It’s been a while since our last break but with my wife’s hectic season coming up at work we headed off to Byron Bay for an extended weekend. An early flight out of Sydney and we were touching down in Ballina by 9am. I love tiny Australian regional airports.
Passing by green hilled pastures and plantations with a hint of rainforest, Carolina produced her four-page, immaculately planned “Tips Sheet”. We chose a town called Bangalow for breakfast, halfway to our destination.
With weatherboard houses and a fifties-style High Street, the relaxed pace smacks you in the face. Boutiques, cafes and bookshops (most open at 10am) line the street, the textbook recipe for small tourist towns. However, with a school dated back to 1884, the large gaudy red Chinese Restaurant stood out like a sore thumb.
Corner Kitchen was tucked away just off Main St. Despite the drizzle and grey skies it’s a charming little setting. A hut-style shop and two decked, covered verandas outside were walled with British-racing green wooden panel walls and white trim. Copper topped tables and lighting topped it off.
The food was simplicity packed with flavour. My breakie roll with bacon, egg and cheese was good. But the chilli relish took it to another stratosphere. Carolina gave a deep nod of approval to her staple favourite, avocado and feta on toast.
Even the bathroom was a winner. The sanitary dispensary unit was made by Sure Hygiene Services. The company tagline/motto blazoned on the bin? “To be Sure, To be Sure”. Clearly my Irish brethren have a stranglehold over the lucrative sanitary market on the North Coast of NSW.
A 10-minute wander followed, up and down the high street and into a pop-up store in a Queenslander-style house. The $195 tee shirt and $500 Converse sneakers killed the hippy-vibe momentarily.
A short, roadwork-spotted cruise later and we enter Byron Bay. Snaking through town nostalgia washes over me. I verbally and at times internally, relay some of the less savoury sights of the town from a boys footy trip two years earlier.
Set just a five-minute walk away from the action our (Carolina’s) Airbnb find, our home for the weekend waits. A non-descript side gated entrance leads eventually to a private front courtyard. Open the door and you are stepping into a revelation. Welcome to The Chapel.
An open plan ground floor includes a black kitchenette with bronze tile splashback, a restored open metal-wire locker-cum-wardrobe, vintage green couch and cowskin rug sitting on top of a light polished concrete floor.
The exposed brick with bead-draped antlers faces a parallel white wall with mixed-sized Art-Deco mirrors. Oversized wood, bronze, gold and even ceramic Christian crosses adorn the other walls. I get the urge to do a Hail Mary but thankfully snap out of it.
The full glass back wall of light looking onto a plant-filled, high-walled courtyard is draped with huge black curtains. Turn back and climb the raw steel staircase and you are a little closer to heaven; well, the bedroom at least.
Another cross sits ominously above the bed at the pointed nose of The Chapel, as does a stained glass window. Sit up in your throne first thing in the morning and you can gaze out into the distance in a trance.
My first reaction is that I have stepped into a modern, gothic pad in Mexico. The cacti, miniscule and large, dotted around the place sealed the deal for me.
Later Carolina squealed while flicking through October’s edition of Marie Claire; a four page spread, pictures and interview with the owner of the very same loft we are sitting in appeared in front of my face.
After reading the article, owner Taliah Lowry reveals she was looking for New York (my second home) meets relaxed Byron Bay (shows how much I know).
Thursday night’s dinner was an early affair at The Roadhouse. Five minutes out of town at a corner of a road its location is initially unimpressive. The car park is home to a cow’s skull and horns perched on a cross engraved with “Smoking Area”.
The Spanish-vibe turned Mexican (or is that just me?) with some apt background music. We sat at the counter-top looking out of the open shutters that covered two walls. The other two walls housed the pendant light-lit bar, backed with tens of spirit bottles, the other jam-packed with quirky jars of preserved foods.
A lightening quick meal of brussel sprouts with bacon, chunky potato wedges and enchiladas hit the spot. Soon we were hankering for dessert and I destroyed a double-cone of peanut brittle and chocolate gelato at Bella Roma right in the heart of Byron town.
A ridiculously early night meant an early Friday breakfast ten minutes south of Byron at Three Blue Ducks at The Farm. Owned by the guys at TBD in Bronte, Sydney, you enter the large farm site past a flower and furniture shop.
The main building entrance into a huge barn structure houses a bakery counter, pastries, cakes and fresh produce. Seated by an incredibly chirpy staff member, our table on the expansive terrace looked out over the farm, pigs, chickens and all. And in the foreground ladies clutching mats in their active gear walked over to a separate building for a yoga class with a view.
A coffee made with milk from the very cows I am looking at, we both had the baked eggs, laid by the chucks across the terrace. Not content with such deliciousness I wolfed down a lemon meringue tart but still felt pangs of jealousy looking at Carolina’s custard-donut.
Burning off those calories we headed to Cape Byron Lighthouse and the most Eastern point of the Australian coast. Not only can you see sweeping views of the coastline, but also if you are lucky you will see whale migration just off the coast.
As the clouds cleared the sun scorched so we stopped off at Clarkes Beach, east of the main Byron Beach stretch of sand. With barely anyone near us, later I learned it was famous last year for a fatal shark attack, but the deceptively strong waves meant a few cooling down dips were the height of my bravery.
A hop back into town saw us at Miss Margarita for a toasted mind-blowing pulled pork burrito. The cramped space, quirky décor, colourful patterned tiles, rows of tequila bottles and large tins of tomatoes on high shelves screamed Mexico.
This unintentional theme of our short break was not lost on me. So much so did we believe we were back on honeymoon in Tulum that Carolina found herself spontaneous replying “Dos” when asked how many seats we needed.
The inevitable siesta followed. But not after checking out the deep, long and football-pitch flat Tallows Beach. The sound of crashing waves was deafening.
A 20-minute drive south back towards Ballina saw us at Harvest Café in a tiny town called Newrybar. Once again the ethos was organic, ethical, homegrown produce. An open-kitchen, cosy inside lounge with open fire gave way to a tabled veranda.
In the words of Masterchef, the “hero” dish was the lamb. It competes with one of my favourite meals (and restaurants) on record, the lamb at Matt Moran’s Chiswick in Sydney. Washed down with red wine, I could have slid into a rocking chair and fell asleep instantly.
I was soon woken on the drive back home by the multiple people appearing in the road out of the pitch darkness on bikes, without lights or helmets. If this were Sydney you would be carted off in cuffs for missing one of the following; Lycra, helmet, pads, a death wish etc.
A healthy slumber later and still full from the previous night’s feast we hit The Top Shop, at the top of a hilly road 50 metres from our place. A hit with surfers its Caribbean vibe was matched with the textbook Byron Bay fresh foods. A coffee and a huge blueberry muffin with custard inside left me not needing to eat until dinner. While I sat there two thoughts came mind: (1) I have not seen one fish and chip shop yet (2) There are a lot of Americans living and working here.
We returned to Clarke’s Beach and some intense snoozing later was ready to travel out of town again for the best pizza in the region. Not before I did my bit for local breweries and knocked back a couple of Stone & Wood Pacific Ales.
An unrelenting craving for pizza meant a 25-minute drive north for dinner at Milk and Honey in Mullumbimby (famous for the narrow, and steep Mount Chincogan). The wood-fired pizzas were decent, according to those in the know better in Byron. The service on the other hand was fairly tame.
After leisurely checking out on Sunday our final feed was at Folk. Just out of Byron next to a camping site it was textbook Byron. Banana hot cakes, an unbeatable breakfast burrito and coffee in vintage mugs like Grandma’s. The sun was beaming and before we knew it we had spent over an hour in the most relaxed state I had felt for years.
With a few hours to spare we checked out Belongil Beach. Driving up the narrow main street felt like Tulum (Mexico) all over again. A handful of cafes and bars including the laid back, retro Treehouse appeared and a gem of a natural volleyball court.
To the right, crystal clear water, decent waves and a vast white sand, dog-friendly beach. Hours later at Ballina airport I am already scanning Airbnb and in a more optimistic vain, Domain, for our next escape to (at least in my eyes) Australia’s Caribbean.
If you would like me to send you our PDF list of Byron Tips feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – Cheers!