Byron Bay: For Freedom of Mind

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.

byron bay lighthouse at sunrise

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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.

protestors falls

Eat

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! 

orgasmic falafel

Stay

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 streets

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. 

protestors falls 2

Dunners in New Zealand's Southland

Dunedin is a small city located in New Zealand's far South-East.  In it's early days it was one of the busiest cities in the country, but today it's a sleepy little town that's easy to get around that has a multitude of things to see and do.  Dunedin punches well above its weight.

Dunedin's railway Station

Dunedin's railway Station

Things to do

With its compact city centre packed with numerous historical churches and buildings there is a lot to take in before even leaving the city limits.  Namely, the old railway station better known in the old days as Gingerbread George is a major city sight in itself, but while there we highly recommend you book a sightseeing trip on one of the trains.  If you are pressed for time, check to see whether the 90 minute Waitati Seasider is running.  On the other hand, if you have a bit of time up your sleeve, take the 4 hour Taieri Gorge trip.  It will take you through the dramatic scenery of the gorge, over a number of very high viaducts and the trip provides an insightful commentary along the way.  And if the weather in Dunedin isn't too flash, you may be pleasantly surprised by better weather in the gorge.

Taieri Gorge

Taieri Gorge

Another thing to do is take a scenic drive around the Otago Peninsula.  This will take you past the Harbour Cone, which showcases Dunedin's volcanic history and through quaint little seaside towns like Portobello.  As you continue on you will reach Taiaroa Head where you can see albatross, seals and yellow-eyed penguins.  Numerous tours run from the area to get you close to the action.

Nearby hidden gem

Many travelers venture the 76kms to Moeraki Boulders, but few stop at Shag Point Nature Reserve that is right on the way.  If you are hoping to get up close and personal with some seals, this is the place to do it!  We got there at about 9am and stayed for one and a half hours.  For most of that time we had the place to ourselves and the fur seals were everywhere (even right beside the viewing platform).  See them sleep, swim and play!  And they were just as curious to see us as we were to see them.  It's a great place to see shags and other seabirds as well!

Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders

Fur seals at Shag Point

Fur seals at Shag Point

Stay

For a great location and good quality at an affordable price, it's hard to go past the Scenic Hotel at 123 Princes Street. Located in the heart of the city, this clean comfy hotel has spacious rooms that include a proper table to sit at along with tea and coffee making and a fridge. Free wireless internet and a free newspaper are also bonuses. There is valet parking in a parking garage, but plenty of street pay and display parking is also available. This parking is free between 6pm and 9am.

Eat

For great pub food, head to Mac's Brew Bar on Stewart Street. With funky decor, a great vibe, and delicious food, this place won't disappoint. As the name suggests, they have Mac beer on tap along with a variety of other choices in bottles. The burgers and chips definitely won't disappoint and the sliders looked great. Live music on Saturdays just adds to the atmosphere.

For something special

If you are looking to splash out a little, try Etrusco at the Savoy at 8 Moray Place. It serves up Italian food that will keep you coming back. We had the Pane Al'Aglio and Schiacciata with salami to start. Absolutely amazing! We followed this up with Sugo Di Carne and Nonno. There is a bit of chilli in the Nonno, but it's not spicy. Both dishes had the pasta cooked al dente and were seasoned beautifully. We topped off the meal with two delicious desserts and coffees. We went another day and had soup, salads and antipasto and nothing disappointed!