A cyclist in a wetsuit pedals by clutching a surfboard. An old man in wizard’s robes skateboards along the pavement. Buskers play the didgeridoo… Laid-back Aussie beach town Byron Bay, on the north coast of New South Wales, is just over an hour’s flight north of Sydney, but it might as well be a parallel universe.
There’s a real tropical feel up here, with a string of curvy, bush-backed beaches looking out over spectacular volcanic peaks beyond the bay. Byron’s still surprisingly natural, too, with few high-rise buildings and wildlife – from white ibis to lizards and brush-turkeys – wandering free.
Despite a gentrifying trend that’s brought hot bars and shops to Byron’s still-sleepy streets, the town’s alt-cultural, New Age sensibilities are still alive and well. Surfers wait for the next break at the Pass, tanned, long-haired locals wander around barefoot, and psychic readings and aura photos are touted at every corner. Smith particularly likes the hippy-dippy store offering lessons in African drumming, fire-twirling and ‘learning to chill in a hammock’.
Our fave foodie spots for kicking back are Bayleaf Café (8/87 Jonson Street) for brunch, house-ground coffee and surf mags, Byron Beach Café on Clarkes Beach for salt and pepper squid with chilli caramel and jaw-dropping sea views, and the Top Shop Café (corner of Massinger and Carlisle streets) for gourmet burgers. Pop to Fishmongers Café on Bay Lane for fish and chips to eat on the beach. Walk the calories off on the trail up to Cape Byron Lighthouse, Australia’s most easterly point. Whales are often spotted passing by in season and dolphins frolic with surfers off-shore year-round.
See Smith’s collection of gorgeous boutique hotels in Byron Bay, including elegant Victoria’s at Wategos down by Wategos Beach. We’ve also got some seductive holiday houses in Byron Bay for stylish self-catering – for Balinese-style luxe check out The Villas at Byron.