Blissed out in Byron Bay

G Magazine (issue #21, July/August 2009)

For a sustainable getaway, you can't go past The Byron at Byron eco-resort. It's 5-star luxury with a conscience.

Tallow Beach

Byron Bay's Tallow Beach is just a short stroll along the boardwalks from the Byron at Byron eco-resort.


The main verandah at The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa.

The infinity pool

The infinity pool.


Guests of The Byron at Byron have access to an amazing 45-acre rainforest setting.

suite exterior

The suites are surrounded by rainforest trees.

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"Stopping at The Byron at Byron," announces the Ballina Byron Airport shuttle bus driver. What? Here? Where...? Oh...! Spotting the resort is like playing 'I Spy' or 'Where's Wally?', even though it's only 15 metres from the edge of the road.

The $45-million eco-getaway is nestled within an enchanting, 45-acre, pristine rainforest. The owner, Gerry Harvey (of Harvey Norman), spent more than $1 million rehabilitating the rainforest from its original, fragile, overgrown state; today three environmental experts maintain the area (which boasts 188 native plant species), hand-picking weeds once a week.

Upon entering the resort I'm greeted by a gigantic vase of lilies, sophisticated and contemporary Thai-style resort decor and the friendliest, non-snootiest staff you'll ever meet at a 5-star resort, who excitedly hand me the keys to my room and give directions for how to get there:

"Walk past the infinity swimming pool, wooden deckchairs, gym and sauna; through the winding wooden path for about 300 metres; past the swaying palm tree grove and tennis court and it's to the left," I'm instructed.
The 92 one-bedroom bungalows blend into the scenery, and the resort is set out in such a way that it seems the birds and trees - and that wild turkey that keeps bumping into me - don't even know I'm here.

One swipe of the key card opens the bungalow to reveal an eco-chic, self-contained suite complete with a kitchen and bathroom. Think modern timber design stylings (Japanese-y sliding wooden screen doors and wooden floors), sprinkled with local artwork and energy-efficient light globes; plus they use eco-friendly cleaning products, so there's no lingering (and bronchial-spasm-inducing) bleach scents.

I was impressed by the unique airing system in the apartments - designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions by optimising the natural flow of air, by keeping front and back sliding doors open while making sure the room
remains secure. Plus there are stylish flyscreens on outside doors and surrounding the outside balcony space.

Nature's feast

As for recommendations: when night falls, sit on one of the two private timber verandahs in the dark and listen to the Africa-meets-didgeridoo-style rhythmic melody of crickets, cicadas and frogs.

After being lulled into a meditative state by these tranquil sounds, take a wander along the wooden paths, winding through the magical evening rainforest to The Byron at Byron Restaurant.

The restaurant is located about 20 metres in front of the rainforest, which is stunning and majestic at night. Staff will proudly tell you that different types of light bring out its different colours, depths and moods, and it's certainly true.

Enjoy the view and feel the woody-flowery breeze sweep through your hair as you savour the most divine meals created from locally sourced and mostly organic produce, al fresco style. Think organic, crusty ciabatta bread with garlic confit and extra virgin oil as an entrée; crispy-skinned salmon with mange-tout, almonds, prosciutto and burnt orange and basil dressing for the main feature; and creamy white chocolate panacotta, devilishly dark choc gelato or feuilletine (a mini mud/mousse cake with a hint of raspberry) for dessert.

After dinner and a night-time stroll, wind down further in your suite with a soothing spa bath using complimentary products made locally in Byron Bay from organic, natural and vegan ingredients.

Fancy a herbal tea before you turn in for the night? Help yourself to the selection in your room. Zzzzzz...

The next morning

You'll wake to an energetic symphony of birds, which obviously relish the area as much as you. There are actually 89 bird species in the area, taking birdwatching to another level for those interested.

Don't miss the complimentary outdoor yoga class, held from 8 to 9.30 am every morning (meet in front of the spa on the main timber deck). Every move is soothing; every thought is serene; every breath is precious. Beginners are welcome.

Afterwards, float to the restaurant for a buffet breakfast of fresh fruit, juices, yoghurt, muesli and continental cuisine - again, locally produced and organic where possible. This supports the local community while cutting out transport miles and associated emissions.

On the way back to your room, it's time to admire the lily pad pond-swamp nestled between thriving elephant-ear leaf trees and other lush plants. The resort has invested $500,000 on a wastewater treatment system that treats sewage water and reuses it to water the flourishing gardens, and pumps it (free of charge) to the golf course across the road, whose grass has never looked greener.

Relaxation overload

If you thought things couldn't get any more laid back, before check-out at 11 am head over to the Spa and Wellness Centre, where treatments include hot stone massages, reflexology, facials and body wraps. They also offer tarot reading and astrology services.

Or, if you happen to be there on a Thursday morning, accompany the restaurant chefs to the Byron Bay
Farmers' Markets to meet local farmers and appreciate the fresh wholesomeness of locally produced fare.
If you have the time after checking out, leave your bags with the concierge, hire a bike ($20 a day or $15 for half a day) and ride 20 minutes to town for a fun and refreshing experience in true eco-style. The resort also offers free shuttle bus transport to Byron Bay township, twice a day. On the way you'll pass locals wearing everything from bohemian tie-dye and Indian sari-pattern-inspired dresses to surfie shorts and thongs - the main beach (north-facing, popular with surfers and patrolled in summer) is, after all, just a stones' throw from the shops.

Have a lunchtime nibble at one of the many gorgeous vegan and organic cafés, where you're likely to hear locals chit-chatting over the latest planet-saving trends. In Byron Bay, retro-style Volkswagen Kombi vans cruise through the streets alongside tens of eco-conscious locals riding bicycles around town.

Street signs promote Earth-friendly messages, from "Fish don't like sediment in gutters" to "We love Byron - no butts please", while the only graffiti you'll find reads "Love is all you need", painted in a curly font on a cream cement block outside someone's house.

A true eco-Mecca.

Fact file

When to go: Summer and spring are when the weather is best, but it never really gets that cold during the rest of the year.
How to get there: The resort is a 50-minute drive from Coolangatta Airport (Qld) or a
20-minute drive from the Ballina-Byron Airport (NSW). Catch a shuttle bus to the door for $15 each way with Airport Transfers Byron Bay (02 6620 9200). Taxis and hire-cars are available from the airport. Resort address: 77-97 Broken Head Road, Byron Bay.
Costs: Superior Suite, $385 per night;
Deluxe Spa Suite: $425 per night. One night's stay with return flights, dinner and all other transport is likely to set you back around $620 pp.
Other activities: Walk a few minutes to Tallow Beach; play golf across the road; experience dolphin watching, kayaking, sky diving and other outdoor adventures.
Other eco initiatives: Recycled paper and envelopes for office use (and a preference for email over letters), electric buggies for staff and guest needs, waterless car and buggy washes and carbon-neutral conference packages for businesses.
web:www.thebyronatbyron com.au
phone: 1300 554 362