There’s no place like home, they say – so Travel Editor Susie Boswell accepts an invitation to see what the ‘Legendary Pacific Coast’ to our north has to offer.
We’re breakfasting on a wide open-air deck framed by giant blossoming jacarandas jutting out from our mountain vantage point into the vast Brunswick River valley. The unbroken undulating expanse of trees and flowering shrubs of the heritage-listed Border Ranges embraces us all around, greener than Ireland, meeting the sky far into the distance. Kookaburras chuckle as we tuck into golden organic scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and fresh-baked sourdough. We draw in deep draughts of sweet morning air and reckon we deserve this break in Cafe Lotus’s glorious outdoor setting: we’ve already trekked nearby Nightcap National Park, admiring peaceful post-dawn vistas of spectacular plunging waterfalls, 500-year-old trees reaching for the heavens and ancient native flora.
We’re in the Pacific hinterland between Byron Bay and Nimbin, visiting Crystal Castle (nirvana for seekers of spiritual enrichment in the mystic arts of crystals, aura photography and tarot and horoscope readings!), already headlong into a day of exploring the furthest reaches of the NSW north coast. A warm welcome at Ramada Ballina greeted me when we flew in last night, soon installed in an spotless top-floor room overlooking the Richmond River, soon relaxing in the hotel’s roof deck pool. With Oz, Italian and Indian restaurants on its doorstep, Ramada’s ideally placed on the main route to Lennox Head, a good spot to break a road trip with all you need on site. We set out next day at 6.30am, winding into the hills in our rented Kluger, marvelling at lush emerald landscapes around every bend. The national park’s one of a chain of an amazing 50 reserves that make up the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia lying between Newcastle and the Queensland border, home to the continent’s most ancient vegetation. After a stroll in the Castle’s garden labyrinth, a “blessing” from its 14tonne Buddha, and some aromatic oil purchases from the gift shop, we headed for Byron, where the lighthouse beckoned us for a tour.
An Aboriginal National Parks guide offers a traditional didgeridoo welcome on the headland before visitors climb the lighthouse’s winding interior staircase to inspect the lantern itself and magnificent views from the gallery at the top of the beacon. (You can stay in lighthouse keeper’s cottages here but I suspect passing tourist traffic up the hill might negate any sense of peace). The newly-declared “Legendary Pacific Coast” merely applies a theme to the coastal road from Sydney to Tweed Heads-Coolangatta. With government industry development funds, it’s hoped to boost domestic travel suffering a downturn versus overseas tourism. NSW’s east coast is certainly a historic stretch of territory; It’s worth exploring roads less travelled, retracing early maritime and overland explorers’ paths, rediscovering its natural beauties.
There’s man-made beauty to admire too. We examine it from the deck of The Byron at Byron Resort where we lunch as guests of hosts Lyn and John Parche. The Parches have welcomed me here numerous times, yet I never tire of their clever marriage of the best of nature with the finest mankind can deliver. Pre-lunch, wander the resort’s forest boardwalks via bridges, ponds and pagodas through 20ha of oceanfront bush boasting 90 native bird species, then enjoy local produce like Yamba prawns, Bangalow pork, oysters and asparagus fit for the angels. Casual visitors are accepted when space permits at the restaurant or spa here, also located on the coast road en route to Byron.
By mid-afternoon I’m totally inspired by this laid-back touring environment, thirsting for more tomorrow. For now, though, I pull the shutters down on nature … for some indulgent nurture… in the elegant sophistication at Byron’s ultimate, intimate hideaway, Rae’s on Wategos Beach. Gold-lined beauty spa, private pool, deep luxury bathtub, waves washing the adjacent shore: I’m soothed by a fragrant water world, before dining on the ocean terrace at the finest, chicest, most “legendary” restaurant anywhere on the coast. Here too, casual bookings are accepted for restaurant and spa and I suggest: jump at it! There’s no other boutique hotel – just seven discreet apartments – like Rae’s, just ask guests Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Woody Harrelson, Keanu Reeves, Paris Hilton … and me.