Byron Bay, the epicenter of Australia’s counter-culture | Travel Diary
Among all the places we wanted to visit in Australia, Byron Bay was ranking on the very top of the list. Likely because Instagram and Social Media are full of pictures from Byron Bay. And before touching down in Australia for the first time I had a specific idea of the place that is massively hyped and accordingly super popular.
What makes Byron Bay living up the hype?
Technically, Byron Bay is one of many beachside towns on the coast of New South Wales. For some reason, however, Byron Bay has instead an alternative, hippiesque reputation. Many surfers, artists, and drop-outs have settled in the beach town with its ton of cute breakfast cafés and small boutiques, art exhibitions, festivals, and – most obviously – the several golden beaches that invite people of every age to the small town.
The flair of Byron Bay is unique for that reason. The beach town welcomes you with a „Cheer up, slow down, chill out“ welcome sign and is at least as relaxed and friendly as other Australian places. We liked it very much. The coastal area, in general, met our taste. We would have loved to stay longer in different locations across Sunshine and Gold Coast, such as Brisbane, but we simply didn’t have enough time. One more reason to come back, huh?
We enjoyed Byron Bay very much, though our start was not the best. As Byron Bay is not a big city but a coastal town, there is no local airport. The easiest option is to fly into Ballina Byron, which doesn’t offer international operations. There are more flight options at Gold Coast Airport, which is a little further away.
Since we came from Fiji, we landed in Brisbane International Airport and had to drive the 174 kilometers down the coast. The route is quite boring; it’s a usual freeway with no scenic views.
FROM BRISBANE TO BYRON BAY
We arrived at around 6 pm in Brisbane, ready to pick up the rental car that we had pre-booked in Germany. We had also looked up the route to Byron Bay back in time, and based on Google Maps, planned in about 1.5 hours driving time.
Unfortunately, you can’t rely on Google Maps‘ navigation details in Australia. And so it happened, that when we jumped in our rental car at around 7 pm, the built-in navigation predicted 10:15 pm as arrival time, not 8:30 pm as expected. The driving time was calculated to be 2.5 hours, and we realized there was a border to cross, which meant a time shift to our disadvantage.
This was a first though, crossing the border from Queensland to New South Wales by car, and looking at the time changing itself kind of was an exciting feel nevertheless.
The journey went on, we were very tired and had to stop on the way to buy something to eat on the road (Kentucky Fried Chicken… urgh), as all restaurants would have closed already upon our arrival.
We were already on the last mile (navigation system predicted not more than 9 minutes to go), there was suddenly a loud noise (a bang from an explosion) and we had to stop the car. Like in the movie, somewhere on the motorway, in the middle of the forest, without any light, not even street lamps. Indistinctly we hope it wasn’t the tire but of course it was. It hat burst for some unexplainable reason. There we were, near Byron Bay yet far away from our destination. Our first reaction was to call the rental agency, which unfortunately was already closed at that time and couldn’t help us any further, except to connect us with the „patrolman“. He was surprisingly helpful but predicted up to an hour’s drive… where had we ended up? The call wasn’t for nothing as the patrolman reminded us that there would certainly be a spare tire in the trunk and luckily he was right.
Thus, Daniel had to install a new wheel in the middle of the night, on a street in a forest. I can tell you, this was not the best experience. Afterward, we drove carefully and slowly for the last mile. Our accommodation happened to be literally right after the forest. Eventually, we arrived at our accommodation just before 1:00 am, totally exhausted from that day. Let me tell you: All our relaxing from Fiji was gone already.
Accommodation: Aloha Byron Bay Villas
We had booked our stay in a bungalow at Aloha Byron Bay, which was cute and well-designed. As there were only two other bungalows and a few flats but a few pools, we were the only ones at the pool. In the middle of the complex, there was another bungalow containing a well-equipped kitchen and a large dining table. The room was beautifully decorated (no wonder, the owners had worked in the interior design & construction business before…). The fridge was full of eggs, milk, yogurt, bread. There was also muesli, jam, peanut butter, coffee,… we just bought some avocados in the nearest Aldi (yes, that existed there!!) and had breakfast here every day…
Breakfast in Byron Bay
…except for the first day. After the short and exhausting night, we wanted to enjoy the next morning and don’t waste any time buying groceries and preparing food (also, at this time, we had no idea the fridge in the main bungalow was filled with that much stuff!).
In my opinion, a perfect city trip starts with a delicious breakfast in a cute café. This way, you get a great first impression of the area and locals. In Byron Bay, the Bayleaf Café is very well known and trendy… but we didn’t go there. Instead, we went to Byron Fresh, which is not only a restaurant but also a flower shop. Apparently, the café is also popular. Crowded with locals (the other guests didn’t appear touristy to me at least), we had to wait for a table and got a closer look at the people living in Byron Bay. The food was quite expensive (I paid $23 for pancakes), but the time spent in the flower café was worth every dollar.
Shopping & STROLLING
After breakfast, we strolled through the small, pretty streets and stopped by one or the other boutique. My recommendations are Johnson Street and Lawson Street. The boutiques The Habitat and Attik were my favorites, and I did a ton of shopping there, but also Hope & May (it’s a pity that I couldn’t take anything with me).
Places worth a shopping spree:
The vibe in Byron Bay is very relaxed. You see young, tanned Australians with blonde, curly hair, hanging around in surfer clothes, or comfortable shorts, mostly on the beach or in the small coffee shops nearby. Many shops are vegan, or at least organic, and you will find delicious and healthy food at every corner.
We had a smoothie from Byron Juice Bay and walked to the beach. Unfortunately, it was still a bit cloudy and very windy, so the sea was somewhat agitated but showed itself from a fantastic, beautiful side. We drank our smoothies and looked at the sea for a while, happy about the moment.
On the beach parking lot were many cars converted into caravans and small buses. People would sit in their trunks, some even slept. It’s hard to tell whether they were backpackers or dropouts even. Most of the people were too old to be students, though, and too shabby to belong to civilization. It also smelled a bit unpleasant in the parking lot. However, somehow they attracted me. I have to admit deep inside I sometimes wonder how a life with no home, no rules, and, respectively, no stress would be like? I imagine this to be quite pleasant, however, living in a car doesn’t suit me 😉
When the sun came out around noon, we grabbed some beach towels at our hotel to spent the afternoon on the beach.
DINING in Byron Bay
It took me a while to understand the opening hours of the restaurants in Australia. The smaller the place, the more likely it is that the restaurants are not always open. There is „lunchtime“ between 12 and 3 pm and „dinnertime“ starting from around 6 pm. In between that, you cannot dine in nor order food. On holidays we try to delay lunch as long as possible and preferably have an early dinner instead to skip one meal and respectively save money. This means in terms of dining, Byron Bay was quite a challenge as all the times we felt hungry, we couldn’t find an open restaurant. Luckily, there was a Poké shop where we could have delicious bowls for lunch.
Other places I can recommend are:
Towards the evening, we went to the Beach Hotel Byron Bay, a hotel located directly at the beach with a spacious terrace overlooking the sea. It happened that the same day, a prevalent horse race (the Melbourne Cup), had taken place, which was celebrated everywhere via public viewing, including public drinking. We missed the race itself, but the hotel broadcasted all other related races (dog races, etc.) on big screens and you could place bets, drink, talk or dance on a large dance floor. All of Byron Bay seemed to come together in this place. It was full of young people, and we had fun observing them over beer and Aperol Spritz. Unfortunately, it was very windy, and we had to go inside after sunset therefor and afterward didn’t stay for too long.
Unfortunately, the night was not so restful, as the alarm system was activated several times and scared us out of our sleep. Not only the noise was deafening, but also the light switched on automatically. We were scared to hell, and we had no idea who to contact as we hadn’t seen anyone on the facility until then, after all.
A bit tired from the creepy night, we spent the morning of the next day on the beach again to chill out a bit… But when it got so windy that we were almost breaded, we went back to the hotel and our pool. It happened that the owners of the apartment were in the complex for the first time, fixing the broken alarm system. Their hospitality was among the best I have ever experienced in all those years of traveling. They didn’t only compensate the full night due to the disturbing alarm but also had placed a bottle of bubbles in our fridge. The owner said, „If I were you, I had it right now by the pool! And so we did open the bottle midst afternoon and enjoyed it in the sun, enjoying ourselves and again had the pool on our own. Later, a couple with their baby joined us. It turns out that they were also from Germany and had worked so much all year round to save up enough money and overtime to spend six weeks in Australia. How inspiring!
The owner wrote down a few places for dinner, but luck wasn’t again on our side, and we were a. too hungry (and drunk respectively) to wait again until later in the evening, some were also booked out. That’s why we chose a Mexican restaurant named Miss Margarita. It turned out this was a great decision as Byron Bay happens to be very expensive, and the Mexican was on the more affordable site. I still think back on their coconut margarita that was tasty and also happened to be their “margarita of the night,” so it was a little reduced in price.
The next morning, we went back to Brisbane. Early but slowly, we made our way with the spare tire… Before arriving at our last stop for the day, we made a trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary that is worth another story.
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