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Touring Byron BaySeptember 17, 2010 By: Jena Tesse Fox
Once Corroboree was over, I headed back to Brisbane from Hamilton Island via JetStar. (Leaving the island is a lot harder than you’d think. The planes and ferries make it very convenient, of course, but you just imagine saying goodbye to that crystal water and all those palm fronds. They had to drag me away to the plane. It wasn't pretty.) I was met at the airport by Holly Galbraith, the sales and marketing manager of the Byron at Byron, who drove me down to the resort. (Yes, I instinctively went to get in on the wrong side of the car. Several times. Old habits die hard.) As she drove, Holly told me about the area. While the neighboring Gold Coast is highly developed, she explained, Byron Bay is more rugged and casual—a popular spot for Australians to relax, but not so much for the international market.
The resort itself seems small at first glance: The buildings are hidden by the foliage (it is set in a semi-rainforest), so it is difficult to see them all at once. In fact, the resort stretches so far out into the woods that golf carts are frequently used to help guests get from place to place. The reception area is partially open to the elements, giving it a light, airy and decidedly spacious feeling. The pool is just off the patio (yoga sessions are held nearby every morning—complimentary for guests), and the restaurant overlooks the trees and the water. (The curry fish was amazing, as was the chicken and pasta.) Head Chef Gavin Hughes has agreements with local farmers, so all of the food is very fresh, and guests can accompany Hughes to the farmer’s market on Thursday morning to help select produce.
The resort can also claim a few celebrity guests—Holly didn't want to name names, but think of a certain Oscar-winning Australian actress married to a certain rock star and you'll get an idea of who Byron at Byron attracts.
After dinner, I was driven by golf cart deep into the rainforest, which is eerily quiet at night. My spa room in the Cypress building was wonderfully spacious, with sliding shoji-style doors to control light in between the living room, bathroom and bedroom. The suite had a proper kitchen for long-term guests (and even a washer/drier combo), and the bathroom was just exquisite. The bathtub was the size of a small pool, and the shower had a little bench as well as windows overlooking the front porch. Oh, yes, the front porch: Each suite has a screened-in front and back porch where guests can relax in open air without worrying about any rainforest critters. Even better: Wi-Fi throughout the resort is complimentary.
The next morning, I met up with Jessica McClean of Northern Rivers Tourism for a kayaking expedition out into Byron Bay with Cape Byron Kayaks. Naturally, I couldn’t bring my camera out into the ocean, but I’ll just say that short, stocky girls should never attempt to wear wetsuits (so unflattering!), and that kayaking is lots of fun…or as they say here, “heaps” of fun. We saw several dolphins splashing about and even a shark exploring the reef, and enjoyed tea, coffee and Tim-Tams (a local cookie that should be a worldwide phenomenon) on the beach. Fair warning: Kayaking is serious exercise, and while it’s very exciting and a wonderful way to spend a few hours in Byron, your less athletic clients should be aware of how winded they’ll be afterwards. (Winded, but exhilarated.)
Once we’d worked up an appetite, Jess and I headed over to Byron Beach Café, which specializes in very fresh local food that’s meant for sharing. (The café’s juice bar is also an experience. Cranberry mint? Orange ginger? Why not?!) The views of the beach are also spectacular (request a seat on the back porch if possible), and the café is apparently a very popular spot for weddings.
We hiked up to the lighthouse at Byron Bay and to the easternmost point of the Australian mainland before driving down the New Tweed Coast to Mantra on Salt Beach, part of a sprawling complex (Salt Village) with some lovely one-bedroom suites (and amazing balconies with even more amazing views). I met up with a group of agents on a fam (along with Irene Morgan of Tourism New South Wales) for dinner at Peppers Resort, one of the hotels in the complex—the restaurant is not currently open to the public, but when it is, book a table for your clients on the pool deck. They’ll love it.