Travellers have long been drawn to the major cities on the east coast of Australia: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast are on many an itinerary. Cairns is seen as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef so also gets numerous visitors. However, for those wanting to escape the crowds and experience something a bit off the beaten track, a whole other world exists in Northern New South Wales, with its glorious beaches, bustling markets, and alternative lifestyle communities.
Just a 40 minute drive from the Gold Coast, Byron Bay used to be a sleepy little beach town. This has changed in recent years as trendy shops and restaurants moved in to lure travellers. That said, the laid-back Aussie vibe of Byron is still alive and well. There are music festivals throughout the year to suit many different tastes and every day visitors stroll the main street, popping into the specialty stores or markets to find that something special. Whether you want a one-of-a-kind pair of sandals or some awesome Byron Bay cookies, the shopping experience in this little gem won’t disappoint.
If your bank account is looking a bit lean, there is also plenty to do for free in Byron. You can swim, surf, or follow the trail to the lighthouse. It’s a bit of a trek up, but the views of the beach are magnificent. This is also Australia’s most easterly point. Anywhere in Byron, the scenery is stellar and it’s a great place to people watch.
Restaurants line the main street, so you have a lot of variety to choose from. Best of all, you won’t find any fast food chains in this town: they have been banned! For a true Aussie experience, you can grab some fish and chips from Fishmongers Cafe and head to the beach. Into middle eastern food? Head down Bay Lane off of the main street to Orgasmic (nope, that isn’t a typo). If you are there around lunchtime, chances are you will be able to sample their falafel for free and then you may well find yourself hooked! When we were there the lunch special was a falafel pita pocket with a homemade lemonade for $18. Absolutely packed with falafel, hummus, tahini and salad, you won’t walk away hungry. For something smaller or to satisfy your sweet-tooth, head to L’Ultime french patisserie. Many say the baguettes are the best to be found in Byron and we can vouch for the chocolate tart and the custard and berry tart: both were fabulous!
These days there is accommodation in Byron to suit every taste: camp sites, motels and hotels are all available. Just be warned that accommodation can fill up early when an event or festival is on. You may want to book before you arrive.
Off the beaten track: Nimbin
If you find Byron too trendy these days and fancy a drive through the countryside, head about 1 ½ hours inland to Nimbin. Tour buses run daily from Byron. On the way you’ll get a taste of what it’s like in rural Australia and when you reach Nimbin, be prepared to chill. Known as the alternative lifestyle capital of Australia, it’s filled with interesting art and quirky shops. Too, don't miss the Hemp Embassy with a wealth of knowledge on the subject of cannabis and medical marijuana. Take your time and enjoy the murals as you walk down the street, or call into a shop where you will likely be offered a free cup of herbal tea to enjoy while you browse. There is also a free gallery exhibiting and selling the works of local artists. If you happen to be there on the fourth or fifth Sunday of the month, stop by the Nimbin Market and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and pick up some handmade products.
Nimbin has a number of trails heading out of town as it is surrounded by three World Heritage listed rainforests. There are sevreal waterfalls, including Protester Falls, which is of historical significance due to it being the site of Australia’s first successful anti-logging campaign.
There are some awesome little restaurants in Nimbin, many of them selling local organic food. Unfortunately the famous Rainbow Café burnt down in 2015, but the owners have opened a new place down the road called Oasis Café. Accommodation is pretty basic in town, so if that’s not your style it may be best to stay in Byron or in nearby Lismore.