Yoga is a part of daily life in Byron Bay. This bustling coastal town on the Tweed Coast of Northern New South Wales is a hippie haven from way back. It’s also a Mecca for backpackers and holidaymakers seeking the sun, surf and the spiritual. The relaxed bohemian lifestyle that it is renowned for is a little more commercial these days, but all the things that make Byron special are still ripe for the picking – an amazing year-round climate, a lush rolling hinterland that ambles down to beautiful beaches, eccentric characters and wonderful healers including some of the best yoga teachers in Australia.
With names like Jessie Chapman, John Ogilvie, Louisa Sear, Dena Kinsburgh, Lance Schuler and Liz Costigan calling Byron Bay home, it is no wonder that visitors flock here in the hundreds year after year to hang out and learn yoga. Whether you are looking for a cheap holiday with a bit of yoga thrown in to a luxury health retreat or the chance to do a teacher training program whilst living in a community of like-minded people, Byron has something to offer. In fact with a smorgasbord of daily yoga classes, year-round retreats and highly regarded teacher training across a range of styles and traditions, yogis are spoilt for choice here.
For luxury digs, head into the lush hinterland about 20 minutes outside town for Olivia Newton-John’s Gaia Retreat & Spa (933 Fernleigh Road, Brooklet. T: 02 6687 1216) which offers programs from $912.50 per person (twin share) for two nights including all meals, a one-hour massage, daily yoga and leisure activities. Closer to town and the beach, the Byron at Byron (77 – 97 Broken Head Road, Phone: 1300 554 362 ) offers 2 night packages from $490 per person (twin share) including breakfast, one hour spa treatment, lunch or dinner one day and daily yoga. Belongil Beach House (25 Childe Street. T: 02 66 857868) offers relaxed communal beachside living just a ‘frisbee throw’ from the beach and a 10 minute stroll to the township. Accommodation ranges from shared rooms to studios and cottages from $40 per night. There’s also a courtesy bus to Byron, a communal kitchen, garden café, free boogie boards and massage on offer. At the Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge (Skinners Shoot Rd. 02 66857709) the vibe is hippie-hippie shake. The range of ‘funky abodes’ include Teepees and Island Bungalows starting at $18 per day (camping) to $34 (shared dorm) or $80 per day in a private room. Onsite facilities include the Buddha Bar Restaurant, Byron Lounge Cinema, Buddha Gardens Day Spa, communal kitchen, recording studio and daily yoga classes.
For the novice practitioner, a visit to Byron Bay is a gentle introduction into a healthy yogic lifestyle. you’ll find a yoga class within a side stretch of just about anywhere. Step up a notch and there’s a full calendar of yoga retreats ranging from weekend getaways with Liz Costigan to week-long programs like Jessie Chapman’s Radiance Retreats. Jessie’s popular retreats incorporate daily yoga classes (Hatha/ Vinyassa) with basic but comfortable accommodation, nurturing food, massage treatments and a fun program of activities including dance, bush and beach walks, nutrition talks, cooking demonstrations and meditation. At the premium end of the spectrum Jessie also runs luxury retreats at Gaia Retreat and Spa. Gaia also offers tailored health, fitness and detox programs incorporating daily yoga in a beautiful setting in the Byron Hinterland – perfect for a mini-break with friends or a mother-daughter retreat. Aspiring yoga teachers also have the chance to immerse in a yogic lifestyle with intensive teacher training programs ranging from a four weeks to a year. The most popular include John Ogilvie’s Byron Bay Yoga Centre (combining Iyengar, Asthanga, Sivananda and Satyananda) and Lance Schuler’s Inspya (Hatha) training, both of which include residential intensives throughout the year.
Dena Kingsberg’s Yoga Shala (11 Black Butt Street) offers Asthanga Mysore classes. Bookings are required and check dates for Dena’s travel schedule. www.dena.net.au
Liz Costigan’s Byron Iyengar Yoga Lounge (1a Banksia Drive) offers daily classes (Tuesday-Sunday), 5-night retreats from $1400 or ‘choose your own date’ retreats from $350 for two nights. The centre also runs teacher training with Glenn Ceresoli on six weekends across the year for $4,040.
Inspya runs 4-6 week Hatha Teacher Training programs for levels 1-4 with Lance Schuler from $5,000. Inspya also run 10-day raw food retreats with onsite accommodation and camping. www.inspyayoga.com
Byron Yoga Centre (6 Byron Street) offers daily yoga classes, 7-day retreats from $1250 and Teacher Training modules from 12-day intensives for $2500 with ashram style accommodation from $143 per week. www.byronyoga.com
Red Tent Yoga (5/102 Centenial Circuit) offers yoga classes, workshops and ‘Wise Women Circles’ just for the gals and kids.
Or bring your inner surf goddess and yogini together at one of Samudra’s surf and yoga retreats. (link to Anneli’s story – http://holidaygoddess.com/destinations/byron-bay-australia-the-ultimate-retreat/)
With healthy cafes that serve up organic produce, vegan meals and a ‘LSD’ (Soy Dandelion Latte) without a raised eyebrow, Byron Bay is a rare treat for the vegetarian eater. Cafe One One One (1/111 Jonson Street) dishes up hearty regional produce with a European bent. The infamous Fins Restaurant has relocated to Salt Village near Kingscliff, but you can enjoy great gourmet fish and chips at Fish Mongers (Bay Lane, behind the Beach Hotel) If you’ve got cash to burn, there’s Olivo (34 Johnson Street. Phone: 6685 7950), Dish (Cnr Jonson & Marvel Streets Phone: 6685 7320) or Rae’s on Wategoes (Marine Parade, Wategos Beach, phone: 6685 5366). For the best coffee in town try Bay Leaf (8/87 Jonson Street) or Mokha on Lawson (Feros Arcade Shop 2/ Lawson Street). If you are staying in town for a while, you can shop for fresh organic produce and supplies at Santos and the Fundamental Food Store, nicknamed ‘Fundies’ by the locals. Or meet the local farmers at the Byron Farmer’s Markets held every Thursday between 8am-11am in Butler Street Reserve.
Despite its reputation as a bit of a party town, Byron’s nightlife is surprisingly limited but there are a few quirky local haunts and pubs. The beer garden at The Beach Hotel (Bay Street) is Byron’s most popular watering hole with live music most nights and Sunday afternoons. ‘The Rails’ Railway Hotel (Jonson Street) and the rowdy Great Northern Hotel (Byron Bay Street) both come to life with live music gigs and a local crowd. Put your dancing shoes on and disco with the hot young things at La La Land (Lawson Street) or Cocomangas (Jonson Street).
For the best pampering experiences head out of town to Gaia Retreat & Spa where you can have a spa treatment and lunch or Kiva Spa (1 McGooghans Lane, Mullumbimby. 02 6684 4811). Entry to Kiva’s bathhouse is $20 with treatments from only $45 for a half-hour massage. Shaman River Rain calls Byron Bay home and offers mobile massage services when he’s not traveling the globe. If you are lucky to catch him you’ll enjoy one of the best massage treatments you’ll ever have. Phone: 0408 192 769.
Shopaholics will find everything from hippie couture to surf wear, street fashion and oodles of homewares. The best way to approach shopping is to head to Jonson Street and wander. On a drizzly day head to the esoteric Abraxas Bookshop (13 Lawson Street) or the Medicine Wheel (1/84 Jonson Street) for a tarot reading and classic Byron spiritual bits and bobs. The Byron craft and produce markets are held on the first Sunday of the month in Butler Street Reserve.
Off the mat, take up surfing, scuba diving, drumming, Tantra, temple dancing or any of the myriads of distractions that are offered in abundance to entertain your inner soul seeker. A sunrise walk to Cape Byron Headland and Lighthouse is a must. Further afield, climb Mount Warning, visit Minyon Falls and explore the Hinterland and surrounding towns including Mullumbimby (‘Mullum”), Lennox Heads, Brunswick Heads and Bangalow. For tips on local markets, events and gigs, pick up the local newspaper, The Echo.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
Byron Bay is about 2½ hours drive south of Brisbane. Fly to Ballina or the Gold Coast/ Coolangatta. Check www.webject.come.au for the best deals. Xcede Airport Shuttle service offers transfers to Byron Bay for the 50 minute trip from Ballina ($18 each way) and Gold Coast ($40 each way). Phone 1300 233 113 or book online. (Tip: Queensland and NSW have different time zones in summer so remember to check daylight saving times when you cross the border). Blanch’s Buses run regular, but not especially extensive, local services. Check www.blanchs.com.au for timetable information. Your best bet is to hire a bike. Byron Bay Surf and Bike Hire (1/31 Lawson Street. (02) 6680 7066) rent a range of bikes from $20 per day or you can buy a used bike from as little as $150.
© Kris McIntyre 2010