We were expecting Bryon Bay to be one of our highlights of the East coast, and it didn’t disappoint. The small coastal town has long been a popular destination for hippies and those seeking an alternative lifestyle. Famous for its beaches, surfing and laid-back culture, it is now incredibly popular with backpackers and Australian tourists alike.
Watching the sunrise from Cape Byron lighthouse is a must do when visiting Byron, and we decided to do this on our first morning there. After setting our alarm at 4am, and making the steep climb up to the lighthouse, we arrived just in time as the darkness began to lift.
However yet again we picked the wrong morning, with the sun struggling to break through the thick cloud, and the strong winds making it incredibly cold. We really should have checked the weather forecast the night before!
The morning improved as we walked around the headland to the most easterly point of mainland Australia. We walked to the viewing platform, and watched as the huge waves crashed against the exposed rocks, with the sun even made a very brief appearance from behind the clouds.
We continued our walk along the coastline to Little Wategos Beach, where there was already plenty of surfers trying their luck out in the ocean, clearly not deterred by the very cold morning.
After our early start we spent the rest of the day relaxing in Byron, firstly visiting the weekly Farmers Market at Butler Street Reserve. The large market was clearly very popular, and there was all sorts of organic local produce on offer, although much of it at very premium prices!
We stopped for some very well presented, and equally tasty brunch at the Bay Leaf Cafe. Both the food and coffee was excellent, and the outdoor seating area meant we could also enjoy the sunshine while we ate.
The centre of Byron is very compact, with most of it centred around a small number of streets. This means it is easy and quick to navigate by foot, with the beaches also just a short walk away. The streets are lined with shops, bars and restaurants, with something to cater for everyone. We enjoyed some drinks accompanied by live music at the Balcony, while the burgers at Bayger were excellent.
While the beaches around Byron are legendary amongst surfers, there was also plenty to like for those who prefer to watch from a distance, like us. The closest beach to the town is the originally named Main Beach, where we enjoyed an afternoon relaxing and reading our books, on the soft white sand.
While we were again unlucky with the sunrise, the sunsets in Byron Bay were some of the best of the trip so far, and that’s saying something!
On our first night, we joined the crowds of backpackers, musicians and street performers at the small car park which separates Main Beach and Belongil Beach. With plenty to keep us entertained as we waited, we sat on the rocks and watched as the sunset behind Belongil Beach and the mountain range in the distance.
The following night we walked along Clarke’s Beach to the Fishermans lookout, which situated at the top of a small rocky outcrop. With the tide coming in, we waded through the water before climbing the stairs to the top, just in time for the sunset. We watched the surfers out in the water, while the sky behind them changed to every shade of red and orange you could imagine.
We also spent a day exploring the hills around Byron Bay, where many of the town’s older residents have now moved, with Byron itself becoming too busy and expensive as its popularity continues to increase. As we travelled inland, we were soon amongst rolling hills and lush green farmland, and seemingly far away from the crowds on the coast.
Our first stop was in the town of Lismore, which is situated on the banks of the Wilson River. We took the short cultural walk around the town, with took us past us some of the oldest buildings in Lismore, before enjoying a coffee and cake from Henry’s Bakery.
The town has a thriving arts community, and there was plenty of street art to admire, with one piece summing up our feelings about ending our travels and returning to work perfectly.
We also visited the town of Nimbin, which is another very popular destination for backpackers, with tours leaving daily from Byron Bay. The small town is essentially one street of brightly coloured buildings, and has been home to a counter-culture community since hosting the Aquarius Festival in 1973. There was lots of unusual characters in the town and it was unlike any place we have ever visited before. Whilst it was interesting to see, we felt very out of place and our visit was a short one.
Our visit to the nearby Minyon Falls was much more enjoyable. Although we didn’t have time for the longer walking trail to the base of the falls, we walked to the viewing platform, where you could watch the water rushing down the steep rock face, to the valley below.
We loved our time in Byron Bay, and can understand why it is such a popular place. However, this popularity does come at a cost. It was relatively quiet during our visit but I would imagine the small town becomes unbearably crowded in the peak summer months.
Although it is such a popular destination for backpackers, it is actually one of the places least suited to them. The residents have clearly long since ran out of patience with people staying in campervans, and the nearest free camping was a long way out of the centre. We also thought it was probably the most expensive place we have visited in Australia, with parking, accommodation, and food and drink all seemingly at a premium.