Byron Bay is a beachside town located in the far-northeastern corner of the state of New South Wales, Australia. It is located 772 kilometres (480 mi) north of Sydney and 165 kilometres (103 mi) south of Brisbane. Cape Byron, a headland adjacent to the town, is the easternmost point of mainland Australia. At the 2006 Census, the town had a permanent population of 4,981. The town is in turn the nucleus of Byron Shire, which has in excess of 28,000 residents.
The local Arakwal Aboriginal people’s name for the area is Cavvanbah, meaning “meeting place”. Captain James Cook named Cape Byron after John Byron, circumnavigator of the world and grandfather of the poet, Lord Byron.
The history of Europeans in Byron Bay began in 1770, when Captain James Cook found a safe anchorage and named Cape Byron after John Byron. In the 1880s, when Europeans settled more permanently, streets were named for other English writers and philosophers.
The first industry in Byron was cedar logging from the Australian red cedar (Toona ciliata). The timber industry is the origin of the word “shoot” in many local names – Possum Shoot, Coopers Shoot and Skinners Shoot – where the timber-cutters would “shoot” the logs down the hills to be dragged to waiting ships.
Gold mining of the beaches was the next industry to occur.Up to 20 mining leases set up on Tallow Beach to extract gold from the black sands around the 1870s. The poet Brunton Stephens spoke of cattle grazing on the “mossy plains” of Cape Byron in a poem he penned in 1876.
Byron Bay has a history of primary industrial production (dairy factory, abattoirs, fishing, and whaling until 1963) and was a significant, but hazardous, sea port.
The first jetty was built in 1886, and the railway was connected in 1894, and Cavvanbah became Byron Bay in 1894. Dairy farmers cleared more land and settled the area. In 1895, the Norco Co-operative was formed to provide cold storage and manage the dairy industry. The introduction of paspalum improved production, and Byron Bay exported butter to the world. The Norco factory was the biggest in the southern hemisphere, expanding from dairy to bacon and other processed meat.
The lighthouse was built in 1901 at the most easterly point on the Australian mainland. In 1930, the first meatworks opened. The smell from the meat and dairy works was, by all accounts, appalling, and the annual slaughter of whales in the 1950s and 1960s made matters worse. Sand mining between the World Wars damaged the environment further, and one by one, all these industries declined.
Longboard surfers arrived in the 1960s and used natural breaks at The Pass, Wategos, and Cosy Corner. This was the beginning of Byron Bay as a tourist destination, and by 1973, when the Aquarius Festival was held in Nimbin, its reputation as a hippy, happy, alternative town was established. Shipwrecks litter the bay and surrounding areas.
Byron Bay is part of the erosion caldera of an ancient shield volcano, the Tweed Volcano, which erupted 23 million years ago. The volcano formed as a result of the Indo-Australian Plate moving over the East Australia hotspot.
The town has several beaches which are popular for surfing. It is a resort popular with both domestic and international tourists, including backpackers, who travel along the Australian coast; the scenery also attracts skydivers. The area is also noted for its wildlife, with the whale watching industry a significant contributor to the local economy.
An oceanway runs from the centre of town to the Cape Byron lighthouse. This allows visitors to walk and cycle to the lighthouse.
Temperate and tropical waters merge at Byron Bay, making it a popular area for scuba diving and snorkelling. Most diving is done at Julian Rocks which is part of the recently established Cape Byron Marine Park and only a few minutes boat ride from Main Beach.
Byron Bay also lies close to subtropical rainforests, and areas such as the Nightcap National Park with the Minyon Falls are all within easy reach of the town.
Byron Bay is now also a popular destination for Schoolies week during late November and early December.