What is there to do in Byron Bay?
Chris Hemsworth, Pete Murray and a few other celebrities have placed Australia’s Byron Bay in the spotlight as a spectacular location to live and raise a family. But if you’re visiting Byron Bay, what are some of the more interesting attractions and activities on offer?
Here’s the five things I discovered in Byron Bay while on a fitness retreat.
As a child growing up in Brisbane my family would make intermittent trips to Byron Bay. Those childhood memories of Byron conjure up a place with an inherent unique culture, surrounded by natural beauty . Byron’s locals are typically relaxed and laid back, living a dream-like existence in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful parts of the world. Up until recently, I’d only visited Byron Bay for a day, never staying longer. As a day visitor my memories were tarnished by the frequent traffic snarls on the only road into town; the difficulty of finding a car park (when in town) and being overwhelmed by the numerous choices of where to eat.
But attending an all women’s holistic retreat in Byron Bay for three days changed my opinion of the place. Staying in town removed the challenge of getting into Byron and parking. Many of Byron Bay’s attractions and activities were within within walking distance. Add in the bonus of having a local select where to eat alleviated the pressure of making “dining” choices and guaranteed culinary experiences not to disappoint.
And Byron offers an abundance of choices that go beyond dining. Choose to hit the beach; shop; listen to live music; sight see or do absolutely nothing and relax. It’s easy to find the usual tourist attractions in Byron Bay, but I discovered if you’re willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, there are further hidden delights waiting to be discovered. Much more than a quick day visit allows.
Here’s my top five must do experiences in Byron Bay.
- Anti Gravity Yoga
If someone had told me a week-end away enjoying the delights of Byron Bay, with a bunch of girls doing a few fitness activities would involve hanging upside down supported only by silk suspended from the ceiling, I would have looked at them with a little apprehension.
My first experience of this form of yoga was in the Shed at Shooters Pass in the Bay’s beautiful hinterland. Under the expert and extremely patient guidance of instructor Arianne Schreiber, who informed our group we were about to experience something special. I can’t recall the last time I have swung upside down. The initial blood rush to the head was quite intense, although I was informed it has its health benefits. Once we overcame the strange sense of inversion, the class turned into an enlightening hour spinning, floating, twisting and stretching in our soft silk cocoons. We all felt a tremendous sense of achievement at the class’s conclusion. I highly recommend the experience. But be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone.
- Sea Kayaking
Day two, our female group joined a large number of international school students from Miami High School (Gold Coast) for a sea kayaking adventure. Following the usual safety instructions, we donned life vests, attractive helmets and launched ourselves (some more gracefully than others) into the ocean. As our group paddled over to Wategos, our kayak guide Chris who was also my kayak partner, informed me we have a perfect day for kayaking. “With little wind and good visibility, I think we should see dolphins,” said Chris. “Watego Bay is like their bedroom, they come in here to escape the winds and find shelter. A place where the visiting humans co-exist with the wild life.”
The dolphins made an appearance and for me it was special observing these wild marine mammals frolic so close to our kayaks. A few sea turtles bobbed to the surface, including a curious one who swam towards our flotilla of kayaks to get a closer look. With Byron Bay’s lighthouse standing tall and straight like a sentinel against a cloudless blue sky, it was easy to see why Byron is a favourite tourist attraction.
- Safari Walk to the light house
Captain Cook sailed around the coastline in 1770, re-naming it Cape Byron after Admiral John Byron – circumnavigator of the world. The Aboriginals called the area Cavvanbah – meaning meeting place. These historical facts and more came from Blimey John, our guide for the 1.5 hour walk from the lower car park along the paths towards the iconic Byron Bay Lighthouse. Tales about the early days when Byron Bay was a whaling town and a butter and pig factory were enlightening. The falling rain didn’t halt the walking, but as we arrived at the most easterly point of Australia, a few brilliant flashes of lightning terrifyingly close, made me think about our safety. Confident Blimey John was rattled for a moment! I was hoping the tall lighthouse would be more attractive to the lightning strikes than our group of walkers.
The views of a seemingly endless horizon from the lighthouse grounds managed to take my breath away (although it could have been the gasps from my fear of lightning!)
- Beach Training Sessions
An early morning work-out at Clarkes Beach was the perfect beginning to day two. Six women in exercise gear gather ready for an hour’s work out with Jan and Sammy, Byron Bay personal trainers. For a couple of minutes before the trainers arrived, we began doubting our initial enthusiasm for this pre-breakfast exercise. But a combination of the ocean backdrop, the banter, or the energy emanating from our PT’s when they arrived, fired us up. We pushed through some challenging exercises, learning a few new ones, the trainers allowing us to work out at our individual levels.
We’d raised a sweat by the session’s end and decided the ocean was the best place for an immediate cool down. We felt we had worked hard for our reward: a hearty breakfast, at Espresso Head café. Coffee, poached egg, avocado, spinach and sour dough – a satisfying (but healthy) combination.
- New dining experiences
The owner and chief operator of Getaway Girls, Kaylene Napoli has lived in the area for over 20 years. Armed with local knowledge, Kaylene has the inside intel on the best dining places Byron has on offer. And leaving the dining decisions with Kaylene, took the pressure off our group having to choose where to dine each night! Dinner on our first night was at the Italian at the Pacific (opposite Main Beach.) On arrival we were greeted by head chef and owner William Ennis who lead us on a personal tour of the kitchen. He shared how he came to be the owner of this popular contemporary al-la-carte restaurant. It was fun to hear a few stories about his time as chef for The Sultan of Brunei. If this Irishman has cooked for a King, he shouldn’t have any trouble with our easy-going group.
We were treated to a tantalising selection of starters: bruschetta, crumbed risotto balls and mixed plates filled with olives, Italian cured meats and cheeses. For my main meal I enjoyed a plate of tortiglioni with braised shredded veal in a rich mushroom sauce. Loaded with carbs – I was readying myself for the tomorrow morning’s work-out.
Apart from the delicious selection of freshly prepared Italian food and easy on the eye assortment of cosmopolitan wait staff, our first night was the opportune time to get to know our group of women. Strangers who have come together for similar reasons – a chance to getaway, indulge in thinking only of themselves and meet new people. Our first night with a mix of good food and interesting people saw conversations flowing late into the evening.
Over the three days we sampled a few more of Byron’s special food places, all without having to peruse a diner’s guide. Dinner on the beach at Fishheads Byron Bay was another enjoyable dining experience as was the Cyprus Tree Byron Bay tucked into the Lane Way. Following our sea kayaking adventure, lunch was a delicious kebab from Bay Kebabs. We discovered why Bay Kebabs have been voted as one of the best takeaway food places in Byron Bay.
Breakfasts were worth noting – at The Pass Cafe; Espresso Head and the Top Shop.
If exercise isn’t your thing there’s plenty of other attractions in and around Byron. Jump in a car and check out the Crystal Castle or drive to the quaint town of Bangalow. But truth is, I’ve done all those things before on day trips. For my three days I enjoyed not having to drive anywhere. This wee break was about discovering the hidden places of Byron. All that was required of me was be ready at a designated time. It was fun meeting a new group. Combine this with having someone with local knowledge select the restaurants and places to see made for a memorable holiday. To not be a decision maker for a few days, is a holiday in itself.
Kaylene Napoli’s one wish for her Getaway Girls is for each and every person to have the best experience possible. I left Byron Bay after my Getaway Girl’s experience feeling renewed and replenished and would rate it as one of my best long weekends away. Part of being pushed outside your comfort zone results in new discoveries. I’m eager to return to unearth a further five (or more) experiences I know Byron Bay can supply.
Women’s Retreat: Getaway Girls
Fish Heads, 1 Johnson Street, Main Beach Byron Bay
ph: 02 6680 7632
Restaurant 3, 4 Bay Lane, Byron Bay. NSW 2481
Phone : (02) 6680 8202
Top Shop: 65 Carlilse Street, Byron Bay
Espresso Head Cafe
Shop 7 / 5-11 Byron Street, (entrance Middelton st, opposite Byron Court House), Byron Bay NSW 2481 (02) 6680 9783
Anti gravity yoga
The Shed – Byron Bay end of Yager’s Lane, Skinner’s Shoot.
ph: 02 6685 7470
Outrigger Bay – Byron Bay