The young people don’t smoke pot in Byron anymore, they’re too busy making it big in this breezy, beachy dreamland. The New South Wales’ North Coast enclave has long been a counter-culture paradise for wayfarers seeking alternative ways of living. These days, the town and its surrounds make up a 21st-century hub of creatives, digital nomads and zeitgeist chasers living it up in a slo-mo kind of way.
The area’s progressive reputation has made it fertile land for entrepreneurial sea changers to plant dream projects. For blow-ins like us, though, it’s a honey pot of good food, yoga and shopping.
In town, Clarkes Beach and Main Beach thrum with flashpackers, while Wategos Beach is an A-list playground. Early adopters are outpacing the crowds in neighbouring Bangalow and Newrybar and now these small towns also pulse with of-the-moment cool.
About three kilometres due north, Byron Bay’s creative ripple extends to a former industrial estate, where Habitat North Beach resides. The emerging hotspot is home to local brands, co-working and dining. It’s trendy but not exclusive. Surely nothing is more Byron than that.
Take the world’s first solar-powered train from town to Habitat North Beach, an industrial estate turned creative hub, near tranquil Belongil Beach. Habitat Collective showcases more than 40 local and design-led brands. Here you’ll also find the Department of Simple Things: a menswear concept store from Mr Simple, which hosts sausage-making and photography workshops over a few drinks – far better than any boyfriend chair. Over in the hinterland, Newrybar Merchants brings together local artisans and curators in an 1890s homestead. Driftlab is right next door for a follow-up dose of style from independent artisans. Back in town, Pop & Scott and Pampa’s shared showroom is a must-visit for design lovers, and Tigmi Trading is a modern bohemian wonderland.
Byron’s food scene is on fire. At Barrio – Spanish for neighbourhood – the flames are literal thanks to the focus on the woodfire oven and charcoal grill. Chef Francisco Smoje opened the restaurant in December 2017 at Habitat, bringing with him a nose-to-tail and root-to-stem food philosophy that smacks with flavour. In July, Chupacabra set-up shop and has fast become the region’s hottest new taqueria for cocktails and tacos. Backup the next morning with Sparrow Coffee in Byron or nearby Bangalow for pastries. Try Harvest at Newrybar for a homegrown lunch by chef Alastair Waddell overlooking the edible gardens. Not to be outdone is Raes on Wategos with its revamped look, new chef Jason Barratt (previously of Attica and Stokehouse), and new cellar bar, offering oysters and sashimi alongside champagne and cocktails.
Since launching in 2016, Elements of Byron has forged a reputation as a hip haven with its epic infinity lagoon pool, day beds and fire pits. This year, the hotel has launched new two-bedroom villas (from $650 per night) and an adults-only pool with a swim-up bar offering cold-pressed juices and killer cocktails. Byron bliss hunters will love the kayaking, daily yoga and horseriding through the 20-hectare resort’s rainforests, tea-tree creeks, lakes and ponds. The beach club is the place for sun and surf, while a coma-inducing massage in the Osprey Spa is the perfect break from all the eating, drinking and shopping.
THESE DAYS, THE TOWN AND ITS SURROUNDS MAKE UP A 21ST-CENTURY HUB OF CREATIVES, DIGITAL NOMADS AND ZEITGEIST CHASERS LIVING IT UP IN A SLO-MO KIND OF WAY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOURISM AUSTRALIA; DEMETRE MINCHEV; RAES ON WATEGOS; MADELINE JOHNSON/ELEMENTS OF BYRON. TEXT BY ANNA MCCOOE ■