Byron Bay has become one of the most popular tourist destinations for foreigners and Australians alike. What is it like to actually live in this hyped-up town? Is living in Byron Bay really as magical as everyone says?
Intrigued by the laid-back atmosphere of this small coastal town, I moved to Byron Bay during my travels on a Working Holiday visa. When I later married a Byron Bay local, I ended up living there for longer than initially intended. I have soaked up the Byron Bay lifestyle and explored all the region has to offer.
Byron Bay is situated in the northern part of New South Wales, about 800km north of Sydney and 175km south of Brisbane. Its location just off the Pacific Highway makes Byron Bay easily accessible by car and bus. Greyhound buses stop here a few times a day, heading either north or south. The closest airports are in Ballina and Coolangatta (Gold Coast). If you fly into Brisbane, take one of the shuttle buses (e.g. Byron Easy Bus) that take you straight to Byron Bay.
The area enjoys a subtropical climate with mild winters and hot summers. Distinctive of this climate, rain commonly occurs on summer evenings to cool down the air. Thanks to this combination of sun and rain, we enjoy lush pastures and green landscapes.
With a population of about 9,000 people, Byron Bay is considered a small town. However, the place welcomes around 1.5 million tourists per year. That’s a lot! Locals complain about the crowds causing this once lazy beach town to lose its charm. Not only is it impossible to find a parking spot at certain times of the day, it is also difficult to find a place to live. Everybody wants a piece of it! While it is true that Byron is simply too small for the number of tourists that storm in every peak season, it is unlike any other town in Australia. If you avoid going into town in summer, Byron Bay can be a piece of heaven.
The best bit about living on the coast for me is the beach walks. From Tallows Beach you can dawdle for kilometres all the way to Broken Head, where I have never seen it crazily busy. Another one of my favourites is walking from the Pass to Wategoes, having a coffee break at the blue VW Combi on the way up to the lighthouse, and then rewarding myself with a quick dip into the blue on the way back.
In Byron Bay you can easily fill your days with all kinds of activities. Surfing obviously first comes to mind, as you find good waves for all levels all year round. Yoga is very big as well, with yoga classes popping up everywhere.
To satisfy my sense for adventure on weekends, I occasionally go scuba diving to Julian Rocks, or get a bird’s eye view hang-gliding above the lighthouse and ballooning over the hinterland. If you have an artistic disposition, and even if you think you don’t, Byron Bay is the place for you. Join dancing or painting classes in the industrial estate or do a “crafternoon” with friends. As everybody around you is doing something artsy, it’s easy to get inspired and to unleash your creativity. Why not try something new at the Byron Bay Community Centre? They offer a broad selection of affordable short courses (e.g. on Photography, gardening, etc). The beauty about Byron Bay is that anything goes here!
(By the way, I also try to cram in some work in between if I can;)
After a busy day, I unwind watching the sunset at the Wreck parking lot when the Drum Circle is on. Anyone can join in playing a percussion instrument or dancing to the rhythm. I personally just like to watch and feel the special energy at dusk.
On Sundays, an afternoon session at the Beach Hotel is mandatory. Everyone in the pub is dancing to cover songs of the 70s while overlooking the Main Beach.
Restaurant and Music Scene
With the sun gone, the day doesn’t end here. Even though I enjoy cooking at home, the restaurant scene in Byron Bay is often too tempting. Whatever you feel like for dinner, you will find it on Bay Lane, Jonson, or Fletcher Street. With casual pop-up dinners and new restaurant openings, your taste buds will never get bored.
Being the mecca of music, there is always something going on in Byron Bay. Talented musicians from all over the world busk on Jonson Street or play in cafés. While you get to see free live gigs at The Rails every night, Friday is when it’s really happening there. If you feel like dancing to electronic music, The Northern is your best bet on late weekend nights.
Exploring the Region
Don’t get up late the next morning though, as the stunning countryside is waiting! Driving through hidden hinterland villages, you find a number of waterfalls and waterholes.
Killen Falls and Minyon Falls are my favourites in the region. To get down to the bottom of Minyon Falls, you walk through a stunning rainforest with birds’ twittering coming from the canopy. The view of the water streaming down is worth hopping across the rocks at the end of the trail. By the way, it’s best to go there after rainy days, otherwise you might just see a few water drops.
Another great hike is Mount Warning. I once went there at 4am to see the sun rising over the hinterland. Getting up that early wasn’t the most difficult bit. Hiking up there in the dark surrounded by all kinds of noises in the bush is challenging too. If you can’t make it for sunrise, the view from the mountaintop is breathtaking at any time of the day. Plus it’s nice to actually see the beauty of the forest on the way.
Byron Bay Wildlife
If you look closely, you see wildlife everywhere. I’ve seen most animal species of the area crossing my backyard at some point. Our furry friends wallabies, echidnas, and koalas, as well as snakes and lizards are frequent visitors. Keep calm, most snakes you see slithering around Byron are harmless Carpet Pythons. You don’t only see a diverse range of birds, such as Lorikeets, Rosellas, and Galahs, but also an abundance of fruit bats roaming the air.
From the beach or in the surf, you often see a pod of dolphins or turtles if you’re lucky. Sharks live in these waters too, you just can’t see them. From June to October, humpback whales are passing by the bay closely, as it is located at the most easterly point of Australia. You can spot dozens of them breaching and frolicking in the ocean on your daily beach walk. You’ll never take that for granted!
Housing in Byron
The Byron Bay lifestyle comes at a price. Rents have exploded in the last few years, especially since the Airbnb boom.
For a room in a shared house in town you pay around $200-250 per week.
To rent a 2-bedroom house, it will cost you around $555.
For a 3-bedroom house, the rent will be $715 per week.
And finally to rent a 4-bedroom house: $900
Buying property in Byron Bay has almost become unaffordable for the average person. Rumour has it that wealthy older couples and families from Sydney and Melbourne that move up here are causing this high level of competition on the housing market.
For a 3-bedroom house, prices start around $1,000,000.
For a 4-bedroom house: $1,625,000
You know you’re doing well if you can afford that!
If you don’t mind cycling or driving into town but still want to live close to the beach, the neighbourhoods Suffolk and Sunrise are your best bet. A great alternative is living in the adjacent towns Lennox Head or Brunswick Head. Not only is housing affordable, but also is it quiet and less touristy there. If you’re brave enough to face the crowds, you easily get to Byron in a 10-minute drive. You get the best of both worlds. Byron Bay and its surroundings is definitely worth the hype.