4 ways to feel like a local in Byron Bay
So you’ve hiked to Cape Byron Lighthouse and dined at Three Blue Ducks at The Farm? Now here’s what to do and see, where to eat and drink in Byron Bay – locals style.
A haven for surfers and sybarites, backpackers and celebrities, hippies and foodies, Byron Bay needs little by way of introduction. Locals in this boho beachside hamlet on the North Coast of NSW are just as comfortable practising yoga and shotting wheatgrass as they are sitting down to a degustation of experimental cuisine or cocktails that come with all the trimmings. And they’re likewise equally at home splashing about in the waves as hiking to remote waterfalls in UNESCO-listed rainforest.
Here’s how to take the town’s pulse – as a Byron insider.
Begin your day at Bayleaf, about as Byron as Byron gets, with activewear-clad, dreadlocked locals sipping coconut cold brew and bulletproof coffee while contemplating brunch options that hero Northern Rivers produce, like Scrubby Gully eggs and The Bread Social sourdough.
For a pan-Asian lunch or dinner feast, Bang Bang hits the spot every time. By day, open windows invite sunshine and balmy breezes; by night, lighting dims and the music pulses. You’ll find a menu that’s all about sharing, whether classics given a tropical twist – try the Moreton Bay bug buns – or traditional flavours featuring regional produce, including sticky braised Cape Grim short ribs.
Still in Asia, Kinoko offers a sushi train, but not as you know it. Everything plated in the effortlessly cool space is immaculate, from vegetarian tempeh nigiri (because this is Byron) to crunchy tuna and avocado rolls. Or go à la carte and order crispy chicken karaage, Japanese curries or steaming ramen.
North of town near Belongil Beach, Barrio sits pretty inside the Arts & Industry Estate, a retail and office space accessible by car, along the sand or via solar-powered train. You’re welcomed into the architect-designed dining room by the aroma of charcoal and fire, a reminder of how things are cooked here, whether smoked mussels or lamb kebabs that sizzle while you sip pet nat. Heading to the beach? Grab charcoal chicken buns and loaded salad bowls to go.
Within a 30min drive of Byron’s Main Beach is Harvest Newrybar, which sports a bakery, deli and kitchen gardens to gaze over from the patio. Both food and drinks reflect an emphasis on native produce, from strawberry gum atop kangaroo loin to finger lime in your margarita.
Nearby in Nashua, Frida’s Field occupies a working farm with cattle, orchards and bountiful veggie gardens. Friday through Sunday, the estate hosts exclusive long lunches, bookings essential. The fare is simple, honest and delicious – think smoked beets with walnuts, or wood-fired beef with creamed horseradish.
Pipit’s coastal perch north in Pottsville lends a relaxed vibe to the restaurant. Grab a counter seat to watch chefs prepare innovative dishes like pickled sardines with organic tofu, or grilled duck breast with lemon balm.
Of the 25 botanicals in Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin, 17 are sourced locally, and many hail from the rainforest surrounding the hinterland farm on which Cape Byron Distillery sits. You can tour the facility, sign up for a tasting flight, or sip their distinctive Slow Gin and ginger on the balcony, overlooking endless greenery.
Another forward-thinking Byron maker, the Dirty Bucha, is behind Australia’s first boozy kombucha bar, The Bucha Shed. While experimental brews always adorn the menu, the core range highlights tropical flavours with vodka, lemon myrtle and gin, and a beer and kombucha blend.
A few steps from Main Beach, Supernatural is a small bar with a bold wine list: 50 natural wines from around the world, perfectly paired with bites like chargrilled oysters in tarragon garlic butter.
Hidden down a lane is retro-fitted Light Years, an Asian diner and bar serving cocktails that are as much a talking point as a thirst quencher. Take the Netflix and Chill, for example; a muddle of macadamia gin, passionfruit and lemon with a side of rum-soaked popcorn. Try it with mud-crab dumplings.
Or while away a balmy evening at rooftop cocktail and whisky bar The Bolt Hole. Part speakeasy, part club lounge, this buzzy joint comes replete with leather Chesterfields in which to contemplate the 300 artisanal spirits on offer.
Swim, surf, dive
You don’t have to travel far to find a stretch of sand in Byron. Leave Main Beach to the tourists, and follow locals to Clarkes, Wategos, Tallow and Little Wategos, Australia’s easternmost cove.
If you see someone carrying a surfboard, follow them to reliably good breaks at The Pass, The Wreck or Belongil. Those still getting familiar with their board can sign up for pro-tips at Lets Go Surfing, Soul Surf School and Kool Katz. If you have the stamina, the multi-day camp offered by Surfaris Retreat will have you riding serious waves in no time.
The world beneath the ocean in the 220sq km Cape Byron Marine Park is just as impressive as the waves above. Snorkel or scuba dive at Julian Rocks Nguthungulli Nature Reserve, where tropical and temperate waters meet, yielding an incredibly diverse marine ecosystem, including endangered grey nurse sharks and loggerhead turtles as well as rays, corals and 500 species of fish.
Dolphins and migrating whales in season also frequent the marine park – you might be lucky enough to glimpse them with your head below water, or else on a kayaking expedition around the reserve and Byron’s headland.
For those seeking a similar outlook to the Cape Byron Lighthouse walk but minus the crowds, meander south to explore the coast on the Three Sisters trail around Broken Head. The 1.6km loop traverses rainforest before emerging at a headland framing Kings Beach. You’ll spot dolphins and white-bellied sea eagles year round, and whales May through November.
To the north, wander the sand from Belongil Beach toward Tyagarah Nature Reserve, an important coastal wilderness of littoral and subtropical rainforest protecting dozens of threatened plants. Your route extends to Brunswick Heads, or inland trails to a dreamy tea-tree stained lake – those who dive in here swear by its healing properties.
The calm call of nature attracts a creative crowd to Byron, as you’ll fast discover exploring the Arts & Industry Estate. Here lies the Habitat Collective, an emporium of beautiful things; McTavish, for bespoke surfboards and gear; Stone & Wood brewery; and Yoli & Otis, creating covetable clothing.
Local makers and growers also unite at the town’s many markets, not least the town-consuming Byron Community Market (first Sunday of the month), the youth-driven Flea Market (fourth Saturday) and the bulging weekly Farmers Market, held every Thursday morning.