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Byron Bay, where alternative lifestyles converge at the beach


Early morning mist rising at Main Beach at Byron Bay

Early mornings are beautiful at Byron Bay

If ever an Australian beach region didn't need an introduction, Byron Bay would have to be near the top of the list. Well known locally and to travellers from all over the world, Byron Bay is a true paradise of sorts and one of the most popular holiday destinations in Australia. The Arakwal people, the traditional landowners of the area, refer to it as Cavvanbah, which translates roughly to "meeting place" - a suitable name indeed. There are so many beaches in this one area that it's hard to know where to begin. Let's start right at the beginning...

Main Beach at Byron Bay on a perfect sunny day

Main Beach at Byron Bay on a perfect sunny day

Main Beach - where all the action happens

Once the location of an extensive sand mining operation as well as a hub for the whaling industry, Main Beach is today one of the most iconic beaches in Australia. Complete with everything from small cafes to fine dining and luxury hotels, it has something for everyone and there's a constant buzz around it. Situated between Clarkes Beach and The Wreck, Main Beach is a natural beauty and popular with locals and tourists alike. The lovely white sands converge with crystal blue waters here in such a way that it looks like it belongs on a postcard.

Main Beach Byron Bay walkway

Main Beach, close to all the action

For those who enjoy snorkeling, you can find the wreck of Tassie II (or the Tassie III as research has suggested it's more likely to be), a supply ship that was beached in 1945 and located not far off the beach. Main Beach has loads of amenities such as a park, toilets, showers, surf club, playground and picnic areas where you can relax and enjoy the views or simply take in the diversity of people visiting the area.

Clarkes Beach Byron Bay view from boardwalk

You can stay at these NPWS cabins right on the beach - Imeson Cottage

Clarkes Beach - natural beauty, modern living

One of the great aspects of traveling to various beaches is that you never get the same experience twice. Some beaches are remote, tranquil, and untouched; others are crowded and surrounded by communities and man-made structures. Clarkes Beach is a rare combination of both, a place that feels like you're miles away but actually right near the hustle and bustle of Byron Bay at the same time. Perfect for a day trip to the beach or an extended holiday stay, Clarkes Beach is worth the extra walk east from Main Beach if you want a quieter experience.

Clarkes Beach Byron Bay facing east

Early morning walks are popular along Clarkes Beach

Clarkes Beach borders the Cape Byron Conservation Park and is a short distance from the southern-facing Arakwal National Park. The curved, north-facing bay offers protection from southerly winds, making it an ideal surfing location during winter. The beach itself is fairly expansive and has plenty of room for everyone to spread out, and the rocky shorelines give the area a sense of untouched, wild beauty.

Clarkes Beach Byron Bay sunny day

Looking east along Clarkes Beach

In terms of accommodation and holiday rentals, Clarkes Beach has a variety of options from contemporary eco-cabins and camping grounds all the way up to the mega-expensive, multi-million dollar homes. North Coast Holiday Parks offers cabins, camping and is set up for RVs and caravans, and a highlight is the dining patio overlooking the beach. 

The Pass surf spot, Byron Bay NSW

The Pass is completely protected from southerly winds (this print is available in our online print gallery)

The Pass - a surfer's dream

The Pass is one of Byron Bay's most popular beaches and has plenty to offer those willing to explore this beautiful coastal area. People come from all over to enjoy the usually calm waters and protection from the wind, making it a popular spot for families, couples, singles, seniors, and just about anyone else. 

Lookout at The Pass at Byron Bay NSW

Fishermans Lookout - ideal place to check the surf

Located at the eastern tip of Clarkes Beach, The Pass is one of the most popular surf spots on the NSW coastline. The best place to check out the surf is from the Fishermans Lookout on the headland above, which is also a great place to check out the fish and pods of dolphins and whales that frequent the area. There are also great photo opportunities all along the coastal walk and some stunning shots can be had with The Pass and Clarkes Beach as a backdrop.

Facing east at The Pass at Byron Bay NSW

You can picture how long this wave gets on a good day

Surfing at The Pass

The Pass hosts a long right hand wave that breaks over a patchy sandy bottom and holds swells up to around 3 metres. On a good day the waves here churn down the point for a few hundred metres, making it a much sought after wave the world over. Being a world-class wave, The Pass gets insanely crowded at times and the vibe in the line-up can be a bit tentative at times. It gets inundated with travelling surfers, beginners who try to learn how to surf as well as locals who fiercely guard 'their' wave.

The Pass boat ramp sign, Byron Bay NSW

No need to pass, everything you wants right here 

Apart from the rare and unusual shark sighting in the deeper waters, The Pass is relatively safe (apart from the dive boats that nearly run you over on the way to and from Julian Rocks). If you are looking for a quiet place to get away from it all or want some time to yourself it's best to visit The Pass during the off-season and avoid peak holiday times.

The Pass is popular with scuba divers, photo of a diveboat at The Pass Byron Bay NSW

The Pass is renowned for scuba diving and tours operate daily

In terms of getting to The Pass, simply drive through the town and take the main road towards the lighthouse. There are multiple access points and walkways that lead down to the beach, making it an easy beach for kids and the elderly to enjoy.

Wategos Beach at Byron Bay NSW

You'll want to go here again after visiting the first time

Wategos Beach - from farm to pure indulgence

Wategos and Little Wategos beaches get their names from the family that originally leased land here back in the 1930, the Wategos. The family cleared the land near both beaches and used it to cultivate vegetables and bananas. Today, the farm is long gone and in its place stands expensive houses, boutique accommodation and fancy lodgings - a far cry from its earlier agricultural days.

Coastal track to Wategos Beach, Byron Bay NSW

Follow these to great beaches and surf

Wategos Beach is larger than Little Wategos and offers stunning views north along the coastline. Keep your eyes peeled for Bottlenose dolphins and Humpback whales during the annual migration season.

Surfers at Wategos Beach, Byron Bay NSW

These boardwalks are well made and make the journey easy and enjoyable

There's lots to do at Wategos Beach for the whole family. Excellent surfing and swimming, grassed-areas ideal for picnics and bbq's, and ideal protection from strong winds. It is situated about halfway along the Cape Byron Walking Track, which is a lovely 5km trail that truly showcases the best that Byron Bay has to offer in terms of views and wildlife.

Coastal track at Wategos Beach, Byron Bay NSW

The coastal track takes you on a winding adventure up to the lighthouse

Wategos Beach is relatively safe if you want to go swimming and is patrolled during the summer months. However like any beach there's always rips and currents to watch out for - if you get stuck don't try to fight it, just swim parallel to it until it disappears and then head safely back to shore.

Aerial view of Wategos Beach, Byron Bay NSW

Ok Wategos stop showing off, we get it!

Wategos is a popular surfing beach and can produce excellent waves on a good day. The waves refract around Cape Byron, creating an extremely wide and shallow surf zone that breaks over sand. There's a rocky outcrop (or 'bombora') just off the beach which acts as a buffer during large swells, and even on smaller days the beach seems to be fairly consistent and usually has rideable waves.

Wategos Beach sign, Byron Bay NSW

By 'submerged objects' do you mean sharks? 

Wategos is also popular with beach and rock fishermen and the area is renowned for flathead and whiting. The gutter on the northern end of the beach tends to produce fairly consistently, and for snorkellers and divers there's a variety of tropical fish to be seen underneath the waves.

Early morning at Wategos Beach, Byron Bay NSW

A nice place if you can get it to yourself - Wategos Beach

There's not much parking around Wategos Beach so the best way to get there is to walk along the coastal trail or get in early before the crowds descend. If you are driving simply drive through the main town of Byron Bay and follow the road that leads to the lighthouse.

Little Wategos Beach Headland reserve coastal trail, Byron Bay NSW

Hard to believe one family used to occupy all this land - Little Wategos

Little Wategos Beach - serenity at its best

The next beach around from its larger relative, Little Wategos Beach is perfect if you want a bit of solitude and quiet time to yourself or with your loved ones. Accessible from a steep set of stairs along the Cape Byron Coastal Trail or by walking around the headland along the beach, Little Wategos takes a little bit more effort to get to which tends to thin the crowds out considerably. It proudly wears the title of Australia's most easterly beach and is nestled in a beautiful cove underneath Cape Byron lighthouse.

Little Wategos Beach, Byron Bay NSW

Not as sandy as its big brother but just as nice - Little Wategos

Secluded and north-facing, it captures the full days sun and is a perfect spot for swimming, sunbaking and rock fishing. Relatively small at only 150m in length, what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for with its sheer beauty and natural surroundings. Little Wategos is the place to head to if the crowds of Byron Bay become a little unbearable.

Cape Byron at Byron Bay in NSW is the most easterly point on mainland Australia

This place is so far east it'll make you get engaged!

Cape Byron - Australia's most easterly point

Cape Byron at Byron Bay in NSW is the most easterly point on mainland Australia. The name was given by Lieutenant James Cook who called it 'Cape Byron' after his naval officer John Byron (who also happens to be the grandfather of the poet and global circumnavigator Lord Byron).

Famous lighthouse at Cape Byron, Byron Bay NSW

Probably the most photographed lighthouse in Australia 

Cape Byron and the lighthouse is situated at the end of the 5km Cape Byron Headland reserve, and is a hugely popular spot at sunrise and sunset. The coastal walk that gets you here varies depending on which trails you take and how quickly you do it, but can range from an hour to a few hours leisurely stroll from the centre of town. The lighthouse is open for tours and there's accommodation near the lighthouse run by the NPWS that you can book.

Cape Byron Headland Reserve walking trail sign, Byron Bay NSW

The headland reserve walk is one of the best man-made walks on the east coast of Australia

Being Australia's mosy easterly point, the tip of Cape Byron provides amazing views north and south as well as west, making it an ideal spot to take in everything from sunrise to sunset.

A view of Cape Byron lighthouse from Wategos Beach, Byron Bay NSW

Looking towards Cape Byron lighthouse from Wategos Beach

Beautiful sunset at Belongil Beach at Byron Bay in NSW

Belongil Beach at sunset - the place to be (this print is available in our online print gallery)

Belongil Beach - a place of belonging

Belongil Beach is the western most beach in Byron Bay and arguably its most popular. Running for around 1km north from Main Beach carpark to the area of Belongil, the beach is a paradise of sorts for surfers, beachgoers, residents, backpackers and those seeking an alternate lifestyle.

Magnificent sunset at Belongil Beach at Byron Bay in NSW

Belongil beach is a nice place to watch the sun go down (this print is available in our online print gallery)

Sunrise or sunet?

Belongil Beach is one of the best places in Byron Bay to watch the sunset. The shoreline and grassy area near the carpark fills up with hundreds of people who coverge to watch day turn to night against a beautiful backdrop of mountains. At sunset you'll hear the gasps of people as they look in awe at the fading day; hundreds of cameras and their flashes snapping away, and an ecclectic mix of musical instruments from travellers and local musicians.

Sunset at Belongil Beach in Byron Bay in NSW

Bring your camera and kick back

For the love of dog

For the dog lovers amongst us the northern end of Belongil Beach is officially dog-friendly and there's plenty of space to let your furry friend run free. Make sure you keep your dog close near the creek entrance as there's a colony of rare Little Terns that live there. Despite being dog friendly, Belongil is one of the cleanest beaches around and is well looked after by local community groups. The section north of the creek is also an unofficial clothing-optional beach, so bear this in mind if you're going for a leisurely stroll with your family.

Belongil Beach at Byron Bay on a sunny day

A fair few less people here early in the morning

Belongil Beach has a large selection of culinary and accommodation options on offer and caters to everyone from those on a budget to those wanting to splurge. The Treehouse on Belongil is a favourite for locals and holidaymakers due to its amazing location nestled amongst the trees as well as constant flow of ever-changing entertainment.

Surfing near the wreck of the SS Wollongonbar at Belongil Beach in Byron Bay NSW

Surfers getting in one last wave before sunset at 'The Wreck'

The Wreck

The Wreck is well-known in surfing and diving circles and is actually the remains of the SS Wollongbar that ran aground on the 14th May 1921 during a severe cyclone. Located just north of the seawall, the sternpost and boilers are still visible today and the wreck itself uniquely produces excellent waves when conditions are right.

Informational sign about Byron Bay as a sea port and the SS Wollongongbar

Well that just about sums it up 

Cosy Corner at Tallow Beach, Byron Bay NSW

Cosy Corner at Tallow Beach

Tallow Beach

Tallow Beach is a popular destination for those wanting to escape the crowds of Byron Bay and is the area's longest and most natural beach. 'Tallows' as it's affectionately known get its name from a maritime tragedy that occured here back in the 1800s. A ship called the 'Volunteer', a 25 metre timber schooner, capsized off Cape Byron in August 1864 with the loss of all crew. The ship was carrying 120 barrels of tallow, which is processed animal fat used to make candles and soap, and when the barrels washed up on the beach the tallow spilled everywhere, thus giving the beach its name.

Surfer entering the water at Tallow Beach, Byron Bay NSW

Tallow Beach, popular with surfers

Long walks and a Cosy Corner

Walking along Tallow Beach is popular with locals and visitors and is a great way to pass the day. The beach itself runs south for 6.5kms from Cape Byron all the way to Broken Head and spectacular views can be had along the entire stretch. In the northernmost corner of Tallow Beach is a place affectionately known as 'Cosy Corner', which is bordered and protected by the Arakwal National Park. This secluded corner is sheltered from prevailing summer northeasterly winds by the headland of Cape Byron and it's a popular spot for those wanting a calm stretch of sand amongst a beautiful backdrop of cliffs and nature.

Looking north towards Cosy Corner at Tallow Beach, Byron Bay NSW

Cosy Corner - Tallow Beach

Waves for days

Popular with surfers, the beach faces ESE and is a swell magnet when the waves are flat elsewhere. A series of powerful waves break along this entire stretch and the best sand banks seem to be at the northern end near Cosy Corner. Being such a long beach there's plenty of room to space out if the crowds get a bit much and generally the further south you walk the less crowded it gets. 

Looking south along Tallow Beach at Byron Bay

Looking south along Tallow Beach

Tallow Beach is relatively safe, although there's the occassional shark sighting here so avoid the usual dawn and dusk times. Combining that with strong rips and powerful surf conditions, the beach is more suited to surfers than families with kids - but the sand provides plenty of fun for the whole family anyway.

The pastel colours of Tallow Beach at Byron Bay NSW

Byron Bay's most natural beach

Take me away...

There's a number of different access points all along Tallow Beach - the carpark at the northern end is usually crowded so if you don't want to spend 15 minutes or longer going around in circles you can always park at the start of the entrance road and walk in (takes about 5-10 mins). You can also reach the sand from a few points around Suffolk Park to the south, or even much further south towards Broken Head. There's a few accommodation options here from beach houses to camping and all the way up to the exclusive. But most people go to Tallows for the day for its natural beauty and charm and to get some peace and quiet time to themselves.

Tallow Beach Byron Bay NSW - perfect for long walks

For those that like long walks along the beach

Other things to do near Byron Bay

Unique yurt accommodation at Clunes in the Byron Bay hinterland

I had no idea what a Yurt was until getting here

Unique yurt accommodation at Clunes in the Byron Bay hinterland

Turns out they are super cosy inside and come with a nice view

Natural lake near Minyon Falls, Nightcap National Park NSW

Loads of walks and waterfalls in the Byron hinterland only half hour away

Minyon Falls in the Nightcap National Park northern NSWMinyon Falls in the Nightcap National park is a favourite day trip from Byron Bay (this print is available in our online print gallery)

Map of Byron Bay


Current weather at Byron Bay


Thanks for reading

I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. There are so many things to do in Byron Bay that you could literally spend all year (or the rest of your life) here. Popular festivals such as Blues Fest and Falls occur annually, and there's an ever-changing sea of local designers, markets and produce every weekend. Combined with year-round great weather and a warm and welcoming vibe, Byron Bay truly lives up to its reputation as one of Australia's most loved destinations and is a must-see location at some point in your life.

Prints available for purchase

All photos in this article are available for purchase in various sizes as high resolution acrylic glass or canvas prints, and are available for licensing purposes for media and marketing/promotional material. The photos you see here have been compressed for optimal online user experience, which means we've intentionally reduced the file size and quality of each image to ensure the pages you visit load faster.

High res prints without watermarks

Any printed reproduction of the photos you see on OZBEACHES would be done using the original 20+ megabyte RAW files, with the additional layer of having a professional graphic designer personally inspect each image and optimise for print. The OZBEACHES watermark would be removed and would not be visible on your print. If you have any questions about this process, please email me (Adam) and let me know which photo you're interested in by quoting the caption beneath it. Alternatively you can check out our featured images in the print gallery.

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