NSW Road Trip Stops Better Than Byron Bay: Yamba, Mullumbimby, Kingscliff
When it comes to vacationing at home, no other country has better than what Australia has to offer. And while parts of the country face Covid travel restrictions, there’s no better time to start planning your next Australian getaway.
Once a haven for laid-back surfers, the famous seaside town in northern New South Wales, Byron Bay, now bears little resemblance to its hippie heyday.
Soaring house prices, crowded beaches, loud backpackers, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and scarce and expensive parking make happiness in this ancient utopia much more difficult than before.
But fear not, while Byron may have changed, there are a few other destinations nearby that don’t offer crowds, killer attractions, and a back-to-basics serenity. So when the restrictions loosen and we can all enjoy the road again, leave Byron behind and visit these hotspots on the same stretch of gorgeous coastline that compete for his crown …
The first taxi in the row is Yamba.
Spectacular beaches, trendy cafes, fabulous seafood, and perfect waves – and just under an hour and a half drive from Byron. Yamba has long been a favorite with surfers, but this seaside town is now making perfect sense.
The summer vibe abounds throughout the year, the locals are friendly, the food scene is booming and an influx of former city dwellers has transformed the city from its humble origins into a destination for foodies, creatives and , more and more, vacationers.
Unlike Byron, in Yamba there are more pristine and deserted beaches than you can shake – 11 of them, in fact.
CHIEFS OF BRUNSWICK, NSW
If you spend 11 miles (or 20 minutes) past the Hemsworths and Byron’s tourist traffic, you’ll get a glimpse of the city’s hippie heyday in the seaside village of Brunswick Heads.
Still firmly committed to its counter-culture roots, this quaint getaway boasts a population of friendly, laid-back locals (and visitors) carrying surfboards, jumping between crowded beaches and a plethora of local organic food spots. .
Brunswick – or “Bruns” for locals – is everything modern Byron Bay is not. Really laid back, calm and all about simple (and inexpensive) pleasures. However, just like Byron, you will find great surfing beaches, beautiful coastal scenery, and delicious food. Speaking of, two standouts include the combined coffee, wine bar and deli, Honor.
Located in front of the lagoon, this versatile venue serves excellent coffee and breakfast in the morning, followed by a European-style appetizer, cheese and salumi for lunch and dinner with platters of cold cuts and natural wines at the honor.
At the Mexican restaurant, La Casita, you can expect a lively and fun crowd and a tasty menu of margaritas, snacks including jalapeños plus stuffed with pork sausage and cheese, and expertly prepared tacos (of the gourmet variety) served on a strip- sound of lively Latin rhythms.
Regarding the places of stay, the Chalet-Motel is your reference. A ’60s motel reincarnated into an elegant Palm Springs-inspired hangout, the boutique check-in is steps from the beach and a short walk into town. Comprising 12 stylish, en-suite motel rooms and a stylish central outdoor cabana with barbecue area and saltwater pool, the friendly, laid-back (and affordable) property also offers free bikes and is dog-friendly.
Hop in your car and head inland and you’ll reach the small town of Mullumbimby. This is where Byron’s hippies of yesteryear landed in search of a calmer pace of life. Today, the pretty backcountry hood still firmly embraces its counterculture roots with a bohemian fusion of organic cafes, vintage stores, and alternative healing centers. With that in mind, be sure to visit the incredible Crystal castle on the way.
Reflecting a man’s passion for crystals, it’s one of the region’s main attractions, and for good reason. Its expansive gardens – which offer stunning views of the hinterland – are filled with gigantic Hindu and Buddhist statues and a collection, literally, of the largest crystals from around the world. It is easily one of the most peaceful places around. Plus, there’s an excellent on-site cafe and daily meditation and singing bowl sessions.
Plan your visit well and you can visit on Friday morning Mullum Farmers Markets. Voted one of Australia’s best farmer’s markets, the markets are set against the backdrop of Mount Chincogan and the friendly, folk-friendly vibe is where you’ll see the city in its highest color. You can stock up on organic products and enjoy a breakfast or a coffee from the market. However, for the best brunch in town, head to Punch and Marguerite. In keeping with the city’s alternative philosophy, expect delicious salads filled with superfoods, locally produced kombucha, and locally roasted coffee, as well as a menu featuring a brunch menu that easily rivals Sydney’s best cafes.
But the absolute must-see attraction here is Spa Kiva. Known to locals and a number of visitors, this literal oasis is nestled in a bamboo grove hidden away in a quiet lane and features outdoor hot tubs, cold plunge pools, a hammam-style steam room, and a magnificent fire sauna. wood, which, combined, gives a few hours of happiness.
Drive 40 minutes north, veer inland a bit and you will reach Murwillumbah. An area on the beautiful River Tweed in the shadow of the North Coast’s tallest mountain, the UNESCO-listed Mt Warning. In this fertile food bowl you can visit one of the country’s most beloved distilleries, Husk Distillery.
Manufacturer of the famous Ink Gin, the family business is also Australia’s only single estate rum distillery. You can enjoy a lunch and a cocktail in the cellar door and
Join one of the daily behind-the-scenes tours, which includes a G&T and rum tasting, to learn the process of making the award-winning spirits from the paddock to the bottle.
Speaking of paddocks, Mount Warning Domain offers incredible cabin accommodation in the middle of a working 300 acre farm. Former dairy, the now luxurious cabin combines touches of yesteryear with all the comforts one would expect from a 5-star hotel.
Wake up to dawn and birdsong, and watch the stars near a roaring fire pit, stroll through the Bush Tucker Garden, feed the resident cows, retreat indoors to warm up near the ‘a wood-burning stove that doubles as a pizza oven, or relax in the spacious outdoor tub for a long indulgent soak while taking in views of the looming Mt Warning. For anyone looking to counter the fatigue of confinement with an immersion in nature, this is the place.
Even further north (30 minutes to be precise) and you will come to Tweed Heads. Nicknamed the Twin City due to its proximity to Coolangatta just across the border from Queensland, the wealth of natural attractions around the main city make it worthy of at least a day trip.
Long eclipsed by its more famous neighbor, Tweed Heads is one of the state’s lesser-known destinations, not least because of its deserted beaches and expanses of some of the oldest subtropical rainforests on the planet.
Then there’s the ultimate in wildlife encounters at the Cook Island Aquatic Preserve, just off Kingscliff, a popular seaside town a short drive south of Tweed Heads. Here, Watersports guru take visitors for a first-hand encounter with a cornucopia of marine life, including leopard and gray nurse sharks, dolphins, manta rays, and turtles. Lots of turtles!
The rocky reefs and coral gardens of this protected area are home to three of the world’s seven species of sea turtles: hawksbill turtles, loggerheads and the more common green. Some of them are over 100 years old. It is a meeting at the Attenborough which is truly unforgettable.
Fingal Head is another remarkable natural attraction here – and within sight of the turtle colony -.
While everyone has heard of the World Heritage-listed Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, most people don’t realize that Australia has its own equivalent. Much like Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, ancient hexagonal basalt rock pillars showcase the stunning majesty of Mother Nature at its best.
OK, just a little place in Byron to include – while the resort is obviously not a city, it deserves to be a destination in itself. Although it’s only 10 minutes from downtown Byron, its idyllic subtropical rainforest setting makes it feel like a world apart.
With a reputation for spirituality and life of its own for decades, Byron Bay has long attracted serenity seekers from around the world. Juice bars here scramble for space with yoga studios, but lovers of serenity must head for a getaway that combines luxury facilities with serious R&R.
Set on 45 acres of magical rainforest, Crystalbrook Byron offers included daily yoga classes, in addition to regular retreats throughout the year. Wellness warriors can find their solution in the seriously Instagrammable outdoor pool, fully equipped gym, yoga pavilion and spa mentioned above with its full menu of options using all-natural beauty products, as well as an infrared sauna.
To refuel afterward, the on-site restaurant, Forest, enjoys a location next to the rainforest oasis and serves a seasonal menu that celebrates the best of Byron’s local farmers, producers and artisans.
With its spacious setting, day spa, infinity pool, restaurant, gym, and rainforest walks, you may never want – or need – to leave!