Sunday, June 14, 2009

BYRON BAY

The Pass - a popular surfing area about 15 minutes walk east along the beach from town. There is a car park to the left of camera for people who would prefer to drive - accessed from the Lighthouse road (CLICK TO EXPAND IMAGES).

Byron Bay in far northern coastal NSW is one of the big 3 on the Sydney Cairns travellers’ trail - the others being Fraser Island and Airlie Beach-WhitSunday Islands. Surfers ‘discovered’ Byron in the late 60s - at that stage it was a fishing/meatworks town plus a handful of weekend shacks owned mainly by people from the nearby hinterland town of Lismore. These days it is a trendy holiday place plus a residence for a host of arty poseur types sea-changing from Sydney and Melbourne. But it still attracts surfers, not to mention heaps of backpackers, package and family holiday makers, alternative-lifestylers/neo hippies/ferals, and couples/pensioner/family daytrippers from Brisbane and the Gold Coast. I reckon the main street/pub area up near the beach is the best people watching place in Australia. You also get a good spectrum of bikers, street-machiners, wannabe models, surf groupies, schoolies, Japanese and Euro pretend-surfers, original Australians, dopers, drug dealers, White Shoe Brigade Fast Eddie type developers, whacked-out new-agers attending their 14th hot tub seminar to find one’s inner child, and look at me C-listers who think they are A-list. Good value.

The main town and lighthouse area. Those rocks left of the lighthouse are the eastern most point of continental Australia. The beach to the left of the map extends past Belongil Creek for some 15km to Brunswick Heads. Only the eastern most end of Tallows Beach can be seen in the top right hand of the map. This end of Tallows is also a very good surfing spot. The beach extends south for around 10km to Broken Head and is a great one to ride a bicycle along at anything under half tide. The Julian Rocks can be seen top left - a popular dive location. Byron has several dive operations. (map - Rusty’s Byron Guide)

Main beach in front of the surf club house and the eastern end of the main street. The middle distance becomes Clarke’s Beach and The Pass is at the far end. The lighthouse can be seen above - fantastic views from here.

The Pass. When this place works well it is one of the longer surfboard rides in Australia. Mainly a drop-and-turn shoulder with occasional very fast sections. The highest peak in background is the volcanic plug of Mount Warning. Stunning views from the top, but the 2 times I’ve climbed it cloud set in 5 minutes after I reached the summit.


Update Dec 2013 - the Main/Clarke's/Pass beach area had much less sand due to storm wave attack. Above is the the section between Clarke's and the Pass in background - normally even at high tide it is possible to walk/cycle thru here but above, well short of high tide this was not on. Note wet sand from higher tide levels. 
However there was still sufficient sand at all tides on Main and most of Clarke's for sunbathing, beach activities etc

Wategos Beach is tucked in under the Lighthouse just east of The Pass. There is a nice rainforest/headland track which connects the two (and continues on the other side of the beach up to the Lighthouse). Wategos is millionaires’ beach-house country - when I first started surfing this place you could pick up an old fibro weekender for a song. I didn’t. Sob!

North Town Beach. By walking 150m across the car park from the Main Town Beach you come to this nice section. It becomes Belongil Beach in the near distance and runs right up to Brunswick Heads about 15km north. This shot was taken from the BBQ area of First Sun Caravan Park which is a nice place to pitch a tent, park your campervan or hire a cabin. Not cheap though.

My favourite budget place to stay in Byron is Belongil Beachhouse (I noticed in Dec 2013 it was now calling itself Byron Bay Beach Resort). It is located 30m behind the beach about 10 minutes walk north along the sand from town. Their shutttle bus connects with town too. Pretty good dorms and facililites in a nice garden setting plus doubles and family units. Like all Byron places, charges are not inexpensive.

Clothing-optional North Belongil Beach. This is about 10 minutes further north from Belongil Beachhouse and 20 minutes walk from town. Note that parts of this walk are subject to storm wave erosion and may be hard to pass at high tide without getting wet. The sea entrance to Belongil Creek is about 400m north of this point - most times it is easy to wade or carry a bicycle across and continue another 10km or so.


Update Dec 2013 - like at Main/Clarke's/the Pass beach, Belongil was also more eroded. This is shot from maybe 400m behind the camera in the previous shot - tide was maybe a bit under half but already marginal for cycling past this section of rock wall dumped by the council after a past tropical cyclone (hurricane/typhoon) to protect millionaires' seafront homes. Half an hour later you got wet feet - at full tide water at waist level in front of rocks.
Big debate in Byron - the present council is not prepared to waste rate-payers' funds on further protection-  and more controversially, realizing the impossibility of  holding back the might of a cyclone swell and tidal surge, has forbidden property holders to build further defenses at their own expense.


Not that this has stopped the rich guys spending big money on sand bags. Note the optimist building new seafront home in background (probably better seen if you click-expand shot).

Now we have moved about 10km SOUTH of Byron Bay main to the southern end of Tallows/Suffolk Park Beach/Broken Head beach, at Broken Head itself. A gorgeous long beach. The Lighthouse area at Byron Bay can be seen background far right. Broken Head gets very good surf against the headland this was shot from. There is a caravan park and neat rainforest tracks which go up around the headland to some nice back-beaches further south.The first of these back-beaches is King’s Beach, another clothing-optional place. Just after I took this shot I was confronted by one of the gays who hang here and instructed I couldn’t take pix at a nude beach. I told him it was clothing-optional, not nude, always had been, is part of Broken Head Nature Reserve and the idea of no cameras in a Nature Reserve is farcical, that the beach was a real nice family place before he and his buddies turned it into a gay beat, and that he could stick his made up-rules up his fundament. You may think this a bit harsh, but I have no time for strutting self-righteous peacocks doing their Little Hitler act. Note too I have nothing against gays apart from that small sub-group of PC freaks who are just looking for an excuse to take offence.

King’s Beach can be accessed by a great 500m long rainforest track which descends steeply from a car park 1km along a dirt road which leaves the main Broken Head beach road about 400m from the beach picnic area and winds up into the steep hills of the Nature Reserve for several km (Seven Mile Beach Road). There are several other really nice beaches accessed by tracks down from this road. I love riding my wreck of a beach bike along the length of Tallows Beach from Byron and then up into the hills along this dirt road. Trouble is this particular trip I left it chained to a tree and someone stole it! Hell, you never saw a more disreputable looking mountain bike - perfect for riding on salty, sandy beaches but hardly worth stealing. Particularly as it had a punctured rear tyre at the time.

This is my MY FAVOURITE BEACH ANYWHERE. It is called White Beach and is about 1km further south along the coast from King’s Beach. Accessed from the next car park you come to along the dirt-road (about 2km from King‘s Beach car park) - take the LEFT (northern) branch of the track away from the road. Dont try to rock-hop along the coast - way too difficult and I'm a world champ rock-hopper.
This shot is not too representative - a combination of recent storm wave erosion and a very high tide has left little of the beach - normally it is a stretch of blinding white sand with the water line roughly where that first wave line is about half way across the shot.
(Update Dec 2013 - the beach was even more eroded when I called by latest visit).
The beach is surrounded by steep rainforest clad hills and you often will have it to yourself - with only the occasional surfer, fisherman, nudist and sometimes camper (there is an unofficial camping area just behind the beach). There is quite a big rock pool near the headland at the far end of the beach. Be careful of rip currents when swimming - there is always one at the far end against the rocks and often a few in other sections unless the surf is very small.


For a view of the less eroded beach (but not in all its un-eroded glory) check this  Google Earth image. Notice the smaller twin beaches just to the south - some people like these even more - you can access them from the RIGHT hand branch of the track leading away from the same car-park as White Beach but the climb down is real difficult. Update Dec 2013 - these smaller beaches were non-existent latest trip, admittedly at high tide.

There is a set of short, steep but much easier steps from a small car park about 1 km further south along Seven Mile Beach road to a similar small beach. I didn't get a chance to check its condition latest trip, but I feel it may be have suffered the same fate as the above twin smaller beaches. Maybe even earlier, because it does not show on the Google Earth image I cut the above shot from.

ACCOMMODATION

I think Byron Bay is overpriced these days. $aud35 for a dorm bed (2013) is common and just to pitch a tent at either of the 2 main town beach caravan parks starts at $35 in non peak season. Crikey! But we live in a price economy, trendsetters, and if the market bears these sort of charges they can‘t be wrong...Can they?
Quite a few people sleep in their campervans in the beach car park or at The Pass - the local council are a bunch of green ratbags and in the past used to sic council rangers onto these free campers - but there seems to be few hassles these days. Well, there’s always a row of vans when I go down the beach real early morning.
In my next to last visit instead of paying $70 for a basic double in a backpackers sharing cooking and shower facilities, Lady Tezza and I checked holiday-unit booking sites and got a great little unit with kitchen, living room, bathroom, loft bedroom and full resort facilities in the middle of town and 300m to the beach for $80 - Central Apartments. But you will not get this sort of deal at public or school holiday times or on most weekends.


Byron has over half a dozen backpackers. This is one of the better ones, Cape Byron YHA, one block from the main street and 3 from the beach. Good facilities including a pool and a dive outfit front right. There is a very similar in style and name Byron Bay YHA another 2 blocks from the beach but only 2 minutes walk from the big Woolworths Supermarket and the intercity bus-stop. All the backpacker joints send minibuses to meet arriving coaches.
Update Dec 2013 - I spent a few nights latest visit in the above joint. Pretty okay place in a good position. Friendly mangagement/staff, nice atmosphere. Biggest hassle was parking - the joint only has 7 spaces in its basement car park (very tight access too) and the council has imposed 4 hour parking limits in the surrounding streets. The similar joint 3 blocks further to the left on this road has fewer problems in this regard. Now in the past backpackers came in by bus - well a hell of a lot still do, but an increasing amount travel by car.

A real trendy place to stay is about 15 minutes walk north-west from town central - The Arts Factory. This has wigwams, accommodation in an old bus, tents around a kind of canal/lake, plus the more normal dorm-room section seen below. You can do all sorts of new-age courses and treatments here and the place tends to be the hang of wannabe hippies. Lots of people find this a bit pretentious, but I don’t mind people bunging on a bit of side providing they don’t take themselves too seriously. If that sort of thing floats your boat, go for it. The associated Arts Factory cinema shows first issue movies and is good for a visit with lie-low type canvas seats. There is a frequent shuttle bus into town and to the beach.

OTHER ACTIVITIES
Besides surfing, hanging on the beach, checking the viewpoints and walks around the Lighthouse, walking or cycling the long long beaches and exploring neat places like Broken Head Nature Reserve you can dive, do learn to surf courses, hanglide off the highest point near the lighthouse, do all manner of new-age therapies and treatments, play golf, take joy flights, tandem parachute jumps, nature and hippy-spotting trips into the hinterland including the infamous Nimbin and shop/eat/booze til you drop in the neat lively main street precinct which has all sorts of places set up to service the trendy types and others who flock to the place. The Beach Pub and Railway Pub are great people watching places and those plus The Great Western usually have a good band or two between them - particularly the Railway Pub.


  Streetside at the Beach Pub - park and beach across street to right, Olympic pool for keen lap swimmers just out of frame background right. Note the cool Tezza fold-up bike in foreground - just the thing for hauling out of the car boot and fanging the beaches. Favourite Tezza spot perche on bar stool against partition wall under tree in mid background checking the scene while sipping a beer or three - if you ever see a retrograde in bush hat, board shorts, long sleeved shirt, with a beard a cross between Saddam Hussein and serial killer Ivan Milat, say hi and buy me a beer.

WHEN TO GO

Byron is primarily a beach destination. Being in far northern NSW many people think you get good beach weather all year. I personally reckon June, July and early August can be marginal temperature wise - and this applies to any place south of Fraser Island in southern Queensland about 200km north of Brisbane. At the same time if my extended trip had no choice but these times, I’d stop in, but maybe just a day or two.


GETTING THERE
Just about all the Brisbane-Sydney buses divert in from the highway. Google for Greyhound-Mc Cafferty’s and Premier. Sydney is about 12 hours - Brisbane 2.5.

The nearest airport is Ballina about half an hour away. Coolangatta on the Gold Coast has more and cheaper flights - about one hour. Brisbane is the nearest multi-international airport - about 2.5 hours (a few international flights come into Coolangatta). All are connected to Byron by shuttle buses - byron easyBus and BRISBANE 2 BYRON - these also pick up at accommodation places in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.
Despite the fact that a rail line splits town and the single crossing tangles traffic like crazy, the nearest passenger service is to Casino, about 1.5 hours away. Railway buses connect with Byron.
Blanchs Buses is the local Byron service with a route stretching from hinterland towns north of Byron to Ballina 30km south. You can get pretty close to Broken Head by catching a Suffolk Park service and walking along the beach for 15 minutes. Lennox Head, a good surfing and beach resort town with a nice uncrowded backpackers is on the Ballina run. I notice from Blanch's timetable they now have a Ballina Airport connection.

A good Byron and district site.

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If you have extra info or see mistakes, please post them below. If you have questions, please post them on THE FORUM, which can be accessed about three quarters the way down the INDEX. I check the forum most days when not travelling, but not individual location pages like this one.

12 comments:

Richard said...

Great wrap-up of Byron beaches - but for your sake and the sake of Broken Head Nature Reserve, please don't camp at Whites Beach, because:
* You can get busted by a park ranger
* There are no toilet facilities
* The vegetation near the beach is being replanted by a volunteer bush regen crew.

tezza said...

Good info Richard. Thanks.

bear said...

Thanks for the link to our site In Byron Bay Today. Much appreciated.
Cheers
Ben

Daniel said...

Thanks a lot for all info (seems that Byron Bay is my style), got to you at the forum. I could see that you know a lot about Australia...I just got here (Sydney)and I'm kind of lost with so many places to go. I'm visiting a friend (I'm from Brazil) and I plan to stay in Sydney untill wednesday sept 30 and after that go somewhere else. I'm travelling alone and want to know some main places...with different styles, love the beach but I want to go to the desert also(is it worth it going to Melbourne for example?). Don't mind staying at hostels, but I'd pay a little more for some comfort. I'm not in the mood for partying every night, but it would be nice to mix some quiet nature style places with some others with good bars and pubs, since I really enjoy a good beer in a place with nice people. Don't want to drive and count on flying at least two times to save some time at the road (but if a bus is worth for some stops, would do it...)I go back to Brazil Oct 16. Thanks a lot for your time and sorry if it's too much writing here!

ovelhadog said...

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ronald eddy said...

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funkystyle said...

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