I first visited Byron Bay with my surfer friends in the 1970s, then bought a home and moved here in the 1990s. If you plan to visit Australia's most eastern point as a tourist, get ready for an experience that's very special.
If you're anything like me, you'll love the climate, be surprised by the weather, and kick yourself if you bring a heavy bag packed with the wrong clothing.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your trip to beautiful Byron Bay.
Our Lifestyle Is All About the Climate
Byron Bay is situated on the most eastern tip of Australia in the state of New South Wales, just beneath the Queensland border. The climate is subtropical, which explains all the palm trees and beautiful rainforest vegetation you'll discover in parks and gardens throughout the Shire.
Our fabulous climate encourages an outdoor lifestyle all year round. It rains when the weather is hot and humid, offering a welcome shower, and the cooler months are warm and dry so there is little risk of getting wet and cold.
Yes, locals may wear long sleeves on days we consider particularly chilly—but if you come from a colder climate you'll undoubtedly be at the beach in your board shorts or bikini, along with many other tourists.
Summer in Byron Bay
Summer begins in January and is our rainy and hot season. By late summer most of us are eager for a cooler change and drop in temperature.
- The heat and humidity peak in February.
- The humidity drops by the end of March.
Visitors to Byron Bay are always eager to spend as many hours outdoors as possible. Most arrive with a desire to get sun-bronzed but fail to appreciate the danger of severe sunburn.
All those sun-bronzed locals you spot at Byron Bay have developed their tans over many seasons. They've burned and peeled, and many Aussies have had melanomas (skin cancer) removed as a result of our lifestyle.
What Does It Feel Like to Be Sunburnt?
I feel sorry for residents of colder climates who come to Byron Bay and experience sunburn for the first time. Severe sunburn can spoil an otherwise lovely, carefree holiday.
Spare yourself the trauma of a bad burn.
Here's what to expect if you fry yourself in the sun.
- You'll be red like a lobster before you actually feel the sunburn.
- Your friends will know you're sunburned before you will.
- You probably think your skin just feels hot because you are in the sun, but assume your skin will not retain the heat once you step into the shade.
- As the sun goes down, you feel like a radiator is turned on beneath your skin.
- It hurts to lean against a chair, or lie on a bed.
- If a friend pats you on the back, it hurts.
- Wearing clothes (even just a t-shirt) can irritate your skin beyond tolerance.
- Sand on your skin feels like sandpaper.
- Your skin is red and hot.
- It may blister and pop.
- Even if you don't develop burn blisters, your skin will peel.
- Peeling skin can come off in big patches.
- Some parts peel easily. Others really hurt and leave red, sore marks at the edges.
- Despite your best efforts to save your skin and salvage your tan, at least some parts of your skin will peel within days.
- You'll wake up one morning and find bits of your skin have rubbed off on the sheets.
So take my tip, and beware of the sun.
How to Avoid Sunburn
Do what your mother should have taught you when you were very young.
- Put on a hat (to protect your nose from sunburn, and the back of your neck so you don't get sunstroke.)
- Wear a shirt in the water, particularly if you are learning to surf. Not only do you get the sun hitting you from above, but the sun reflects off the water as you're sitting on the board and gives your skin another hammering.
- The shirts surfers wear are called 'rash shirts'. Why? Because without one, you'll get a rash from your surfboard and wax. You can buy rashies all over Byron Bay, but if you don't have one just wear a t-shirt in the water. Don't worry about looking uncool in your shirt. Locals respect visitors smart enough to avoid sunburn. You can show off your tan once you've had time to develop one. Only expose yourself to the sun in the early mornings and the late afternoons—not the hottest part of the day.
- Use a sunscreen lotion. If you are not sure of the best type for your skin, ask the staff in the chemist/pharmacy.
What to Do If You Get Sunburnt
You'll want to remember these important tips if you suddenly find yourself experiencing sunburn.
1. Get out of the sun. As soon as you suspect you might be a little sunburned, head for cover.
2. Stay out of the sun. You don't want to sunburn your sunburn. That only makes a bad situation worse.
3. Have a warm shower. It will wash the salt from your skin if you've been in the surf ... plus helps draw some of the heat from your body.
4. Apply lotion to soothe and rehydrate your skin. In my experience, lotions with aloe vera work best. They are quickly absorbed and can be repeatedly applied without the greasiness of many other skin products. Vaseline Intensive Care lotion (in the green bottle with aloe vera) is helpful, without being too expensive.
Don't wait until the middle of the night to start looking for a soothing cream or lotion. Head for Woolworths in Johnson Street or one of the pharmacies. We have a chemist/pharmacy near the round-about entry to the town (also in Johnson Street) that stays open until quite late most evenings. Get there as fast as you can.
5. Drink lots of water ... before, during, and after your sunburn. (No, beer is not water.)
6. Go to the hospital if your sunburn is really bad or you suspect you might be suffering from heatstroke.
Byron Bay's Winter
Winter formally begins in June.
We celebrate the fine days and blue skies of winter (and spring), confident the days will be warm and sunny—and generally uninterrupted by rain.
Temperatures remain around 20 degrees Celsius with relatively low humidity so winter is an ideal time to visit from the Northern Hemisphere or the colder southern states of Australia.
You can still wear your summer gear and play in the sun in winter in Byron, although the evenings are obviously a little cooler.
Be the First in Australia to See the Sun Rise
If you have a competitive nature and like to be first, Byron Bay offers you a special opportunity.
On a moonlit night (or with a torch in your hand) get yourself in position to watch the sunrise.
Cape Byron lighthouse sits on the most eastern point of Australia's mainland, so as long as you are paying attention as the sun rises, you can be the first on mainland Australia to see it on any given day.
Factor in the time difference if you live overseas and you can impress your friends with a text message that says "I am watching the sun rise on (date) in Australia right now" ... when it is still yesterday, your home time!
Essential Clothing for Byron Bay
Here are the clothes you need for your holiday in Byron Bay.
- Your swimmers, bathers, togs ... whatever you call what you wear in the surf.
- Comfortable shorts.
- 2 shirts (in case you spill chilli sauce on one just before you want to go out.) At least one should be a t-shirt, capable of wearing to the beach and into the water when the sun is so hot it will burn you.
- 1 outfit to impress your peers if they all decide to dress up.
- A hat. Expect to wear it everywhere during the day.
That short list is all you need to pack for a holiday in Byron Bay. You'll probably buy a few more items at one of the clothing stores or the second-hand stores, depending on your budget, but when your gear gets dirty you can simply wash it.
The climate in Byron Bay allows wet clothes to dry very quickly. Plus the relaxed lifestyle lets you wear your wet clothes while they dry, if you need.
Some tourists choose to arrive with only the clothes they are wearing, and purchase everything they need locally.
Others bring only their most comfortable clothes from home and wear them for their entire stay.
However you approach it, Byron Bay is a destination where you can travel light.
Don't pack more than you'll need. It is easy to quickly wash and dry light clothing, and if you come from a colder part of the world, you're not likely to ever need winter woollies.
If you are carrying a backpack, don't make it heavier than necessary.
© 2014 Alex Finn