When I think back to my earliest travels, like when my sister and I went on our first European adventure, it seems like my travel pace was inexhaustibly fast. We would flit from one city to the next, walking each day until we literally couldn’t take another step, doing everything on the cheap, often only spending one night in each destination as went along.
I still travel this way sometimes, but, as I recently discovered in Australia, even when time is short, there will come a time when I need a complete change of pace. Chris and I had been driving our Britz campervan – nicknamed Hippo – all the way from Adelaide. We stopped in the major cities for a few days at a time, but, inbetween those main hubs, we were doing one-night stays at multiple destinations along the coast. We were driving up to six hours a day and, by the time we passed Sydney, we had started to feel extremely tired.
Our route between Sydney and Brisbane had already been plotted out: one night in Coffs Harbour and then another two along the Gold Coast. Byron Bay had only been pencilled in as a lunch stop. When we arrived in the little beach town, however, catching glimpses of the cute shops, independent eateries and the beach, I knew that we needed to change our itinerary. Within an hour there, we extended our stay to two nights and what followed were 48 hours of relaxation and rest – something we hadn’t really allowed ourselves to do up until this point in the trip.
Before we left for Australia, fellow travellers had all said how much they loved Byron Bay and, after spending two wonderful days there, I can now see why. Byron Bay has gone on to be one of my favourite Australian destinations and, in this post, I’ll be sharing why this special spot stopped me in my tracks.
– The chance to relax and unwind –
I’m fully aware that Byron Bay may be more well known for its nightlife than its relaxation opportunities; nonetheless, I feel like this town can suit whichever form of unwinding you prefer. If you’re after cocktails, live music and all-night parties, Byron Bay can deliver, but, equally, if you’re looking for relaxation activities like yoga and beach time, it caters for this as well.
For us, the focus of our time in Byron Bay was steered by the location of our campsite. We chose to stay at First Sun Holiday Park, which was easily one of the most expensive campsites we opted for during our entire road trip, but the main perk of staying here was immediately apparent. Just a few steps away from our campervan, a path led us straight from the campsite and onto the beach. And, in my opinion, some beach time is an excellent way to start each day.
Even away from the sand and the water, Byron Bay encourages a slower pace of life. Judging by the stories we kept hearing from the locals, the town seems to be filled with people who had just been passing through, like us, but never managed to leave. Having lived in London for going on five years, I can definitely recognise the appeal of calling a chilled-out beachside town like Byron Bay home. Everyone seemed to be out and about every day, enjoying the sunshine, taking a stroll or riding their colourful bicycles – with no one appearing to be in any rush whatsoever.
If taking it easy all day doesn’t appeal to you, there’s still plenty to do and see in Byron Bay. You can visit the local craft beer brewery, peruse the wares at the shops and art galleries or walk up to the town’s lighthouse. Once you tick off all of that, you can also take a road trip to nearby Nimbin. This quirky little town is known for its hippie vibe, as well as it’s pro-cannabis stance; you’ll see many visual clues for the latter scattered throughout the town. It’s a colourful place filled with street art and roadside cafes, and I’d recommend a visit here if you’d like to see a town that is so unlike any other Australian destination you would normally stumble upon on a road trip.
– Beach time –
Even if you do try to pack your Byron Bay time with sightseeing opportunities, do not, under any circumstances (ok, barring thunderstorms and rain maybe) neglect to put aside some time for the beach. Byron Bay is home to long expanses of uninterrupted beaches and, without really meaning to, I felt like we were here for most of our time in the town.
We were either working on our non-existent tans, hoping that we’d add a few shades of colour to our ghostly complexions, swimming in the water or strolling at length along the sand. For those into watersports, there are surfboard rental companies in town, as well as surf schools offering lessons to beginners.
I never thought I could be the sort of person who could spend hours and hours on the beach but, after our days of driving and always trying to get to our next campsite before dark, I felt like I couldn’t get enough of this down time, where the only thing I needed to do was to pick a spot on the beach and soak up the warmth without worrying about anything else for that day.
– The food scene –
Oh my. One thing I did not expect about Byron Bay was just how good its food scene could be. For most of our Australian road trip, Chris and I had been really restrained in our food spending, opting to cook up something in our campervan instead of going to a restaurant. In Byron Bay, we couldn’t resist – we splurged.
Even though it’s a small town, you’ll be able to find a large variety of cuisine types in the form of takeaways or sit-down eateries.
Thanks to the bohemian/hippie feel of Byron Bay, when it comes to breakfast, there are plenty of organic hipster cafes to choose from. We had two amazing breakfasts in Byron Bay. There was the healthiest version of eggs benedict I’ve ever had – complete with cashew nut hollandaise sauce – from beachside Warung Bagus. This colourful cafe specialises in healthy meals (don’t forget to check out their smoothies) with Indonesian flavours.
The second breakfast came from Bay Leaf, which is a short drive/walk away from the beachfront. This place can get really busy, so you may have to wait a while before you’re seated, but the wait is completely worth it. The coffee is brewed perfectly and I couldn’t stop raving about my meal choice, the Dukkah eggs. Poached eggs, marinated tomatoes and the generous amount of Dukkah – it was a surprisingly refreshing start to my morning.
For lunch or dinner, there’s a big temptation to stay near the beach. On one occasion, we stumbled upon Japonaise Kitchen; attracted by the counter-style seating arrangement and the number of people in this tiny restaurant, we were happy that our hunt for sushi brought us here. The sushi is delicious, the beer is cheap plus there are heartier options, like ramen, on the menu too.
On one evening, we decided to go further afield by walking all the way up Byron Bay beach, which eventually brought us to Treehouse on Belongil. This restaurant is home to the best pizzas I ate while in Australia. Thanks to the warm weather, most of the diners were sitting outside in spaces that all seem to be quirkier than the next. My favourite was the old-school lounge area, which featured red velvet sofas, fairy lights and a retro TV set. Treehouse on Belongil also has a great drinks list, with wines showcasing all of the country’s best wine regions.
If you’re also travelling in Australia by campervan or are on a strict budget, I couldn’t emphasise this enough: eat out when in Byron Bay. The above only represents the tiniest fraction of the town’s foodie offering but everything we tried was top notch and I would love to go back to Byron Bay to sample more.
– A place to celebrate the sunset and sunrise –
Enjoying a drink in our camping chairs outside our campervan, we heard the sound of drums and, glancing at each other, confirmed that it wasn’t a figment of our imagination.
We quickly stowed everything away and followed the drumming sound, which was soon accompanied by trumpets, guitar chords and cheering.
All along the paved promenade just off the beach, people were either standing or sitting with a drink in their hand; on an extended platform, others had put their drinks aside and started dancing. Musicians stood among the revellers, with some drumming and the others yielding an array of musical instruments. Even now I’m not sure whether this was an organised event but there was an impromptu feel to this gathering to honour the particularly spectacular sunset Byron Bay was experiencing.
The sky was lit up with pastel pinks, blues and purples, with glints of bright orange illuminating the edges of the clouds. It was a surreal moment, with those colours and the sheer joy of the crowds gathered to watch it all, but I fell hard for the idea that, somewhere in the world, there will always be a place where a sunset is worthy of so many people stopping and watching for a while.
When Chris came up with the idea to witness Byron Bay’s sunrise as well, I was far less enthused. I am – and probably never will be – a morning person, instead needing to be coaxed into human form with copious amounts of coffee. But, after showing me photos on Instagram and saying things like ‘you only live once’ and ‘I’ll let you go back to sleep afterwards’ (the more important utterance for me), I agreed.
The alarm sounded, and off we drove up to Byron Bay Lighthouse. This is undoubtedly the most popular place to take in the sunrise, so be prepared to have a parking struggle during the warmer months. Finally finding a spot, we marched up the final leg of the hill and chose our vantage point.
Of course, the whole experience was breathtaking, with the sky slowly lighting up and the bright red of the sun first making its appearance as a dot on the horizon. I doubt I’ll ever be a morning person, but, in the future, I hope I can be persuaded to wake up for other sunrises; it was one of my most memorable moments out of our entire Australian stay.
Writing this post was a lot more difficult than I thought, primarily due to the fact that every photo made me want to teleport straight back to Byron Bay. When it comes to travel, I know that I almost always tend to overplan but I’m so, so happy that we made the decision to change our road trip itinerary to fit in Byron Bay.
We didn’t realise it straight away, but we desperately needed those few days in Byron Bay. In 48 hours, our crazy road trip pace slowed down, we had the chance to breathe and we got to spoil ourselves with some outrageously delicious food.
Byron Bay stopped me in my tracks, and if I ever find myself in that part of the world again, I’ll make sure that it’ll do so all over again.
Have you ever arrived in a destination and changed your itinerary to spend more time there? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
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