The hippie commune turned backpacker/yuppie haven of Byron Bay has long been a favored destination for surfers on Australia’s east coast. A short 45 minutes from the decadence of the Gold Coast, this New Age outpost might not be as trippy and pure as it once was, but it is probably a lost closer to being a surfers’ paradise than its optimistically named neighbor to the north. With quality beach break setups and world-class righthand points pumping out epic waves in warm water fronting beaches filled with beautiful hippie girls and boys, what more could the wandering surfer ask for?
The Surf: Sand is the name of the game in Byron, and the state of the banks and bars will dictate the quality of the surf at any given time. The town is virtually built around a righthand sand-bottom point of near mythical status, but there are a number of other great sand-influenced options in the area, including a handful of back beaches and lesser-known points. In general, this is a beginner to intermediate surf destination.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- The Pass: Byron’s marquee wave, The Pass is a sand-bottom point breaking in the shadow of the town’s landmark lighthouse. Popular with the longboard crowd—and for good reason, as this perfect little right can peel for mind-staggering distances—the wave can actually get quite heavy and hollow on a large swell.
- Wategos: A reef-sand righthand point north of the Cape (Australia’s most east-reaching piece of real estate) that can be long and user friendly.
- Shipwrecks: As its name suggests, this peaky beach break is formed by the remains of an old shipwreck, which holds the sand in place and at times can create excellent barreling conditions.
- Tallows: The back beach on the south side of the Cape, Tallows is the region’s high performance center and hosts a number of rippable sand bars.
- Broken Head: Although some would argue that the righthand sand-bottom point at Broken Head is a secret, it is only a few kilometers south of town, and pretty much everyone surfs it at one time or another. Set in a lovely national park, this point rarely gets perfect, but when it does its something to see.
The Water: With surface temps ranging from 70–79 F (21–26 C), Byron never really gets cold—just a bit cool in winter, especially during the dawn patrol. Water clarity is quite nice considering the fact that the town has a booming tourist scene.
The Season: Byron Bay sees swell year round, but the best season is definitely in late summer and fall. In general, the breaks north of the Cape will be best on a NE swell, while the breaks south of the Cape want an E or SE swell.
The Vibe: Byron Bay is a different kind of place that appeals to a different kind of person. With a mix of rainbow-clad hippies, latte sipping yuppies, and backpack toting tourists, the town suffers from a mild case of schizophrenia, although everyone seems to have at least one thing in common: the surf. A well-known hotspot since the ’70s, Byron Bay always suffers from crowded lineups—often to the point of congestion. Luckily, one only needs take a short trip north or south from town to find dozens of empty setups.
Things To Do: Grow weed. Smoke weed. Dread your hair. Eat over-priced organic food. Go to concerts and art shows and parties. Meditate, practice yoga, and study the tantric arts, then blow your newfound enlightenment on the town’s chic boutiques and brand name consumerism. Attend music mega-festivals like Splendour in the Grass and Bluesfest.
Where To Stay: This is backpacker heaven, so you can camp, crash in a hostel, rent a gaudily painted caravan, or find an upscale resort if you have money to spend.
What To Bring: A longboard, a shortboard, and a fish. Heck, bring everything. You’ll have fun no matter what you ride. A wetsuit top for cool mornings in summer and a springsuit or 2mm steamer for winter. A guitar and a beard and some incense sticks.
Getting There: Byron Bay is a short drive from the Gold Coast, so your best option is to fly into Coolangatta, rent a car at the airport, and head south. Australian tourist visas can be arranged online, and must be obtained before arrival. Airport code: OOL.