Byron Bay – where parallel universes exist and keep drawing you back again… and again.
Words & images Gary Tischer
Having been a visitor to Byron for the last 50 years, I have seen many changes and still love coming here. Once there were goats on the cliffs and now there are wallabies. Once it was easy to get a wave at The Pass and now it’s more crowded. Once no-one knew what a flat white was; now they’re everywhere.
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Where to stay
Unless you love crowds, only visit off-peak. Although for those in the know, there are a few spots that can give you the illusion that it’s not crowded at all. If you are reading this, you probably tow a caravan or have a motorhome which means that you will be looking for a caravan park. First tip (although not so secret if everyone reads this): The pick of the caravan parks in Byron is Clarke’s Beach Holiday Park. Second tip: Book early as it’s very popular; or maybe you can jag a cancellation.
The reason Clarke’s is the pick of the parks is that once you are here (currently I am sitting under a tree listening to the surf as I write this), you don’t need to drive anywhere to enjoy all that Byron has to offer. The main street of Byron with all its restaurants and shops is 15 minutes walk west, and The Pass is only 10 minutes walk east where you can surf the legendary break, watch dolphins from a lookout or eat at a nice little cafe. We set up camp four days ago and have not started the car since we pulled up.
There’s a lot of shady campsites here and the sound of the surf can be heard amongst the rustle of the trees and the chirping of the birds. The facilities are modern and the beach is 60 seconds from any site. The trees buffer any strong breezes and filter the sun. Yes, I’m coming back next year!
There are a number of other caravan parks about if you can’t get into Clarke’s or want to be further from the action of Byron itself. Another favourite park of mine is the Broken Head Holiday Park.
This is about 10 minutes drive south of Byron on the headland south of Cape Byron. It is nestled into national park and is sheltered from the southerlies. Another beautiful part of the world but a vehicle is required to get to a cafe or shops. If you have everything on hand, just enjoy the peace… and there is plenty of it at Broken Head.
What to do
So you’ve got the accommodation sorted, but why would you want to come to Byron in the first place? Well if you are into places that are the ‘most’ something, Cape Byron is the most easterly point in Australia and a lot easier to get to than the most northerly or the most westerly.
Everyone loves whales; and even if you don’t, it would be unusual if you went a day without seeing a whale from May to October. From the lighthouse it is normal to see multiple pods at once. Whales will come closer to the shore in the later months as they head south with their calves. Often they will play in the bay and breach just off the cape, before making their way south at the base of the Cape Byron cliffs.
There are numerous pods of dolphins that inhabit the coast year-round, travelling past the cape in different directions. It’s hard to tell if the dolphins are more interested in the people on boards and kayaks, or the other way around. If you have never seen a dolphin up close in the wild, taking a kayak trip from Clarke’s Beach will give you a great opportunity to do so. There are two companies that run trips twice a day when the weather is favourable.
Perhaps you have heard that there are a few sharks about in these waters as well? The short answer is yes, there are; but there are ways to avoid them. Pick when and where you swim – don’t swim at dawn, dusk or at night. Take off your jewellery and don’t swim or surf alone. Check out a mobile app called ‘Dorsal’ which gives up-to-date information on any sightings. Be shark aware and the chances are minimal that you will have a close encounter with one.
If you want to see a shark up close though, maybe take a dive trip out to Julian Rocks. In winter the grey nurse sharks congregate in the waters around the rocks, presumably to breed. There are plenty of other sea creatures there and this is a very popular dive destination.
If you are now too scared to go into the water, there are plenty of things to do and see around Byron that don’t require salt water. These include world heritage rainforest, luxury resort spas and restaurants, live bands in the local pubs and a multitude of other activities close by.
Did I mention the serenity? Surfers, hippies and the mega-rich can’t all be wrong. Byron is a place that should be on everyone’s bucket list – the problem is you might want to come back again… and again.
Say g’day if you spot me in the surf.