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Published December 13th 2014
What to see, what to do, where to eat
Light in his eyes or at least umbrellas in his shades. View of Byron at Byron Resort reflected.
It is 9.30 at night and everyone here is asleep. Nobody keeps Melbourne time except me. They get up at 6am and go walking. Then they ride bikes, go swimming and then sip cocktails on balconies enjoying the sea breezes wafting over them to cool them down.
Welcome to Byron Bay where gradually your internal clock is reset so you become like the locals doing everything earlier in the day.
This is Australia's most easterly point so the sun gets people up before the rest of our wide brown land.
There are a couple of ways to greet the sun in Byron. One is a walk up to the Cape Byron Light House (the locals run up the hill for their morning exercise). Sights include the hang glider's launching platform and totally stunning views over the spectacular coastline. If you are lucky enough you might spot a whale as from May to October, Cape Byron is one of the best on-land vantage points for watching the annual migration and return of the humpback whale. At the top you can see the dramatic white lighthouse turn from rose pink to startling white as the day breaks.
The beach a Bryon. This young boy is fascinated as I am with a man obliviously doing his yoga on the foreshore.
If you really want to be the first one in Australia to greet the sun then the first rays are on Mt Warning. There are organised tours where you camp overnight and then climb the mountain for daybreak but of course you can also organise this yourself.
Before this holiday I hadn't been to Byron for twenty years and I remember one time before this going to visit my brother. He was living the alternative life that later lead him to India and an adventurous life. He asked me recently (he is still overseas) about whether Byron had changed and yes it has and it hasn't.
It is still the destination young people run away to. If you are out on the street why not make sure you have the best climate in Australia. And they really look after the homeless and itinerants in Byron. There are shelters offering them breakfast and lunch everyday.
I saw a guy with long hair and no shoes eyeing off a pair of shoes in the op shop. He forked out the $4 for them delighted with some shoes for his feet. I felt they could have given him a discount. The dole only goes so far.
Happy hour margheritas at Miss Marghetas at Byron Bay
But because there are so many itinerants Byron has become Sign City. You can't park anywhere along the shoreline at night, so as to avoid people sleeping in their cars.
And parking is also tight and scarce in town. No longer a lazy, laid-back town there are now so many tourists in cars that on many occasions you wait forever to turn right onto the main street.
The mayor (who apparently once had dreadlocks and it still sans a tie) and the council have kept high-rise out of Byron. After you drive somewhere like Coolangatta, where multi-floor apartment blocks jostle each other for a view and cast shadows on the beach, you realise just what a godsend this lack of development has been in the once-hippie town of Byron. They have also kept McDonalds out of town. But while they don't have the bottom of the food chain there are lots of other chains such as Subway, Hog's Breath and Domino's Pizza.
We had some really bad food in Bryon a lot of it touristy fodder and way overpriced. There were however a couple of memorable places. The Roadhouse Cafe and Bar is on the outskirts on the road going into Byron. They always have blues music playing and do a fantastic grass fed steak, with organic vegetable and fabulous vegetarian and seafood dishes. It is here I discovered a special drink, which is rum, poured over a sphere of iced coconut water. As the sphere melts it mellows the sharpness of the rum. Inspired!
The other is Miss Margarita in town which has a happy hour every night from 5-6 with ten dollar cocktails. Try to get a seat near the bar where you can watch the ambidextrous bartenders throw the cocktails into shape. Don't shy away from their house specials as they are amazing finely balanced and magical potions. If you arrive this early you can also be assured of a seat for dinner at this popular Byron restaurant.
espresso martini at the brewery. I don't drink at home. Honestly!
I was really looking forward to relaxing at the Byron Beach Cafe. But it was windy and the view was only to be had through thick clear plastic. Park outside and you have to pay for parking ($4 an hour) and the coffee is way over-priced. In fact two mugs and an hour's parking cost $17— ludicrous.
You soon learn to tail the locals for where they mainline their coffee and these places are always slightly out of town. Places such as the previously mentioned Roadhouse and the Top Shop which is on top of a hill in a residential area rather than in the shopping strip. Being from Mebourne I have to source good coffee and these two places were the best that I found.
It is also worth going for a drink at the famous and exclusive looking Byron at Byron, one of Byron's oldest resorts which is pretty much the same price as other places is Byron. This place is gorgeous and a must see with its distinctive tropical architecture and rainforest walks that you are welcome to do when your visit.
The beach is a constant unchanged and amazing. People go there to do their yoga and meditate on the foreshore. There is always something to see and the breeze off the ocean is magic on a hot day. I loved this little hidey-hole (see photo below) one of the locals trying to live on the beach.
Many of what were once hippy subculture places have now become big businesses. Thursday Plantation was started in the 70s as an oddball enterprise based on the restorative properties of t-tree oil. Now you can buy their brand products in supermarkets and chemists across the county and visit their showrooms (near Ballina) where there is a café, extensive gardens and a gentle restorative vibe.
Huge crystals in the gardens of the Crystal Castle
Crystal Castle in the hinterlands is another such hippy enterprise. The extensive gardens has huge boulders of crystals garnered from all over the world. There is also an artistically harmonious complex that radiates out from a central core, a cafeteria with forest views and a gift shop of course. You can have your aura read, or a tarot card reading (all for a price). I found this place drop-jaw amazing if only to see the commercialization of the alternative.
The centre of Byron has become commercialised despite the best of intentions. Retirees have moved here claiming it adds ten years to their lives. There is big money in real estate. So that the real dedicate Byron residents of yesteryear have moved either to the outskirts of town or headed "for them there hills."
Nimbin, which is out of town, is as alternative as ever. Turn off your engine and a head pops up. "Want any buds, mate?" At Nimbin's local YHA you can sleep in outside hammocks. The local hinterland markets are places of wonders, under the huge canopy of shady trees. Make sure you visit markets such as those at Bangalow and Mullimbimby for everything alternative, great foods and entertainment all under the shade of massive trees. Visit the Open Air Cathderal at Bexhill for a time of quiet revery.
Byron Bay isn't perhaps what it once was but it is still the place to drop out whether you be a runaway teen, or a 65 tear old retiree. For tourists it is also the place to drop-in but you have to move away from the centre of Byron, the tourist traps and unearth what is still tangible and real.
One of the many beautiful views looking down from the lighthouse