Cheer Up, Slow Down, Chill Out
The allure of Byron Bay has grown over the decades to the point where it has become renowned around Australia and well beyond. Perhaps Byron can be best summed up by the sign visitors see on the way into town, which simply states Cheer Up, Slow Down, Chill Out.
Within days of moving to Byron a few years ago, I knew I had found my new home. I didn’t have a job or a permanent place to live, but in short order those things fell into place quite easily. Yet other people I know have found it more difficult to settle here. This seems to be a pattern: either Byron opens its arms to you, with opportunities readily presenting themselves, or it challenges you deeply, making a transition much harder or even impossible. There is a feel or an energy to Byron and it seems that people are either aligned with it or they aren’t. This can of course change (and inevitably does as time goes on!) so if you are someone who is finding it more difficult, don’t be discouraged. If there is anything that three years in Byron has taught me, it is this: trust the timing of your journey through life.
Although I am far from a local, I have spent enough time in the community and in various jobs here to share my experience working and living in Byron. Here is my main insight: there is always more to be experienced. That is one of the big truths about Byron: everyone has their own unique experience. What is true for one person is not necessarily true for another, so I humbly offer my musings and this information with that acknowledgement.
One of the first things I heard about after moving here was the Byron Bubble. People have a tendency to remain immersed within this rather small area. It’s not hard to see why people come and don’t want to leave: there are incredible beaches that are mostly uncrowded. People tend to be open-minded and open-hearted and the sense of community is greater than any other place I have lived in the world. There is a small but vibrant party scene and an eclectic and international group people. Finally, Byron has a reputation for being a place of healing. Nestled within all of these attributes, there is something else… Byron has a kind of magic to it that can’t quite be described. As many have said and will continue to say: it has to be felt and experienced firsthand. And if you feel this place, then you just may find yourself content within the Bubble.
Working in Byron Bay
With a largely transient population and a deep reliance on tourism to keep businesses afloat, work opportunities in Byron tend to fluctuate by season. The busiest time in Byron is undoubtedly during the summer school holidays. Between all of the families that come to visit, the students who are on holidays from school and everyone else who wants to experience a slice of paradise, town is pumping during December and January. Schoolies at the end of November is a hectic time. Easter sees another big spike in visitors. In essence, November to April is the best time to find work.
The majority of the work available is in hospitality and retail. If you want to work somewhere that serves alcohol, you will need your RSA for New South Wales. This can be done in person or online. Having great customer service skills is important, and prior work experience will be a big plus. The travel agents aimed at backpackers also hire on a regular basis. It is worth mentioning that there are tons of tradies in the area too. That is because of all the new construction, renovations and general maintenance on the area’s residences.
Because Byron’s surf lifestyle is so sought after, a number of Australian companies are opening small offices in Byron. These are concentrated in the Industrial Estate. Entrepreneurs have also long called Byron home. There are many opportunities to support local businesses around town by buying their food, clothing & eco products, or by using their services. There are also more and more startups springing to life. Habitat is one of the startup hubs with their co-working, residential and commercial spaces. Other co-working spaces in Byron are: Sustainable Valley, The Corner Palm and The Work Pod.
One of my jobs is for a startup called Apidimi, a website for international students. In typical Byron fashion, the job came to me as an opportunity through someone else I had done some freelance work for. In fact, reflecting on my many jobs in Byron, they have all presented themselves right when I needed them. I know that many others have had this experience. I feel immensely grateful that I have stayed patient when the work has ebbed and flowed, as it seems to do here.
If you do not have contacts (and even if you do), I recommend using websites like Job Search. Online search engines are immensely valuable as you can see all the latest jobs that are posted. When you apply for each job, make sure to personalise your resume, tailoring it to the opportunity. You can use the free Resume Builder if you need help updating yours.
Finally, in speaking about working in Byron, it is impossible to ignore the obvious draw card: work-life balance. This elusive and sometimes frustrating term is very real in my experience. It is honestly hard to compare the lifestyle here with city life. Even if you are working a ton of hours in Byron, there is almost always an opportunity to run down to the beach for a swim. Doing the Lighthouse walk (more on that later) on a regular basis is an amazing way to stay in shape. These types of activities in nature make Byron life feel more like a holiday than something routine and mundane.
Of course there are still going to be the usual stresses here like work, relationships, money, etc. Don’t expect that living in paradise will make those go away. But in my experience, living in paradise helps us to deal with them. Being able to wash away a frustrating encounter with a swim, or getting out for a quick surf before starting the day can go a long way for keeping our mental health in balance. But it’s up to each person to cultivate this mindset, and to enjoy doing the things that make Byron so special.
The weather in Byron is temperate year round. It is considered to be a sub-tropical climate. It is possible to swim in the ocean and relax at the beach during any given month of the year. During the summer, the temperature can reach low to mid thirties, with even hotter temperatures in other areas of the Byron Shire. However, the average during the day is high twenties, with some relief at night when it goes to around 20 degrees Celsius. In the winter months, daily temperatures hover around 20, and at night it drops to around 12 degrees. March tends to be the rainiest month, with February and April seeing lots of showers too. Byron arguably has one of the best climates in Australia.
One of the most special things about winter in Byron is watching the whale migration. These ancient creatures swim up and then back down the east coast. The humpback whales can be seen daily from June to October. Sightings are also possible in May and November. The whales can be seen from the beaches, and from the Lighthouse. There are a number of tour operators that will take you out on the water for an unforgettable experience.
Cape Byron Lighthouse
The Lighthouse is an iconic structure sitting on Australia’s most easterly point, in the Cape Byron State Conservation Area. The headland offers beautiful views of the sunrise over the ocean in the mornings, and of the sunset over the mountains in the evenings. Dolphins, whales, turtles, manta rays and sharks may be spotted in the clear waters below. Wallabies, brush-turkeys and birds of many varieties can be spotted along the walking track. The trail can be done as a loop, or people can hop on and off at a number of junctures, including Wategos. Alternatively, park at the top for a small fee. However you get there, enjoy the views and breathe in the salty air.
Byron’s laid-back vibes are rooted in its surf culture. With decent waves throughout the year, and a number of beaches to choose from, surfers and beach lovers alike are attracted to the area. Here are the beaches in order of location, starting from north of Byron:
- Belongil Beach is a 2.5 km long beach that includes a creek, off-leash dog area and clothing optional stretch.
- The Wreck is technically the end of Belongil Beach, near Main Beach. It boasts a powerful right-hand break when conditions are right.
- Main Beach is a family and tourist hub. There are lifeguards, live music on the grass and lovely swimming conditions.
- Clarke’s Beach is next to Main Beach. It has easy to manage swell and nice rock pools at low tide.
- The Pass is an iconic surf spot in Byron with the most consistent waves. It draws beginners and experienced surfers alike.
- Wategos is a small but stunning beach that attracts long boarders and beachgoers for swimming.
- Cosy Corner is protected from northerly winds, thus its name. It is a spot for more experienced surfers given the rips and swell.
- Tallow Beach (also known as Tallows) starts at Cosy Corner and goes 6.5 km to Broken Head Beach. It has an off-leash dog area, swell and rips so be careful when swimming.
- Broken Head Beach is another great surf spot with a beautiful walking trail in the Nature Reserve.
It’s not hard to see why people come to Byron for a holiday – in one week you can easily visit a new spot every day!
Byron Bay welcomes close to 2 million visitors each year, and yet it only has a local population of 9,000 inhabitants. That population may seem low, because it only refers to the town of Byron Bay. On the other hand, the Byron Shire’s population is almost four times higher at 35,000 people. The Byron Shire includes many suburbs and townships, most notably Bangalow, Brunswick Heads, Mullumbimby, Ocean Shores and South Golden Beach.
Although the population for Byron itself seems low, the truth is that the constant flow of visitors makes it feel much higher. With a largely transient population of backpackers, students and working holidaymakers, it is not uncommon to hear many languages in the streets, or to be served in a restaurant by someone whose English language skills are still developing. Because of this there is a vibrancy and international presence in this once sleepy surf town. Although there is a sense of community in Byron, the surrounding towns like Mullumbimby, Brunswick Heads, Lennox Heads and Bangalow may offer a deeper sense of local community since they have more stable populations.
Housing in Byron is a hot topic, with more and more homes being used for airbnb and short-term rentals. A short-term nightly rate is significantly higher than what a long-term tenant would pay. This tempts landlords into this hotly debated income stream. There are also a number of holiday homes, owned by Australians who live in other parts of the country, like Sydney and Melbourne. These may sit empty for much of the year. Alternatively, some people who own holiday homes rent them out for part of the year, ending leases in November or December. That makes summer a particularly challenging time for finding a good rental.
The median price of a home in Byron Bay is estimated to be somewhere between 1 – 1.5 million dollars, depending on the data source. That makes it more expensive than notably pricey Sydney. It also puts home buying out of reach for the average person. This makes the rest of the Byron Shire more attractive in terms of purchasing power.
For those who are looking to rent, there are a number of ways to find leads. Word of mouth is always nice, but looking online seems to be the most accessible option for most. Check the real estate sites (or better yet, visit their offices in town), look in the local Byron Shire Echo newspaper classifieds, check or post in the local Facebook groups, and browse on Gumtree for listings.
Neighbourhoods & Transport
Byron Bay’s town centre is compact and most definitely walk-able. The two main streets are Jonson and Lawson. Shops and restaurants are concentrated within a one-kilometre radius. Bangalow Road is the only street out of town towards the suburb of Suffolk Park. Before reaching the high school or Suffolk Park, you will pass Lilli Pilli, one of Byron’s two neighbourhoods. The other neighbourhood is called Sunrise, or the Industrial Estate, which is off of Ewingsdale Road, the one street leaving town in the opposite direction. As expected, that road takes you to Ewingsdale, an outer suburb of Byron. Skinners Shoot is a locality reached by taking a turn at the roundabout near the Police Station before leaving town for Ewingsdale. There are no traffic lights in Byron, but rather a number of roundabouts and give way signs.
Most of the transient population in Byron gets around on foot or bicycle. Given how small the town is, this is certainly doable. Some visitors arrive with vans or other vehicles, and undoubtedly most locals have cars. Uber operates in Byron for those looking for private rides. While there is some public transportation, it is fairly limited depending on where you live and where you want to go. The public and school bus routes are operated by Blanch’s Bus. More recently, the world’s first solar train began operating along a 3 km coast track line. People can hop on at North Beach Station at the end of Bayshore Drive, and head all the way into town.
In essence there is one road in and one road out of town. Traffic becomes a problem during peak tourist season or during school drop-off times. Expect to spend extra time in the car if you are visiting along with the crowds. That being said, it doesn’t compare to the traffic in any of the big cities, so take a deep breath and surrender.
People with children will find good schooling in Byron. A number of my friends are locals, and their children are happily enrolled at some of the schools listed. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Byron Bay Public School is for Kindergarten to Year 6. It is centrally located, near the heart of Byron.
- Byron Bay High School is for Years 7 – 12. It is located between town and Suffolk Park.
- St. Finbarr’s Catholic Primary School is for K – 6. School fees are applicable.
- Byron Community Primary School is also K – 6, commanding higher fees for its intimate class sizes and holistic approach to education.
- Cape Byron Rudolf Steiner School is located in the suburb of Ewingsdale. They offer a creative and academic education for K – 12 in the renowned Waldorf / Steiner education style.
If you have already graduated and want to study in Byron Bay, there are some wonderful options.
- Envirotech Byron Bay offers a range of courses including Leadership and Management, Environmental Sciences and Sustainability, Hospitality Management and Commercial Cookery, and Marketing and Communication.
- Byron Bay English Language School (BBELS) and Lexis English cater to international students who want to improve their English language skills.
- For something very much in the spirit of Byron Bay, some students choose to undertake the Yoga Teacher Training at the Byron Yoga Centre. They have a variety of course lengths that meet the student visa requirements.
- Ayurveda means the science of life. It is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems. The Ayurveda College in the heart of town offers courses to local and international students.
- SAE is the world’s leading educator in creative media industries. Their Byron campus has courses in Audio, Music Production, Games Development, Film, Graphic Design, Augmented and Virtual Reality, and 3D Animation.
- For those willing to travel, there are a huge variety of courses available on the Gold Coast, and a number of attractive options at Southern Cross University in Lismore. Both are approximately an hour’s drive from Byron.
- Byron Community College has an incredible breadth of offerings at their Byron Bay and Mullumbimby campuses.
One of the key things I have always looked for when moving somewhere new is food. Are there local growers? How available is organic food? Are there many plant-based options for going out to eat? And in the last couple of years since I quit single use plastics: are there places to buy my ingredients in bulk? Byron checked every box and then some.
The Byron Farmers Market at the Cavanbah Centre features the area’s abundance with in-season fruits & veg, meat, cheese, seafood, honey, pasta, tempeh, preserves, wine and flowers. There is also live music and a number of stalls serving brekkie. The market is open every Thursday from 8 – 11am. For those without a vehicle there is a shuttle operating to and from the Jonson St bus shelter every half hour starting at 7:30am.
For those who miss the market, but still want to pick up local produce, here are my recommendations:
- Visit Santos Organics in town or in the Industrial Estate. They are a not for profit that does a lot to contribute to environmental and community projects.
- In Suffolk Park, visit Baz & Shaz Fruit & Veg, a family-owned neighbourhood institution. I think of it as the heart of Suffolk, with friendly & familiar faces every time I shop. They also have the best prices on organic produce.
- Both Santos and Baz & Shaz have bulk sections, for those interested in avoiding unnecessary plastic packaging.
- Another great option for ingredients is The Source Bulk Foods. They don’t sell produce but within their little footprint (next door to Santos in town), they have most everything else to support your zero waste efforts in the kitchen and general household.
The major chains in town are Woolworth’s and Aldi, with IGA SUPA in the Industrial Estate. Alternatively, for local places to purchase meat and seafood, visit the Bay Seafood Market, Trevor Mead Quality Meats or Wholly Smoked Organic Butchery. For daily fresh baked bread, visit Byron Hot Bread Kitchen, Sunday Sustainable Bakery and Suffolk Bakery.
For anyone with dietary restrictions, there is surely a restaurant that will suit. There are many places serving local and/or organic ingredients with gluten free and plant-based options. If you are vegan or just trying to eat more plant-based then check out the local vegan restaurants:
- Elixiba – in addition to being vegan, the whole menu is also gluten free.
- Manna Haven – open for weekday lunches only. Buffet style with food cooked fresh every morning.
- No Bones – open for dinner only.
- Yulli’s Byron Bay – open for lunch and dinner.
Most restaurants have vegan and vegetarian options given the health conscious nature of the local community. I have had great plant-based meals at O Sushi, Kinoko, Kura, Fundies Organics (they also have a shop with groceries, household goods and bulk items), Orgasmic Food, Fel’s Kitchen, Success Thai Food, Balcony, Taste of Melaka, and Santos Organics. As you can see there are no shortage of options, even in this small town.
Each unique and very established in Byron, these popular spots are worth mentioning:
- Bayleaf Cafe is an iconic brekkie & lunch spot in Byron. Local and visiting artists regularly repaint their outer wall.
- Top Shop is another brekkie and lunch spot. They have a basket of blankets for those who want to enjoy their food and drinks on the lawn.
- Combi serves up beautiful Instagram-worthy dishes during the day. They use lots of local and organic ingredients. Their smoothies and acai bowls are particularly popular.
- The Farm Byron Bay offers a farm-to-table approach at their onsite restaurant called Three Blue Ducks. It is a family friendly place with delicious food. The grounds can also be explored. They are open for breakfast and lunch everyday. Dinner is available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
If you want to save a little money then check out:
- Yellow Flower Indian Diner’s $8 small & $11 large curries on Tuesdays.
- Pizza Paradiso’s $13 small, $18.50 large & $24 giant pizzas (plus pasta specials) on Tuesdays.
- On Wednesdays, Elixiba has rotating specials, and on the last Wednesday of the month, it’s their infamous pay-what-you-want night.
- On Thursdays, go to the Cavanbah Centre for All-You-Can-Eat Pizza ($20 per person or half-price for kids, BYO and vegan/gluten free options available).
Even though it’s a small town, there is still a party scene. For a night out, people head to the Beach Hotel, The Northern, The Rails (as it’s known locally, but officially the Railway Friendly Bar), Byron Bay Brewery, Locura, Woody’s Surf Shack, The Sticky Wicket or Cheeky Monkey’s (attracts a decidedly young crowd). There are also tons of restaurants with nice drink menus, and a number of dinner spots that offer a BYO option.
If you love to go to the pub for a cold one and a sports game, Byron has you covered:
- The Beach Hotel has many television screens indoors, and projector screens outdoors on their patio. They are showing various sporting events at all times.
- The Northern televises big UFC fights in addition to other sports.
- The Sticky Wicket is a late night sports bar that can draw a crowd to its relatively small space.
- For a more relaxed sports-watching atmosphere, visit the Byron Bay Bowling Club or the Suffolk Park Hotel.
With so many talented performers living in or visiting Byron, it’s commonplace to hear live music in the streets, at restaurants or in some of the intimate venues around town.
- The Rails has live music almost every night of the week.
- The Beach Hotel has a calendar of musical events every month.
- The Northern has ticketed shows in its back room, along with free ones from time to time.
- Every Thursday to Sunday you can eat at Treehouse on Belongil while musical talent entertains.
- Byron Fresh Cafe regularly has local artists playing on their sidewalk.
- On Tuesday nights is the Arts Factory Lodge’s talent show, and in the alleyways or sidewalks, you can catch a number of buskers and street performers most nights of the week.
Byron Bay hosts three big music festivals annually.
- Bluesfest takes place over the Easter long weekend. It is a 5-day contemporary blues & roots festival with well-known headliners and relatively unknown talent alike. It is well loved by locals, and attracts people of all ages.
- Splendour in the Grass is a 3-day festival in July, which boasts big headlining acts, and draws a young crowd full of “influencers.” They showcase Indie rock, hip-hop, electronic and alternative music, and tickets normally sell out within hours.
- Falls Festival is another 3-day music event that takes place over the New Year. Byron is one of a number of locations for Falls Festival in Australia.
Byron is undoubtedly known for its outdoor lifestyle, with reasonably good weather for most of the year. As expected, the main activity is going to the beach. One of the things I noticed right away is that people gather at the beach to socialise. This is such a nice change from always meeting for food and drinks. It is so nice to pack a picnic and share food you have made. Or to drop the focus on food, and just enjoy a good surf or swim!
If you are looking for other ideas, I’ve put together this list that is by no means comprehensive. It simply offers a sense of Byron life and its activities.
- Go to the Sunday Market that rotates around the Shire. The first Sunday of the month is at Main Beach in Byron, the second Sunday is in the Channon and the fourth Sunday is in Bangalow. The markets are a fantastic place for brekkie or lunch, and to check out the incredible wares made by local artisans.
- From October to March, visit the Byron Artisan Market in the Railway Park. Find food and handmade goods from 4-9pm on Saturdays.
- Watch the sunrise at the Lighthouse, and catch the sunset at the Wreck. Sometimes there is a drum circle, and there is often live music nearby at Main Beach. If you want something a little quieter, then head back to the Lighthouse for sunset.
- Do the Lighthouse walk any time of the day, but do be careful during the summer months because there isn’t much shade. Bring water, and refill it along the way (at the top near the cafe, or in the Pass or Captain Cook parking lots).
- Hang out or drop in at the skate park in Suffolk Park. There is also a playground and community garden. Added bonus: you’re right next to Baz & Shaz for a treat or groceries.
- Go to a yoga class at one of the many studios in or close to town. There is a high caliber of teachers and students in the area, making it a wonderful place to immerse yourself. It is relatively easy to find a class that is aligned with your practice, whatever your level.
- Get a massage, get your cards read or book a healing session in almost any healing modality you can imagine. Byron is known as a healing place and thus attracts many healers of all kinds. You don’t have to look far to find someone; just trust your intuition when booking a session.
- Go to an event on the lush grounds of Temple Byron. Different spiritual groups and teachers use it as a venue to share their offerings.
- Walk the streets to enjoy the street performers, or check out the many live music performances at venues around town.
- Watch special performances and unique screenings at the Byron Community Centre, in the heart of town. This not for profit aims to better the lives of the people in the local community, so going to their events is a great way to support their mission.
- Catch a movie at the air-conditioned Palace Byron Bay, an addition to the town’s main street in 2019.
- Visit some of the nearby towns, like Bangalow, Mullumbimby, Brunswick Heads and Lennox Heads. They all have their own distinct charms and offerings, and are all worth visiting in their own right.
- Go bushwalking at Minyon Falls or Protesters Falls (we recommend timing a visit to Protesters Falls with a trip to the Channon Sunday Market).
- Visit the Crystal Castle just 20 km from Byron. They are open every day of the year from 10am – 5pm, with the exception of Good Friday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Be awed by the spectacular geodes, and enjoy the relaxing vibes of the gardens and grounds.
- Check out the notice boards around town or pick up a copy of the local papers to see what’s on. There are always gigs, workshops and retreats happening in the Shire.
- On New Year’s Eve wander the streets of Byron for their alcohol-free, family friendly party. With tons of live music, food stalls and good vibes, this is a really great way to close out the year and celebrate the start of a new one.
I hope this article has been helpful, as you consider working and living in Byron Bay. If you liked it, please feel free to share it with friends and family, or on your social platforms. All the best on your journey, wherever it takes you!
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written by alison starratt