Monday, 29 October 2012

Byron Bay: Australia's most easterly point

Each morning when the sun begins its climb high above the Pacific Ocean, there is one place on the east coast of Australia that greets the morning sun before any other. Situated on the far north coast of New South Wales, Cape Byron is the most easterly point on the Australian mainland and as such, the 1901 Cape Byron lighthouse (photo above) is the first place in Australia to welcome each new day. Situated 3 km below the steep and winding road that snakes its way to the top of Cape Byron is of course the town of Byron Bay, an iconic coastal hamlet voted by European travellers as their number one travel destination in the world and recognised internationally as one of Australia's top 5 beaches. And of course it is no secret that Byron Bay became the setting for my novels A Walk Before Sunrise and The Rag Doll Cafe.

Surfers in the 1970's re-discovered the natural charm of Byron Bay and led to an invasion of hippies and VW Beetles in a town that embraced its new found alternative image.

Byron is eclectic, organic and irreverent. It chooses to create its own trends, snubs its nose at the multi-national food chains and in the process manages to protect is natural beauty and simple character. In other words, it was the perfect setting for a book. Of course Byron Bay has long been well known to Australians as an idyllic holiday destination, and despite the two million visitors that make the pilgrimage to this fabulous stretch of coastline each year it remains the perfect place to simply get away from it all. In the process it has quietly attracted a small band of celebrities who choose to reside or recuperate in the region. Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski once lived here full-time, and Hoges (as he was known to Australians) along with Crocodile Dundee's John Cornell totally revamped the Beach Hotel in 1991. With views looking out over Main Beach towards Julian Rocks, the Beach Hotel captures everything that is to be liked about Byron Bay.

Byron Bay's Main Beach has seen the likes of Elle Macpherson, Simon Baker and Crocodile Dundee himself Paul Hogan all take a swim at this famous Aussie location. Photo taken 2006.

Byron Bay somehow manages to perfectly accommodate people from all walks of life. In no other town in Australia will you find backpackers, celebrities, family holidaymakers and locals alike all mingling amidst the enticing streets and inviting arcades of boutique shops and cafes that make the town a year-round hive of activity. You're bound to be greeted with a friendly G'day when entering any of the shops or cafes, and you are sure to be met by the strains of a guitar, didgeridoo or bongo drums coming from a busker (street performer) while walking about town. You'll quite possibly meet your fair share of hippies clad in the alternate lifestyle dress code that the town embraces, and maybe, just maybe you'll catch a glimpse of a celebrity such as Simon Baker from TV's The Mentalist or Elle Macpherson emerging from the surf while on holiday. Three Hollywood A-listers own houses in Byron Bay, but many more are known to have visited this part of the world.

Jonson Street in the heart of Byron Bay, 2006.

There are a choice of natural attractions that visitors to Byron Bay can enjoy such as whale watching, diving, surfing and hiking, but it wasn't always that way. Once an Aboriginal meeting place known as Cavanbah, early European settlers first surveyed the site for a village in 1884. A jetty was built in 1886 at the present day site of the First Sun Holiday Park. By 1894 the railway had opened and the town changed its name from Cavanbah to Byron Bay. The jetty and the railway line provided a shipment point for industry and Byron Bay soon became a workers town. A co-operative cold storage set up by the railway line in 1895 soon became the largest butter factory in the Southern Hemisphere and the town also accommodated an abbattoir, a piggery and a whaling station which from 1954 to 1962 slaughtered some 1,146 whales. Then in the 1970's the hippies arrived. Long after the above mentioned industries had closed their doors and the remnants of the 670 metre long jetty had been demolished, surfers came and sampled some of the best waves in this part of Australia including Wategos Beach and The Pass at the base of the lighthouse and The Wreck at Belongil Beach. Named after the shipwreck of the TSS Woollongbar, the 87 metre remains of the steamer which ran ashore beside the jetty can still be seen today only a short walk from town. What followed was a cultural re-invention of not only Byron Bay, but of Australia.

The Rails as it is known by locals is housed in the former railway refreshments room at Byron Bay Railway Station.

Today in true Byron style, the former piggery has become a cinema, appropriately named Pig House FlicksThe Butter Factory has been reborn as an amazing example of architecturally designed warehouse inspired accommodation and the Byron Bay Railway Station although now closed still plays host to the Railway Friendly Bar, a truly interesting pub more commonly known to locals as The Rails. As for the once dark side of Byron's whaling industry, the whales have once again returned to Byron Bay, although now they are solely hunted by photographers. But for sheer simplicity, put your walking shoes on and set off with the kids on the 3.7 km long Cape Byron Walking Track. Not only is it a free activity, but it affords the opportunity to do some land based whale watching while taking in the views looking back to Mt. Warning. Best of all, it will get you up close with Australia's most photographed lighthouse. The 1901 Cape Byron lighthouse is itself only 18 metres tall, but being perched on top of a 94 metre high cliff provides unforgettable views for the 500,000 visitors that make the trek to the top of Cape Byron each year, making Byron Bay's lighthouse Australia's most recognisable. For the really energetic types, just a few hundred steps below lies the most easterly point on the Australian mainland, and you can't walk any further than that without getting your feet wet.

Tomorrow begins in Byron Bay. The first place to greet the sun each day in Australia. 2006

What I liked: Australia's most recognisable lighthouse, the walk to the most easterly point on the Australian mainland and the country's best collection of surfing hot spots and eclectic cafes.

What I didn't like: Byron Bay has lost a little of its shine, and the back streets of Byron look like the slums of Sydney. Homeless people, graffiti, rubbish and even old clothing lying on the ground, yuk!

Available now through my Books page

See also: Byron Bay: cold beer, no trains!

1 comment:

samson smith said...

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