The Beauty of Byron Bay

Sarah Wilson recently asked where us locals go.
Here’s what she discovered:

Coffee at the Top Shop, photo by Johnny Abegg

a guide to byron bay, cos you asked for it
posted on august 11th, 2011

I’ve been asked a few times by readers to provide a visitor’s guide to Byron Bay. I’ve been here six months now. Blimey! I live just outside of Byron on seven acres in the forest, but I come into town almost every day to surf, have coffee or tea, buy groceries, run to the lighthouse, go to yoga etc.

Byron is a unique place. It’s both a sleepy, old-school coastal hamlet in bits, but big bands and performers pass through regularly. It’s full of fancy Sydney types, but the sense of community is potent. It’s transient, but everyone feels they belong. For a while. And everyone has a theory on the place (why there are seven single women to every single man, why there are so many divorces in the area…). I quite love it. For now.

So a guide, based on places, experiences I’ve come to love. I contacted some of my favourite people I’ve met here to share their tips, too. Also, for a great overview of what the locals are doing, and what gigs are worth seeing, check out Common Ground.

coffee at the Top Shop, photo by Johnny Abegg

1. coffee

My favourite is a weak long black at the Top Shop. They also serve organic milk on request. And everyone sits out on the lawn and chats in the sun in the morning. My other pick is Bayleaf. They roast their beans across the road. And they have sun all day out front. I’ve been able to drink coffee again since I’ve been in Byron (I cut it out for three years because it upset my adrenals). My theory: Byron is, energetically, a very Kaphic place (heavy). Kaphic areas grow stimulants – coffee, chocolate and chilli – and indeed these are the big crops for the area. And so it makes sense, it fits, to drink coffee here. It’s appropriate. Most cafes serve local coffee.

Johnny Abegg is a surf filmmaker from Byron Bay and photographer at Common Ground. His coffee suggestion is also Top Shop. In fact, it’s pretty much the local pick.

Clare McGregor is a music publicist-  Vitamin Records – in Byron (and maaad Words with Friends fiend),  and suggests the cafe up at the lighthouse – it wins hands down for view.

Sarita Merlo is a naturopath and herbalist, and is the founder of the Byron Bay Tea Company. Her favourite coffee is from Utopia in Bangalow.

2. chai tea/tea leaves

I’d say the Byron Beach Cafe (the one down in the dunes) is best. In part because of the view:

Sam Gowing is a Byron-based organic chef and food consultant. She recommends Targa, for their real teapots that don’t drip, and real tea leaves – the best green tea in town.

Lizzie is co-owner of a flagship boutique, Spell – The Gypsy Collective. I have to say The Balcony because they serve Calmer Sutra chai which is a wet paste of fresh crushed spices made with actual fresh ginger and organic honey. it’s awesome.

Jacqueline McCoach is a Byron-based jewellry designer and owner of ‘Jewels by Jacqueline’: the Beach Hotel [this is a surprising inclusion, but a few people say the same…locals love the place in the morning.]

Kazzie Mahina is the founder, designer and director of Oceanika Tales and Mahina Mermaid Productions (my mermaid friend and a mad chai drinker!). She recommends The Balcony orMokha for a chai.

Sarita: Ate, in Bangalow

3. breakfast

The omelette roll at Top Shop is superb. Top Shop make their own rolls, too. The BLT at bothBayleaf and Dip are great. While you’re at Dip try the cashew biscuit – virtually sugar free; just nuts and egg. While at Bayleaf, the haloumi roll is also great. And Harvest at Newrybar is ace for vibe and value (makes for a great excursion en route to Bangalow).

Sam recommends Targa for breakfast, ‘hands down’.

Lizzy also rates the Top Shop omelette roll.

Sarita:  One One One [Actually, a stack of locals rave about this place… I haven’t eaten there yet]

My mate Pat from Grinspoon rates Succulent for smoked salmon on toast.

4. burger or pizza

OK, The Top Shop burgers are amazing (sorry, Top Shop refs will stop now). They have fennel seeds in the patty. And the chips are superb, too. The Treehouse does really, really good gluten-free pizza. And it’s a fun place – down at Belongil beach, outdoors with open fires. Very Bali-like.

Sam suggests the Rails for burgers, and Slice for a great pizza.

Johnny: for pizza it’s Milk & Honey in Mullumbiimby by a mile!

Lizzy loves Treehouse Pizza, too. “If you’re into seafood get the Life Aquatic, if you’re vego go the Peter Pumpkin Eater”.

5. special dinner

I’ll keep this short and sweet. Pretty much everyone agrees: Italian at the Pacific, Satiate in Bangalow (now run by Shannon Debreceny who’s just appeared on MasterChef),  Harvest Cafein Newrybar (look out for their special themed/degustation dinners on a Thursday). I also think the food is great at St Elmo’s and the service is amazing (try the chorizo with almonds and the beef cheek). PS I’m personally not a massive fan of the Italian’s food.

6. cocktails/wine by the glass

I think St Elmo’s and Harvest are best for both. The staff know their stuff. At both.

7. while in byron you must try:

One of my favourite things to do is the daily ocean swim. We meet at 8am at the Surf Club, walk to The Pass and then swim back (about 1.5km). A group of 20-50 locals do it every single morning. I do it once or twice a week. First time I did it I got mauled by bluebottles, the second time I swam over a shark. But don’t let that put you off! The old locals who’ve been doing it for decades make it the most wonderful start to the day. Anyone can turn up and swim. It’s free. Also, running/walking from Clarke’s beach to the lighthouse and back is magic. At sunrise. I do it as early as possible and meditate on the eastern most point of Australia with the new sun on my face. I did it the other day, looked up, and there were two whales breaching right in front. Did I say magic?

Sam: come over for a private Surf Spa Food cooking class with me! (Contact Sam here for more details.) A punt and a schooner at the Great Northern Hotel. And for a great ‘green foodie’ experience, visit Freckle and team at the Byron Bay Seafood Market and learn about sustainable fishing in our local waters.

Kazzie suggests Sunday afternoon at the Beach Hotel – try the octopus salad and a cold one after a long beautiful day at the beach. Picnic sunset dinner at the pass or Wategoes. Walk up Mount Warning. Hang glide over the lighthouse – very recommended!

Clare: ‘Starfish’ in Brunswick Heads for the best calamari …ever. And ’Rock n Roll’ Cafe in Mullumbimby is great, as is The Poinciana for the Mullum vibe, lovely outdoor tables and sandpit for kids. Also check out the local markets, and keep your eye out for Francesca Rockette and her beautiful bags. Torakina Beach at Brunswick Heads is great for toddlers. Crystal Castle also great for kids (and adults) – stunning setting, sculpture walk and gardens.

Johnny: an early morning view of the sunrise from the lighthouse still amazes me after 16 years in the Bay.

Sarita: try an espresso martini at Italian at the Pacific. And visit the sauna and spa at Kiva Spa.

Kirra Pendergast is a third generation Byronian and local businesswoman: a meal and a beer on Friday evening whilst they do the local fishing club raffles at The Rails is always good. Grab a coffee at the lighthouse and walk down to the most easterly point. Snorkel around the Julian rocks.

Lizzy: go for a skinny dip at the Tea Tree Lakes, ask around and locals will give you directions.

8. if you’re here on a (specific day of week/time of month) you must:

Me, I’d recommend doing the Thursday local farmers market (look out for the raw food stand – the hummous is amazing – and the mushroom ladies – the shitakes almost make me cry – oh, and the ginger couple and the sprouts lady…) and the monthly Sunday craft markets (they rotate around Byron, Bangalow, Mullum and The Channon).

Sam: if you’re here in winter, enjoy the whale migration. Also, Sundays through ThursdaysHappy Hour at the Byron at Byron is full of locals.

Johnny: if you’re in Byron Bay on a Saturday, drive around and have a look at the array of garage sales, unbelievable what people are selling, and the creative measures they go to. Sunday afternoon at the beachfront car-park (overlooking the wreck), when the weather is good, you’ll get a heap of percussionist’s playing tunes until the sun goes down.

Clare: visit in November and go to the Mullumbimby Music Festival – one of the best small scale music festivals around for all ages and persuasions. Loved for its friendly, inclusive atmosphere – quality music (a mixture of popular national/international acts with yet-to-be-discovered surprises) in existing venues throughout the funky town of Mullumbimby.

9. best massage:

I go to a great local woman who works from home at Suffolk Park with her husband ($45 for an hour): Rachel: 02 6685 4466. The Medicine Wheel is great if you’re after some options and I always tell visitors to hang at Kiva spa in Mullum for a day.

Sam: for best value, Byron Herbal Thai Massage, justupstairs from Cardamon Pod Cafe

Jacqueline recommends Universal Medicine in Goonellabah

Kazzie suggests a Kiva Spa massage, followed by a spa and sauna.

10. whackiest/coolest healing/treatment:

I advise checking out the classifieds in the Echo and the noticeboard at Santos in Mullum. It’s intriguing just how many different esoteric healings one can have!

Sam: Best Chinese Medicine massage: cupping & Moxa. Best Ayurvedic Hot oil treatment for chronic  muscle pain – Ambaji House of Wellbeing

Kazzie: Ruth Smith at Abundantia

Sarita says go for a tarot reading from Michelle at Crystal Castle

11. look out for local talent:

I saw Lisa Hunt play at the Beach Hotel a few months back. I was dropping past to grab a bottle of wine with a friend. I was in my pyjamas…and had to check out what the fuss was about. Oh my. The place was packed with pretty much everyone in town. If Lisa is in town (I think she’s here Sept 4 next)…you MUST go along.

Sam: Tijuana Cartel at the Beach Hotel. Lisa Hunt – Sundays, once a month in spring/summer at the Beach Hotel

Johnny says local musician M. Jack Bee will tear at your heart strings. Keep an eye on that name.

Clare says always pick up a copy of The Byron Echo – Mandy Nolan’s column(local comedienne) alone is worth it, as is the classified section – yoghurt weaving anyone? The Echo is also the place to check out what bands are playing – loads of amazing bands come through Byron on their tours.The Byron Bay Community Theatre is one of the best venues to catch an intimate gig. Also look out for local record label Vitamin Records – chock full of fine independent talent.

Sarita says look out for Tres Hombres, or DJ Slinky

12. Shopping:

As you might know, I’m not much of a shopper but I do recommend Island Luxe (in both Byron and Bangalow) – they stock Jacqueline’s amazing designs there – and Butik (which stocks Spell jewellery). The Retro Shop in Bangalow is very cute and the craft markets (every Sunday in different towns in the area) is actually very, very cool…not a crocheted coathanger in sight. The random junk yard in Bangalow is also really cool.

Lizzy:  Visit the Arts & Industry Park… you’ll see glass blowers, silver smiths, gorgeous bohemian labels (like Spell!!), fairy shops, vintage stores, a circus tent, soap and candle makers… it’s the real heart and soul of byron. [The tourist office has a map/trail for the area]

Hope that helps…feel free to add your own tips below…

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