Byron Bay has a unique vibe. It manages to be a relaxed Australian beach town, yet it also exudes a buzz with live music pouring from bars every single night of the week. I went to Byron as a kind of informal retreat after dealing with some prolonged health issues and leaving my corporate job that I had worked in for almost five years. For that purpose, it was just perfect.
I spent almost a week by myself before a friend from Sydney (where I now live) joined me for the weekend. My sister and another friend joined for a few days after that. Having experienced it both as a solo traveller and with friends, I think it’s fabulous for both. Everyone in Byron was incredibly friendly; I could barely walk from one end of the beach to the other without meeting someone new, all of whom were keen to offer advice on places to visit or the best surfing spots.
One evening I spent an hour with one of the locals watching the sunset from the headland at The Pass, whilst he told me about all the quirky residents of Byron Bay, including the man who dresses as a fluorescent cowboy trying to counsel passers-by and the man who insists on walking on tip-toes to and from his house to the town centre every day (it’s 8km either way and apparently no one has ever seen his heels touch the ground!).
There are at least 29 holistic healers for every tourist in Byron Bay. Ok, I exaggerate, but you get my point. Holistic healing is big here. From Crystal Healers to Reiki practitioners to Shamans, Byron has it all. They even had a holistic healing booklet in the apartment that I stayed in describing what was in offer in the town.
Byron Bay is an oasis of gluten-free, vegan, organic cafes. Firstly, let’s discuss the most important meal of the day: brunch. My favourite brunch spot in Byron is Combi. I had both the acai bowl and the buckwheat pancakes with coconut ice cream there (possibly the healthiest pancakes ever?). Top Shop and Byron Juice Bar also do great acai bowls, but the one from Combi was my favourite, plus it scores ten out of ten for Instagrammability. Bay Leaf Cafe was also a stand-out brunch spot. I had probably the most indulgent pancake stack of my life at Dip Cafe, which also offers some good old greasy dishes.
For dinner, St Elmo does incredible tapas (it’s a bit more expensive than the other places I visited, but so worth it for a treat). Tapas is one of my favourite cuisines, so I’ve been to a fair few tapas restaurants, and St Elmo is my joint number one favourite for Spanish food, along with Barrafina in London. I went to Byron Fresh Cafe for dinner one evening with a friend. After spending the whole day at the beach, we sipped coconut margaritas from an open-air window seat watching a live music performance. Does it get any better than that!? If you’re having one of those days where you just aren’t feeling the whole ‘my body’s a temple’ vibe, then you can go for great pizza at Slice (I stopped off a number of times for a cheeky post-surf snack) and OzyMex does some of the best burritos and salads that I’ve ever tasted. We also spent a couple of giggly evenings at Balcony Bar (until we were politely ushered out being the last people left in there). Miss Margarita is another fun bar that’s worth a visit.
You’d be correct, having read this far, in thinking that a not insignificant part of my trip was spent eating. However, I somehow managed to fit in a bit of exploring too. Byron Bay has a wealth of beautiful beaches. You’ve got Main Beach (which is, unsurprisingly, the main one in the centre of town), Belongil Beach (slightly quieter), Clarkes Beach (adjacent to Main Beach), Wategos (one of my favourites) and the one and only Brays Beach (aka paradise).
Brays Beach was a little gem that we stumbled across by luck. We had driven to Broken Head to visit Whites Beach, which was named as Australia’s number one secret destination in Australian Traveller magazine’s 100 Incredible Travel Secrets of Australia. However, we were a little lost (I spend a fairly large chunk of my life lost which results in varied but mostly interesting outcomes) and stopped to ask some locals for directions. They said that Whites Beach is no longer a secret destination (I mean I guess that’s what happens after publishing an article about ‘secret’ destinations) and suggested that we go to Brays Beach instead. So off we trotted to the unknown. When I say trotted, I really mean we stumbled down a load of rocks in an entirely inelegant fashion. Trainers would have been a welcome addition at this point rather than our flip-flops. After clarifying on the journey down that my sister had actually mistaken the cliff edge for the footpath, rather than had a death wish (it’s not an easy mistake to make, so don’t worry about that one if you do visit yourself), we arrived at Brays Beach. We all agreed that it was like something out of the film The Beach. We had the entire shore to ourselves and spent most of the day there listening to music, reading and swimming in the deserted ocean.
If you’re looking to learn to surf, Byron Bay is a perfect place to do so. The waves were fairly small and perfect for beginners during my whole stay there. The lifeguard said that the conditions are like that nine out of ten days. Plus, the water is generally pretty clear, so it’s easy to see if there’s any sharks about, which is my main criteria for surfing in Australia.
I went to Byron Bay hoping to recharge my batteries, and I came away thinking I’d gone to the perfect place for the task.