Hippy Surfer Beaches of Byron Bay Australia

By Tee1

Beaches of Byron Bay: Australia’s Best

In the international surfing community, the Australian Byron Bay beaches are the stuff of legend. With more than 10,000 beaches, the Australian continent is famous for its shoreline. In the face of stiff competition from the rest of the island continent, the beaches of Byron Bay are quite possibly the best.  Each year, more than half a million people visit this beach town to surf on Australia’s east coast. It’s been said that learning to surf in Byron could be the most Australian thing one can possibly do.

[pullquote]“Some of those that stayed might be defined as hippies[/pullquote]

Over the years, more than a couple tourists have forgotten to leave this beach spot. That’s not terribly hard to believe, as the Byron Bay beaches are some of the cleanest and definitely the prettiest on the entire east coast. This semi-tropical beach spot has laid claim to the title of the best surf town in the entire world. It’s hard to disagree, Byron has a good nightlife, consistent waves, nice weather, warm water all year and its insanely beautiful. This is a special place and if you manage the trip, you’ll love it.

Where is Byron Bay? 28°65S 153°60E

Find some of Australia’s Best Beaches in Byron Bay

Byron Bay is a small beach town in the far northeastern corner of the Australian state of New South Wales. In the 2011 census, the town had a population of slightly under 5,000. Byron Bay is the heart of Byron Shire, just south of the Queensland border. The Byron Shire is a local government area with a population of 29,000, that is adjacent to the Tasman Sea. The beach spot of Byron Bay is 100 miles south of Brisbane and 480 miles north of Sydney. Mainland Australia’s  easternmost point is located in Cape Byron, adjacent to the town.

[pullquote]Keep in mind that even in winter, the Australian sun burns. Wear a hat and high-rating (SPF) sunscreen all year round.[/pullquote]

The population of this small coastal village grows threefold in the popular summer months. It’s also busy a few other scattered pears times throughout the year.  There are drastic price reductions during the off-season. It’s fairly difficult to fathom the quality of the Byron Bay beaches, until you are looking at them in person. There are tons of super things about Australia, but the beaches have to be on top of the list. The ones in the Byron area compare well with the best beaches in the world. A lot of the local beach spots are also great places to surf. Incredibly, the coastline has not been developed yet, so no ugly high-rises impede your views. Byron Bay and its environs have spectacular virgin beaches.

Best Surf Town in the World

Almost all year round, the beaches of Byron Bay are sun drenched and the water is nice. At the very least, the water will always be clean and typically warm. Water temperatures here range from 64°F in the winter to 78°F in summertime. Very infrequently, the aqua marine or turquoise colored water will be stirred up from a storm. When that happens, floating seaweed will probably be visible after a strong northerly wind. The seaweed changes the color of the water to greenish brown.

Close to the town, the beaches are busy and protected throughout the Australian summer by the famed Byron Bay Surf Lifesaving Club. Byron Shire has more than 30km of beaches to choose from. As you get a bit further from civilization, you will find a nude beach like Black’s Beach in San Diego as well as a dog-friendly spot all within a 15 minute drive.

The Byron Bay SLSC has been in operation for more than 105 years. It is one of the oldest and most respected surf clubs in Australia. They have been keeping people safe for over a century in Byron Bay. Each year, an average of nine people are rescued. 

Byron Bay is part of an ancient shield volcano

“Byron Bay is part of the erosion caldera of an ancient shield volcano, the Tweed Volcano, which had erupted 23 million years ago.” A shield volcano looks like a warrior’s shield lying on the ground. This type of volcano has typically been been built by fluid lava flows. A caldera is a big cauldron like depression formed after a volcanic explosion. The ground surface then collapses downward over a huge area. Technically, this is actually a sinkhole, even though it is occasionally described as a crater. 

Byron Bay : How this beach town happened

From a non-aboriginal perspective, history began for Byron Bay in 1770 when Lieutenant James Cook named a safe anchorage, he found after a fellow sailor, Cape Byron. That sailor would go on to be the grandfather of the future Romantic poet Lord Byron.

The local Aboriginal people, the Arakwal, had named the area, Cavvanbah or “meeting place”. The bay had been a meeting place to tell stories, trade and find eligible marriage partners for years until it was discovered.   Before Cook, for at least 22,000 years, the Arakwal Bumberlin people have inhabited the coastal Byron Bay area. They are one of more than 500 Aboriginal tribes living in Australia before the Europeans grand arrival. The Arakwal “are the recognized Aboriginal Traditional Custodians of the Byron Bay district.” 

from an an industrial nightmare

European permanent settlement didn’t start until the 1880’s. The streets of Byron Bay have been named after English philosophers and writers. Timber was the first industry in Byron Bay. The red cedar can grow to 200 ft tall and its trunk can reach 10 feet around. Its natural habitat in Australia was the now predominantly cleared subtropical rainforests of NSW and Queensland. Red cedar is one of the few native deciduous trees in Australia and its timber is highly valued because it is easy to work with. Settlers called it “red gold” and used it extensively for shipbuilding, construction and furniture. It is now commercially extinct because it was unsustainably exploited until the early 20th century. Nearly all of the large trees have been cut. When the trees were felled in the past, they were shot down hills and then dragged to ships on the shore. The local names that have “shoot” are all derivative of the timber industry.

A jetty was built in 1886 for shipping, and a few years later it was connected to the railway in 1894. That same year, Cavvanbah officially became Byron Bay. The land in the area was cleared by dairy farmers who settled nearby.  The massive agricultural supply and marketing co-operative, Norco Co-operative Limited was formed in 1895. Today, it sells products and services internationally as well as locally. Initially, it was created to provide cold storage with Byron Bay eventually providing butter to the world. For a time, it was the biggest factory in the southern hemisphere.

to a tropical beach paradise

There was even gold mining on these beautiful Australian beaches for a period. There were up to 20 mining leases to extract gold from the black sands of Tallow Beach in the 1870s. At the most easterly spot on the Australian mainland, a lighthouse was installed in 1901. This was followed by the first slaughterhouse in 1930.

Byron Bay was a poor working town that struggled to become a community. It was an atrocious environment with an horrific odor from the meat and dairy works. For a period from the 50’s to the 60’s, an annual slaughter of whales exacerbated the retched conditions. The local environment was further degraded by sand mining for uranium!

In addition to the industrial hell that Byron Bay was quickly becoming, the waters surrounding the area were treacherous. The sea was the only transport option until the mid 1890s for this part of Australia. At the time, Byron Bay supplied the best deep water option for shelter, but did not offer a safe harbor from westerly or northern gales. There were no natural safe coastal harbors or a place for easy refuge in a storm.

“This resulted in many “narrow escapes”, numerous groundings, many ships being wrecked and some true disasters along the shores of the Byron Shire. Up until the Cape Byron lighthouse began operation in December 1901 the records of the NSW Heritage Office show details of 13 ships lost around Cape Byron.”

Byron Bay: Here come the hippies

Eventually, the industries and factories shuttered their doors. Shortly after, the amazing beaches of Byron Bay were discovered once again. This time by surfers. Soon Byron Bay was now on the tourist map. In 1973, the Aquarius Festival cemented the town’s newfound reputation as an alternative, hippy beach spot. The goal of the Aquarius Festival was to celebrate and promote sustainable lifestyles with alternative thinking. It was a ten day event in May 1973, and is often described as “Australia’s equivalent to the Woodstock Festival and the birthplace for Australia’s hippie movement“.

A lot of festival goers had such a good time, they didn’t bother to leave which has had a permanent effect on the local economy. The area now:

  • features one of the highest number of artists and artisans as residents in Australia.
  • has many events and festivals throughout the year.
  • offers great entertainment and shopping opportunities.
  • has many healing and alternative health practitioners in the health and wellbeing industry and many elegant day spas.
  • has a reputation for fabulous award-winning cafes and restaurants serving Australian cuisine.
  • is a wedding destination for many couples.

Another group that didn’t leave the area are the sharks! Byron Bay has always been known by surfers as a sharky place. The runoff from the meat works that formerly emptied onto the beach to the south of town certainly helped to contribute to the shark numbers. However, when the meat works shut down and left, the sharks didn’t. Try to avoid surfing on your own, especially at sunrise and sunset.

[pullquote]In 1973, the Aquarius Festival cemented the town’s newfound reputation as an alternative, hippy beach spot.[/pullquote]

According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, the odds of being attacked by a shark are 11,500,000 to 1. Each year there are about 65 shark attacks worldwide with a few that are fatal. While you may be more likely to be killed in a car collision with a deer, it still is scary.

What had been a dying banana growing and dairy region, had been injected with new blood and a refreshed outlook on life thanks to the surfers and hippies. It’s been said that, “Some of those that stayed might be defined as hippies“. Today, the area is known for sustainability and a cannabis counterculture. Modern Australian culture has taken on many of the counterculture values first espoused in this iconic area.

“It is as if a smoky avenue of Amsterdam has been placed in the middle of the mountains behind frontier-style building facades,” Austin Pick

Family Beach Activities

You can throw yourself into a lot of fun family activities on the Byron Bay beaches. Pick up surfing, play with dolphins in kayak, fish, ride horses, hang-glide, try a microlight or shoot a round of golf. The kids will also be entertained as there are a number of children friendly amusements.

[pullquote]The Australian mainland’s most easterly point is found here at Cape Byron, where the Coral Sea to the north meets the Tasman Sea in the south[/pullquote]

Byron Bay is a popular beach resort for both international and internal tourists. There are several busy surf spots and beaches in the town. You will also see backpackers touring the Australian coast. The whale watching industry contributes significantly to this beach town’s economy. One of the best vantage points for whale-watching in Australia is found in Cape Byron. From late June through August, these majestic animals migrate north to give birth in the warmer waters. The whales return with the babies in tow in September and October. The majority of the whales that are seen are humpbacks.

Whale Watching Tours in Byron Bay

From the center of town, visitors can walk or cycle to the Cape Byron lighthouse, along the oceanway. The Australian mainland’s most easterly point is found here at Cape Byron, where the Coral Sea to the north meets the Tasman Sea in the south. We strongly suggest walk out here, instead of driving.

In addition to surfing, the area is also popular for scuba diving and snorkeling, partly because of the tropical and temperate waters meeting at Byron Bay. Of course, there is also a lot to see! Many dives are from Julian Rocks, part of the newly formed Cape Byron Marine Park.

The area surrounding the rocks was established as a marine park in 1982, after significant pressure from the locals. All fishing and commercial exploitation has been banned for a 500 meter perimeter around the rocks. Due to the wide variety of marine life, scuba divers rate the dive spot as one of the top sites in Australia. In New South Wales, it’s one of the critical habitats for the grey nurse shark .

The beaches of Byron Bay enjoy a humid subtropical climate, featuring hot summers and mild winters. This is definitely one of those perfect beach towns and even if you don’t surf, its a great adventure just waiting to happen. Before you start planning, don’t forget the seasons are upside down in Australia!

cheers for the help guys.

Thank you to Natalia and Evan for sharing most of the pictures on this page. They now live in Sunny San Diego after spending a number of years on the other side of the Pacific. The picture of the Czech Budweiser comes from John Z., my neighbor in the first year of University. He has since sold the farm and relocated to Australia’s Bondi Beach area.