BAY OF PLENTY

THROW AWAY THE OLD GUIDE­BOOK AND BY­PASS THE BEATEN TRACK TO EX­PLORE THE BY­RON RE­GION’S BEAT­ING HEART, WRITES CHANTAY LO­GAN

Townsville Bulletin - Townsville Eye - - Escape -

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.

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