Hippies hanging with yuppies. Foodies swapping café tips with surfies. Yuppie hippies. Foodie surfies. Nailing the vibe of the town affectionately shortened to “Byron” is a bit like looking through a market-stall kaleidoscope: long, dreamy beaches, thongs on sandy feet, lush, rolling pastures, elaborate weekenders, weather-worn surf shacks, dreadlocked minstrels with battered guitar cases open at their feet, holistic healers, polo-shirted investment bankers, fields of sunflowers, gourmet food, muddy pigs and free-range chickens. And, on weekends and peak holiday times, a conga line of brake lights as cars sit bumper to bumper waiting to get a piece of this holiday mecca, a 45-minute drive south of the Queensland border.
But there is a way to escape the madness. Five minutes south of Byron Bay township, The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa lets you breathe in the peace of the rainforest in which it sits while being close enough to town to remind you why you chose to visit this melting pot in the first place.
Looking from reception, across the infinity pool to the rainforest, there’s no clue that 92 guest suites are hidden in there. The 6-metre-wide deck beside the pool is lined with lounge chairs – ideal for sundowners, surfing the net (there’s free wi-fi) or people-watching from behind your sunnies (Pat Rafter was doing laps when we were there. Just saying). The resort offers three shuttle bus services a day to the always-colourful Byron Bay township, five-minutes drive down the road.
The peace, man
With suites dotted throughout the rainforest, there’s a sense of isolation even with neighbours upstairs and next-door. All suites – standard, superior and deluxe spa – are 65 square metres with screened balconies front and rear. All have king beds, an L-shaped sofa, deep baths, and sliding Japanese-style blonde-wood screens to separate the bedroom from the lounge – or not. (Deluxe spa suites are quieter and closer to the beach, but a 10-minute walk to the restaurant, pool and reception.)
With a menu that draws heavily on botanicals, the day spa is a sophisticated (and pricier) nod to its north coast hippy location minus the patchouli oil and therapists hell bent on realigning your chakras. For a truly sublime Byron Bay experience, try the Elements of Nature, a 90-minute couples massage that takes place under a netted pergola beside a lotus pond a few hundred metres, via a boardwalk, into the rainforest. The last thing you’ll hear before dozing off is trilling crickets and the crack of whip birds.
Everything head chef Gavin Hughes plates up here has been grown, produced or lovingly nurtured within a radius of 50 kilometres. You can sit indoors or on the deck and while dishes such as Bangalow sweet pork and duck breast terrine with black garlic thyme, Nimbin pecans, remoulade, and pickled plum vinaigrette might suggest a stuffy fine diner, the restaurant is as unpretentious as every other aspect of the resort (the chocolate on your pillow is not a Swiss delicacy, it’s a Caramello Koala). On Thursday mornings, Hughes takes a group of guests to the Byron Farmers’ Market where he buys ingredients for that night’s special Market Dinner (and growers explain the merits of organic farming). Hughes urges guests to pick up some local produce before they re-board the bus. He’s been known to check bags. It’s all good fun.
You don’t have to be celebrity to get a rockstar greeting. Guest relations managers Chrissy and Carola care about every one of their guests – like, really care. Don’t be surprised if they sidle up while you’re having a cocktail to see how you’re going, what you may need, and how they can help. It’s not procedure; it’s just very… Byron.
Hire a bike or some golf clubs (there’s an 18-hole course across the road), have a hit of tennis, or take a walk through the rainforest (the resort has 2km of boardwalks). Every morning at 8 o’clock there’s a free yoga class on the deck. When it’s just too humid to burn your calories outdoors (assuming you’ve succumbed to the creations of the resort’s talented pastry chefs), the gym is well equipped with treadmills, rowing machines and weights.