The Best Alternative Towns To Byron Bay You Need To Visit In Australia
Byron Bay, it’s the hub of stunning surf beaches, bustling pubs, pumping cafes and a myriad of hinterland adventures right at your doorstep. Once a pretty quiet, sleepy coastal village, Byron Bay is now a sprawling holiday destination which draws crowds far and wide (and celebrities from all across the world too). While there’ll always be a time of year to visit this enduring haven which serves as a place to reset your mind, body and soul, the east coast of Australia is rich with less popular towns which bring all the same joys you love about Byron Bay (but with fewer crowds).
New South Wales
Word on the street is that Bellingen is very much the emerging, new Byron. This sleepy town has all the underrated vibes of Byron Bay during the 90s and sits at the base of the misty Bellingen River and Dorrigo National Park. You’ll find many barefoot locals tottering up and down Hyde Street and the famed Federal Hotel gives Byron’s Beach Hotel a run for its money. If it’s the bustling marketplace of Byron you’re after, Bellingen hosts a plethora of community markets with produce and goods from local farmers and artisans. It’s also known for its yearly music festivals and a readers and writers festival held every June.
New South Wales
If anything, Merimbula could very much be on the more enchanting side of Byron Bay. Nestled into the tranquil and scenic Sapphire Coast, this coastal village keeps a low-key and no-frills head about itself all year round. While Byron Bay serves as the poster child for endless aquatic activities, Merimbula matches this with a whole heap more on the cards. Filled with sprawling waterways, you’ll find a number of lakes to kayak through with a six-kilometre stretch of its main beach perfect for sailing and windsurfing when the gusts are in. Short Point is Merimbula’s Wategos Beach and offers up some decent surf breaks with those million-dollar views and Bar Beach is your go-to for all the snorkelling.
New South Wales
It’s the coastal town which gets bypassed by the highway but Nambucca Heads is secretly Byron Bay’s little sister. This seaside playground surrounds the Nambucca River and rarely gets the tourist influx that Byron Bay does when the school holidays hit (and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were taking a quick pit stop at Brunswick Heads). The estuary here regularly gets visits from bottlenose dolphins and if you hit Shelly Beach at the right time of year (May to November), you’ll be in for the great humpback migration with greater views than the Byron Bay lighthouse. In summer, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone wearing much more than a pair of boardies and singlet (a pair of togs and a towel is the official uniform) and the local bowlo is the resident watering-hole with one hell of a trivia night.
This dairy farm mecca in Queensland will give you some serious deja vu of Byron’s hinterland towns of Nimbin and Bangalow (but with a charm just a little more rural and old school). If you’re a fan of making the drive up or down to Byron for the gourmet food throwdown, Kenilworth is your next best bet. Featuring a suite of small coffee shops, cafes and yoghurt and cheese factories (keep an eye out for Kenilworth Country Food And Cheese Factory—you’ll want to stock up on all the picnic goods), this 1930s dreamscape sports a rustic time warp that’s too good to miss. Plus, since it sits behind the Blackall Range and on the Mary River which flows north from Maleny through to Conondale and then out to the ocean, there’s plenty of horse riding, hiking and fishing to be had around these parts too. What’s more, is Kenilworth only boasts a population of around 300 people so you say goodbye to those Byron Bay crowds and hello to the sweet stillness of rural Queensland.
Check out our trip to the Bluff Creek Campgrounds and Bakery in Kenilworth here.
There’s no denying Byron Bay serves as a total reset for your mind, body and soul but you can skip beachside yoga retreats and treat yourself to the therapeutic pocket of the Sunshine Coast’s Eumundi. About 15km inland from Noosa on the Bruce Highway, this refreshingly lush, festive and hilly shopping village really does have one on Byron Bay for a number of reasons be it the thriving art life here or the famous Eumundi markets—haven’t been? You’re missing out big time. As well as this, Eumundi is local to the historic Imperial Hotel and Eumundi Brewery (also known affectionately as Brewmundi) which hits close to Byron Shire’s laidback Billinudgel Pub. Here, there’s live music on every corner, niche craftsmanship in every street and a creative flair which is truly just “in the air”. If healing your chakras is hot on your to-do list, make your way to The Yoga Shala on Shambala Farm is an incredible open-air studio which will go down a treat.