10 Refreshingly Different Things To Do In Byron Bay
Your Bluesfest recovery starts here.
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Over Easter, Byron’s relatively paltry population of 9,000 will swell to well over 100,000 when Bluesfest lights up Tyagarah Tea Tree farm in the north of the shire. It’s arguably one of the greatest festivals in the world – these stages have supported Bob Dylan, B.B King, James Brown, and almost every other blues and roots luminary from history. This year will be no different, with Alabama Shakes, Ben Harper, George Clinton and Hozier all dotting an awesome lineup.
But once that’s over, and you’re now needing to kickstart your recovery, Byron can be a pretty suffocating place for tourists and locals alike: the main street is now choked with chain stores and pedestrians, and food and drink prices can soar. Despite this, it can still stun – whether you’re stumbling bleary eyed to glimpse the first red rays of sun that will rise over Australia, wading through impossibly clear and green waters, or watching whales breach off the headland – it’s certainly an arresting destination. Luckily, there are still some quiet spots around that aren’t your ordinary destinations for the average visitor, so to avoid the throngs and quicken your Bluesfest recovery, make like a local and hit up these refreshingly different places.
#1 Whites Beach
Located about 10 kilometres south of the township, Whites Beach remains the most pristine on the north coast to dip your blistered feet into. Shallow blue green waters nudged forested cliffs, making it a sometimes-difficult beach to get to (depending on what side you come from, you may have to scramble down a sharp cliff to get there) but easily the most rewarding. For the most part it’s completely deserted. Protected from the vicious northerly wind in summer, it offers surfers a reprieve with sleepy, left hand breakers.
#2 Broken Head
Located just north of Whites Beach, Broken Head is another antidote to the people-littered beaches of the Bay. Hemmed in by a craggy headland, with unusually calm waters stretching out far to an often-epic southerly surf break, it’s also the ideal sunset beach, offering panoramic views of Cape Byron to Lennox Head. Pop over the headland and scramble across the rocks for the deserted sand of Kings Beach. (Hint: Do it at low tide. Getting back can be a little tricky.)
#3 Treehouse Belongil
Head out of Byron on Shirley Street, take a right onto Kendall and keep going – eventually you’ll come to Treehouse restaurant and bar. Locals were devastated a few years ago when a kitchen fire gutted the place and closed it for over a year – but it’s reopened with the same panache and cheap pizzas that it possessed before. Shrouded in trees, the décor delightfully rustic and ‘beach looking’, it also boasts a great live music space (chillwave up and comers Tora recently played a residency there) as well as the summer institution Sangria Sundays.
#4 Traditional Thai
For those with a serious foodie bent – Trad Thai on Fletcher Street will be your gastronomical highlight. For carnivores, try the crispy pock hock with plum and chilli caramel, or the duck salad with tamarind dressing. For vegetarians and vegans, the vegan yellow curry of roasted pumpkin and okra is the ticket. The co-owner, Mariana, makes a mean vodka grapefruit cocktail as well, so get on that – although they’re deadly, so watch yourself. Easily the best eating in town.
#5 Suffolk Bakery
If you happen to be sauntering past at 6am (and who isn’t up at that hour, really?) the Suffolk Bakery is the place to hang. Crammed with locals out for their morning jog/coffee or surf/coffee or just the coffee, the baristas work at a million miles an hour to fill out the orders. There’s an advantage to getting there early – wait times can get pretty lengthy the longer the morning stretches on. Best to munch on the baked goodies while you wait.
#6 The Rails
Truly the last locals pub in town – the Rails exists where the train no longer does. (Tip: don’t ask a local about when the Casino to Murwillumbah train is coming back, you’ll get an expletive laden response. Or actually, do ask, it’s pretty entertaining.) Deliciously ice cold local Byron drops are available on tap and the ramshackle digs are draped with fairy lights, painted murals splashed on every wall. If you haven’t filled up with enough music at Bluesfest, there are bands on pretty much every night – Friday is local’s night, so if you want to grab a barrel to lean on get there early.
#7 Minyon Falls
20 minutes inland from the Bay sits Minyon Falls – an incredible 100 metre high plunge waterfall that sits deep within the Nightcap Range national park. For those not scared of heights, the platform at the top juts over the cliff looking over ancient rainforest that was part of the Tweed volcano an eon ago. If you have some hiking shoes, make the 4 kilometre trek to the base of the falls, ending in lush green palms and a deep pool that’s exceptionally swim worthy – particularly after walking all the way there, and especially when you can look up and see water freefalling above you from a 100m drop.
#8 Whian Whian Falls
You’ll find Whian Whian Falls by travelling on from Minyon down Whian Whian road and putting the brakes on just past a causeway. The “falls” part is not strictly true – it’s more of a three metre high wall of rock that cascades down into a watering hole. Hidden within dense rainforest, it’s a picturesque layout – green vines hang over deep and silent pools which are sometimes icy cold – making it a favourite summer hangout for the locals who know where to find it.
#9 Top Shop Café
Up the top of Massinger and Carlyle Streets (about a ten minute stagger from the main drag), Top Shop serves up the best smoothies and burgers that you can wrap your chompers around. An old Byron institution, new life was breathed into it when new owners took it on a few years back, although they’ve stuck close to the original formula – all local produce, fairly reasonable prices, and a laid back, sit-on-the-grass-and-we’ll-bring-you-coffee atmosphere. Check out the chilli, chicken, and avocado burger, or the chorizo and egg roll (!) and make sure to pair it with their atomic strength coffee – one of the best you’ll have in town.
#10 Bangalow Markets
The Northern Rivers have been enviously blessed with some of the best agricultural conditions on this side of the country (fun fact: it’s mostly due to the red, volcanic and nutrient rich soil), and it’s resulted in some of the best local produce that you could ever hope to find. If you’ve ever considered yourself a foodie, or even if you’re just remotely interested in food, then the Bangalow markets on Saturday morning will make your eyes pop. Grab a bag and pick up some goodies – in particular the avocados from Tony’s, Monty’s Strawberries, or some raw vegan treats at Raw Ecstasy. There are more markets to be had though – the Sunday market is even bigger, taking place on the fourth Sunday of every month, and it extends to locally made clothes, knick knacks, and all kinds of weird and wonderful hippy trinkets.
(Lead image: Ocal/Flickr)
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