Byron Bay: where hinterland meets hedonism


Byron Bay: where hinterland meets hedonism

There’s more to Byron than beach discovers Hannah Dace, during a week-long spell in Australia’s most easterly point

Hannah Dace

BY Hannah Dace17 January 2024

Life in Byron is uncomplicated. Uncomplicated, but sprinkled with an ineffable magic, like your favourite cupcake. It’s barefoot beach meditation, sparkling sunrises, flawless crescents of sand. There’s bullet-strong coffees, and even stronger margaritas. And that’s just the coast – the lesser-known hinterland is another flavour altogether.

Couple in pool, man swimming. Watermelon and cocktail on side of pool

Byron Shire – the area encapsulating both the beach town and the hinterland – is an alluring paradox. Coastal Byron town is flagged by a lighthouse to the east and a creek to the west. It’s small and sociable – locals swim, run and stretch from first light. It’s a town with surf, smoothies and the eighties motel-inspired Sunseeker, where we base ourselves at the tail end of our trip. Up in the Byron hinterland, though, there’s a slower pace and a quieter crowd: here are hippie towns, hiking boots and untrodden hills. And it’s here that we start our week-long stay, bedding down at the inimitable Blackbird Byron.


Blackbird Byron

Byron’s heritage leans famously towards healing and mysticism, and when we arrive at Blackbird Byron, the sceptic in me is rebutted, the air an immediate tonic. Each of the cocooning cabins faces east, framing first light over the Cape Byron coastline. We wake for sunrise on our first morning, and as the mist dispels it’s the soothing sounds of birdsong and the scent of smoky earth that linger. 

View from bed to Byron Hinterland, hotel room balcony and view from Blackbird Byron

We retreat – albeit fleetingly – to our fluffy bed, peering out through the sheets at planks of sun that filter through the drapes. It’s time for coffee and breakfast in the main barn, which sits slightly higher up the hillside. It’s so remote here: the former banana farm and its magnesium mineral pool appear to have been dropped on the mound like a moon landing. And with just a handful of rooms, and a handful of hosts, everything is intimate: the small team here are entirely focused on making your stay just so. 

That includes the resident chef, who serves communal meals by the open kitchen. Cuisines change depending on the day but you can be certain that all meals are laden with fresh herbs, greens and locally-sourced goodness.

Pool and view at Blackbird Byron. Blue pool with green jungle and coastline in distance

After a leisurely morning we make tracks to the nearby towns. The roads here wind over the hills like ribbons – we stop first in Mullumbimby, known for its alternative lifestyle and antique shopping. Bangalow is slightly further afield and like a scene from a Western: low-rise eateries are framed by wooden porches, cactus plants and palm trees. There’s plenty of places to eat; we opted for salads and smoothies from Pantry 29 before a browse of the vintage shops.

In late afternoon we make for Brunswick Heads, and the day draws to a close with a golden sunset. There’s much we didn’t manage to do: swimming in the Brunswick River, hiking the rugged Nightcap National Park and exploring the region’s secret waterfalls. But with a late-summer sky this unblemished, I’m all for remaining horizontal.


The Sunseeker

This being Byron Bay, the beaches are exceptional. There’s the Pass, Belongil and Wategos (great for beginners with its gentler waves and softer swell). And there’s really no better place to station yourself than the Sunseeker, just outside of the main thrum of town.

Tiki bar with pineapples at The Sunseeker Byron Bay

The motto here is ‘holiday often’ – something we’re certainly behind – but we’d add that it’s important to holiday well, which comes naturally here thanks to the curvaceous rust-red pool and squishy loungers, tiki-brutalist bar, and old-school coffee cart (where a snoozy Golden Retriever named Winston stands guard). Rooms reflect the golden tones of the weather outside – there’s burnt-orange accents, hand-woven textures and sunshine-infused pops of locally-made art, on a base of polished concrete floors, lofty timber trusses, arched windows and terrazzo tiling. In a town where community matters, it’s only natural that the furnishings, art and architecture reflect the work of the Northern Rivers creatives.

Bungalow bedroom with white bedding and duvet, window looking to garden and rattan lamp

We’re bedding down in one of a cluster of bungalows. Each is equipped with a kitchen, lounge, patio, hammock, alfresco bath tub and barbecue deck, plus room for four to sleep. There’s a rack at the front for your surfboard (the hotel has plenty available to borrow for free), such is the allure of this shoreside town.

There’s plenty else to do, see and eat though: we loved Oakberry for breakfasts, Miss Margarita for drinks, Bang Bang for dinner, and the Bay Grocer for provisions. Head to Top Shop’s picnic lawn for coffee, brunch and burgers, then walk to Tallow Beach – a quiet stretch of powder-white sand. And catch sunrise at Wategos, where you’ll find locals meditating, sun saluting or surfing as the sea mist whips up – as if waving good morning – to meet the sky.

Pool and bar at Sunseeker Byron Bar with red tiling, blue sky and trees

It’s exhilarating, somehow, to be somewhere that finds so much joy in the little things: the quiet moments and the in-betweens. Be that a hike to the lighthouse, a successful vintage find, or a hit of Australian caffeine. It could be a ‘g’day’ as you walk into town, or the split-second high of riding your first tiny wave. 

But that’s the thing about cupcakes: they’re personal, made just for one. So find your flavour – hinterland, beach, or both – and sprinkle your own Byron magic on top.

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All photography by the author