I travelled to Byron Bay with some friends on a road trip when I was in my early 20s. We stayed at a youth hostel somewhere, hit up Cheeky Monkeys for some shots, and drove around taking photos with every large object we could find (the big prawn in Ballina, for example).
Cut to over a decade later, and a trip to Byron Bay and the Northern Rivers region is a little different. While the landmarks and big Australian icons are still there, there has been an influx of amazing creatives and foodies that have set up shop in the area, as well as social media stars sharing every corner of town. But don’t be put off by its ‘sceney’ status, there are a still lots of places to escape to if you want to unwind.
One of my favourite things about the area is that it’s somewhere you can visit any time of the year. Whether it’s peak summer season or the middle of winter, there is plenty to do and see. The aforementioned creative scene is experiencing huge growth, with new design stores, fashion, accommodation and restaurants opening with every visit. In a year when travel was scarce, Byron has offered a plethora of new experiences and a change of pace to the usual working from home grind.
While the sleepier, more casual Byron Bay of the past has evolved, the town and surrounding area still holds many secrets. You can still explore some of the most incredible nature walks, find small cafes hidden away in country towns and take time out on spectacular drives to see where the rainforest meets the sea.
I go to Byron to get inspired, to take pause and connect with other designers. By no means am I a local, but one of the best things about Byron Bay, is that when you get there, you’re on holiday… but you still feel at home. And on the way out of town, as the sun rises and we brace for an 8 hour drive back to Sydney, I still go past the big prawn at Ballina every time, because it makes me smile and reminds me that I’ve been doing this trip for a while, and it gets better with every visit.
Here are a few of my favourite spots!
Formerly a corner store and milk bar, Top Shop was converted to a cafe by in 2008 and now serves its famous burgers to surfers and tourists alike. The old weatherboard is a Byron institution, and an essential bridge between the old and new community.
Established in 1902, the Eltham Pub is a locals watering hole that has recently undergone a bit of a revamp. About 30 minutes out of Byron Bay, nestled amongst the hinterland, the Eltham boasts an impressive menu and classic selection of drinks. A beautiful drive through winding hills leads you to this little oasis of a spot, with a laid back vibe and lots of personality. This has quickly become a new favourite and is worth the drive.
For those who didn’t plan a head and get a booking at Fleet in Brunswick Heads, never fear, down the road is La Casita, a Mexican cantina from the same team. Set in a large undercover outdoor courtyard, this restaurant mixes authentic Mexican flavours with a modern dining experience. The tasting menu is extremely good value and nothing kicks the night off better than starting with a Tommy’s margarita.
Three Blue Ducks at The Farm
We’re starting with a classic, and it’s a familiar one but it’s worth the hype. Three Blue Ducks at The Farm is a great way to start off your trip with it’s stunning grounds and impeccable food. The breakfast menu is a fresh mix of classics and some unexpected treats such as the filipino sausage with fried eggs and sambal.
My go-to is the spanner crab scramble, because nothing says ‘holiday’ like having crab for breakfast. And chuck a Bloody Mary in there for good measure. Don’t worry if there’s a bit of a queue; Three Blue Ducks is set on an 80-acre working farm so there’s plenty to see and pass the time, from the fluffy cows and animals to the macadamia grove.
Driving through the industrial area just outside of Byron centre can be a bit of a sensory overload. With new shops popping up all the time, there’s so much to see and do but standing out among them is the Tigmi Trading flagship store, a plaster rendered beacon. One of the coolest brands in the homewares industry, Tigmi’s new showroom is filled with beautiful furniture, rugs and homewares, sourced from all around the world. Entering will whisk you away on holidays, while you’re on holidays.
(See TDF’s feature on the new Tigmi Trading HQ here!)
Run by the always smiling Nicky and Nicole, Nikau Store is a little haven packed with ceramics and plants. Filled with one of a kind pieces by local makers and imported goods you don’t seeing in every shop in the city, Nikau is bright, unique and almost impossible to leave without purchasing a little piece to take home. You never know what you’re going to find in this shop, but there’s something for everyone!
The new kid on the block, and while I haven’t stayed there (yet!), Sunseeker is next on my list when I come to town. Similar to The Bower (another hot local sleeping spot!), this is a renovated motel but with a wildly different design. Filled with retro charm, an eclectic mix of furniture and decor, this is a great example of the new aesthetic that’s sweeping Byron Bay. For those looking for more than the classic beachy white on white, this new accomm is filled with colour, pattern and texture. See you there next time!
If the local wildlife is a bit too much, take a load off and book yourself in for a massage at Comma. Hidden away in the industrial area, this place is exactly the ‘treat yourself’ experience you deserve on a break. With a beautifully minimal interior, some beautiful fragrances and a large offering of treatments, you will leave more zen and relaxed than ever.
If you’re looking for a very fun nature experience then jump into the cooling waters of Killen Falls. A short drive out of town, follow the marked path to the lookout and falls and be at one with nature, paddling under the booming water. This recommendation does come with some caveats though. Remember to be careful about leaving the area the same as you found it, and be wary of all sorts of critters you might find living there.
Also pictured are Minyon Falls, accessible via a rainforest walk in-land from Bangalow; and Scout’s Falls, which I visited on the drive back home to Sydney!