It’s not a trip to Australia without going to… Well, you could list a lot of places there, but in this post I’ll make a case for Northern New South Wales. The country is so big that you can’t see it all in one trip. To put it into perspective for my fellow Americans, if someone said they wanted to do both New York and LA in a week, you would call them crazy. In the case of Canada, seeing both Montreal and Vancouver in a week wouldn’t be the best idea and it would be rushed. Like the US and Canada, Australia is really big.
If you like beaches, adventure activities, and a more laid back and friendly environment, Byron Bay is the place for you.
Byron Bay has perfect weather all year round. I was there in September, so it wasn’t too hot or too cold, just right. Byron Bay itself is small, with one main street and a bunch of side streets, but there is a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan food. Any place you go will have a vegetarian option at least. There are so many healthy food options here, so it’s a good place to go if you want to detox and live clean.
Byron Bay had a hippie reputation, but now it’s a popular tourist destination and the prices reflect that. I found it more expensive than Sydney. If anything, the hippies you’ll see are rich kid types or those who saved up money and are treating themselves. You’ll still see some hippies and creative types here. It’s very youthful, but people of all ages are very much welcome here. Byron is popular among young backpackers and surfers. If you haven’t tried surfing before, you have to try it here, just so you can say you did.
All in all, Byron is a great place to go and it fits the classic rock lifestyle perfectly. I’ll break up this blog post into sections: Scenery/Things to Do, Food, and Shopping. As always, the specialty is vegan/vegetarian food.
Scenery/Things to Do:
Byron Bay is beautiful and very different from Gold Coast, which is about an hour and some away. While in Gold Coast, you’ll see skyscrapers, theme parks, and very stereotypical commercialised touristy stuff (to me, it’s the Florida of Australia), Byron is a bit different. You are closer to nature. You can take hikes and see the stars. Depending on the time you go, there might be a festival on, in that case it will be even busier. September is a calm time to visit Byron. Byron Bay is known for buskers, but I didn’t see very many when I was there.
The first thing I would recommend is to hike to the lighthouse! Make sure you bring comfortable shoes, because sandals are not going to be the most comfortable. Also, make sure you wear comfortable clothes you can move around in. I made the mistake of wearing a maxi dress that doesn’t allow for much movement. I looked nice in pictures, but the hike was less pleasant. It takes about an hour to walk there from the Visitor Information Centre on Jonson Street. If you want to take pictures, allow time for that. During the walk, you’ll pass by nice houses and great views of Byron Beach and Wategos Beach. If you’re a geography nerd like me, you’ll like going to the easterly point on the Australian mainland and taking a picture of the sign showing the accomplishment that you made it. The hike to the lighthouse passes through some rainforest, which vaguely reminded me of Ireland, particularly Killarney National Park, except more tropical. Or maybe a better comparison is with the Caribbean, there are some similarities with the Caribbean and Ireland, the Caribbean and Ireland are both very green and Jamaican accents have some Irish influences to them. You can take a tour of the lighthouse during certain hours. If you are travelling alone or as a couple and don’t want to take an awkward selfie, there’s a monopod that you can attach your camera to and then you can turn on the timer to take a picture.
Another thing I recommend doing in Byron Bay is surfing, which is what we did. It’s the most classic rock thing to do out of all the outdoor activities. You’ll know why. Just check out my post on surf rock. Want to be like Dick Dale? Let’s go surfing!
Like Austin Powers, we like to live a bit dangerously. We didn’t take any lessons and decided to go the cheap route and just rent a surfboard and try it ourselves. Lessons would be way more expensive and renting a surfboard for a couple of hours was only a tenner. At first, I was a bit unsure about surfing, but my husband decided we should go for it because you only live once and it’s not too much money. Of course, the day we went surfing was cloudy and the waves were really rough. We should have seen the red flags. There was not a single surfer around, which was a good thing for us because we were clumsy. If there was one surf rock song title that described our first foray in surfing, it’s “Wipe Out”. While I could successfully lie down on the surfboard and balance without falling off, I wasn’t able to stand. I didn’t want to try because I dislocated my kneecap as a teenager.
The story of dislocating my kneecap was not a badass one, it was a pathetic story. I was literally goofing off and laughing with my friends during lunch time and my knee all of a sudden buckled and I fell. My kneecap dislocated for a second, popped back into place and I fell, breaking one of my flip flops and pretzels I was holding falling all over the place. I screamed so loudly the entire school heard me. At least I missed maths class that day, I didn’t have to go to gym class the rest of the school year, and I got early dismissal to go to physical therapy once a week. Physical therapy wasn’t fun, but at least I wasn’t in school.
The biggest flaw with my surfing attempt was I could not control the surfboard because it was so heavy and the waves were so strong. I’m an 8 stone weakling, what do you expect? I got pushed a lot down the beach. The surfboard has a leash on it and you wrap the strap around your ankle so you don’t lose the surfboard. That leash made it hard to manoeuvre the surfboard.
My husband doesn’t know how to swim, so he started with that disadvantage. He had a lot of trouble balancing and he spent a lot of the time taking pictures and videos of my attempt at surfing. After an hour and a half, we were exhausted and I took videos of dogs playing in the water. If only I could be a dog.
The beaches look out of this world and you get nice views of mountains and hills. It reminded me so much of pictures of the islands in the pacific, sadly I haven’t been yet, but maybe one day. The sand on the beach is really soft and the beach is the best place to watch the sunset. Seriously, the beaches are gorgeous. I haven’t seen beaches this beautiful since I went to the Côte D’Azur a few years ago.
There were a lot of outdoors activities like kayaking, scuba diving, skydiving, paragliding, hot air ballooning, horseback riding, and cycling. I only had three days in Byron Bay, so we had to prioritise. If we had unlimited money and time, of course we would do it all. According to my friend Fei, there are so many day trip options to the hinterland and national parks.
Since my husband and I were on a budget, we decided to take the Happy Coach, one of the more affordable day trip options in Byron Bay. The Happy Coach is a hippie themed bus that goes to Nimbin, a village of less than 500 people. There is a big peace sign painted on the side and lots of rainbow colours. Inside the bus, there are lots of stickers. Our driver that day was a local who lived through the hippie era. He explained the history of Nimbin and Byron Bay. A couple of tidbits we learnt were that Byron Bay was not meant to be a place for people to live, dairy was a huge industry, historically in Nimbin; Northern NSW is famous for macadamia nuts; and the reason hippies gravitated towards Nimbin is because after the recession in the 60s, the dairy industry failed and the land became cheap, so young people moved there. In 1973, the fourth and final Aquarius Festival was held there. The Aquarius festival was Australia’s answer to Woodstock and an estimated 5,000 people attended the festival in Nimbin.
Weren’t there for the 1970s? That’s okay because Nimbin is still very much still in the 1970s, and in a good way! The Happy Coach stops by a waterfall and goes on a scenic drive to Nimbin. You won’t need very much time in Nimbin as you can see everything in just a couple of hours. Nimbin is basically one very colourful street. Good news is that you can find vegan food here, but the Happy Coach will take care of you and serve you a barbecue meal, yes even for vegans.
On the one street in Nimbin, you’ll find all sorts of hippie stores and street vendors. Of course, as soon as you get off the bus, you’ll notice the smell of weed. I’m not going to shy away from talking about weed because this is the “Classic Rock Lifestyle” we’re talking about. As well, I support the legalisation of marijuana for many different reasons: 1) Because marijuana is way less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, which are legal; 2) For social justice: the US criminalised marijuana to target minorities (mostly Black and Hispanic people) and hippies, who were against the conservative government; 3) The government need to mind their own business. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, who cares?; 4) There are health benefits; 5) The government can tax it and those tax dollars can go towards important services like education and healthcare.
Nimbin is basically the Amsterdam of Australia. It smells like weed and pretty much everyone smokes it and the police don’t care that much. Unlike Amsterdam, there are no coffeeshops and none of the shops that sell cannabis smoking accessories will sell you weed. The shops are more at risk of raids so that is why they don’t sell cannabis. If you dare to ask, you’ll either be told to go away or just go outside and you’ll find someone who will sell you edibles or joints. It won’t be difficult to find people selling edibles or joints on the street. You will be approached at some point. While it’s tolerated in Nimbin, the people selling weed will be as discreet as possible.
Nimbin is also known for rainbows. Storefronts are colourful, you’ll see rainbow benches and picket fences, and colourful chalk drawings. You’ll also see lots of tie dye apparel and Indian inspired designs. Nimbin tends to be cheaper than Byron Bay, but most shops seem to be cash only. You can find lots of neon rave clothes too. Some shops that stood out to me are The Hemp Embassy, Happy High Herbs, Daizy, and Hemping Around.
Some pictures inside the Hemp Embassy:
Nimbin also has a replica of the Imagine Mosaic from Strawberry Fields in Central Park.
Nimbin’s newspaper is called The Nimbin Good Times and you can get it for free.
Vintage shops can be really expensive in Byron Bay. I was gutted that I couldn’t afford much. I did get one really cool vintage peacock feather patterned dress for $20 at Trash Vintage. There were a lot of nice things, but my bank account was not in agreement. Mary Ryan’s Books, Music, and Coffee was a place I could spend hours in, lots of interesting books here. There is also a record store close to the Byron Bay town centre, Howl & Moan Records. One really unique store in Byron Bay is The Rainbow Shop, the most colourful store I’ve ever been to. You can get tie dye shirts, bandanas, jewellery, bags, Mexican blankets (for way more than they would cost in Mexico), and more. Here are some pictures of some store fronts and murals around town. While I am sad I couldn’t afford to buy anything really, the shops looked beautiful and very Instagram-worthy.
The food was great and right up my alley. If you like plant-based whole food cuisine, Byron Bay will be heaven to you. Some restaurants we enjoyed are:
Treehouse on Belongil: We went here the day we arrived because we arrived late and it was next to our hotel. We ordered pizzas. I got a vegan pizza and my husband got cheese pizza. There is live music here.
Miss Margarita: Mexican food. I ordered vegan tacos and my husband got a jalapeño quesadilla.
The Cardamom Pod: Vegetarian Indian food. Portions here are generous. I really liked the dhal, salad, and chickpeas. My husband and I shared a large plate and I got a raw chocolate peanut butter cup for dessert, which was delicious.
Elixiba: 100% Vegan restaurant known for its veggie burgers and drinks. This was our splurge for this part of the trip. My husband and I ordered a very large veggie burger called The Maneater and a kombucha for $30, usual cost of the burger alone was $35. The Maneater Burger can easily be split between two people. The patty is plant based (obviously), with toppings of jackfruit, coconut “calamari”, avocado, and vegan feta. The usual toppings of lettuce, tomato, and onion are on the burger too. For dessert we ordered vegan ice cream, which was served beautifully in a glass dish with an edible flower on top.
Combi: Ordered a breakfast smoothie bowl here. It was delicious. I definitely recommend getting a breakfast smoothie bowl while in Australia, especially if you’re from a place with a colder climate because the fruit tastes a lot better.
I also liked the local beer in Byron Bay called Stone & Wood.
I also found this very funny sign in front of one of the restaurants:
A little side note: If you will be in Byron Bay on a Sunday or Public Holiday, most restaurants charge an extra 10% or so.
Did I miss anything? What are your favourite places to go in Byron Bay? Have your say in the comments section below.
If you haven’t read my blog post on Sydney, check it out here. Keep on the lookout for my next post, which is about Melbourne and all the cool vintage shops and restaurants, plus I’ll talk about Phillip Island and the cute little blue penguins.