Family Travel Guide - Byron Bay, Australia - Part 1

I detailed the purpose of these family travel guides in my outline along with how our family prioritized our budget and how we tend to structure our time on vacation. If you have any recommendations that are not covered below, leave a comment and let me know! 

I hope that you enjoy it!!


Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia: Part 1:

What we did, where we stayed, and how we got there

 Tater swinging at Apex Park in Byron Bay

Tater swinging at Apex Park in Byron Bay

This past December our family had the incredible fortune of visiting Australia for three weeks. Sara and the boys were on winter break and I work remotely so I was able to have the weirdest schedule of my working career for one week. I woke each morning at 2am Australia time to attend meetings at 9am Central Time. Even weirder: if the meeting took place in the States at 11am CT on a Friday, it would be 4am Australia time on a Saturday. By the end of the week I was hallucinating and my body was wrecked... and I ran the Lamington Marathon... but it was totally worth it.

As I wrote in the introduction to the family travel guide, we spend the majority of our travel budget on the homes we stay in because 1) we're homebodies. My wife and I are introverts who pretend to be extroverts when we have to; and 2) we tend to spend a ton of time playing at home. The boys swim, play with Hot Wheels cars, Legos, and magnetic blocks for hours. 

We absolutely recognize the privilege we have to be able to take these awesome trips and it fills us with so much joy to be able to do this together as a family!

Why go to Bangalow and New South Wales?:

The state of New South Wales is filled with awesome hills, lush rain forests, dormant volcanoes, national parks, and hundreds of miles (or kilometers, as the locals say) of idyllic coastline. 

 Tater playing with his Hot Wheels at our amazing Goreman's Road home

Tater playing with his Hot Wheels at our amazing Goreman's Road home

Byron Bay is located on the coast in the northeast portion of the state and is home to the easternmost point in Australia. The towns bordering Byron Bay are stunning and we found out only after arriving that we aren't nearly hip enough for some of the very fashionable and beautiful people of Byron Bay. Just search Instagram for photos of Byron Bay and all you'll find are beautiful surf people and their adorable children who look like they are straight out of a J Crew catalogue. Our family was definitely the Carlton to their Fresh Prince. We were the peanut butter and jelly to their tapas. We were the Nascar to their F1. Despite me being intimidated by these perfectly bronzed, beautiful, fit, and immaculately waxed people, they always came across as welcoming, kind, and interested!

The region includes cities like Bangalow, Federal, Skennars Head, Lennox Head, Brunswick Heads, and each is located about a 15-minute drive from Byron Bay. Each town is along the coast, or just a couple miles inland. And, each is more gorgeous in its own way than the last. It’s hard to convey just how lush and rugged the land is without visiting. Each mountain top provides a unique view and each valley something exceptional to explore.  

How do I get there?:

 Just one of the amazing sunrises over our amazing Goreman's Road farmmhouse

Just one of the amazing sunrises over our amazing Goreman's Road farmmhouse

To arrive in Bangalow from Austin, Texas, was an exhausting but so gratifying 30 hours of traveling. When you're traveling with kids a single hour is like dog years. So, 30 hours of sleepless travel feels a lot more like 210 hours. It included crossing time zones, crossing the equator, and crossing datelines. Amazingly, we left Texas in the middle of our “winter” and arrived in Australia in the middle of their summer. It was so ridiculously disorienting and I hadn’t even considered packing my allergy meds for all the pollen in the air.

To find well-priced tickets Sara and I setup alerts on Kayak and we eventually found a flight that would take us from Austin to LA to Brisbane for about $1,400/ticket on Virgin Australia and Delta. Yes. It was extremely expensive. Yes, it took several months of credit card debt to pay for the trip.

From Brisbane we rented a car with Europcar that was very reasonably priced until I later received two speeding tickets and one parking ticket... but that was by no means Europcar’s responsibility (more on the tickets in the what to watch out for section of Part 2). We then drove the two hours in the middle of the Australian night to Bangalow. 

The House:

 The absolutely, fantastially, awesome, spiritual hide-away that is our rental house on Goreman's Road

The absolutely, fantastially, awesome, spiritual hide-away that is our rental house on Goreman's Road

Goreman's Road: The house that Sara found is the most gorgeous home that I've ever visited, let alone stayed in. 

As Stefon would say, "This place has everything...": a swimming pool, coffee trees, avocado trees, lemon trees, chickens, cows, giant kitchen, soda, purple stuff, Sunny D, a VIP room for football jellyfish. It's a massive coffee plantation with citrus groves, raised garden beds, a hiking trail down to a pond, cows and dogs next door, and the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets imaginable. You can rent it on AirBnB with the link above and there's a discount when renting for longer periods.

The home is located about 20 minutes from Byron Bay in the country (the "hinterlands" in Australian-speak) between two relatively small towns, Federal and Bangalow. Each of the small towns nearby has several food and play options and at least one grocery store. If you book the home from Tim and Janelle, please, tell them Matt Bradford sent you. They're just awesome people and the place is absolutely immaculate. That's what heaven must look and feel like.

Things to Do: 

This list is by no means comprehensive, I'm simply trying to highlight the parts that we experienced in each city that really resonated with our family. At the bottom of my bulleted list you'll find a map that I created which shows where each of the items I outline is located in the region.

  • Bangalow:
    • Main drag (Bangalow Rd): Lots of excellent shops and random streets to walk down. Awesome farmers markets certain days of the week. Great coffee shops and pottery stores. Beautiful old Catholic church. Great parks for picnics. Also, the Bowling Grounds have pick-up cricket and soccer matches (which I regret not playing in). I highly recommend picking up the Echo newspaper, or browsing their site, to see what's happening around town.

  • Brunswick Heads:
    • Minyon Falls: Magical overlook just outside of Byron Bay and Bangalow. A super short hike to the overlook and waterfall can be turned into a much longer, 4.5 mile loop down to the base of the falls. Aussies drive pretty dangerously on these country roads so be careful!

 Just a normal family photo... we have to hold Tate in order for him to stay in the photo

Just a normal family photo... we have to hold Tate in order for him to stay in the photo

 Can you spot all of the Cotner-Bradfords (except me)? We stumbled upon Fisherman's Beach on our hike down from the lighthouse

Can you spot all of the Cotner-Bradfords (except me)? We stumbled upon Fisherman's Beach on our hike down from the lighthouse

  • Byron Bay:
    • Apex Park: Delightful park right along the beach perfect for kids. Great bit of shade and easy access to the bathrooms, convenience stores, and groceries.
    • Byron Bay Lighthouse: Gorgeous views of the city with hikes down to the beaches. Also, the easternmost point in Australia.
    • Byron Bay Dive Centre: Henry and Sara went on a wonderful expedition out to the rock that's just off the Byron Bay coast. The guides were super-kind to Henry when he wanted to go into the boat early and it sounded like an awesome, and reasonably priced, experience.
    • Fisherman's Lookout: I love this hidden little lookout so much. Gorgeous views of the coast, surfers, dolphins, beach-goers, and the lighthouse
    • Tallows Beach: I know it's trite at this point but this beach is beautiful. Gorgeous views of the lighthouse and the cliffs. Immaculate beaches for surfing or chilling. Doesn't feel as crowded as the other beaches nearer to town. Just delightful.
    • Wategos Beach: We just stumbled on this beach after walking down from the lighthouse and it was just magical. It's hidden away from everyone else and you'll probably only be sharing it with a couple other people.

  • Currumbin:
    • Currumbin Beach: The city of Currumbin wasn't super appealing to us, but that could have just been because we were crazy tired after a night spent in the rainforest and after I ran the Lamington Classic Trail Marathon (more info below). That was a humblebrag. Sorry. The beaches were really pretty and had a gorgeous, giant rock as its back drop. The conditions weren't safe for swimming at the time we went so we made our way to a playground and searched for the giant water dragon lizards that are all around
    • Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary: We had lunch at the sanctuary, and the staff were super nice to us, but I think that they were just so overwhelmed by really rude tourists that when we were polite it confused them. Again, I thought that the city was just okay and I wouldn't say that the city is a "must-see" but it definitely isn't the worst place to stop on your way back from other day trips.

 Henry really enjoyed me asking to take his picture at Crystal Castle. This is probably one of my all-time favorite Henry pictures.

Henry really enjoyed me asking to take his picture at Crystal Castle. This is probably one of my all-time favorite Henry pictures.

  • Federal: I LOVE THIS LITTLE TOWN. The general store. The little park. The hippy people. The weird, small-town events. The trail through the woods to the local school. The swimming holes. Seriously. More info to come in part 2 because the restaurants were AMAZING.
    • The park and playground just across from Federal Doma Cafe is simple and perfect: Tennis court, playground, small skate park, open field for cricket/soccer, and a paved walking trail.
    • Crystal Castle (just a bit outside of Federal): This place weirds me out but it's like a car crash in that you can't look away. It's gorgeous, and weird, and kitschy, and beautiful. Giant buddha statues (one of Henry below). Giant rocks. Weird geode cave rooms. The views over the region are ridiculously awesome. The food is also really good and healthy (and expensive). And, after having a weird hunch about the place I looked up old newspaper articles and found out that the people running it are followers of the same religion as in Netflix's Wild Wild Country. And (one more point), the whole area around Federal is filled with followers of the religion and they own multiple compounds. They never came across as intimidating or like they were trying to indoctrinate us, but it really explains SO much!  

 One of the amazing Macadamia Castle residents

One of the amazing Macadamia Castle residents

  • Knockrow:
    • Macadamia Castle: When you pull into the parking lot, you will probably think to yourself "this is a tourist trap." And, you might be right. BUT, as someone who hates tourists traps I'm here to tell you: this place is awesome. Yes, the food is a little expensive (but it's good) and the tickets are a little expensive (but it's worth it). Your kids will have an absolute blast. Amazing animals. Really kind staff. A kangaroo petting zoo (!!!!!!). And lots of playground equipment.

  • Lamington National Park:
    • Binna Burra Mountain Lodge: This lodge is situated in the middle of the incredible Lamington National Park rainforest (a UNESCO World Heritage site). While the accommodations felt somewhat outdated, and our dinner was just okay (not bad, but not fantastic), seeing the sun set across the park's valleys and mountain peaks while eating dinner at the lodge's restaurant with the windows open and the noises of the animals coming alive right next to my family was something I hope I never forget. Sorry for that run-on sentence but it was pure magic listening and watching the forest come alive.
    • O'Reilly's Canungra Valley Vineyard: As my friends and co-workers know, alpacas are my favorite animals, right next to pigs and dogs. O'Reilly's Vineyard has 1) a wonderful dog that loves playing fetch; and 2) a huge herd of alpacas. You don't have to pay (to our knowledge) to visit the alpacas or the creek that runs through the property, but they have tours available if you like wine. I'm only there for the alpacas and we definitely got our fill! :)
    • The Lamington Classic Trail Run: As some of you may also know, I love running. If you happen to be in the area in October they host a yearly marathon and half marathon through the rain forest! Fortunately for us, the event last year was rained out in October and was rescheduled for dates during our visit. My GPS reception on the trail was awful, so don't count on getting a great record of your route, but running through the ferns, and mountain fog, and the crazy Australian birds was just exceptional and is definitely one of my all time running highlights. 

I'll be publishing Part 2 of our Byron Bay travel guide in the coming weeks and I'll update the link here when it's good to go. Please, if you have suggestions for locations that I missed definitely type those in the comments! And, if you took my advice I'd love to hear what you thought once you got there!

Have a great day!