Well, it’s official. Byron Bay’s Bluesfest has been cancelled this year, for the first time in its 30 years of running, due to the coronavirus COVID-19. Bluesfest usually attracts 100,000 people to Byron each Easter. Of course, many folks will cancel their flights, but for those who are still planning to come, here’s a list of 10 great things that you can do in and around Byron Bay, with a particular focus on ‘social distancing’ (getting away from the crowds).
1. Explore Byron’s hinterland in a retro Kombi
For less than the price of a 5 day Bluesfest ticket, you can rent a groovy VW Kombi from Retro Campervans, based in Byron Bay’s industrial estate (check out their rates here). After you’ve done the lap of town, Wategos and the lighthouse, motor into the hinterland to explore the villages of Bangalow, Mullum, Eltham and Nimbin. Some of my favourite camp spots are Rummery Park campground near Minyon Falls; Flat Rock tent park (beachfront, between Lennox Head and Ballina), Cutters Camp and Forest Tops near Mount Warning. Until 24 September 2020, NSW National Parks are offering 25% off campsites with the code LoveNSW (excludes Easter hols). Bargain!
Byron bay is Australia’s (unofficial) Kombi capital. You’ll see more Kombis here than anywhere else in Oz!
2. Go for an early morning log at The Pass or Wategos
Grab your longboard (log) and head to one of Byron Bay’s iconic longboarding breaks – The Pass or Wategos Beach. On sunny days, head there before 8am because car parking is limited and you can spend 20 minutes or longer doing carpark laps, often leaving without getting a park. Don’t have a board? Hire one from Byron Mobile board hire. If you’re worried about parking meters that have been touched by hundreds of other hands, then beware – both The Pass and Wategos have paid parking. Wash your hands thoroughly to avoid coronavirus contagion.
3. Explore Broken Head’s back beaches
Keen to avoid Byron’s crowded beaches and parking meters? Drive 15 minutes south of Byron to Broken Head, turning right onto Seven Mile Beach Road before you get to Broken Head’s caravan park. This dirt track leads through rainforest to some hidden gems including Whites Beach, which topped the list as # 1 in Australian Traveller Magazine’s 100 Incredible Travel Secrets of Australia back in 2013. It’s been firmly cemented on the tourist radar since then, to the dismay of some locals. There’s little parking and Rangers who regularly patrol the track, so arrive early and park in the designated spots only. It’s a 15 minute walk down a stairway to get to the beach, so take plenty of water for the hike back up.
4. Try forest bathing in Nightcap National Park
Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese phrase for ‘forest bathing’ and it refers to the act of taking in the forest through our senses. It’s listening to the bird calls and the rustling of the leaves. It’s smelling the fresh scents of the forest and filling our lungs with the clean air. It’s the act of soaking in all that the forest has to offer. Nightcap National Park is the ultimate forest bathing destination and it’s an added bonus that it’s a bit out of the way, so it attracts fewer people. Head to Protesters Falls where a 1.4km return walk leads to a glorious waterfall, but the trickling stream along the way adds to the meditative charm of Nightcap’s ancient Gondwana rainforest. **Note that swimming is not permitted at Protesters, as the area is home to the endangered Fleay’s barred frog**.
5. Hike to the bottom of Minyon Falls
Protesters Falls (# 4) is lovely, but if you’re wanting a swim and a decent hike, Minyon is the spot. Also located within Nightcap National Park, Minyon Falls is a 45 minute drive inland from Byron Bay. The view from the top look-out is stunning, showing off the 100m droplet waterfall tumbling over giant rhyolite cliffs. There’s also a glorious vista out over the hinterland. But, the 7.5km return walk to the bottom is well worth doing. The swimming hole below the waterfall is nothing short of breathtaking. Literally.
6. Snorkel in the ‘Bream Hole’ rockpool at Lennox Head
The giant, natural ocean pool called ‘the Bream Hole’ at Lennox Head is a well-kept local’s secret, located in the southernmost part of the Cape Byron Marine Park. Every low tide, the Bream Hole turns into a giant rockpool, trapping marine life such as turtles and fish (such as Bream, hence the name). To get there, turn off Ballina Street (the main street that runs through Lennox) onto Allen’s Parade and then onto Dress Circle Drive. Follow Dress Circle Drive to the little carpark at the end and the Bream Hole will be directly in front of you. This is also the beginning of the walking trail that leads up and over Lennox’s headland. Check your tides before you come – the Bream Hole is best on a low tide. On high tide the rockpool disappears under the sea. Naturally, on a calm and sunny day this spot is absolute heaven. BYO snorkels and prepare to scramble over a few boulders to get down to the tiny patch of sand that is the entrance point for the rockpool.
7. Learn to kitesurf
Az and Fiona from Earth Kitesurfing are two of the biggest frothers that you’ll ever meet. I’ve only taken three kitesurfing lessons in my life, so I’m no expert when it comes to kitesurfing, but Az and Fi certainly are and they’ll put you on track to mastering it. You’ll begin by learning to manoeuvre the kite while you’re on land, then you’ll move on to being dragged through the water by the kite. Once you’ve got those skills downpat, you’ll be promoted to the board and that’s when the real fun begins! Lessons usually take place around Lennox Head or Ballina. Three lessons (7.5 hours) are $600. Remember, this is one-on-one tuition and kiteboarding gear isn’t cheap. This is a unique experience and well worth a try! Click here to give it a suss.
8. Waterfall chillin’ at Killen’
Killen Falls was once a well-kept local’s secret, but now it’s well and truly on the tourist map. Though it’s oft-claimed by the Byron crowd, Killen is actually located in Tintenbar, within the Ballina shire. Approx. 20 minutes’ drive from Byron, Killen is easy to find. Just type ‘Killen Falls Drive’ into your GPS and it’ll take you straight there. From the carpark, it’s about a 5 minute walk to the new viewing platform above the falls. A further 10-15 minutes of walking down a rocky trail (slippery when wet) will bring you to the bottom of the waterfall, where you can swim in the big (usually brown) swimming hole, or dip your head beneath the falls. There’s a cave behind the waterfall, too. Keep your eyes peeled for turtles and snakes. Bring a hammock – you’ll see why when you get there.
9. Cape Byron walking trail
The 3.7km loop Cape Byron walking trail is the best way to experience the lighthouse while enjoying amazing vistas of the beaches below. This is a busy trail, so I recommend heading up for sunrise. The early bird gets the worm! Prepare for some stair climbing, but take your time and enjoy the scenery of the beaches, rainforest and lighthouse. Keep an eye out for whales in season (June-October) and the resident pod of dolphins that are often spotted.
10. Watch the sunrise from Mt. Warning
There’s nothing like getting up in the cold, dark of the morning to climb a mountain and watch the sun rising. Well actually, it’s pretty hard for most folks to get out of bed to undertake such an activity, but it’s sure worth it. Known as Wollumbin to the Bundjalung People, Mount Warning is the volcanic remnant of an ancient volcano and it’s a special place for locals, as its odd shape rises from the landscape and can be seen for many miles away (look for it on a clear day at The Pass in Byron). Wollumbin means ‘cloud catcher’ to some Aboriginal People. The 8.8km return trail takes about 5 hours to complete, with the final 100m being a full-on rock scramble. Factor in some time to sit and meditate on the mountain top, taking in the gorgeous scenery in all directions.