Exploring Byron Bay
There’s a million guides for Byron Bay out there, and you’ll understand why once you begin exploring Byron. You can’t move around this lively beach side town without meeting surfers, yogis, and the odd crazy (Sometimes all three are the same person). This collection of souls fill the town up with signs for non proven medicinal herbs, organic food, and an unhealthy amount of spirituality sessions. Byron Bay originally hit fame for whale hunting and brutally extracting natural resources, but managed to transform itself in the 1990’s into the ultimate Aussie surf town, and nowadays has since morphed into an eccentric mix of drunken backpackers, alternative living hippies, and wealthy Aussies. Located 175 km south of Brisbane and 800 km north of Sydney on the northern tip of New South Wales, Byron’s attitude is summed up in its unofficial motto: ‘Cheer up, Slow down, Chill out,’. Byron Bay is a town where no one wears shoes, and most of them aren’t homeless. There are people who visit Byron Bay for 3 days, but who fall in love with the atmosphere, and end up staying here a year (You know, the types of people who think they can make a living writing blogs or selling things online). But for all of this, everyone loves Byron Bay- there is something incredibly charming about the town, its a must see for anyone visiting Australia, and it’s well worth a visit for at least 3 days.
How to Get to Byron Bay
Getting to Byron Bay is easy- if you’re travelling by car, simply turn off the Bruce highway at Byron Bay, and drive 15 minutes to the town. You can park up in one of the car parks beside the surf club, but be warned- Byron Bay traffic jams are a real thing, and the police are fee loving, not free loving. Coaches such as Premier Motor Service and Greyhound have 2-3 daily drop offs in Byron, from both Sydney and Brisbane, with most backpackers hopping off the overnight bus from Sydney. Johnson Street bus stop is the coach terminal, located right in the centre of town. The further flung hostels usually offer free pick ups from here, including Arts Factory, Byron Beach Resort, and Holiday Village. The closest international airport to Byron is Gold Coast Airport, which is serviced by Jetstar, Tiger Air, Qantas, and Virgin, and is usually pretty cheap to fly into. Getting from here to Byron is easy- The Premier coach can pick you up from the road outside the airport (Coolangatta stop), and the Byron Easy Bus also offers near hourly pick ups.
Best Time to Visit Byron Bay
Weather wise, there’s no bad time to visit Byron Bay, although it does get a little chillier in winter. Average temperatures are 24 degrees in the summer, and 15 degrees winter, with water temperatures varying from 19 to 25 degrees. As Byron Bay hosts a number of festivals, it’s important to know when you are going to be there, for example over Christmas and New Years, most hostels have a 5 day minimum stay, while during schoolies, the Blues Festival, and Splendour in the Grass, the rates jump sky high, and finding a place is next to impossible the weeks before hand. In terms of atmosphere, there are less tourists in the winter, but still enough to keep things lively, while in summer people often complain its too packed- it’s atmosphere is obviously lessened by all the backpackers wearing shoes. If you want to spot humpback whales, the season is from April to October, and my personal preference is March/April/May or October/November, as the weather is usually warm, and there’s a good energy in the town, without it been packed.
Where to stay in Byron Bay
Byron is full of hostels, so where to stay depends on availability and your preferred atmosphere. Be warned, prices almost double in December and January, and during the festivals, so plan your trip (Or let us do it for you). The most famous hostel in Byron Bay is Arts Factory, a self styled hippie commune turned hostel, that has featured in The Inbetweeners 2 movie. Arts Factory is where you go if you want to really feel Byron Bay’s alternative culture- you can sleep in permanent tepees here, there are didgeridoo and yoga lessons daily, and there’s a slightly unkempt feel to the place that makes its character one of a kind. Good for both partying and chilling out, although it is a little outside of the town (10 minutes walking). Arts factory is also perfect for travellers in a campervan, as they offer parking spots for $5 a day outside the hostel, and as it’s illegal (and strictly enforced) to sleep in your camper in the town, it’s a solid shout.
If you’re looking at less hippies and more drinking sessions, look no further than Aquarius Backpackers and Holiday Village Backpackers. Aquarius is a Byron Bay staple, which has its own bar, free dinners for guests staying here, and a location right beside the beach. Holiday Village on the other hand, offers 4 bed dorms for cheaper than anywhere else, and is right across from Cheeky Monkeys (The main nightclub in town), and lets you hire surfboards for the day for free- the perfect hangover cure. Personally, I prefer Holiday Village as your room feels almost private, and it’s the perfect location for nights out, but to each there own.
If your looking for good quality, and a little more laid back atmosphere, then Byron Beach Hostel is perfect for you- its newly renovated, its beds have private curtains, there’s daily activities, and its right beside the beach. It’s clean as can be, and has a huge screen downstairs with Netflix for those rainy days. Definitely a hostel with great quality. YHA Byron Bay is also a good shout, as, like all YHAs, its clean, comfy, and fairly priced, as well as been centrally located, but, like some YHAs, it can lack a little bit of atmosphere.
Dorm Room: Anywhere from $35 a night to $80 a night
Private Rooms: $87-$200+
Things to do in Byron Bay
Lets just say you can’t be bored in Byron. If you’re searching for free activities to do, it’s perfect- there are the beaches of course, which have amazing surf breaks that are great for all levels of surfing. There’s the Byron Bay lighthouse, which is the most Easterly point of the Australia mainland, and is about an hour walk from the centre- you can walk up along the coast or through a forest trail, and the lighthouse offers amazing views of the sunset- bring your camera and a few beers and enjoy. You’ll also likely spot wild wallabies here- they love the view too. The beaches are a good shout in the evening/night, as there is normally live music here, and beach art yoga symbols are sketched nightly into the sand while the tide is out, and there are fire jugglers getting warmed up.
Byron Bay (the Bay itself), is full of wildlife, so if you fancy it, you can try out Dolphin Kayaking there with GoSea Kayaks. These guys are eco-friendly warriors that take you on a 3 hour dolphin kayak in the bay, where you can spot turtles, fish, dolphins, and whales when in season. In fact, if you don’t spot a dolphin, they’ll let you do it again, for free! They also throw out some timtams and tea at the end of the their session. Sticking in the water, Byron Bay is amazing for those learning to surf, with lessons starting from $44. I can personally recommend Mojo Surf Camp, as these guys got me up on a board and surfing in two hours (The board was the size of a shed door, but anyway), and they offer accommodation, food, and surf lessons together for good deals. More experienced surfers will also love Byron for its year round swell and frequent good breaks.
If you prefer to be under the waves rather than riding them, IE, you’re a scuba diver, Julian Rocks is a must. It’s a collection of deep sea rocks located a 15 minute boat ride out from shore, and has a wonderful biodiversity due to the meeting of cold temperate waters and warm tropical waters. This biodiversity includes wobbegong sharks, turtles, and occasionally bull rays, grey nurse sharks, and even humpback whales. Julian Rocks is good for both open water and advanced divers, and even snorkelers will find plenty to keep them busy. Byron Bay Dive Centre are the go to guys for this, and they offer daily trips out there.
If you’d prefer to view the bay from above rather than below, you could always try your hand at hanggliding- there are ready made platforms and the prevailing winds are great for it, and you’ll get the view and adrenaline rush of a lifetime here! Going a bit higher, you can also jump out of a perfectly functional plane in Byron Bay, as skydive Australia have a site here, that offers pick ups from the town centre, and both 8000 and 15000 ft tandem skydives (Which are 60 seconds of breathless freefall). Well worth it if you want the adrenaline rush of your life, with the only negative been that they don’t offer beach landings here.
Julian Rocks: $110 (One dive)- $210 (2 dives, all equipment)
Hanggliding 1 hour: $145
Skydive: $234 for 7,000ft, $274 for 15,000 ft ($230 with Tripfarm midweek)
In the hinterlands of Byron Bay is probably the most famous hippie town in Australia- Nimbin. Nimbin is located in the mountains, a 45 minute drive from Byron, and is known for its fresh herb shops, and it’s Amsterdamesque odours. Keep an eye out for an old lady near the art gallery who carries a little sign with an arrow that says cookies, and she’ll give you her homemade blend (It was 6 for $15, 2015 prices). Nimbin became famous for the Aquarius Festival in the 1970s, and is now renowned for its MardiGRASS rally, which has being held annually since 1993, and, as the name suggests, is a celebration of smoking green. A day trip to Nimbin is a must do even if weed isn’t your thing, as its a perfect way to meet people if you’ve just arrived in Byron. Grasshoppers and Happy Coach both offer tours in brightly coloured hippies buses, and they stop in a national park for dinner in the evening- so when you’re hungry after having your weed cookies, the guides will whip you up a bbq.
Other national parks that don’t revolve around smoking illegal herbs is Nightcap National Park, where the Minyon Falls, Australia’s highest single drop waterfall, is and the hikes around here are sweet. Although you can’t get closer than 100 metres to the top of waterfall, the view from the lookout is awe-inspiring, and there is a pool perfect for bathing at the bottom. On a good day, you can even see the coast from the lookout. There is also a couple of bushwalks from the picnic area located beside the lookout- I’d advise trying out Boggy Creek walk, and the Minyon Falls walk if you want to get to the base of the waterfall- and allow about 3 hours return for your walk. The best time to view here, is after heavy rain, as the waterfall will be pumping.
Farmwork Byron Bay
Byron Bay has a huge variety of farmwork available, year round, but due to its popularity, competition is fierce for the places. There are no real working hostels in Byron Bay, but long-term stays are generally accepted in hostels so you shouldn’t have trouble meeting fellow long-termers. You’ll probably need a car or your own transport to get to most farms in Byron, as they don’t tend to be located near the town. The most popular time for farmwork in Byron is blueberry season, October to January, as blueberries are labour intensive. However, you can also pick macadamia nuts and avocados (April to September), Custard Apples (June to September), and Lychees (feburary to March). In general, most farms are decent and pay a fair wage, or by fair piecerate agreements. For Macadamia Nuts, its definitely worth giving Brookfield Nuts a shout in March/early April.
Hints and Tips for byron bay
Byron Bays sunsets are nice, but sunrises at the lighthouse, overlooking the most Eastern Point of Australia, are something even more special.
When the bouncer at Cheeky Monkeys asks you how much you’ve had to drink, say two drinks, no matter if your sober or shitfaced.
Book your accommodation early. Christmas, New Years (Western New Years, not Chinese), the Blues Festival (Easter weekend), Splendour in the Grass (Late July/Early August) and Schoolies (Late November/Early October) will be booked out.
If you’re caught sleeping in your campervan/car, or naked on the beach, you will be fined.
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