Sometimes you hear a word you’ve never really encountered before then suddenly you’re hearing it constantly. I experience this phenomenon in Byron Bay and the word is “modality”. It can be preceded by “healing” or maybe “meditation” but it always pertains to my spiritual and/or physical wellbeing. I hear it so often that I suggest you add it to your vocabulary before visiting this idyllic beach town on NSW’s North Coast.
Between Hemsworths, murfers (that’s mums who surf – a distinct local subspecies) and an influx of wealthy entrepreneurs, Byron has emerged as the wellness capital of Australia – if not the world. But long before the digital-detoxers, New-Agers and backpackers arrived, ByronBay was a place where the Indigenous Bundjalung people lived and congregated; they call it Cavanbah or “meeting place”. The rich volcanic soil, dense rainforests, protected bays and coastal heathlands provided an abundance of food as well as spiritual sites that are still significant today. Byron remains a gathering place for a transitory community of holiday-makers, travellers and seekers. Arrive a tightly wound ball of quotidian woes and let its beauty and attitude and those healing modalities do their thing. Leave fully and even, perhaps, on a brandnew leg of your life journey. Here’s how.
Where to stay
Elements of Byron
Wellness with a side of pizza? It’s admissible, especially when the pizza is made with sourdough fermented for 72 hours and you’re booked in for the five-day Elements of Wellness program at Elements of Byron. The retreat has direct access to Belongil Beach, two pools, an onsite horse ranch and dining options such as the aforementioned pizza at Azure Bar and Grill and fresh Mexican fare from Summer Salt Bar. Add beachside yoga, group fitness classes, guided rainforest walks and the option of Bare Blends smoothies and treatments at Osprey Spa as part of the wellness program. The schedule isn’t rigid; you can choose to do a yoga session one morning and head to a workout the next. Spend evenings exploring the Byron scene then retire with a kombucha and soak in your private bathhouse, leaving the windows wide open to hear the sweet sound of wallum froglets harmonising in the lagoon. It’s wellness as you like it.
You can arrive at Soma without realising you’ve arrived at Soma. There’s no signage, just a dirt road leading to a contemporary glassand-steel structure with shoes piled outside the door. It looks like the private residence of a nouveau Byronite – someone who has exquisite taste and a penchant for entertaining. As you turn to leave the cool, calm surroundings before you get caught, someone in bare feet will quietly welcome you to Soma and issue a key to one of the suites. “Dinner’s at 6.30,” they’ll add before leaving in a similarly ethereal fashion. Check-in complete.
The retreat is the brainchild of Gary Gorrow, a Vedic meditation practitioner whose techniques have helped the wealthy and well connected find their inner peace. Gorrow dreamt of a place to regroup, eat wholesome food and meditate. When he found 20 gloriously wild hectares in the Byron hinterland, he built – with the help of investor Peter Ostick – a remarkable sanctuary that feels remote but is just 10 minutes drive from the centre of town.
Guests – some Zen zealots, others close to burnout – make themselves at home, reading in comfy chairs, snoozing on sun lounges or swimming in the infinity pool. In the evenings, they gather around the seven-metre-long dining table for Ayurvedic meals. Byron Bay’s newest wellness getaway offers four intensity levels. Soma 1: Reset suits a laid-back stay, with daily yoga in a see-through geodesic yoga dome amid the rainforest, one night’s dinner and a Kahuna massage. Soma IV: Re-Design, meanwhile, is a rigorous seven-day program that involves one-on-one sessions with Gorrow, digital detox, breathwork and cleansing therapies – this one is for the hardcore. The property is also available for hire but only to groups hosting their own wellness retreats (read: no parties).
Gaia Retreat & Spa
The best of Byron wellness is right here at the 15-year-old haven – co-owned by Olivia Newton-John – that remains the gold standard. Greet the day with yoga at the lofty Samira Lookout, dine on nutritious dishes created from local produce and spend hours being pampered at the spa. Choose from 10 different packages, including the threenight Renew program, which covers a wellness consultation, all meals and snacks, daily 90-minute yoga sessions and a relaxation massage.
Byron at Byron
A deep breath of clean rainforest air is an excellent way to begin a restorative escape. Take it a step further at Byron at Byron with shinrin yoku or “forest bathing”. This Japanese tradition is believed to rejuvenate and replenish, especially for those of us whose only connection to nature is watering pot plants. Here, it’s an exercise in mindfulness: wander the 18 hectares of subtropical rainforest, meditate then finish with a tea ceremony. To use a local word that’s as common as modality, Byron at Byron is on a “journey”. The property, situated about 10 minutes from town in Suffolk Park, was once a pleasure garden complete with lotus-filled lakes and pedal boats. Now, the land has been returned to its natural state and the resort’s delights revolve around a luxurious spa, elegant infinity pool, daily yoga sessions and the lush green forest run through by Tallow Creek.
SEE ALSO: The Best Things to Do in Byron Bay
Things to do
Workout at Bende
“Just four more!” Bec calls as she lunges energetically up and down. Your thighs are burning and your mind is screaming, “No, Bec! No more!” Bende is a small fitness studio in Byron’s Habitat development with a schedule of next-level workouts, such as barre and reformer Pilates, guaranteed to sculpt lean muscles. It could be the playlist of dance bangers, the enthusiasm of the instructors or the possibility of getting arms like the influencer on the mat beside you – whatever fuels your fire, these classes are addictive.
Book a freestyle facial
Lying beneath a blanket in a fragrant, dimly lit room at the Little Company, about three kilometres out of town, you may cease to care what the result of its A Little Tailoring treatment is. Regardless, the outcome of the facial devised by your therapist is superb.
Swim in a secret lake
Locals say the ti-tree lake behind Tallow Beach is a sacred place for the area’s Indigenous women. It’s believed to provide healing and promote fertility because of the oil that infuses the water from surrounding trees. It’s unmarked but easy to find: wander down the beach, heading away from town, until you see a gap where the dunes recede. That’s the spot. Say a few words of thanks to the traditional owners before wading in.
Take a transportive massage
Post-treatment, your therapist may whisper, “You’re in another place now.” Geographically speaking, you’ll still be in Comma’s Byron Bay premises, a soothing space of polished concrete floors and natural fibres, where the water is pink (probiotic), the staff wear white ensembles (linen) and the therapists glide noiselessly around your prone body. Gentle fingers belie a strength that can tease out knots, relax tense shoulders and quiet the mind.
Try energy healing
A practitioner of various healing modalities, Ruby Rose Taylor operates Divine Sound Healing from a Byron studio and a property in nearby Ocean Shores. Her sound practice, which involves quartz crystal bowls and singing, is both heard and felt. Sceptic or not, it’s therapeutic contemplating your inner self. Try it.
Where to eat and drink
Barrio works whether you’re popping in for a brown-rice bowl with avo and seeds at brekkie, grabbing an empanada to go midmorning or lingering from lunch until late. Seating is plentiful – much of it outdoors – and the food is of the Mediterranean persuasion. Think leafy greens, flavourful roasted vegies and locally caught fish.
Harvest grew around a 118-year-old woodfired oven – and the village of Newrybar grew around Harvest. This sprawling deli-bakery draws crowds for coffee, smallgoods and baked treats, while at Harvest restaurant full-time forager Peter Hardwick procures native and under-utilised plants for chef Alastair Waddell. The result is a truly Australian cuisine that’s full of nutrient-dense local plants and sustainable meat and seafood.
By all means, eat at Combi, where açaí bowls and vegan toasties populate the menu. But some of the most interesting options come in a jar, including superfood smoothies.
Peter Windrim’s pet mission is to bring pét-nat wines into the mainstream. All the vino at his tiny, pumping Supernatural Cellars is sustainable; some is biodynamic; much of it’s organic. Regardless, he just wants people to taste it – that’s why Jumpin’ Juice Riesling from Warragul in Victoria is described as “Lime Splice in your wet swimmers on the lawn”. Who wouldn’t want a sip of that? A menu of Spanish-style small dishes devised by ex-El Bulli chef Sergio Perera is equally appealing.
Over four short years, Fleet quietly garnered two hats, which put the Brunswick Heads restaurant on the must-eats map. With just 14 seats, every service is an intimate experience; it feels like having a meal at your mate’s house – if they had access to exquisite produce and an enviable localleaning wine cellar. Dinner is dégustation only and the dishes are tailored to your preferences. Book way ahead.
By day, it’s a coffee and brunch spot but at night The Roadhouse shines. Woodfired, hand-stretched pizza is the main event – with nary a barbecue meatlovers in sight. The Break on Through combines a cauliflower purée base with vegan mozzarella, artichokes, olives, sauerkraut and basil oil.
A 32-hectare working farm just outside Byron serves as a home base for a collective of growers, restaurateurs, producers and educators. They share a common goal: to grow and raise produce in a traditional, sustainable way, with no chemicals, and serve it simply. The Farm is a genuine paddock-to-plate enterprise, where Highland cattle, heritage-breed pigs and some of the happiest chooks you’ll meet supply eggs, meat and dairy to its eateries and stores.
Line up with linen-clad locals at Folk café for a latte – matcha, turmeric, maca – or if yoga was at sunrise, caffeine by Dukes Coffee Roasters.