Making my first visit to Byron Bay in more than 20 years, I expected a greatly expanded city, overrun with tourists and tacky souvenir shops. But the NSW coastal city still maintains some level of its sleepy charm, with plenty of room on its gorgeous beaches and no fast food chains to be found when wandering down the main street.
The Byron at Byron is a short drive outside the town set on 18 hectares of sub-tropical rainforest. This sense of separation and isolation from the main tourist spots might be why our airport shuttle bus driver calls it "honeymoon central". Once there, it's easy to understand how it could be popular with newlyweds.
The large reception area is built around trees, rather than over them, and its long, narrow design places the restaurant at one end, the spa and gym at the other, with a beautiful pool on the edge of the rainforest. Boardwalks through the forest lead to the 92 suites, built in blocks of four. The suites seem so spread out and quite it's hard to believe there are so many rooms here.
Our deluxe spa suite is apartment sized and equipped like one to boot. There's a large living area with a huge couch, desk, big-screen TV, dining table and a kitchenette with a small stove, full-size fridge and dishwasher, plus the now ubiquitous Nespresso machine. There's also a washing machine.
The space seems designed so you never need to leave if you don't fancy it (honeymooners take note). The bathroom features a large spa bath and sizeable shower with slats allowing you to look out to the rainforest while you're in there. The bed is a king and a walk-in robe joins the bedroom and living room. The only thing missing, arguably, is a music dock to play your own tunes in the room.
There are two decks at either end of the room, both enclosed by flywire to prevent those rainforest residents from disturbing your relaxation when you're sitting outside listening to the sounds of nature.
The hotel restaurant offers a good quality buffet breakfast, along with lunch and dinner sittings. Head chef Gavin Hughes focuses on local ingredients, though this doesn't impact on the diversity of the menus which includes local seafood, beef, lamb and pork.
Thursdays are market day where Hughes will source produce from the local farmers' market and create a "market menu" based on the day's purchases.
The "ploughman's board" of various cured meats, cheese, pickles and olives is excellent lunch far as are the zucchini flowers with goat's curd I opt for as a starter. That said, while my seafood linguine special at dinner tastes great, the limited amount of seafood it contains (a single prawn and slice of octopus, with a few small pieces of fish) is a disappointment.
The Byron at Byron is some distance out of town so you'll need your own car or a taxi to get around (about $17 into town). Alternatively the resort runs shuttle buses three times at day. But, as mentioned, there is little need to leave the resort. The boardwalks through the rainforest make for a pleasant walk and the spa offers massages out here in a small pavilion, where instead of the typical massage music or whale sounds, you will hear only the gentle sounds of the rainforest birds over the distant roar of the surf.
If you're up for a more challenging trek, take the short walk to Tallow Beach and head down the sand towards Cape Byron. From there, you can head up the hill to the lighthouse and enjoy spectacular views along the beach both south and west, standing at the most easterly point of mainland Australia.
If peace and quiet is what you seek on your weekend escape, the Byron at Byron offers it in spades. Its location allows it to offer the best of both worlds - beach and rainforest. You can get a sense of isolation only a few minutes' drive from the centre of town.
The Byron at Byron, 77-97 Broken Head Rd, Byron Bay NSW 2481. Phone (02) 6639 2000. Standard suites at the Byron at Byron start from $350 a night. See thebyronatbyron.com.au
The rainforest setting is beautiful.
The distance from town means having your own car is useful.
Craig Platt stayed as a guest of the Byron at Byron.