It may be lockdown talking, but when a tiny window opens to escape my Melbourne LGA, arriving at Crystalbrook Byron feels like entering an alternate but wondrous reality. Set on 18 hectares of sub-tropical rainforest with Bangalow Palms and paperbark, it's also a habitat for 90 varieties of birdlife, shy wallabies and the endangered Mitchell's Rainforest Snail. Clusters of suites - 92 in total - are dotted around the property, all a short and peaceful boardwalk stroll from the communal space. Staff are always on hand to ferry guests around the property by golf buggy.
Despite its superstar status, spare a thought for Byron in these pandemic-riven times. With its natural assets and reliance on visitors, not even one of the most beguiling places in the world has been immune to the economic ravages of COVID-19. Perched between Byron Bay and Lennox Head off busy Broken Head Road, the resort, formerly Byron at Byron, and now one of seven in the Crystalbrook collection, is a 30-minute or so taxi ride from Ballina Airport. Should a taxi do a no-show at the airport, catch a ride with Penny Abrahams of Byron Bay Coastal Transfers. A Lennox Head local and travel industry veteran, Abrahams' other COVID-19 pivot taps the best of the area, running walks led by local Indigenous guides, whale-watching, and cheesemaking.
As close to a south-east Asian resort without leaving home soil that's more outside than in, with an airy reception of sage couches and staff dressed in oatmeal linen. Overlooking the 25-metre infinity pool surrounded by cabanas and a rainforest backdrop, Forest restaurant merges with the Verandah area of lounge suites - nicely distanced - and a section is screened off for early morning yoga. At the other end of the day guests sip G&Ts from Cape Byron Distillery, once a rundown dairy farm now regenerated, or the fairy dust martini of goji berry infused Byron house vodka and fairy floss. On cooler nights, heaters and throw rugs keep the outdoor area cosy.
The spacious Rainforest Luxe suite is one of 32 recently renovated and includes the essentials; a deep standalone bath, walk-in robe, coffee machine and dual balconies, one with a daybed. A full-size fridge, microwave and stove top is ideal for young families and their unique routines. The rear balcony daybed, surrounded by bush, is perfect for a spot of prostrate forest bathing to the sounds of kookaburra laughter against the roar of Tallow Beach.
Overseen by affable executive chef Jordan Staniford, Forest is a hotel restaurant worth staying put for. From Nimbin Valley butter to Iluka squid, the best of the region within a three-hour radius is on your plate. It is also in line with the hotel's sustainability initiatives that include four beehives onsite. Hearty breakfasts, local granola with berries, and smashed avocado with cashew cheese give way to equally generous dinners such as Yamba chilli prawn bucatini.
Cruise into town on one of the hotel's new cruiser Lekker bikes on the path that gets you to the start of the compulsory visitor experience, the popular Cape Byron walk. Walking track totems guide you around the 3.7 kilometre loop past Wategos Beach, the lighthouse and whale-spotting lookouts from the most easterly point of Australia. Make a pitstop at the Suffolk Bakery for meat pies and hemp and hibiscus slice. That other quintessential Byron experience, a surf lesson, is best done with local operator Gaz Morgan, who is one of a clutch of operators permitted to teach on Clarkes Beach and it's easy waves thanks to the protection of Cape Byron.
A resort offering supreme and consistent comfort, coffee and service for an uncertain time. Spacious communal areas allow for singles, couples and families to all find a happy place.
A guest-only entrance at the rear of the property leads to the glorious six-kilometre stretch of Tallow Beach.
The Eleme day spa is popular with guests and locals outside of the hotel so while it seems counter to carefree holidays, planning ahead is now key. I'm booked in for the spa but another guest leaves disappointed there's not a spot for the next two days.
From $545 a night for a Rainforest Suite, $735 for a Rainforest Luxe Suite.
77-97 Broken Head Rd, Byron Bay NSW. Phone (02) 6639 2000, see crystalbrookcollection.com/byron; byronbaycoastalwalks.com.au; suffolkbakery.com; stylesurfingbyronbay.com Guests 16 or over must be fully vaccinated (or have an exemption) to enter Crystalbrook Byron.
until NSW reaches its 95 per cent double vaccination target, or December 15, 2021, whichever occurs first.
Jane Reddy stayed as a guest of Crystalbrook Byron.