While driving from the Ballina airport to Byron Bay, New South Wales, I came across two things I’d never seen before. The first was a “Watch Out: Koalas Spotted” sign. The second was a police station covered with rainbow banners and flying a Progress flag.
While in Sydney for WorldPride, I, a few fellow journalists and content creators took a trip to Byron Bay, located on Australia’s famed Golden Coast. A quick 90-minute flight from Sydney, Byron Bay is the place to be fun in the sun, surf and welcoming vibes.
A lush landscape bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Byron Bay has had many identities over the years. Located on the unceded Bundjalung Nation of the Arakwal land, the Bay has been a logging and mining town, agricultural center, and a destination for serious surfers since the 1960s. A laid-back charm, pristine powder-soft beaches and abundant wildlife (think whales, dolphins and wallabies) make Byron Bay a popular destination for Australian travelers and international visitors.
How to get there
The Ballina Byron Gateway Airport is the easiest way to get to Byron Bay. There are daily flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle to the small airport, which is about 35 km (20 miles) outside of Byron Bay. Visitors can also fly into Brisbane Airport and drive the 170 km (105 miles) to Byron Bay.
Where to stay
Byron Bay has plentiful options for visitors of all kinds, from solo travelers to groups and families. Be aware that late December through January is prime vacation time in Australia, so prices and availability may be subject to change.
For a luxury experience, check out Elements of Byron Bay. Tucked away in a tropical forest setting, Elements offers individual villas for guests. Book a spot by the ocean or closer to the amenities like the adults-only pool with a swim-up bar. A world-class spa, horse ranch and walking trails through rainforests and wetlands are also available for guests to experience. Grab dinner at the on-site Azure Bar and Grill or head into town for a bite.
Villas range in price from $450-$1900 a night.
In the center of town, you’ll find Waves Byron Bay. This boutique hotel is a short walk from the beach and perfect for couples or families who want to be close to it all. Beach equipment and towels are part of the package, so you don’t have to worry about anything. Ideal for those looking for a prime location on a mid-size budget. Rates start at $220 a night.
If you are looking for more of a “clean place to rest my head” sort of deal, Glenn Villa Resort is a solid option. Book one of the quirky Beach Huts starting at $80 a night or Classic Studio for $125 a night.
What to do
Outdoorsy types will have no shortage of activities to experience in Byron Bay.
Kayaking in the Bay is a popular activity and rentals are plentiful. If you are new to kayaking, book a session with Cape Byron Kayaks, where experienced guides will lead you on an adventure. You may even see dolphins or sea turtles on your ride. And don’t stress about being a newbie. This reporter had never kayaked before, and while I did end up getting knocked off, the guides ensured I stayed calm and got me back up and paddling in no time.
If you prefer to stay on land, stroll along the many miles of beaches or hike to the Cape Byron Lighthouse. The Lighthouse Trail will take hikers up the coast, through wooded areas, and to the historic lighthouse, built in 1901 and has been in operation ever since. Wear good shoes and prepare for steep stairs. Once hikers reach the Lighthouse, the Cape Byron Lighthouse Cafe offers light snacks, fresh juices and coffee.
Animal lovers may want to check out Zephyr Horses and book a ride along the beach, through the forest or even to brunch. Yes, brunch. No experience with horses is necessary to ride.
Just 9 km (5 miles) from Byron Bay is Kings Beach in Broken Head. This unofficially clothing-optional beach is a popular spot with queer adult beachgoers. When you are done sunbathing and dressed, you can trek around Broken Head Nature Reserve or do some whale watching.
No queer-friendly destination would be complete without a theater. The Byron Centre offers films, concerts, comedy and live productions. Visitors to Byron Bay this month can catch “RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under” finalist Karen From Finance’s one-woman show.
Where to dine and drink
Whether you need to load up on avocado toast and coffee before hitting the waves or want an evening full of fine dining and cocktails, you’ll find it in Byron Bay. Being situated in one of Australia’s largest growing regions, fresh fruits and vegetables are ample here. In fact, 90% of the produce found in grocery stores and restaurants in Australia is grown there. Plant-based eating is common here, but there’s plenty for omnivores and carnivores to enjoy, too.
Tucked away amongst the floral of the Australian coast is Folk, a plant-based eatery serving “brekky” and lunch to hungry locals and tourists. Like many Australian spots, avocado toast is indeed on the menu, as are organic Buckwheat Banana Hotcakes served with rosewater labneh and Tahini and Citrus Granola.
Originally a milk bar (think local gathering spot for burgers and quick lunch items) in the 1950s, Top Shop still serves up breakfast and lunch, but with a modern feel. Grab burgers or have breakfast with the sunrise. Top Shop opens at 6:30 a.m. for early risers and those with excursions planned in the morning.
Vegetarians and vegans will delight at Byron Bay General Store with dishes like Chiil Thai Scrambled Tofu and Truffled Mushroom Toast. The restaurant is located in what was once Byron Bay’s actual general store, built in 1947. It’s since been expanded to fit the demand, but it still serves as a gathering place for the community.
Bang Bang is one of the hot spots for nightlife in Byron Bay. Serving a menu of Asian fusion, bowls of rich curries and Sticky Pork Belly are just a few of the stars on the menu. Thoughtfully crafted cocktails combine Asian ingredients with fine spirits, and a wine list offers Australian and New Zealand wines along with other international options.
For a chill vibe, go where the surfers go! Woody’s Surf Shack is inspired by 60s and 70s surfer vibes, complete with live music, dancing, billiards and more. Visitors who want to party the night away will want to check out Woody’s–they are open until 3 a.m.
No beach town is complete without an ice cream shop. Family-owned In The Pink Gelato is scratch-making creamy delights like Lemon Cheesecake and Mango Macadamia.
There’s much to love about Byron Bay. If you are looking for a laid-back vacation spot where the LGBTQ+ community is more than welcome, grab your sunnies and head up the Gold Coast. Check out Destination New South Wales for more info.