Curved fins bob in the ocean; sunlight catches white underbellies and sea spray shoots from blowholes. They call out to us. But within seconds, they bid farewell.

While it’s over in the blink of an eye, the encounter with these mesmerising creatures is enough to overwhelm me; I clamber along the most easterly point of Australia’s mainland squealing, “Whales!”

Thousands of humpbacks pass through the waters hugging the Cape Byron State Conservation Area during their migration between May and November. In the surrounding sandy coves and turquoise bays, pods of playful dolphins are also in abundance.

The Cape Byron Bay Lighthouse shines in the sweltering afternoon sun. I watch it beam across an inky blue sky from Elements of Byron, where I’m staying. Byron INP 

My mornings here begin with sunrise yoga. Sitting on my mat, I gaze out at the familiar lighthouse, now a smudge of white atop the rocky point of Cape Byron. Warm rays on my bare shoulders are welcome.

A friendly native bird watches me move slowly under the guidance of my teacher, who gently encourages me to focus on the rumble of the nearby waves whenever I notice my mind become choppy. Even without the lull of the ocean, I can quieten my thoughts by slowing the breath, she says.

It’s as if this mantra is held true by all the locals.

People here seem to move with a sense of genuine ease and happiness. They also have a noticeable respect for nature and the environment.

I sit on the veranda of Three Blue Ducks, a delightful café and store boasting zero food miles –
all fresh produce consumed and sold here is harvested from the onsite garden and farm. Between sips of coffee and mouthfuls of fresh greens, I exchange a smile with the bakers kneading dough. A mother pig feeds her babies in a nearby pen and children scale climbing frames in the playground.     

Byron Bay township is a treasure trove of bohemian fare. Feathered dreamcatchers sway in shop doors; Buddha statues, crystals and gemstones glow in the sunlight. A colourful peace sign reflects rainbow hues over a barista in a hole-in-the-wall-style coffee shop.

Mates meet at The Balcony Bar and Oyster Co. for catch ups. Beautiful people with sun-kissed skin, deep smile lines and feathers in their hair wander barefoot. Would I be missed if I relocated?

It’s tempting to soak up the sunshine poolside at Elements of Byron, but a walk along Wategos Beach is an enticing tonic. A rumbling stomach leads me to Folk café and I take a seat beneath leafy tropical plants. Scented smoke from incense in the courtyard gardens unfurls and lingers in the still air. A waitress waters the vegetable patch, a dog snoozes in a patch of pale sunlight; his mate rolls on the dusty earth. I graze on nourishing organic and plant-based goodies.

Following the droves, I find myself caught up in the action that unfolds on the first Sunday of every month. The light breeze carries happy chatter as shoppers purchase fresh olives, bread and honey at the Byron Bay Markets. Stalls with eye-catching and beautifully made clothing, ceramics and paintings draw me in like a moth to flame.

Each stand is home to goods created with great care, pride, and lashings of love – that good old Byron Bay ethos.

A young girl busks and a toddler twitches as her face is painted with delicate daisies. A potter throws clay on a wheel, transforming the glob of earth into a fine masterpiece before impressed onlookers. He beckons us forward to press our thumbs into the wet clay, our prints adding to the charm of the finished product. We all want to leave our mark.  

Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Summer 2018 issue

More information

Queensland’s Gold Coast is a 45-minute drive north of Byron Bay. Here, a walk along the vast stretch of shoreline is an invigorating start to the day. For the thrill seekers, there’s plenty of action to be had on rides and rollercoasters at the theme parks north of Surfers Paradise. To soak up the sunshine at a more relaxed pace, Burleigh Heads, to the south, offers boutique clothing and homeware stores. Cafés serve refreshing acai bowls and other delicious artisan produce. Grab a bite to go, and sit beneath the shade of trees in grassy parkland parallel to the beach. Burleigh Head National Park is a slice of tranquillity on the headland. Seek refuge from the sun in the bush and listen to birdsong along one of the many walking tracks; trees make way for views of beautiful bays and the Gold Coast’s striking skyline. Refuel at Burleigh Heads Fish Monger. Enjoy succulent fresh fish and chips, prawns and other seafood in the restaurant onsite or opt for takeaways on the beach.

Mantra Hotels has a range of hotels, motels and resorts across Australia and AA Members receive 10% off the best rate of the day at any Mantra Hotels property year-round. Enter the promo code AATRAVELNZ to book.

The writer stayed in a boutique self-contained villa courtesy of Elements of Byron

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