BAY OF PLENTY
THROW AWAY THE OLD GUIDEBOOK AND BYPASS THE BEATEN TRACK TO EXPLORE THE BYRON REGION’S BEATING HEART, WRITES CHANTAY LOGAN
One of the hardest restaurants to get into in Australia is in the unassuming northern NSW coastal village of Brunswick Heads, and one of Byron’s hottest resorts bypasses its traditional heart. Get out of town! No … really … everybody’s doing it. With more tourism operators decentralising, you’ll need a new plan if you want to be in the real heart of the action.
While Byron Bay still serves as the ideal base, the beachside bastion’s newest resort is tucked on the township’s unspoilt outskirts.
Elements of Byron is breaking fresh ground, but it’s in good company, down the road from micro-community The Farm and a stumble from everyone’s favourite brewery Stone & Wood. The resort itself is a sprawling, self-contained oasis of 103 private beach villas dotted amid 22 hectares of absolute beachfront paradise. The individual villas have been designed to reflect the different ecologies on their doorsteps: dunal, rainforest, eucalypt and wetlands.
While they’re kitted out with the latest tech, it’s the freestanding bath that catches my eye over blackbutt timber floors.
I can’t wait to sink into that giant tub, complete with pots of silky, sheeny bath caviar, and not come out again until my fingers and toes are thoroughly wrinkly.
It’s one of many ways to savour doing a whole lot of nothing. Guests can unroll their mats under a pandanus for sunrise yoga.
Cushion-laden lounges, suspended in a shallow section of the lagoon pool, are among a smorgasbord of sun-soaked nooks inviting you to curl up with a good book. They’ll bring the cocktails – and crab-stuffed doughnuts – to you.
While Elements has the polished service and sophisticated dining to give any CBD five-star a run for its money, there’s freedom in being away from the holiday-maker mecca of Main Beach.
You won’t have to fight for a spot to spread a towel on the private beach, where tea-tree-tinted waters run to the ocean and the iconic lighthouse (and its hectic carpark) is just a speck on the horizon.
You can pound along deserted stretches of sand, wind in your mane, on a trail ride with the resort’s neighbouring stable Zephyr Horses.
With no noisy neighbours – just the muffled melody of frogs, night birds and breaking waves – a good night’s sleep is almost guaranteed.
You won’t have to budge from your reverie, with a gorgeous breakfast served by the pool included in the room rate, but you could venture a few minutes down the road to pretty plant-powered eatery Folk for a beetroot, lucuma and maca root latte.
I manage to find some extra room for their organic buckwheat banana hot cakes, with house-made labne, fresh fruit and a drizzle of raw Bundjalung honey and maple.
From there we drove through town to the one traditional tourist trap I’m not ready to give up on: Wategos.
While this stunning natural beauty is at risk of being a victim of its own popularity, the famously protective Byron community has sheltered it from any ill effects.
If you’re lucky enough to snare a park (it’s still unmetered here!), take the treelined trail through Palm Valley, back towards town.
As well as a photo op around every corner, the carrot at the end of this – admittedly not very strenuous – walk is the newly revamped Beach restaurant.
With prime position in the sand dunes, reservations are recommended if you want to savour their famously lingering lunches.
The menu is an interpretation of Italian driven by local produce, epitomised by an elegant serve of Byron Bay burrata with charred broccolini.
Balmain bugs are another highlight, swimming in a divine cultured butter that’s made in very limited batches at The Farm.
You’ll see now why I recommended taking the scenic route.
Once you’ve refuelled, atone for the calories by extending your return trip up to Cape Byron lighthouse.
There’s so much to look at you won’t be counting the steps until you wake up the next morning with mysteriously sore calf muscles. It’s here we come to a crossroads. You can head north to the aforementioned Brunswick Heads, where tiny restaurant and bar Fleet is causing an unprecedented stir in foodie circles.
Wander west to Newrybar – a charming hamlet bypassed by the highway, home to Harvest restaurant, deli and bakery (don’t go home without a sourdough souvenir).
This coin toss will also take you to Bangalow, the charming centre of counter culture. Market day is a must – the next one is on September 25 – and so is coffee at ivy-twined cafe Woods Bangalow.
This Saturday the Bangalow Showground hosts the annual Sample Food Festival. Pack a picnic blanket and indulge in $5 and $10 tasting plates from 28 local restaurants.
But one of my favourite finds lies further to the south, following Broken Head Road as it meanders along the coastline through rainforest to Byron’s laidback neighbour Lennox Heads.
Unexpectedly planted in the middle of the surf “shacks” that skirt Seven Mile Beach, Foam Food + Wine is quietly doing its own thing. With incredible food, wine, service and that strip-of-ocean-blue view, it’s the whole package – like a really goodlooking bloke who doesn’t know it.
After the meal, feast your eyes at Pat Morton Lookout, where you can watch surfers dodging dolphins. This out-of-theway oceanfront perch affords box seats for whale watching … and you won’t have to fight the throngs for a car park.