The Hulu series, Nine Perfect Strangers, starring Nicole Kidman as health guru Masha, may channel California, but the creators shot the series in the coastal and hinterland paradise of Byron Bay.
Masha served guests smoothies laced with hallucinogenic mushrooms and made them forage for food or starve. Not my idea of a relaxing holiday.
But the scenes of lavish tropical fruit-laden tables, forest bathing, infinity pools, and meditating in a geodesic yoga dome. Yes, please!
Such delights are standard-issue at Byron Bay’s wellness stays, of which there are many.
Cheer Up, Slow Down, Chill Out
Aboriginal elders say the area has been a sacred healing ground for tens of thousands of years.
Life’s pressure seems to drop the moment you enter town. Helped by the welcome sign “Cheer Up, Slow Down, Chill Out.” Even the weather is restorative — subtropical temperatures are the norm year round.
As the mainland’s most easterly point, sunlight kisses Byron before all else. First light illuminates rolling surf, white sandy beaches, and yoga devotees framed by Pandam palms before moving on like a morning stretch to awaken Byron Bay’s hinterland with its verdant farmland and tropical rainforest.
Like Southern California, surfers and hippies flocked to Byron Bay for a freer lifestyle in the 1960s and ’70s. Many have since headed for the hills for cheaper land. Others stayed, developing yoga studios, surfing schools, and organic restaurants.
Celebrities came in the 1980s. Actor Paul Hogan and his manager John Cornell invested in Byron with proceeds from Crocodile Dundee. Today there’s a wave of Hollywood pin-up boys — Chris Hemsworth, Matt Damon, and Zac Efron.
Byron is now one of Australia’s most upmarket residential areas, but the alternative ethos remains. Locals continue to block over-development. Byron has no high-rise and plenty of national parks. As for McDonald’s, the placards announced No Mackin Way. Recent protests are about Netflix’s Byron Baes, a show about “hot Instagrammers.”
1. Soma, The Real Location For Nine Perfect Strangers
Tranquillum House, the health and wellness resort in Nine Perfect Strangers, exists. But it’s Soma, an architecturally stunning 10-bedroom Airbnb on a 22-acre property in Ewingsdale, outside Byron.
The delights you saw in the series can be yours. Bask in natural light before floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping hinterland views. Spend lazy afternoons by the infinity pool, mornings working out in the geodesic yoga-dome, evenings discussing life, the universe, and everything else around the communal fire pit.
Or you can book a retreat experience. Gary Gorrow is a Vedic Meditation teacher, health, and mindfulness coach and he focuses on meditation, creativity, consciousness, and the art of living. Retreats include yoga classes, forest walks, and meals prepared by an Ayurvedic chef. Unlike the television series, wellness protocols don’t include digging graves or spiked smoothies.
2. The One That You’ll Love: Gaia Retreat
Treat yourself to love. Gaia Retreat & Spa is co-owned by Olivia Newton-John, singer and star of the 1978 hit musical Grease. Newton-John’s battle with cancer using modern medicine and natural remedies is well known. The ethos of Gaia Retreat & Spa is aligned with the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre in Melbourne. Gaia is a peaceful, nurturing place nestled among green valleys and undulating hills in Byron Bay’s hinterland. She describes Gaia as “my heaven on earth!” The small boutique retreat has only 24 rooms, suites, and villas with personalized service. A stay in Gaia is gentle. Enjoy organic cuisine with the produce grown onsite, plunging into the saltwater infinity plunge pools, relaxing with remedial massages, yoga, and spa pampering. Packages include mother and daughter time, couple retreats, or options for individuals to revive and renew. As Newton-John says, “turn off your phone, put your feet up, and take some healing time for you — time out without guilt!”
3. You’ll Be In Your Element
Elements of Byron is a $100 million luxury escape accessible by Byron Bay’s town center via the world’s first solar-powered train. The eco-friendly resort was the winner of the 2016 Best Hotel Interior Design. Despite being a large resort, there are no high-rise buildings. The 202 architecturally designed freestanding villas hide among 50 acres of rainforest with direct access to Belongil Beach. Guests enjoy a huge lagoon pool and an adults-only pool voted Australia’s best hotel pool. Relax in private cabanas or hanging day beds. Swim up to the bar for cocktails or organic pressed juices. Horse ride along the beach and into the waves. There’s a ranch onsite. Or explore the resort’s native rainforest and wetlands along 1.2 miles of trails. Wellness packages include guided rainforest walks, spa treatments, and group fitness classes. The program isn’t rigid. If you miss the early morning beachside yoga, so be it.
4. Stunning Rainforest Luxury — Crystalbrook Byron At Byron
While I was staying with friends, I dropped into Crystalbrook Byron at Byron. It was a chance to ogle the resort, frequently named in Australia’s top 10 best luxury resorts. I sat sipping a cocktail and looking out at the stunning blue lap pool backgrounded by 45 acres of subtropical rainforest. I envied guests spending their holidays here. Crystalbrook has 92 suites, each with a front and rear verandah, so guests feel immersed in nature. For views over the top of the forest, book a Treetops Suite. Daily exercise can include walking or riding bicycles on the rainforest boardwalks. Eléme Day Spa partnered with Byron Bay’s Cura Co. Lab, makers of eco-conscious therapeutic oils. Enjoy daily yoga sessions, private yoga sessions, or chakra healing. Rooms come with yoga mats and iPads offering guided meditations. The resort is by the ocean, a 15-minute walk from Byron Bay Golf Course and Arakwal National Park, and a short shuttle from town.
5. Raes On Wategos
Voted one of the world’s top 25 Hotels by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and situated on an absolute beachfront, Raes on Wategos offers tranquillity, privacy, and luxury. The serene white turreted Spanish mission-style hotel has the feel of an opulent Italian palazzo with five luxury suites and two penthouses. According to WHO, the boutique hotel has hosted notables including Elle Macpherson, Tom Cruise, Keith Richards, and Kate Winslet. Wellness at Raes is about total relaxation. Sip a cocktail overlooking the crystal blue water. Chill by the pool and enjoy luxury amid bohemian grandeur with whispers that Salvador Dali designed the pool and gardens. Executive chef Jason Saxby prepares exquisite Mediterranean dishes with the freshest of local ingredients. Enjoy a candlelit dinner being caressed by sea breezes. Relax in Raes Moroccan-inspired spa with its curved walls, mother of pearl tiles, and luxurious treatments using Santa Maria Novella products. Wategos Beach is a great place for dolphin spotting, or grab a board and join them in the surf.
6. Can’t Beat The Retreats
You’ve heard the lyrics “I’ve Been To Paradise, But I’ve Never Been To Me.” Byron Bay boasts wellness retreats where a journey back to self is the sole focus. Byron Bay Detox Retreats sits on a beautiful beach by Arakwal National Park and offers fasting, cleansing, yoga, and massage. Byron Wellbeing Yoga and Surf Retreat is geared toward beginner surfers, especially women with mornings at the beach, yoga, massage reflexology, and vegetarian meals. Awaken Meditation Retreats, a private house by the sea, offers a 5-day meditation retreat where you can learn to be present in nature while discovering beautiful Byron.
7. Local And Sustainable Produce
One of my favorite places is the local farmers market. There’s a great sense of community, with locals coming from all over to sell and shop. The rich volcanic soils make the Byron Bay hinterland extremely fertile, and local produce includes macadamias, pecans, organic coffee, tropical fruit, cheeses, free-range eggs, meat, and olives. The “Make It, Bake It, Grow It” philosophy means Milkadamia (milk made from macadamias), Ginger Necktar, smoked fish, muffins, cakes, and sourdough bread. Stay for breakfast and soak up the harmonious atmosphere.
Because of the area’s quality produce and healthy ethos, there are many excellent restaurants. Visit The Farm Byron Bay, an 80-acre property and home to a collective of growers, restaurateurs, producers, and educators. Their ethos is “Grow, Feed. Educate. Give Back.” “The Ducks,” as they are fondly known, are mates passionate about nourishing the community with ethical, authentic, quality food and hospitality. The Ducks built Three Blue Ducks, a fabulous restaurant, cafe, and produce store with most food sourced from the farm.
Another restaurant, FOLK, is committed to plant-based eating, with food so good it made Vogue and Gourmet Traveler. I like Top Shop for amazing coffee, away from the center of town, with a relaxed vibe. But a drink I always return for is served at The Roadhouse. The Tusk is a sphere of organic frozen coconut water to swirl in a glass of Kraken spiced rum. So smooth!
8. Walks And Meanderings
Byron offers endless hiking in the Hinterland hills along beaches and tranquil trails. A right of passage for tourists is the Cape Byron Walking Track through a national park up to the Byron Bay Lighthouse. My tip is to get someone to drop you at the lighthouse and then walk down. The Google Street View Trekker shows why.
Killen Falls is the site of the Nine Perfect Strangers cliff jumping scene. The swimming hole has a 33-foot waterfall at one end. Don’t jump as there are rocks! Experience the falls from the viewing platform. If venturing further, be mindful it’s a steep and uneven track to the water.
I like walking in The Crystal Castle and Shambhala Gardens for a Byron Bay experience. It’s a castle devoted to crystals. Wander through a rainforest, meet a Hindu goddess, and wander a meditative labyrinth based on the one at Chartres Cathedral near Paris, built around A.D. 1,200. Before you set off on the twists and turns, you are expected to pose a question and invite existence to reveal the answer. My question was, “How can I get to live in Byron Bay?”
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