Byron Bay is a quaint seaside town on the north coast of New South Wales. A haven for hippies in the 1960s and '70s, it is still a Mecca for surfers, artists, writers and naturalists, and is known for its alternative lifestyles. The laid-back atmosphere draws travellers from around the world, looking for the perfect wave, enjoying locally grown organic food in a restaurant that still features pictures of Jimmy Hendrix, sunbathing on a beach where 'clothing is optional,' or launching off a cliff in a hang-glider. Some of Australia's best surf beaches are found in Byron Bay, and the town merges effortlessly into the surrounding rainforest abounding in waterfalls, spectacular views and wildlife. Humpback whales can be seen while migrating northwards to calve, and again on their return journey south to the Antarctic, when they stop to frolic with their young.
White sand beaches, many sheltered from strong southerly winds, nestle under Byron Bay's steep headlands. Pods of bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales can often be seen in the turquoise blue waters. Close to town, the beaches are patrolled by surf lifesavers in the summer, and invite sunbathers and swimmers into the clear waters. World-class surf beaches are also ideal for windsurfing, body-boarding and paragliding. Snorkellers can explore the offshore wrecks of the SS Wollongbar and the Tassie II. Fishermen's Lookout and Little Watego's Beach are the best fishing spots. Discover isolated coves, clothing optional and dog-friendly beaches a short distance from town. Hang-gliders launch from the cliffs above Tallow Beach. Dive boats take scuba-divers to Julian Rocks Marine Reserve, 2.5km (1.5 miles) offshore, to swim with a kaleidoscope of tropical fish and marine life. Or kayak with dolphins and whales in Byron Bay, then surf the waves back to shore. Take a beach fishing excursion and bring home your fresh catch for dinner.
Climb the Byron Bay Lighthouse at Australia's easternmost point. Or you could soar over Byron Bay's jagged, surf-fringed coastline in a hot air balloon, then drift inland over rainforests to Mount Waring's volcanic rim and the Great Dividing Range. Chief pilot of Byron Bay Ballooning (1 Old Brunswick Road, Tyagarah) (www.byronbayballooning.com), Chris Dewhirst, was the first pilot to fly a hot air balloon over Mount Everest. Or freefall high over Byron Bay in a tandem skydive jump with TandemMasters (Tyagarah Airfield).
Drive 30 minutes south of Byron Bay to visit the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum (Regatta Avenue, Ballina) and see the La Balsas raft that made the epic journey from Ecuador in 1973. Surfers Paradise, the Queensland Gold Coast's entertainment capital that never sleeps, is a 45-minute drive north. Stretch your legs on a mountain-biking tour through World Heritage rainforests surrounding Byron Bay. Ride horses along the beach at sunset or trailride the Byron hinterland. Try some bush tucker over a campfire on a bush camping or 4-wheel drive expedition.
Enjoy a family picnic and cook up some Aussie snags (sausages) on beachfront electric barbecues. Sign up for a windsurfing or kite-boarding lesson, or cool off under waterfalls in the surrounding rainforest. Explore a little culture every April when top artists from around the world gather for the annual BluesFest. The country's best collection of theme parks, including Dreamworld, WhiteWater World, Sea World and Warner Bros Movie World lie an hour or two north on Queensland's Gold Coast.
Byron Bay's Circus Arts Australia (Byron Entertainment Centre, 17 Centennial Circuit) allows people of all ages to make a dream come true. Sign on for a half day or full day circus skills session, including flying trapeze, or book in for a three-week camp at one of Australia's two renowned circus schools. Kidz Klub Byron Bay offers adventure programmes and daily activities for children under the care of school teachers and childcare professionals. Crafts, games, waterslides, rollerblading, fishing, hiking, and day trips to Gold Coast theme parks with other children give kids the time of their lives.
Cruise several kilometres offshore from Cape Byron to see migrating humpback whales breaching and cavorting on their trips north to winter breeding grounds, or returning to the Antarctic with young calves in the spring. Whale-watching season runs from June to November. Listen to the whales' unique singing with a hydrophone.
Cross rivers and climb steep mountain roads on a 4-wheel drive trek through Lamington National Park and Mount Tamborine in the Gold Coast hinterland, while stopping to sip on local wines, listen to cascading waterfalls and glimpse wildlife in lush rainforests.
Visit the Minjungbal Aboriginal Cultural Centre (Minjungal Drive, South Tweed Heads) for insight into the culture and spiritual beliefs of the local aboriginal tribe.
View Australia's unique wildlife up close and personal on an ecotour along the northern New South Wales coastline and inland through forests, grassy plains and past small villages and sugar cane fields.