New South Wales
Byron Bay is a coastal town located on the far-north coast of NSW, Australia. Home to Australia's most easterly point and the iconic Cape Byron lighthouse, the region is known for its spectacular beaches, unique shopping and dining experiences, world-class festivals, and vibrant community spirit. Beyond the township of Byron Bay, the region includes many seaside villages, quaint hinterland towns, and large regional centres, all with their own unique character.
The intense popularity of Byron Bay can be, at first, a mystery. Sure, the beaches are sublime, but there are spectacular beaches all along this coast. Its locals have come to symbolise an Australian haute-boho lifestyle, yet much of the town is a squat, architectural mishmash and has a traffic problem. So why the legions of global fans? As they say in Byron, it's the vibe.
Come to surf epic breaks at dawn, paddle through hazy beach afternoons and sigh at the enchanting sunsets. Come to do reiki, refine your yoga practice, do a raw fast and hang with the fire-twirlers by the beach at sunset. Idle with the striped T-shirt set at the town’s excellent restaurant tables, then kick on with backpackers, musicians, models, young entrepreneurs, ageing hippies and property developers at one of its beery, shouty pubs. Or, because it’s Byron, do all of the above, then repeat. Australia’s most populous state is home to its largest city: glitzy, vibrant, intoxicating Sydney, an unforgettable metropolis in a privileged natural setting. Bondi Beach and the harbour are justly famous, but in reality the whole NSW coast is simply magnificent: a mesmerising sequence of beach after quality beach backed by a series of excellent national parks and interesting coastal towns.
Inland, the scenic splendour of the Great Dividing Range, including Australia’s highest peak as well as the spectacular Blue Mountains, separates the coastal strip from the pastoral hinterlands, which gradually give way, as you move west, to a more arid outback landscape dotted with mining towns. Many visitors stick to the enticing coast, but it’s worth getting out west too, where the big skies and country hospitality are as much part of the New South Wales soul as Sydney’s surf scene, diversity and staggeringly good food.
Chances are Sydney will be your introduction to Australia’s east coast and there simply isn’t a better one. The city’s spectacular harbour setting, sun-kissed beaches and sophisticated sheen make it unique in Australia, and its outdoorsy population endows it with a confident charm that every city yearns for but few achieve.
It would be reasonable to assume that the areas surrounding Sydney would be content to bask in the reflected and undeniably golden glow of the metropolis, but that’s not the case. Each has its own delights. The Blue Mountains offer magnificent bush-clad vistas and opportunities to snuggle in front of log fires; Newcastle has surf beaches in profusion; and the Hunter Valley has leafy country roads scattered with producers of fine wine, chocolate and cheese. All three are home to world-class restaurants that rival even those in the big smoke.
Trust us, there is life beyond Sydney and the New South Wales coast – and it’s worthy of attention. Epicurean retreats like Mudgee and Orange send a siren call to city slickers, Broken Hill’s mining heritage is rich and nation-defining, and national parks offer sand dunes, ancient rock art, wildlife-filled forests and glorious walking trails.
From the rolling green hills of New England to the red-dirt glow of the Outback, there are some beautifully Australian moments to savour: stargazing into pristine skies, sharing a yarn with eccentrics in mining communities, marvelling over art in the most unlikely places (on pub walls, down opal mines, in a remote paddock). Festivals mark the regions’ calendars with excuses to party – from the quirky (Elvis, Tamworth Country Music) to the colourful (Broken Hill’s Broken Heel) to celebrations of season (harvests, autumn foliage, spring cherry blossoms).
Who needs the beach when you can float down a river?
Lovely, lazy beach towns and pristine national parks leapfrog each other all the way up this stupendous stretch of coast. Inland, lush farmland and ancient tracts of World Heritage–listed rainforest do the same.
Providing a buffer between New South Wales’ capital-city sprawl to the south and Queensland’s Gold Coast strip up over the border, northern NSW offers an altogether simpler way of life. Farmers rub shoulders with big-city sea-changers and post-hippie alternative life style here: if you’re looking for stellar local produce, a single-origin coffee or a psychic reading, you won’t be disappointed. And if you’re searching for a surf break, rest assured there will be an awesome one, right around the next corner.
West of the town centre, wild Belongil Beach with its high dunes avoids the worst of the crowds and is clothing-optional in parts. At its eastern end lies the Wreck, a powerful right-hand surf break.
Immediately in front of town, lifesaver-patrolled Main Beach is busy from sunrise to sunset with yoga classes, buskers and fire dancers. As it stretches east it merges into Clarkes Beach. The most popular surf break is at the Pass near the eastern headland.
Around the rocks is gorgeous Watego’s Beach, a wide crescent of white sand surrounded by rainforest. A further 400m walk brings you to secluded Little Watego’s (inaccessible by car), another lovely patch of sand directly under rocky Cape Byron. Head here at sunset for an impressive moonrise. Tucked under the south side of the Cape (entry via Tallow Beach Rd) is Cosy Corner, which offers a decent-sized wave and a sheltered beach when the northerlies are blowing elsewhere.
Tallow Beach is a deserted sandy stretch that extends for 7km south from Cape Byron. This is the place to flee the crowds. Much of the beach is backed by Arakwal National Park, but the suburb of Suffolk Park sprawls along the sand near its southern end. Kings Beach is a popular gay-friendly beach, just off Seven Mile Beach Rd past the Broken Head Holiday Park.
Experience Byron Bay your way
Explore the region’s beaches by kayak, on horseback, by taking surf lessons, or whale watching. Get a birds-eye-view of the mountains and coastal landscape by balloon, or cross sky-diving off your bucket list. Shop local designers and producers at the community markets, be the first in Australia to watch the sunrise, or treat yourself to an indulgent day at the spa. Hike to the iconic lighthouse, people-watch with a cup of coffee, or discover the local art scene at one of Byron’s galleries or live music venues.