10 Things to Do Around Byron Bay for Backpackers
Byron Bay is a major backpacker destination on the east coast of Australia and probably found on everyone’s bucket list traveling this route. Many backpackers (myself included) have fallen in love with the chilled vibe, perfect climate and beautiful beaches of this area.
The reputation of this chilled small coastal town has attracted a huge amount of travelers and holidaymakers over the years and the town has developed along with the tourism. Nowadays the streets of Byron Bay are filled with hostels, boutique style shops, and with trendy cafes and restaurants. The current state of the town divides opinions. A lot of backpackers love it, but some think Byron Bay has become too commercialized and overrated. Nevertheless, I would still recommend to visit Byron Bay and make your own judgment.
I’m sure the vibe in Byron is not the same anymore than what it originally became famous for, but still the area of Byron Shire is my favorite place in Australia. I found myself returning here (and getting stuck) over and over again during two years of traveling this country. In my opinion, the gems of this area are mostly not found in Byron Bay itself, but in the surrounding areas in places like New Brighton, Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads.
Here are my recommendations for fellow backpackers on what to do around Byron Bay!
1. Walk to the lighthouse
Well, this is the most obvious thing you can do and probably recommend by every single travel guide ever written about Byron Bay. So just to be clear, when visiting Byron you have to go to the lighthouse.
You can either drive your car up there and pay the ridiculously expensive parking fees or choose the more budget-friendly option, which is to park your car to Wategos and walk from there. The walking option does not only save your money, but the route is also much nicer. Unfortunately, the beach road at Wategos is also under pay parking nowadays but parking to the other streets is still free.
The walk takes you through a nice green forest and on the way you pass the most easterly point of the Australian mainland. From the top, you have awesome panoramic views to the ocean and surrounding beaches. The lighthouse is also an excellent vantage point for whale watching during migration season which is from May to November. Dolphins can be spotted all year around.
2. Visit Minyon Falls
Minyon Falls is located in the Nightcap National Park about an hour drive away from Byron Bay. The road takes you to the top of the falls where the lookout is also located offering beautiful views of the area.
Although the lookout is really nice, I highly recommend taking the Minyon Falls walking track to the bottom of the falls. The walk itself is beautiful and takes you through a rainforest. Also, the falls itself looks quite impressive looking from the bottom.
3. Visit Nimbin
Nimbin is the unofficial hippie capital of Australia. The town is a popular destination for day-trippers and especially for backpackers. I bet it is also one of the most interesting towns in Australia and definitely worth checking out if you are around the area. The town is located a bit over an hour drive inland from Byron Bay. It’s kind of a surreal feeling when you have been driving for a while in a middle of nowhere and suddenly you reach this tiny village with trippy colored houses and hemp embassies.
Nimbin is small, one street town, so you don’t really need a lot of time to see the whole place. There are few nice looking organic cafes and a lot of small shops selling clothing, jewelry, and smoking-related items. The annual MardiGrass cannabis law reform rally and festival is celebrated every May.
4. Climb to Mount Warning
I can’t believe it took me so long to do this but I’m really glad that I finally did it. Climbing to Mount Warning to see the famous sunrise has been hands down one of the best experiences I’ve had in Australia.
Mount Warning is the highest point (1156m) in the most easterly part of Australia. It is said to be the first place to touch the sun in Australian mainland. Hiking to the summit to see the sunrise is the most popular thing to do, but there is a lot of hikers visiting all day long. If you are doing the sunrise hike remember to take a headlamp as you have to climb in the dark.
The track to the summit is 9 kilometers return and takes around two hours each way. The track is not too difficult even if you are not in super fit condition. Only the last few hundred meters are almost vertical climbing and even then the climb is assisted with a metal chain.
If you do the hike in the morning be sure to leave early enough to see the whole spectacle. When I was here (in November) the first hikers arrived to the summit around 4 am when the sky started to be painted in different shades of red. From the summit you have amazing 360 degree panoramic views to the whole area, all the way from Tweed Heads to Byron Bay.
5. Taste beers at Stone & Wood brewery
Craft beer lovers in Australia have probably heard of Byron Bay’s Stone & Wood and most likely even tasted some of their beers. Even though you can find these beers in bottle shops all over Australia, you definitely won’t get them fresher than this!
The brewery is located in the Arts & Industry Estate few kilometers away from the town center. You can book a tour around the facility or just sit at the bar area and focus on the essential – tasting the beers. Tasting plate with 5 beers costs 15$ and gives you good insight on their variety.
6. Go kayaking or paddle boarding to Brunswick River
The Charming town of Brunswick Heads is one of my favorite places in Byron Shire. Thanks to the river running through the town there are a bunch of water activities you can do around here. Surfing, swimming, snorkeling and fishing are popular things to do around here. Beautiful landscape and crystal clear water make the river ideal for paddle boarding and kayaking.
Make sure you time your visit for high tide, as the river is amazingly beautiful when clear turquoise water runs in from the ocean. During low tide the sight is less flattering, as the water is flowing towards the ocean turning the water brown and murky. You can check the tide for example from magicseaweed.com.
Paddling along the river with mangrove trees growing on the edges makes you feel like being in a middle of an ancient forest rather than close to busy Byron Bay. You can either book a guided tour or just rent a kayak from the guy next to the bridge on Mullumbimbi street.
Secret spot tip: You can park your kayak/paddle board next to the Bowling Club and play with the super fun rope swing (pic above)!
7. Go snorkeling or diving
Julian Rocks is a popular place for doing snorkeling and diving around Byron Bay. It is a sedimentary rock formation located about 2,5km away from the mainland. Julian Rocks actually consist of two tiny islands. Surrounding of the rocks is inhibited by hundreds of different fish species. Also endangered but friendly nurse sharks visit during winter.
Because it’s an island you need to book a trip to get here unless you know someone with a boat. There are multiple companies to choose from who organize diving and snorkeling trips to Julian Rocks. Just shop around and pick the provider suiting best for your needs.
I also like to do snorkeling at the river mouth of Brunswick River, which is much easier to access than Julian Rocks. And also backpacker friendly as it’s free! As I already mentioned before, during high tide the water in the river turns completely clear, when it is a perfect time to do some snorkeling. A lot of fishes chill around the wall of the river mouth and sometimes you may encounter some eagle rays as well! Occasionally even dolphins come to hunt some fishes to the river.
8. Visit the markets
Byron Bay is a hub for creativity and markets are excellent places to acquire souvenirs made by talented locals. If you don’t have space in your backpack for more stuff, there are also multiple delicious food and coffee stalls to fill your stomach. Even if you are not keen on shopping the markets around Byron Bay are still nice places to go hang around just for their atmosphere. The market is moving on a weekly basis so the location is always different. Check out the Byron Bay market guide for more information of the markets.
In addition to the regular market, there is also Flea Market, Artisan Market and Farmers Market. Farmers market is great for buying fresh and locally produced fruit, veggies and other food products. The weekly location of the farmers market can also be found from the Market Guide.
9. Go to the festivals
As Byron Bay is a place for creative and artsy people it has become a hot spot to host some of the greatest music festivals in Australia. Falls Festival, Bluesfest and Splendour in the Grass are the biggest and most famous annual music festivals around the area. In addition to these, there are multiple smaller festivals organized all year around.
Tickets to the biggest festivals are not exactly backpacker budget friendly, but there are still ways to enjoy these festivals even if you are broke. One way to get to the festivals for free is to go working there as a volunteer to enjoy the festival vibe. The festival atmosphere doesn’t limit the festival area alone. During the festivals, the town is filled with people bringing the festival mood to the whole town. Even if you couldn’t buy tickets to the festivals, just being in the town during festival buzz is an experience itself.
The festivals around Byron Bay are not only limited to music. There are also festivals and events organized around surfing, fashion, food and spirituality just to name a few. Check out the event calendar from Byron Bay’s website.
10. Embrace the beach life
Last but not least is one of my favorite thing to do around Byron Bay – spend time at the beaches. Byron Bay has tens of kilometers of white sandy coastline around it, so it is a wonderful destination for beach bummers and surfers.
Byron Bay has been under surfers radar for long before other tourists and backpackers started to hear about this place. The unique shape of the Bay makes Byron Bay great place to surf. No matter which direction swell and wind comes, there is (almost) always some protected corners in the bay for some surfable waves.
Nowadays the surf spots around Byron Bay can get pretty crowded, but if you go a bit further from the town there are still some nice quiet beach breaks to be found. Here is my list of the beaches around Byron Bay.
Tallow Beach is on the south side of Byron Bay stretches all the way from Broken Head to Cape Byron Lighthouse. For surfing the Cozy Corner right next to the bay is one of the only places around that work on NE winds and can get really crowded on these times.
Wategos is my favorite beach in Byron Bay itself. The beach is small and cozy with nice rock formations and beautiful scenery. And it is is not as crowded as beaches closer to the town center. The surf break in here is popular with longboarders and malibu riders.
Next beach from the Wategos towards the town center is the Pass. The beach is quite popular and really beautiful with green forest in the background. And also great spot to see the sunset! For surfing, this beach has really nice point break. The point break is really popular with longboarders and gets crowded.
The main beach is located closest to the town center and unsurprisingly it can get really busy especially during holiday seasons. I don’t like the beach itself that much, but the surf break (shipwreck) is quite decent.
The further away you go from Byron Bay the quieter the beaches get. Belongil Beach is the next beach up north from the town of Byron Bay. The beach is clothing optional but the surf in here can get quite good sometimes. The crowd factor might be on increase though, as they are building new resorts to this area.
After passing a long stretch of Tygarah Swamp the next beach towards the north is my favorite, Brunswick Heads. What makes this beach distinctive to the other beaches is the river. Calm waters of Torakina Beach right at the river mouth are great for swimming and snorkeling. For surfing the wall helps to keep sandbanks in place and creates a slight protection from northerly winds. This place is also great for whale and dolphin spotting. Also, fishing is a popular thing to do. The beach north side of the wall is a bit more difficult access and usually quiet.
New Brighton & South Golden Beach
The beach just goes on and on…next ones are New Brighton and South Golden Beach. Not a lot of tourists come up here so you’ll mostly encounter locals walking their dogs or jogging. As the beaches are wide and quiet, you’ll have loads of empty spots to set up your beach towel.
For surfing, there are multiple beach breaks along the coast. As these beaches are open, there is not a lot of protection if the wind is coming from the east. On westerly (offshore) winds and decent swell you can manage to score some pretty awesome waves at these beach breaks.
What are your favorite things to do around Byron Bay? Please share in the comments. 🙂