I love walking, in the forest, mountains, beach. I also like spending time on the water, on boats and snorkelling.
Byron Bay is a place of great natural beauty and as such it has a lot to offer people who need to connect with nature. As an eco tour guide I’ve been living and working, connecting people with nature here in Byron for the past 7 years. So I’ve come up with a top ten nature based experiences that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Byron Bay or by locals. This list is just my top ten and is in no particular order.
If you only do one thing in Byron you must see Cape Byron. The views from the cape are nothing short of spectacular. You can also see the migrating humpback whales (June-Oct), dolphins, turtles, rays, sharks. On land you often see swamp wallabies, loads of different birds including figbirds, blue faced honey eaters, brahminy kites, lewins honeyeaters, brush turkeys to name but a few. The NPWS run tours inside the lighthouse most days 10am-4pm, the tours are run by volunteers and are subject to availability.
1. Walk: there is a great walking track that does a 4km loop around the cape (starting and finishing at Captain Cooks Lookout on lighthouse rd, add another 2-3kms if walking from town), it enables you to really experience nature and keeps you off the road. You do need reasonable fitness as it is quite steep in sections and take water.
2. Drive: If you are not up for walking and have a car you could drive up, it costs $7 to park your car at the top, beware though, you can’t always get a parking spot.
3. Bus: Byron Easy Lighthouse Tours runs daily, small group Tours. $25 for a 2 hour tour and $7 each way for a shuttle.
4.TAXI: Byron Taxis can take there for about $12-15 each way(02) 6685 5008
2. Kayak with Dolphins
Kayaking with the dolphins is an quintessential Byron nature experience. You don all the safety equipment and paddle out into the bay with the expert guides. Paddling around the bay you learn about the local environment while looking for dolphins, whales (June-Oct), turtles etc. You don’t have to be an expert paddler, but it helps if you’ve paddled before and have a reasonable level of fitness. It can quite exhilarating as you paddle through the surf break. I’ve done this a number of times, once we saw 8 whales from the kayaks, one of which swam underneath us – very cool.
There are two companies who run this tour. I recommend Go Sea Kayaks Tours run twice daily, weather and conditions permitting and costs $69pp.
3. Night Vision Walk
Imagine exploring the Australian rainforest at night, searching for nocturnal wildlife without disturbing them with a torch? Arguably one of the best uses for military technology found to date. The Night Vision Walk is a truly unique experience – the only one of its kind in the world! You use Night Vision Goggles to observe Australia’s nocturnal animals in their natural habitat, see a constellation of glow worms and after your walk enjoy a hot chocolate gazing up at the starry night. Heaven! You usually see 5 species of animals that include: pademelon, possum, tawny frogmouth, melomys, leaft-tailed gecko, frogs, micro bats, occasionally they see koala, owls, gliders.
The Night Vision Walk runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Min 2 max 6, the cost is $99pp.
4. Whale Watching
As the most easterly point in Australia, Byron gets a great close experience of the annual migration of the humpback whales. During the whaling years the number diminished to a few hundred, but since the moratorium on whaling the 1980’s, the number have climbed back to more than 16,000. The humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to Hervey Bay and the Whit Sundays from June to October each year. The best time to see them in July-August, where you’d almost guaranteed to see whales and if you’re lucky get to see breaches, flipper slaps and general frolicking.
There are a few ways you can see the whales. 1. Cape Byron (good option for those who get sea sick) 2. Whale watching tours, Byron Whale Watching (may get your feet wet getting in and out of the boat) cost $89pp or Blue Bay Whale Watching (ex Brunswick Boat Harbour), cost $85pp. I have done this several times from a boat and numerous times from Cape Byron, you do get closer in the boat, but it is still very cool from land.
Now I may be a little biased here, as I live about 100m from the Brunswick River but at high tide it is hard to beat. The Brunswick River starts at Main Arm, wends its ways through the valley to Mullumbimby, then flows onto Brunswick Heads. The river forms a estuary that provides habitat for many local and migratory birds including: beach stone curlew, pied oyster catcher, eastern curlew, striated heron, buffed barred rail, black cormorant, pied cormorant, jabiru, brahimny kite, osprey, white bellied sea eagle, spoonbill, egret (lesser, intermediate and greater), white faced heron, little tern, bar tail godwit, rainbow lorikeet, corrella, yellow tailed black cockatoo and pelican to name but a few.
Brunswick Heads is about 17km north of Byron Bay (10km if you walk along the beach). You can catch a bus, drive, go on a tour (Beyond Byron Tour, Byron Eco Cruises and kayaks) You can explore the river in a number of ways. 1. walk the foreshore 2. hire a kayak or kayak, SUP, canoe or boat from Brunswick Buccaneers 3. the best option is to go on a Byron Eco Cruise they will pick you up from your Byron Bay accom, take you on either a 1.5 hour cruise up the river for $30pp or they do a 3 hour cruise and kayak tour for $60pp, both of which are excellent ways to experience this majestic river. 4. In May each year you can join the 1200+ paddlers in the Mullum to Bruns Paddle.
6. Minyon Falls
Minyon Falls and the untouched Minyon valley makes you feel like you have gone back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The valley with its ancient rainforest vegetation gives it all a very ‘Jurassic Park’ feel. Minyon Falls are awesome as they rise over 100m out of the rainforest, towards the sky. It’s magical! All this is on the doorstep of Byron Bay (45 mins drive).
You can either view the falls from the lookout (easy 50m walk on a board walk). The more adventurous may decide to take one of the walks to the bottom of the falls, the walk is moderate to hard. You can swim at the bottom of the falls, but beware, the water will be quite cold and there are slippery rocks under the water. If you are an experienced walker you may choose to do this walk on your own, please check your car hire agreement (you may not be permitted to drive on unsealed roads), check a map and make sure you are doing the walk you intend to do (one walk is 4 km the other is 8km), check the conditions (this is not a good walk in the rain), wear shoes, take enough water and leave enough time (short walk 2 hours, long walk 4 hours).
Byron has some beautiful beach walks, most beach walks are easier at low tide. The easiest is Main beach to the Pass, which is about 2km return. Other walks include: Main beach to Belongil (2km), Belongil to Brunswick Heads (10km 0ne way), Broken Head to Cape Byron (7km one way). Broken Head also has some nice walks. If you get down to Lennox Head, the Lennox to Skennars Heads walk is quite spectacular. The Flat rock to East Ballina is also a great walk. if you are doing one of the longer walks think about how you will get back, some of the public transport in this area is a bit wanting. I usually get someone to drop me off at the furthest point and then walk back.
8. Mountain bike riding
There are some great local tracks to go mountain bike riding both in the rainforest and on the beach. Broken Head has some good trails, as does Arakwal National Park, Nightcap National Park. There is also a mountain bike park just outside of Byron. All of those you will need your own bike and helmet. Alternatively you can go with Byron Mountain Bike Tours, I’ve gone on a few rides with these guys, they have great bikes and experienced guides who can people of all levels, their scenic coastal bike ride, goes along the beach and into Broken Head and costs $75pp, their Rainforest Adventure Tour takes you on the trails at Nightcap National Park and costs $125pp.
Cape Byron Marine Park has some truly awesome diving and snorkelling experiences. Cape Byron Marine Park cover about 22 hectares from Brunswick Heads to Lennox Head. Local marine habitats include exposed and sheltered sandy beaches, rocky shores, rocky reefs, submerged pinnacles, small rocky islands, coral communities, riverine estuaries, coastal creeks and lakes, and sandy seabed habitats. Personally I go snorkelling around Brunswick Heads, becasue it is right outside door, but the best underwater experiences can be found near Julian Rocks. At Julian rocks you can see; sharks, rays, turtles, eels, starfish, heaps of fish and corals.
If you have gear you can go snorkelling or diving without guides, but to get out to Julian Rocks you will need a boat. Several local companies run diving and snorkelling tours at Julian Rocks, they include: Sun Dive, Byron Bay Dive Centre, and Blue Bay Divers
Byron is a biodiversity hotspot. In and around Byron you can see swamp wallabies, koalas, water dragons, loads of birds rainbow lorikeets, scaly breasted lorikeets, blue faced honey eaters, figbirds, plus the abundant marine life, dolphins, whales, rays, sharks, turtles. In the sub-tropical rainforest surrounding Byron you can see, pademelon, eastern yellow robin, rufus shrike thrush, logrunners, albert’s lyrebird, yellow tailed black cockatoo, scrub wrens. In the estuary near Brunswick Heads you can see: pelicans, spoonbill, white faced heron, egrets, brahimny kite, white bellied sea eagles, osprey, plus engagered birds such as pied oyster catcher, beach stone curlew and migratory birds such as the bar tailed godwit, eastern curlew to name but a few.
The best place to see koalas is near the koala care centre at Lismore, they also do daily tours of their facility for $5pp. You can usually see swamp wallabies on the Cape Byron walk. The best way to see the estuary birds at Brunswick Heads in on the Byron Eco Cruise boat for $30pp including Byron pick-ups . I also run a Wildlife Tour where you will see koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, pademelon, flying fox, plus loads if birds in their natural habitat for $99 pp including a picnic lunch in the rainforest, transport and guide. Gary Opit (local environment scientist and presenter of Wildlife Wednesday also runs a bird watching tour. On our Night Vision Walk we usually see at least 5 species of nocturnal animals including ; pademelon, possum, tawny frogmouth, frogs, bats, leaf tailed gecko, melomys for $99pp.
Please note: Wollumbin/Mount Warning is a scared site for the Bundjalung people and the request that uninitiated people not climb the mountain. You can see the mountain on many activities or places, like Cape Byron, Kayking with Dolphins, Mullumbimby, Uki, Border Ranges, Springbrook, Lamington NP.
So whether you live in or near Byron Bay or just visiting, there are plenty of great, world class nature-based activities to enjoy.
Wollumbin /Mount Warning has been listed in many tour guide books as a must climb experience, especially for the sunrise. The thing that most the guide books don’t mention is that it is a sacred place for the Bundjalung people and they request that uninitiated people not climb the mountain. Some people chose to ignore this request and climb it anyway, this is disrespectful and equivalent to walking into a church in a bikini.The Bundjalung men would hold ceremonies on the mountain and as such is it a sacred place for men. The only way to respectfully experience Wollumbin is to admire it but not climb it or if you must climb it, ask a Bundjalung elder for permission. You can see the mountain on from many vantage points, such as Crams Farm (photo), hot air ballooning, Cape Byron, Saddle rd to name but a few.
Have you ever walked through the rainforest and discovered a large empty snail shell? Well these shells belong to Hedleyella falconeri or the Giant Panda Snail. They are not called giant panda snails becasue they are black and white, it is becasue of their enormous size, about the size of a tennis ball. We usually see them on our Night Vision Walk any time between February and June, but these damp conditions have certainly brought them out of their shells (sorry).
When people see them for the first time they simply can not believe the size. So impressive are they, people often say they are the best thing they’ve seen that night, despite also seeing pademelon, bandicoots, owls.
Hedleyella falconeri are a nocturnal land snail, in fact Australia’s biggest land snail. Which can be found in sub-tropical rainforest where it forages in the leaf litter of the forest floor. Like other snails it is more active during and after rain to prevent water loss from its soft body. This species will shelter under tree roots and logs but also within the leaf litter in forest clearing. Giant Panda Snails are hermaphroditic, meaning that individuals possess both sperm and eggs.
If you want to see these guys/girls in action, get out into the rainforest at night. But be careful, as they do react to torch light, you are best to observe them with night vision technology.
I have been conducting eco tours in the Byron Bay area for the past 7 years, during this time I’ve been collecting data on wildlife sightings. What we see does fluctuate from time to time – that’s nature. But lately I’ve notice a definite decline in numbers of specific species, namely koalas and pademelons.
I have data for the past 7 years but it doesn’t always involve the same location. So I’ve only included figures since 2010.
Koalas, we see 100% of the time at our special location.
- 2010 we saw 3.4 koalas per visit
- 2011 we saw 4.6 koalas per visit
- 2012 we saw 5.1 koalas per visit
- 2013 we saw 5.6 koalas per visit
- 2014 we saw 2.8 koalas per visit
In the past six months or so I’ve noticed a lot more koalas with the disease which could account for the 45% decline in sightings.
Red legged pademelon
- 2011 we saw them 100% of the time and we saw on average 3 pademelon per visit.
- 2012 we saw them 90% of the time and we saw on average 3.5 pademelon per visit.
- 2013 we saw them 50% of the time and we saw on average 3 pademelon per visit.
- 2014 we saw them 25% of the time and we saw on average 4 pademelon per visit. (the sample size of this one is small and may have skewed the results)
Red necked pademelon
- 2010 we saw them 74% of the time and we saw on average 2.5 pademelon per visit.
- 2011 we saw them 80% of the time and we saw on average 4.6 pademelon per visit.
- 2012 we saw them 85% of the time and we saw on average 2.9 pademelon per visit.
- 2013 we saw them 55% of the time and we saw on average 2.8 pademelon per visit.
- 2014 we saw them 0% of the time and we seen no pademelons this year.
One may say that one reason for the decline is that we are observing them, but quite frankly the areas we go aren’t isolated from people, i.e the wildlife is used to having people around and we are very careful not to disturb the wildlife. We are only a quarter of the way through 2014 so the sample size is a bit small. But if you look at the 2013 figures you will see that the pademelons were already in decline, both in frequency and average sightings per visit.
I feel the cause the of the decline is environmental.
After years of mainly seeing healthy koalas, in the past six months or so I’ve noticed an increasing amount with the disease. Friends of the Koala have been doing a great job in capturing and treating the sick ones but it has decimated the local population. There is a glimmer of hope though as on my last few visits, I’ve only seen one sick koala, so maybe we’ve turned the corner?
The pademelons are of concern. I see them in two places. I see the red-legged pademelon during the day on our Wildlife Tour and the red-necked pademelon on our Night Vision Walk . After the big storms last year I observed a dramatic decrease in the frequency of times we saw pademelons and the number we saw. We also had quite a few visits that were disturbed by other park users making excessive noise and running about. But on our last visit we saw quite a few and they had joeys, so their numbers maybe increasing again. We haven’t seen any red-necked pademelons so far on our night vision walk this year, which is of a grave concern as they used to be one of our most consistent sightings. I did notice some hunters in the area where we go to see the pademelons a few months back, which I reported to the National Parks but as they were under staffed, nothing was done.
I’ll carry on recording my data and see if things improve, I certainly hope they do. In the mean time we can all do a few things to save our wildlife: lock up your dogs at night, drive slowly especially at night, report any sick or injured wildlife and protect their habitat.
Byron Bay is a popular tourist town that attracts 1.3 million per year. Visitors seem to be attracted by the beautiful environment and laid back life style, but are all too often these very things find themselves under pressure from the shear number of visitors and the lack of understanding and respect some can show while they are here.
The impact of over a million visitors on a town of 7,000 and a shire of 29,000 is considerable, but let’s not kid ourselves Tourism contributes $509 million pa to the local economy and is by far the biggest industry. I do hear locals often refer to tourists in a derogatory way but without the money the tourists bring with them, Byron would struggle. (Fact and figures on local tourism can be found on the Research Tourism Website)
The impact of infrastructure of over a million visitors not inconsequential, which causes the resources of Byron Shire Council to be over-stretched and the locals who pay the rates feeling “ripped off’. It is unlawful for the council to charge a bed tax, and they have no real way of charging these million of so people to pay for their impact on roads, waste management, or the environment.
On top of the impact on infrastructure there is also a social impact. Visitors are attracted by the laid back life-style but often sometimes bring their anger and intolerance which can cause conflict. And quite Byron often hits the news for all the wrong reasons.
So what’s the answer to this complex set of problems? We need visitors to lessen their impact on the environment and to respect the local culture. That sounds like eco-tourism to me.
Eco-tourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990)
There are a few eco-tourism operators and accommodation places in Byron but they are in the minority, which is weird as the local chamber of commerce recently ran the Byron Naturally campaign. The problem with the campaign was that very few of the businesses featured were eco-tourism businesses, they just seemed to have loads of money to jump of the nature band-wagon. Personally I didn’t have $1000’s to join the relevant organisations and pay for TVCs and print campaigns. It also costs quite a lot of money to be accredited with Eco-Tourism Australia. Some of us small operators have quality eco-tourism products but simply don’t have the bank roll to pay for all the membership, campaigns and accreditation.
As a local eco-tourism operator at Vision Walks, I take people on nature-based experiences, they learn about the natural and human history, we tell local stories, we discuss local environmental issues, we use local products and other local businesses and more importantly we discuss the social contract people who live in this area engage in. It would be great if we could offer an opportunity for visitors to give something back to the local community in terms of their time or a specific skill. This would be more than just planting a tree.
What I’d like to see happen is the building of an interpretation centre or perhaps an app, which would include, interactive environmental and cultural displays and perhaps a short film. While engaging they do a short questionnaire and it suggests an local issue they should adopt, then they are given an opportunity to address that issue or to own it. It could include: picking up 50 bits of rubbish, volunteering with a local group (dune care, land care, rainforest rescue), writing something, getting 10 friends to sign a petition, be nice to a stranger, help someone, dig a hole, fill in a hole, plant something, fix something, paint something, doing something creative… Local tourism businesses then go for an Byron Eco Accreditation (for a small cost), where by they have to prove their sustainability credentials and what they will contribute to the running of the local issues. E.g sign a petition, running volunteers etc. This way everyone is giving something back, it doesn’t cost much money but everyone is engaged.
Through my business (Vision Walks- Eco Tours) I get to connect people with nature every day. On top of that I get to live in the awesome village of Brunswick Heads in the Byron Shire. I know, I’m pretty lucky, but one underlying fact is that I’m passionate about the environment and want to give something back. So I thought I’d start this blog. It will be quite eclectic, nature-based observations in the Byron Bay area. These will include: sightings, nesting shore birds, the night sky, issues such as Coal Seam Gas, fishing in the marine park to name but a few.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Byron Bay, nature, CSG,