The consumate traveller, Matt Lennon, shares his artfully curated itinerary for 48 hours of escape, connection and a new luxury in Byron Bay.
It’s the way the land lies, they say, that makes Byron Bay so special. The most eastern point of the largest island on Earth and a sacred meeting place for the Arakwal people of the Bundjalung tribe who have been living along the coast for more than 22,000 years. The shire itself is part of the erosion-caldera of the Tweed Volcano which erupted 23-million years ago and left remnants of obsidian scattered beneath the land. It’s this volcanic activity that made way for the lush, fertile forests and valleys that have become synonymous with Byron Bay. If you believe the locals, which I am inclined to, this eruption also contributed to the energetic density and spiritual significance of the land.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Byron thinking about this since my first visit a decade ago. I’ve witnessed the majesty and power of the land and ocean first hand. Seen the curves of the coastline shift and change at different times of the year. But on my most recent trip in particular I was interested in a more nuanced and culturally driven kind of change that has blown in on the wind of late.
It’s a change characterised by a surge in development and an influx of tourists drawn to Byron Bay’s charm and newly minted Hollywood cachet. But beyond the bustle of the main street and the spotlight shone on the shire by big budget productions there exists a discrete luxury, a pursuit of wellness, and a care for the land that remains true to the spirit of Byron Bay.
Often when you stay at a property of a certain pedigree its reputation precedes it; praise for the bar at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo for instance or the spa at Amangiri in Canyon Point. In the case of The Range, a breathtaking estate nestled in the Byron hinterland, it wasn’t so much the reputation of the property that intrigued me but rather the family that built it. Owned by Emma and Tom Lane who came to prominence in 2013 with the opening of Byron Bay institution, The Farm, a business that combines regenerative agriculture, dining, and education into one much loved destination. The Lane’s sold The Farm to local investors in 2020 and began plans to build a family home that would come to embody many of the same principles as their previous project – sustainability, adaptive reuse of materials and working with rather than against the land – all while encapsulating a way of life that is at once grounded yet undeniably luxurious.
Driving down the long winding road to enter The Range it’s the sheer scale of the property (120 acres in total) that strikes me first followed closely by the glow of the main homestead’s boundary rendered in the softest peachy pink, a shade I’ll find out later that like many other details of the build had been researched extensively by Emma and Tom. The property is built on one of the highest points in the area and I arrive just in time to enjoy a gin and take in the view of the sun setting behind the hills and the ocean beyond.
At dinner that night I learnt more about the Lane’s and their vision for The Range which as Emma explains is “one part family home and one part high end, private accommodation”. The design is influenced by the Spanish ‘Finca’ - a country house with peripheral buildings, and lends itself perfectly to operate in both family and private modes. For guests with a certain taste level and budget The Range can be hired only in its entirety which includes the main house, a cabin and a beautifully renovated barn. The Lane’s most recent guest was Nicole Kidman who loved the property so much that she extended her stay multiple times during filming.
And there is indeed a lot to love. For anyone with an architectural interest, the details of the build are impressive and seamlessly executed. With a sustainable ethos underpinning all of the design decisions, many of the most distinctive features including the clay floor tiles, ceiling beams and basalt rock boundary were either made using recycled materials or repurposed from the original property. This concept extends to Emma’s interior design which includes a stunning table crafted from 600-year old teak found and restored locally as well as shelving made from old Oregan roof trusses. The combination of these soulful elements, mixed with vintage furniture from an array of notable designers including Pierre Jeanneret, makes the new home feel warm and welcoming with not a white-washed wall in sight.
During my stay I was lucky to spend time with Emma and Tom, slotting into their young families schedule of drop-offs and pick-ups, of horse floats and lawn-mowing, and to bear witness to Tom’s skillful cooking over an open fire. It was a pleasure to see the property through their eyes and while it is undeniably “a new breed of luxury accommodation”, what I came to realise is that it’s not just the property, or the private chef the Lane’s are offering to guests but a way of life they themselves have come to embody, living in luxury but always in communion with the land.
Byron Bay has long been a destination for those seeking to vibrate on a higher level, to connect more deeply with themselves and to experience a more holistic sense of wellness. This “hippie” history traces back to the Aquarius Festival held in Nimbin in 1973 which brought an influx of open-minded travellers into town, many of whom became enamoured with Byron’s natural beauty and made the small town their home.
Almost half a century later the local wellness landscape has evolved into a comprehensive offering that ranges from hippie to haute. Sitting comfortably at the upper-end of that spectrum is the day spa at Byron Bay’s most coveted property Raes at Wategos Beach. The spa takes its design cues from a classic Moroccan bath house and exclusively uses products by Santa Maria Novella, the world’s oldest apothecary, throughout their treatments.
As you step through the concealed entry into the dimly lit corridors of the spa, the transportative experience begins. With a team consisting of some of Byron Bay’s most experienced practitioners the menu offers both restorative and results-driven treatments. During my time at Raes I spent 75-minutes in a state of bliss, enjoying their signature men’s facial and left feeling deeply relaxed and with skin that was ready for immediate public consumption - a welcome alternative to some of the more invasive facial treatments I’ve experienced in the past that require downtime and are not so conducive to that immediate holiday glow.
A relatively recent addition to Byron Bay’s retail landscape, which once consisted mostly of shops peddling tie-dyed tshirts and crystals, is a selection of beautifully curated interior stores. My favourite, Tigmi Trading, has opened a beautiful new showroom in the Industrial Estate with a selection of vintage pieces sourced by founder Danielle McEwan from far flung locations around the world.
As my flight home leaves Ballina airport and ascends over the shire I look down at the coral blue coastline and come to think that perhaps the true and most precious luxury Byron Bay offers isn’t that new at all. It’s something the Arakwal people knew 22,000 years ago, that the ‘seekers’ who arrived in town for the Aquarius Festival quickly picked up and that Byron locals continue to revere; the natural beauty of this place. It’s the secret beaches, the serene tea tree lakes, the feeling of seeing the sun rise over Australia’s most eastern point. Yes, it’s the way the land lies, that truly makes Byron Bay so special.