You can still find your slice of paradise at Byron Bay. And this slice is just about to double in size.
The award-winning, five star Elements of Byron resort, a twenty-minute stroll along the beach from the township of Byron Bay, is expanding their $120 million resort, adding an extra 99 villas and an adults-only pool.
Located adjacent to the existing site, where the rainforest and Belongil Creek wraps around the property, 68 luxury two bedroom villas and 31 one-bedders have been built to attract families and group getaways. All significantly larger than the existing spacious villas, they will contain huge enclosed rainforest-facing terraces with fireplaces and lounges, completely private to the neighbouring villas.
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They will also contain blackout curtains and soundproofing; and electronics, already impressive in the existing villas, will get a makeover, with iPads replacing Samsungs in every villa.
A full kitchen, European laundry and a 'bathhouse' with hanging baskets and a view to the surrounding nature seals the deal.
Central to this new area is a huge adults only pool with a swim up bar that will sit amongst enclosed cabanas on a split-deck terrace described as resembling a grandstand. There'll be a small kitchen serving Mexican tacos, giant chess and bocce.
Another special communal space will include an old strangler fig tree, which Elements plan to embellish with festoon lighting and hanging chairs.
Emphasis will be on the close connection to nature here at the resort. Already offering a nature walk in the rainforest, the area will be connected to the beach and rainforest by a boardwalk, erasing the need to head back along the road to the resort's main entrance.
Perhaps even more remarkably, and a world first - the Byron Bay Railroad company will operate a solar train service connecting the township of Byron to the resort, which may be up and running by Christmas.
Using existing train tracks from a shuttered train service, the not-for-profit, two-carriage train service will connect to the North Beach precinct via three kilometres of coastal track, and will be open to residents and visitors alike for a small fee of $3.
Byron's North Beach station. Photo: Byron Bay Railroad Company
Booked out on the weekend of Splendour in the Grass music festival and two weeks later for the writer's festival, I manage to snare a few days escaping Melbourne's miserable winter to put what must be one of Australia's most lovely resorts to the test.
Nestled between Belongil Lagoon and the secluded bay area, the original villas have a distinct Japanese design and modern trappings such as self locking sliding doors, sunken lounges and king-sized beds with huge bathrooms and a separate annex for a bath; a quiet retreat.
The day starts with a first-class breakfast, offering a choice between a hot meal of omelettes with cheese from local producers or a continental with freshly baked croissants, bread from The Farm, homemade jam and cashew butter, local Brookfarm muesli with coconut, sheep's milk or regular yoghurt, and seasonal fruit.
Next door, the world-class Osprey spa offers 90 minute massages that can be tailored to your needs.
The fire pit at Elements.
It's a few minutes' stroll to the beach or you can relax by the pool, surrounded in deckchairs and cabanas for privacy. I'm charmed by their unique giant swings that hover over a wading pool, made for two to nestle and complete with a drinks tray for relaxing in the sun. Swims in Byron's "winter" are possible with the infinity pool heated to 27 degrees.
For lunch or dinner, Graze restaurant allows you to soak up views of the pool in dazzling sunlight, while being served some of the best food in Byron; think mouth-watering sashimi swimming in yuzu with fried shallots, sesame seeds, and fresh chilli; huge prawns with decadent burnt butter flavoured with star anise or a rhubarb cheesecake with ribbons of sweet dried rhubarb along the top. I'm tempted to try The Farm, a branch of infamous Sydney restaurant Three Blue Ducks, and a short ride on an e-bike on loan from the hotel, but meals at Elements are too good too pass up.
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Evenings end with sundowners and bartenders sling cocktails with aplomb, bringing the flavours of local distillery Brookies botanic gin to the fore. A Californian transplant also brings a taste of the OC to Byron, with a 'Mescal Memoria' - the Mezcal inspired from California's Mexican neighbours, combined with peppery papaya seeds and tropical pineapple for a smooth flavour that imitates the relaxed style Byron is renowned for.
The new villas are scheduled to open 29 September.
Elements of Byron Resort & Spa,
144 Bayshore Dr, Byron Bay NSW 2481
Ph. 02 6639 1500
The best way of getting around Byron Bay is on foot or bicycle. Sunshine Cycles have e-bikes available from the resort, which are designed to suit all spectrums of fitness levels. See sunshinecycles.com.aun or enquire at the resort.
Four places to eat in Byron (that aren't The Farm or Harvest)
Tucked away in the scrubland en route to the Lighthouse, Beach is about as close as you can get to a meal on the beach that's not wrapped in newspaper.
And if you're one of those people who prefer cocktails to tinnies, and tablecloths to picnic blankets, then this bright and cheery restaurant which has a huge patio opening right out onto the beach is your best bet.
Watch runners, kayakers and paddleboarders sweat it out on the bay while you dine on local, sustainable food from the open terrace, perfect for a long lunch on a sunny day.
Small Mediterranean-inspired plates are the go - simple chargrilled prawns from Yamba with burnt butter and lemon, locally produced burrata, served with crispy breadcrumb and grilled zucchini, or locally grown beets with goats cheese, walnuts and mint. Your dishes can be paired with wines, but begin with a negroni, and end Nonna's epic tiramisu. beachbyronbay.com.au
Downtown Byron Bay is a neat little Spanish tapas bar, and a boon for holidaymakers, as it's reliably open seven days until midnight when most others in the area are closed 'til mid week.
With low lights and a decent soundtrack humming along in the background, this is the perfect place to while away a few hours over some cocktails with fantastic bar service. For meat-eaters, it's a respite from the vegan real estate which occupies most of the territory nearby.
Sink swiftly into Island Time cocktails with gin, apple liquor, kaffir lime, honeyed apricot and hickory smoked bitters with an orange twist. Eat sous vide octopus with potato in a tangy lemon aioli, and the stringy mozzarella in a crispy shell topped with smokey eggplant and tomato. stelmodining.com
This plant-based restaurant is actually a chain, and its latest outpost is suitably found downtown Byron Bay, an extremely popular joint that's crammed into a tiny space inside a small mall. On Monday, just before close, it's packed - I'm thinking they underestimated its popularity and made a huge mistake moving into such a tiny location.
Elixiba transitions smoothly into day-to-night service with a friendly, casual atmosphere. Browse the drinks menu for 'effect', whether you want to feel energised or relaxed, its selections are fun and fruity.
Bring lots of money for the meals - healthy food does not come cheap. The 'Maneater' burger makes promises to big appetites but at $35 will burn a hole in your pocket. The desserts, at $16, are huge, and being raw, extremely rich, and certainly not designed to eat on your own.
Elixiba's other two locations are Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. elixiba.com
This candy-coloured cafe is similarly new to Byron and specialises in organic vegan produce, but don't let that put you off (although it's perfectly fine to object to milk being spelt with a 'y'). As I was presented with a velvet cacao smoothie in a takeaway container topped with flowers that regrettably flew off the minute I stepped outside, I realised why this Melbourne export has a whopping 75k followers on Instagram.
Combi brings a whole new meaning to 'taste the rainbow', with its multi-coloured smoothies and decadent chocolate cakes with lime-green stripes (choc-mint); plus armies of brilliantly-coloured and speckled raw, organic, vegan donuts. They do savouries too - but I was seduced by the dark side and ordered a beetroot brownie as I honestly didn't believe they could pull it off. Made with fresh almond meal, beetroot, of course, with a raw avocado & cacao frosting, it tasted just like a regular brownie, minus the aftertaste of shame, that often accompanies such treats. wearecombi.com.au
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The writer was a guest of Elements of Byron