Chillin’ in Byron Bay

Back in 2016 I bought a fabulous cookery book from Dymocks in Melbourne called Three Blue Ducks, the writers of which had just opened their second restaurant in Byron Bay. The location lodged in my subconscious and when I started to plan our trip it resurfaced.

Hence we spent a few days in Byron Bay, located 800 km (500 miles) north of Sydney and 173 km ( 109 miles) south of Brisbane. The town has the distinction of being one of the places along the east coast of Australia which was named for the poet Byron’s great-uncle, by his friend and fellow navigator, one Captain James Cook.

There can be few towns in Australia with a more contradictory identity than Byron Bay. On the one hand it has, historically, been associated with the alternative lifestyle movement of the 1970s and seen as a kind of interesting hippie retreat in northern NSW which now attracts backpackers.

On another level it is a very upmarket get-away-from-it-all retreat for wealthy baby boomers and Australian celebrities who respectively inhabit the various resorts and the serious property porn overlooking the Bay. In that respect, it’s more like the Californian coastal towns of Carmel and Monterey in its evolution moving from surfers to artists, tourists and celebrities.

We found Byron Bay to be a quiet, charming seaside town which has experienced a population boom because it boasts excellent surfing and plenty of good land. Without the publicity few people would drive off the Pacific Highway to visit and only holiday makers would decide to stay awhile.

The overwhelming impression is that of a town hiding behind Cape Byron, nestled in between the rocky headland and the hills which rise to the west. I understand that in the past five years it has grown dramatically and it now spreads in every direction – both up and down the coast and well into the hinterland.

Public pressure has halted both Club Med and McDonald’s from moving in; the green-dominated Byron Shire Council has banned drive-in takeaway food outlets from the town centre; buildings have been restricted to three storeys in height; and a moratorium has been placed on high-density development. In those actions lie the heart of contemporary Byron Bay.

We stayed at a well-known eco-resort, just outside of town with 92 suites backing onto windswept Tallow Beach and engulfed by 45 acres of lush sub-tropical rainforest inhabited by shy wallabies, some very entertaining bird life and a species of endangered large snails. We never saw any snails but we saw (and heard) the bush turkeys and wallabies.

Timber boardwalks connect the various resort buildings which radiate out from a decked central hub of an infinity pool, day spa, wellness centre and restaurant. We much enjoyed walking around the resort gazing at the Bangalow Palms and Paperbarks as we meandered back to our suite from long walks along the beach. In the mornings, it’s the first place in Australia to see the sun, its noisy whipbirds act as nature’s alarm clock.

We also pottered around the town which has an amazing mix of shops and eateries, plenty of festivals plus regular food and craft markets. But, again, the beach was a big draw with many coming down to watch the spectacular sunsets each evening.

Of course, I had to visit The Farm and its Three Blue Ducks restaurant which more than lived up to my expectations. We ate lunch there on Monday – fully-booked over the weekend – and the place was really buzzing. Aside from the spectacular organic food, The Farm’s main attractions are its wildlife: cute cuddly Highland cattle, free-range chickens, black  pigs and their oh-so-cute piglets, plus the bee hives.

Byron Bay more than lived up to the hype and we’d be happy to return but, for now, it was back to the Pacific Highway and on to Brisbane.