It’s terrible to admit, but the first time I ever heard about Byron Bay was in the hit UK comedy; The Inbetweeners II. Before watching the film, I was uninformed about the stereotypes that were played up about the young backpackers that inhabit The Bay. For those who haven’t seen it (shame on you, spoilers ahead), Will drags his hapless friends along to Byron to chase a girl he went to private school with. The girl is a mouth-kissing, ‘spiritual’ lass who tries to jump Will’s bones after he sings her a song that can only be correctly described by the man himself ——>
He, of course, makes a hash of the act, which ends in cringey hilarity and allows Ben (white guy with dreadlocks and a guitar who humblebrags about going off the beaten path in South America and getting “the real experience” ) to give Will a rather uncomfortable night listening to his love interest getting rooted.
The reason I bring this movie up is because it is a hilarious observation about your stereotypical British traveller- usually rich or middle-class from a home county, some sort of trust fund, issues with their parents, a splash of white guilt and an obsession to appear cultured to their friends. But how much truth is there in it?
Well, having spent a good amount of time in The Bay, I can assure you that like all stereotypes it’s not as painful as they make out, but on the other side of the coin, you still get your hyper-vegans and social justice warriors littered around. The truth is that it is a popular place for tourists, backpackers, and adrenaline junkies alike (I’m skydiving here soon so keep an eye out for that blog). Despite the variety, Byron Bay has a distinctive personality that separates it from anywhere else on the East Coast, but like everywhere with something unique to offer, businesses take advantage of their location to exploit visitors.
Grub & Grog
If you’re looking for good beer and good food, then Byron has a feast for you, but taking a few steps deeper into the backstreets is where you’ll find real value, and as a backpacker, this is extremely important. The Beach Hotel sits on a corner and links one of the main streets to the seafront, opposite the hotel is a fish and chip shop called Fish Heads- if you’re looking to save money then avoid them both when you can.
The Beach Hotel staggers its prices of drinks depending on the time of day and how busy it is, so be warned that the price you pay on a Wednesday afternoon will not be the same as what you pay on Saturday night- this is becoming a more common practice, but you’re right in thinking its deceptive. On top of that, Fish Heads can charge up to $30 for a meal that is no better than what you’d get 100 yards further inland, so although the location of these establishments are perfect, they aren’t ideal if you’re looking to save some money.
Simply turning the corner where the Beach Hotel is will lead you onto Jonson St; again, whilst not ridiculously priced for the location, you’d still end up paying $20 for a salad in some places. The true value in Byron lies deeper into the town, down the side-streets and into the arcades. Plenty of places offer $10-15 lunch specials and beers at much more reasonable prices throughout the day and night, and Cool Katz café will give you a good feed at a very reasonable price- try the Moroccan chicken salad if you’re feeling hangry after a surf. Even the Stone & Wood Brewery is great value, at $20 a ticket for a tour with informative staff and a selection of free beer to try, this could be an excellent and more left-field choice to pregame for a night out, as well as a good chance to sample some of the best beers on the North Coast of NSW.
Things to do
Byron’s liberal mind-set leaves it open to many an activity. You can go snorkelling or scuba diving off Julian Rocks where you’ll see all kinds of mysterious marine aquatics, or surf in shark-infested waters like a true dare-devil. If water wildlife isn’t your jam, then you can always take a scenic walk up to Cape Byron, and then back down again to the most easterly point of Australia and get some snaps taken. The lighthouse is a gorgeous sight, but call ahead if you’d like to see the views from it as sometimes it’s closed during the day.
The Bay has heaps of restaurants and bars, and swimming in the beautifully warm and relatively calm water is a treat, especially as the bay provides protection from the truly harsh waves on the other side of the lighthouse. If you get an opportunity though, take a walk through the bush to get to Tallow Creek, a stunning spot where river meets ocean with reeds that could be used in a Moses movie adaptation and aggressive waves that make you stand and stare in awe. The best part is that this beach is very quiet, so if you want to get away from the crowds then this is the perfect place to do so.
James Cook, the Christopher Columbus of Australia, named Cape Byron after Admiral John Byron. The timber industry boomed in Byron Bay’s early European history due to the abundance of red cedar, which was soon followed by gold-mining on the beaches not too many years later. But the history of Byron Bay travels much further back than just a few hundred years, in fact the indigenous Australians have inhabited Byron Bay for close to 22,000 years! Named ‘Walgun’, which means ‘the shoulder’, the land we now know as Byron was claimed by both the Minjunbal people of the north and the Arakwal people of the south. Even today, the ceremonial Bora Rings are still preserved within national parks and sites pertaining to these historic cultures are still here to admire, so if you’re a history buff or want to learn more about aboriginal culture, then be sure to check these out! You can learn even more about it at the Boomerang Festival that occurs within Blues Fest in April. Click here for details: http://www.boomerangfestival.com.au/
In terms of the type of trip you’d want to take in Byron, it would lie somewhere in the middle between adrenaline-junkie and complete beach relaxation. The variety of activity is abundant, but the vibe is so laid-back that even the stressiest of stress heads will find tranquility here (Can you feel the serenity?). The alternative personality will really rub off on you, and falling in love with the place shouldn’t take you too long. The best time to visit (like most places in Northern NSW) is spring, when the weather is beautifully hot, but without the humidity brought on by the powerful tropical storms that happen in the summer. Watch out for sharks while you’re surfing, and you’ll have a wonderful time.
Byron is an awesome spot, but what it achieves in variety of activity and culture, it lacks in value for money. It is as expensive as Sydney, but without the city lifestyle to back it up. Yes it is a popular spot for tourists and backpackers, but I do feel that Byron’s businesses should reflect the town’s personality a bit more. Talk to the local people and you’ll find kindness and community, and if you backpack here you’re gonna have a hell of a time, and will not find a better place to be entertained in the evening. Byon Bay is well worth the pilgrimage for any traveller, but just be cautious if you are travelling on a budget and don’t expect Byron to be the place where you can save your cents.
Thanks for reading!