Byron Bay: The hidden gems

Head to the fringes and discover tranquil beaches, cool swimming holes and off-centre cafes, writes Simone Ziaziaris.
Ballina's Lighthouse Beach, poles apart from Byron's crowded beaches. Photo / Ballina Tourism
Ballina's Lighthouse Beach, poles apart from Byron's crowded beaches. Photo / Ballina Tourism

Over the years travellers have gradually stopped visiting Byron Bay, once one of Australia's best known holiday destinations.

The beachside town has become over-run with drunks and hippie try-hards and is perfumed with a lingering stench of vomit.

But, though many are quick to say no to the once peaceful holiday spot, Byron's outskirts hide some of New South Wales' most precious and undiscovered gems.

There are dozens of beautiful nooks and crannies on the state's north coast that aren't tainted with the dramas of Byron Bay. Thinking of avoiding the area? Think again ...


One of the main attractions of Byron is its beaches. But, it is difficult to sit back and relax on overcrowded sands with the constant fear of being hit by a beach volleyball. I arrived at Ballina's Lighthouse Beach in peak sunbathing time to find the beach merely speckled with visitors. With a modern kiosk on the border of the beach and freshly cleaned toilets, the beach was the perfect alternative to Byron's busy waters.


Only a 20-minute drive from the core of Byron (the street of cliche hippie-wear), Killen Falls is flooded with tranquillity. The rhythm of the waterfall can be heard from the top of the short path down to the lake. Entangled in bushland and made of hardened layers of mud, the footway leads to a pool shaped like a dinner bowl and, before long, the tip of the toes are splashed with icy-fresh water. It's quiet and there are only a handful of people, the real locals, who have packed a picnic basket full of goodies to lounge about at the falls for the day.


With a new cafe opening every five minutes in Byron, it is difficult to discover new and exotic flavours. But a slight turn off the main highway will land you in a blissful kitchen that tickles even the most experienced of tastebuds. With a small yet perfect menu mixing breakfast classics with exotic flavours, Folk had me drooling from the get-go. While a banana, turmeric and tahini smoothie may not be the typical mix, the blend of spices paired with a surprising bundle of cocoa nibs at the base of the jar has certainly become a keep-safe recipe.


Amid the trees of Byron's east, this groovy restaurant, filled with leather loungers and the lingering smell of woodfired pizza, was a treat for all five senses. I was treated to the subtle beat and effortlessly cool voice of musician Christian Patey. The one-man band fused electric guitar, synths and drums together to illuminate the venue with feel-good vibes. What's more, I am certain Patey is set to be Australia's next Chet Faker.


In the town of Lismore lies this hidden gem, home to some of the most nostalgic clothing, homeware and interesting oddities of the 60s and 70s. Roaming around the vintage store for only 15 minutes, I had already gathered a dainty burnt-orange clutch, couch pillows perfectly reflective of the 70s, an original Akubra hat and sunflower teacups with the words Dumb and Ass written across the pair. From recycled Tommy Hilfiger to a bright orange and daisy covered lasagne tray, this store has you covered.


A childhood favourite, the southern headland lookout is the perfect seat to spot dolphins weaving through the waves; to have a picnic or simply have a break for a breath of fresh air.

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