The town of Byron Bay, Australia’s easternmost town on the far north coast of New South Wales, is anything but a big city. The town itself has a permanent population of only about five thousand and the entire shire has a permanent population of only around 30,000. While Byron Bay locals may be small in number, they are big on hospitality, hosting over 1.5 million visitors per year.
The massive popularity of Byron Bay is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until the late 60s, it was just a peaceful country town whose only claim to fame was as the largest producer of dairy products in the Southern Hemisphere. Back then, the only tourists were the surfers who came there to ride the “secret spot” known only as The Pass. The Pass didn’t remain a secret for very long, though and when the Flower Children heard about Byron Bay from the Soul Surfers who discovered it, it quickly developed into a haven for the seventies’ alternative lifestyle community.
These enterprising new arrivals started many of Byron Bay’s first tourist oriented businesses. They opened surf shops, gift shops, galleries, arts and crafts shops, cafes and, most importantly, backpackers’ resorts. Word spread about Byron Bay largely by word of mouth and by the early eighties, it was on every young globetrotter’s “must see” list. Attracted by the laid-back lifestyle, the spectacular beaches and the magnificent surrounding countryside, they came in droves.
1990 marked a turning point and challenge for Byron Bay. That was the year the first “BluesFest” music festival took place at the Arts Factory. Even the organizers of the event had no idea how popular it would become. It quickly outgrew its original venue, but continues to this day, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world every year.
Byron Bay’s new-found prosperity led to further development, but it has always been kept in check by the locals’ fierce determination to keep it from becoming another highrise resort town like Surfers Paradise. Their efforts have largely paid off and to this day, Byron Bay somehow manages to retain its unique atmosphere and yet still cater to the millions of visitors who flock there every year.
Byron Shire is more than you see from Lawson or Jonson Streets, the main streets in town and the centres of the tourist activities. Take a stroll out to the world famous Byron Bay Lighthouse and, after you’ve feasted your eyes on the glittering Tasman Sea from Australia’s easternmost tip, turn around and look to the verdant hills behind the city. Tucked away in the hills are many fascinating towns and villages, all of which can be easily visited by car or shuttle bus.
Main street in Byron Bay
Although Byron Bay also caters to families and well-heeled travellers looking for luxury resorts and five star cuisine, it still retains the best of its alternative lifestyle appeal. Whether you choose a backpackers lodge or a luxurious resort as your Byron Bay accommodation, it will be designed with your comfort and minimal environmental impact in mind. The grounds will be beautifully landscaped with native flora and the atmosphere will be wonderfully relaxing. Byron Bay is almost synonymous with laid back, so soak it up as long as you can.