Azabu Boutique Accommodation & Day Spa
This Japanese-style retreat is four kilometres and a world away from Jonson Street, Byron Bay's main drag. Azabu – the name means "hemp cloth" in Japanese and is also a trendy suburb of Tokyo – lies in a forest of towering native hoop pines surrounded by farmland. A gravel path meanders through the two-hectare property to a yoga platform in a grove of bamboo, inviting nature-time.
Azabu's Japanese-ness is evident from the moment you arrive: there's the antique kimono on the wall of the minimalist reception area, you'll probably be greeted by Kayoko from Tokyo, and Zen stepping stones lead to your room. Each of the five rooms has cherry blossom-patterned bed linen (two rooms have king beds, three have queens), cotton yukata (summer kimono) "bathrobes" and shoji-like partitions. New owners Richard Todd, a filmmaker who made Frackman, and Hiromi Yano, a Japanese massage therapist, plan to add more Japanese touches, including a Japanese-style cafe and spa treatments such as shiatsu. Outside, there's a swimming pool, spa pool and sun lounges on a deck backed by those hoop pines, a cubby-like sauna and a day spa, and possums and peacocks roam the grounds (although I didn't see any).
My Queen Spa room is small, but feels spacious thanks to its high ceiling, timber floor and one glass wall (French doors below, glass louvres above) that opens onto a private verandah. It's also well-designed, to maximise the available space; from the sunken spa bath I can almost touch the bed, for instance. There's a mini-kitchenette with crockery, cutlery, chopsticks, a coffee plunger and a packet of Byron Bay Coffee Company organic coffee guests are invited to take home. It's no capsule hotel, but Azabu's compactness enhances its Japanese charm, as does a haiku on the back of the door reminding guests to consider each other: "The forest is near/Respectful silence hold dear/Neighbours' ear is here." There's free Wi-Fi, a TV with DVD player (and a basket of DVDs at reception), aircon and a ceiling fan, a toaster and a hairdryer, and locally made Sanctum organic toiletries.
As soon as I've checked in, I receive a friendly "Welcome to Azabu" text message to make it easy to contact staff in an emergency or to set a breakfast time the next morning. Then I put on a pretty blue yukata and slippers and shuffle to the spa and sauna like a guest at a Japanese onsen hotel. The verandahs and windows are angled so you can't see other guests, but I did hear my neighbours and their spa bath. I loved falling asleep to the sound of the surf, and waking up to birdsong.
Azabu has no restaurant, but the manager is also a chef who prepares organic, locally sourced breakfasts – macadamia muesli, apple-cinnamon couscous, free-range scrambled eggs – that can be served on your private deck, or in the reception area where there's a wood fire and a B&B vibe. You can also opt for a $50 breakfast voucher to spend at Byron Beach Cafe. For other meals, it's a five-minute drive to Byron, where you can continue the Japanese theme at Kinoko or O-Sushi, both in Jonson Street.
Azabu might be a place to escape, but it's also convenient to all the Northern Rivers has to offer, including: outdoor pursuits (from surfing to sea kayaking, walking to whale-watching), attractions such as the Crystal Castle and Cape Byron lighthouse, and scenic drives that end in lunch – try Town in Bangalow, Harvest in Newrybar or Footbridge cafe in Brunswick Heads.
Azabu is a little oasis of Japanese calm amid the forest and still close enough to beachy Byron to enable you to explore the area, and to hear the sea at night.
Byron Bay is about 800 kilometres north of Sydney and 180 kilometres south of Brisbane. The nearest airports are Ballina (30 minutes' drive south) and Coolangatta/Gold Coast (40 minutes north). If you do fly, renting a car on arrival will make it easy to reach Azabu and to get around.
HIGHLIGHT: Waking up to towering hoop pines from my cherry-blossomed bed.
LOWLIGHT: Hearing the spa bath in my neighbours' room.
Azabu, 317 Skinners Shoot Road, Byron Bay, has rooms from $200 a night including breakfast (rates vary with the season and day of the week). For winter bookings by phone, there's a 5 per cent discount and complimentary bottle of sparkling wine; call (02) 6680 9102 and use this code: FUYU YASUMI ("winter break" in Japanese). See azabu.com.au
The writer was a guest of Azabu.