In conversation with friends recently we got to chatting about a certain super cool Byron Bay fashion label that has become the go to look for music festival folk of the female species in our neck of the woods. Come festival season you can’t miss them; gypsy gals floating along in prides wearing a uniform of post-modern Stevie Nicks designs, desperately seeking the Byron Bay look. The irony is, it’s not really representative of the day-to-day Byron dress code, and so when my friends and I spy these lassies in town it’s a dead give away to us that they’re travellers. Oh to be a flirty twenty something again, we say, secretly admiring them….
So how does this all relate to forks and flying and 10 Things Locals Like to do in Byron Bay? Let me explain. When travellers lob into Byron Bay for a long weekend or annual holiday they like to feel they know the place by ticking off a predetermined bucket list: buy a gypsy outfit and get the Byron Bay look (tick!), walk the path to the lighthouse, swim with the crowds at Main Beach, hit the shops around Jonson and Lawson Streets, eat at a hipster establishment recommended by an urban comrade on Instagram, maybe take a tour to Nimbin to see some ‘real’ hippies and, in the late afternoon and evening, join fellow travellers from around the globe for drinks and dancing at The Beach Hotel or Cheeky Monkeys. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to get amongst the tourist activities sometimes, but I also think it’s great to experience a new place and its culture like a local – I like to converse with locals, eat where the locals eat and see and do like a local.
So next time you are in ‘The Bay’ (n.b. that’s what the locals call it) why not veer off the well-worn tourist track and live like a local with my list of 10 Things Locals Like to do in Byron Bay. I dare you!
1. Get out of Byron
As the saying goes: ‘Go West my Son!’ This may seem like a funny place to start this list but, in all seriousness, the best way to beat the tourist crowds crawling over Byron during the warmer months is to take a daytrip inland. Maybe take a drive to the stunning Minyon Falls followed by a relaxed lunch at the amazing Doma Café in Federal. The menu is mostly Japanese and it’s my absolute favourite hinterland place to eat. Even Chef Shannon Bennett has voted Doma the ‘Best Japanese lunch in the country.’ ! (Where Chefs Eat, Phaidon) If you want to go further afield, head out through Bangalow and follow the winding escarpment roads to The Channon valley where there are great markets on the second Sunday of the month. Buy some local produce and handicrafts, eat lunch at one of the many food stalls and enjoy a break in the Chai tent. Continue on to Protesters Falls for some time with nature. If you prefer to stay closer to base camp, drive north to Brunswick Heads and enjoy a kayak or Stand Up Paddle in the Brunswick River or take a dip at the kid friendly Torakina Beach. If you prefer retail therapy over nature therapy there’s plenty of great shopping and dining options in the nearby villages and towns of Bangalow, Brunswick Heads and Mullumbimby where it can get busy over Summer too but at least you won’t have the traffic snarls of Byron Bay.
2. DIY Picnic or BYO Barbeque at Wategos
I could not think of a better place to enjoy a prepared picnic or a bring your own barbeque dinner than at Wategos Beach during day light savings. Overlooking the famous long board beach lined with pandanus palms, nestled quietly beneath multimillion-dollar properties and the iconic bleached lighthouse, there is a beautiful lawned area where you can set up a picnic and make use of the Council’s excellent barbeque facilities. There will be a mix of folk sharing the space – from backpacker surfers cooking their hot meal for the day to families who have spent the afternoon at the beach, groups of people celebrating and couples watching the sunset. It’s also great for a breakfast or lunchtime barbeque as there is plenty of shade to escape the Summer sun – just get there early to jag a car park and some space for your picnic blanket and esky.
3. Explore the Industrial Estate – Eating and Shopping
Tucked inside the Arts and Industry Estate in Byron Bay are a number of quiet places to eat and shop. For eats don’t miss 100 Mile Table (my other home for breakfast, lunch and coffee), Bun Coffee for you guessed it, Santos Organics for delicious and nutritious café food and your pantry supplies and Luscious Foods for amazing middle eastern cuisine. For fashion try Stitch and Hide, Goddess of Babylon, Rowie and Afends – where they also serve coffee! For something fun, try a tasting paddle of local beer at Stone and Wood’s cellar door and the male folk can get a locals barber style haircut at Jack the Snipper with a refreshing beverage included while you’re in the chair.
4. Buy Fresh from a Roadside Stall
We all know that Byron Bay is blessed with a bounty of Farmers Markets – New Brighton (Tuesdays), Byron Bay (Thursdays), Mullumbimby (Fridays) and Bangalow (Saturdays). But if you can’t get to the markets there are plenty of wonderful roadside stalls across the shire selling fresh produce using the honesty box system. My favourites are the organic stall at Bangalow that sells fruit, vegetables and free range eggs and across the road you can buy frozen Raspberries and Blueberries too, the Picadilly Hill Stall and the Myocum Stall on Main Arm Road.
5. Listen to Bay FM
Our local, independent, community radio station – Bay FM 99.9. Tune in
6. ‘Flea Bag’ Garage Sales
Most Saturdays – weather dependent – many of the grassy street corners along Bangalow Road (the coastal road that connects Byron Bay to the south) are teeming with mini-garage sales or as I like to cheekily call them ‘flea bag’ sales. Sometimes there’s more old than gold on offer but it’s a great way mix with the locals who ‘set up shop’ and you may be lucky enough to score a bargain – from used clothes, to household items and surfboards. If you reach as far down as Suffolk Park, call into the Suffolk Park Bakery for morning tea and some live music.
7. Swim at Broken Head
Broken Head Beach, a smidge south of Byron Bay township, is part of a wildlife nature reserve. The surf is a bit wilder than the protected bay beaches in Byron but there’s plenty of space and a spectacular view looking north towards Tallows Beach and the Byron Lighthouse. Try it. Right next door is the Broken Head Holiday Park and there is a fantastic open picnic and barbeque area where the kids (and adults!) can run around with a footy or set up a game of cricket. If you feel like walking rather than swimming take the picturesque path along the Three Sisters Walking Track.
8. Eat – ask a local!
So there has been a lot of attention on the food scene around Byron Bay in recent months. My suggestion is to ask a local for advice – maybe the host at your accommodation, staff in a retail store or even the staff at another dining venue. Make sure you take a look at the Eat Drink Guide Byron Bay too – it’s an online food and drink guide prepared by locals that will help you on your way!
9. Ditch the Car and Ride a Bike
Trying to get a car park in Byron Bay as a pre-paid local or as a pay per use traveller, especially during Summer, can be somewhat tricky. If you have access to a pushbike I suggest you use it. It’s very easy to ride a pushy around the Byron township as there are plenty of flat streets, there are bike paths everywhere and you can always be assured of finding a park. Don’t forget your helmet and chain!
10. Have a drink at The Rails
There are plenty of places to enjoy a beverage around Byron Bay but The Railway Friendly Bar known around town as ‘The Rails’ is the true locals bar. The best thing about The Rails is that it’s the only pub in Australia to have featured live music seven nights a week for more than 30 years. There’s a well-priced restaurant that serves pub food too.
So go on – have a go at doing what the locals like to do in Byron Bay – there’s so much to discover!