pork) is fabulous at Bayleaf, and although the cafe has changed hands since this was first written- it still makes an excellent breakfast (possibly the best).
Dip is great. Their BLT is sensational. And while you’re there, try the cashew biscuit – virtually sugar free; just nuts and egg. Here’s the link to their Facebook page.
Folk. This is another one of Lizzy’s recommendations. It’s a new haunt a little out of town, with a great vibe.
Harvest at Newrybar is ace for vibe and value (makes for a great excursion en route to Bangalow). It’s one of Sarita’s favourite breakfast haunts. She says “It wins hands down. Great, friendly staff, awesome chai (Byron Bay Tea Company chai of course!) and a beautiful setting in the green rolling hills of Byron Bay. A perfect start to the day!” Lizzy is co-owner of flagship boutique Spell & the Gypsy Collective (so worth a visit…or check them out on Instagram). She loves the cocktail menu at Harvest. “Created by Tristan, one of the owners, there is an interesting selection of unique and creative cocktails using native ingredients such as finger lime.”
Heart & Halo is good Indian-inspired cuisine with pizzas and a mint/poppy seed drink to die for.
Mac’s Milkbar gets a lot of love. I hear over and over that their burgers are the bomb.
Milk n Honey. This Mullumbimby pizza shop comes highly recommended by nearly everyone who has been there. Sadly they don’t do gluten-free bases, but their whole food and artisan wood fired pizzas are mostly organic, fresh and super flavourful. Check them out online.
Muoi’s Feast up near the beach is quirky as all hell. Vietnamese lamb shanks with chips topped with melted cheese anyone? That said, it works. Somehow. Here’s their Facebook page.
Naked Treaties. If you’re after a raw bar, you’ll love Naked Treaties. Jemma makes her own almond milk and her Naked Treatie treats are sold all over Byron – the coconut chocolates are almost fructose free and are 100% organic and sustainable and….you’ve just got to try one! She’s now opened a great place on one of the main drags (down from Targa). It’s astonishingly fresh and healthy. Her smoothies are meals. Try the “I am abundant”… a chocolaty, green, coconutty dream. Say hi to Jemma for me if you’re in there. She radiates raw good health.
OzyMex Café on the roundabout in the centre of town is great. John (the owner) makes the Byron Bay Chili Co. sauces and corn chips that you can find in supermarkets. I love the nachos and fish tacos and he makes all his own mince and sauces, too. The REAL deal.
Rae’s on Watego’s do a beautiful seafood lunch with a stunning view that makes the price worthwhile.
Starfish in Brunswick Heads is reported to have the best calamari …ever.
Targa has excellent Italian. They do a great steak. Sam Gowing is a Byron-based spa chef, mentor and nutritionist. She also recommends Targa, for their real teapots that don’t drip, and real tea leaves – she says they do the best green tea in town.
Thai Garden in Lennox Heads. Lizzy loves this Thai restaurant for it’s fresh, made-with-lots-of-love food. Says it’s definitely worth the 15 min drive out of town.
The Balcony do a cracking martini with a sunset backdrop. You can find them here.
The Beach Hotel. This place has such a great atmosphere in the mornings and is a local favourite. If you want simple and breezy, this is perfect. Jacqueline McCoach, a Byron-based jewellery designer and owner of ‘Jewels by Jacqueline’ agrees. You can find the Beach Hotel website here.
The Poinciana is awesome for the Mullum vibe, lovely outdoor tables and sandpit for kids. You can find them here.
The Belle General is a little further afield… Jacqui and two of her cousins have opened the café on Shelly Beach in East Ballina. Their focus is gluten, dairy and sugar free foods. It’s worth checking out!
The Byron at Byron has happy hour from 4-6pm Sun-Thurs and is arguably still the best kept local secret in town.
The Lazy Italian in Bay Lane is one of Sam’s top picks if you’re after healthy home-style schnitzels and roast veggies. You can find them here.
The Rails is fun for some local action (and the best pub food in town – look out for the pork belly and the kangaroo special). Their website is here.
Top Shop is my other favourite haunt. I like to call it Facebook Mountain because the scene here, as my mate Tim so aptly put it, resembles a General Pants commercial. They also serve organic milk on request. And everyone sits out on the lawn and chats in the sun in the morning. The omelette roll at Top Shop is superb. Their burgers are amazing; they have fennel seeds in the patty. The eggs and bacon are organic and they bake their own bread and pastries. They serve Prem’s Chai tea, too. That stuff is gold.
Town in Bangalow does beautiful sautéed silverbeet and mushrooms. Find them here.
The Tennis Courts on Tennyson Street is not a particularly attractive place to sit and relax, but the coffee is very consistent and good.
Atlantic Byron Bay. My friends Kerry and Michael stayed at Atlantic Byron Bay during their visit recently. It’s in the centre of town, but back from all the backpacker action, and just across the road from Targa. They stayed in their VERY CUTE Silver Bullet van. In the evenings they drank beer, sitting out under the lean-to and channelled 1962.
My assistant Jo also stayed at Atlantic. Jo says, “I stayed in the Coconut Cove section. It’s set up like a hotel – in that you have your own room and bathroom – but there’s a great communal kitchen and open living area. I love that there’s always someone to chat to over a cup of tea in the sun!”
I’ve stayed in their “lodge”. I don’t think they call it a lodge. But it works like this: hotel-size rooms with balconies that feel more like a bedroom in a designer Byron home; own bathrooms; communal kitchen and eating area and deck downstairs; communal gardens; stand-up paddleboards and books and DVDs to borrow.
The lodges are also part of the Art Park artists residency program (artists come to stay in Bryon and do art at Art Park and stay at Atlantic; their art then displays around the property and is for sale). All of which adds a lovely creative vibe to the place. I love the feel here. Fresh and whimsical.
Is it a good location? Yep. In the middle of town, across the road from Targa restaurant
Byron at Byron is another great place to stay and is a little out of the chaos. Lyn and Chrissie are gorgeous authentic operators and will make your stay special.
Clarkes Beach Cottages. Lizzie recommends these cottages down on Clarke’s beach. “You cannot get a better posi in Byron Bay- rain, hail or shine you can soak it up down there and get some real relaxation. You can literally roll out of bed, walk 20 metres and lunge in the ocean. Pure bliss!”
The Byron Bay Beach Houses are perfect if you’re visiting as a group or family. I used to ride and run past this place most days. Byron Bay Beach Houses is on the Lighthouse Road, just opposite the Captain Cook Lookout (where I would park to surf The Pass). I stayed in the Havana house, set back from the road and backing onto rainforest. It’s a languid, beachy, breezy family home with two big lounge rooms, with generous couches and generous cushions and lots of light and air, four bedrooms (to sleep 10), a pool, barbeque areas and two decks. You getting the picture? Breezy, big and great for entertaining.
I invited a bunch of friends over for an indoor picnic (yep, the storms, the floods), mostly because I wanted to put the kitchen to use. Which is big. Breezy. Fully stocked with good gear.
It’s in a great location, possibly the best. You’re across the road from the beach and a ten minute walk into town. The place is generously equipped with beach gear and towels. Arrive. Unpack. Set up the Connect Four and thebarbeque kit.
3. if you’re here on a (specific day of week/time of month) do try:
Garage Sales. If you’re in Byron Bay on a Saturday, Johnny recommends driving around and having a look at the array of garage sales. “It’s unbelievable what people are selling and the creative measures they go to.”
Percussion fills the air on Sunday afternoons at the beachfront car-park (overlooking the wreck). When the weather is good, you’ll get a heap of percussionist’s playing tunes until the sun goes down.
Positive Change for Marine Life do a beach clean up every tuesday morning at the Main Beach Carpark.
The Mullumbimby Music Festival in November is one of the best small-scale music festivals around for all ages and persuasions. Loved for its friendly, inclusive atmosphere – quality music (a mixture of popular national/international acts with yet-to-be-discovered surprises) in existing venues throughout the funky town of Mullumbimby.
The roadside stalls in Newrybar, near Ballina are a favourite of my friend Tori. She goes on a Saturday morning with her son, where they go “shopping” for local produce at the roadside stalls. They arm themselves with loose change and stop at the stalls to purchase everything from honey, to coffee, fruit, vegetables, fresh flowers and eggs and pop the money into the honesty box.
The whale migration happens from May to November. If you keep an eye out you can spot pods of humpbacks from a headland or join one of the tours. For more information, go here.
Thursday local farmers market (look out for the raw food stand – the hummus is amazing – and the mushroom ladies – the shitakes almost made me cry – oh, and the ginger couple and the sprouts lady…) and the monthly Sunday craft markets (they rotate around Byron, Bangalow, Mullum and The Channon). Get all the details here.
YAC Rock Café is one for the kids every Friday night at the Byron Youth Service Youth Activity Centre.
Massage and Spa:
Ambaji House of Wellbeing comes recommended by Sam for the best Ayurvedic hot oil treatment for chronic muscle pain.
Bay Family Chiropractic is where I go when I’ve been writing all day and my posture is stuffed. My neck gets thrown and so I have to go and get cracked back into place. Not ideal. But you do what you have to do. Peter is great; he’s a super passionate surfer who knows a lot!
Byron at Byron lets you sit in their lovely garden. You can also have a massage while you’re there.
Kiva Spa is also in Mullumbimby. You can get a treatment or just pay $20 to use the out door spas, log fire sauna and steam room.
Mullum Sari has an infared sauna that I loved going to. A beautiful space and experience, which I’d finish off with a dandelion tea at a nearby cafe. Worth the excursion.
Thai Sabai is the best Thai massage. I booked in with Kaori.
Tonic Massage Clinic is another favourite haunt of Sam’s for the best musculo-skeletal massage. “It’s awesome for chronic muscle pain and does HICAPS rebates for private health funds.”
Abundantia offers psychic readings, tranformational counselling and house and office clearing.
Crystal Castle and Shambhala Gardens. Sarita recommends getting a tarot reading from Michelle. They also offer reflexology, meditation and have an ancient labyrinth onsite.
Liz Winter is a medium in Mullum. Sam sees her whenever she’s having a “spiritual meltdown”.
As you might know, I’m not much of a shopper but there are a few places that I recommend checking out…
Art Park is a bit of a hub for Byron’s artistic, surfing, graffiti etc community. It’s a gallery-based clothing company, an art publisher, an online art store and they also run a series of very fun gallery openings (basically a BBQ in the car park with beer and music and kids skating about), as well as an artists’ residency programme. The gallery/store is in the industrial estate (you REALLY have to head out there for a visit) and some of the world’s raddest artists contribute to their shows, their clothes and their quarterly Art Park Journal. Paul, the owner, is an ace guy and wrote the very funny kids book A, B, C & W: The Country and Western Alphabet . Look out for their Hard Folk baseball caps, too.
The Byron Bay Arts & Industry Estate is one of Lizzy’s favourite places to shop. “you’ll see glass blowers, silver smiths, gorgeous bohemian labels (like Spell!!), fairy shops, vintage stores, a circus tent, soap and candle makers… it’s the real heart and soul of Byron.” The tourist office has a map/trail for the area.
Craft markets can be a bit of a hub of crocheted coat hangers, but the Sunday craft markets that rotate around a bunch of towns in the area are actually very, very cool.
Heath’s Wares is a random junk yard in Bangalow. Paul loves it. He says that the owner, Ross, is a wealth of knowledge. You can also find him at the Lismore car-boot sales.
Spell & the Gypsy Collective Boutique sells beautiful clothing, jewellery, accessories, candles and more. It’s also in the Estate. Well worth checking out.
Swimming / surfing:
The daily ocean swim was one of my favourite things to do when I lived in Byron. We met at 8am at the Surf Club, walked to The Pass and then swam back (about 1.5km). A group of 20-50 locals do it every single morning. I did it once or twice a week. First time I did it I got mauled by bluebottles, the second time I swam over a shark. But don’t let that put you off! The old locals who’ve been doing it for decades make it the most wonderful start to the day. Anyone can turn up and swim. It’s free.
If you’re chasing a surfboard, I bought my longboard from Brett Munro of Munro Handcrafted Surfboards at the Industrial Estate. He’s a Byron legend. An all-round legend. He hand-shapes all his boards and sells quite a few second-hand. The experience was soothing in itself because Brett is THAT laid back. He also lets you take a board out for a trial and will let you exchange if you’re not 100% comfortable. NOTHING is a problem. And if your board needs some TLC, check out Dr Ding.
For a walking/running route, go from Clarkes Beach to the lighthouse. At sunrise. It’s magic. I did it as early as possible and meditated on the eastern most point of Australia with the new sun on my face. While doing this once, looked up, and there were two whales breaching right in front. Did I say magic?
Minyon Falls is a cracker of a place to hike. Head out along the bush track past Broken Head and walk down one of the tracks to an isolated beach. You can find maps and local information here.
The rainforest boardwalk behind The Byron at Byron is Lizzy’s favourite place for a gentle stroll. “You wouldn’t know it but it’s open to the public and is a spectacular place to go to meditate or simply wander.”
At the other end of the spectrum, the rainforest route to or from the lighthouse via Lee Lane (map here) is Lizzy’s pick for a big leg workout.
Ananta yoga is in a pretty grim location (up near Mitre 10 on Jonson St), but Geoff is a sublime teacher. A vinyasa style with tough bits. Check here for class times.
Byron Yoga above Centrelink is another great yoga joint. If John Ogilvy is in town, definitely catch one of his classes. He’s one of the best and most entertaining teachers in Australia. Sarita recommends Kirsty, the Canadian teacher.
7. extra helpful things
Alex Frings Photography is your go-to place for great prints of Byron Bay. Check out his collection here.
If you’re having Mac computer issues: this guy is seriously the best computer fixerer on the planet – Tom at Mr Mac. He comes to you, cleans out your hard drive as part of the service – $80/hour.
Late Night Video is a video store owned by utter film buffs. Paul recommends going there
Need waxing/tanning? Carla at Be Waxed Be Tanned on Fletcher street is super. And a delight to visit. I giggle the whole way.
The Vista also have a beautiful guide to Byron. You can download it here.
Hope that helps…feel free to add your own tips below…