Debbie Kruger
Commissioned by the Zone Tourism Committee of the NSW Northern Rivers


Debbie Kruger 1995

The locals knew things were getting serious when word spread of the first elevator in a Byron Bay hotel. In any Byron building, in fact. Sure, the hotel looked glitzy, but who wants glitzy in Byron Bay? Numerous sophisticated citysiders do, the tourist office and hotel proprietors might tell you.

The Byron Bay beachfront is constantly changing. What were once inconspicuous, inexpensive family motels are now being upgraded, revamped and re-priced. The weekender set from Brisbane seeks out Byron for its uniqueness and relative simplicity, as well as its physical beauty, but ironically development proceeds, much to the locals' dismay, a la Noosa.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to stay by the beach, and often motels are the most ideal for families with young children. However, for the more discerning adults looking for country charm in the Byron area, there are alternatives. The bed and breakfast guesthouse accommodation market is burgeoning, and whether you want to be in town close to the action, or out in the hinterland f~ from the maddening crowds, there is a warm homely cottage with personalised attention from friendly hosts, just beckoning.

Two historical houses in the township of Byron Bay have been lovingly restored and converted to guesthouses where you can enjoy the charm and peacefulness while having an array of restaurants, shops and beaches at your doorstep.

Rosewood House in Kingsley Street was built in 1899 and is filled with elegant Victorian antiques and memorabilia, including many original photographs. Claudia and Peter Kiernana moved from Armidale just last year to start up their specialist B&B where they could combine country manners with coastal breezes. The four bedrooms are decorated romantically with ensuites and french doors, and the large communal drawing room is filled with books and music for the guests' pleasure.

In Massinger Street, with views over the bay to the ranges, is Frangipani Cottage, a restored Federation home with three guest rooms, each with ensuite. Scrumptious breakfasts are served and homemade goodies are provided for afternoon tea, while in the evening guests can enjoy a sherry on the verandah while watching the spectacular Byron sunset.

Neither Rosewood House nor Frangipani Cottage offer evening meals, as there is such a wide range of restaurants nearby. Should you choose to stay a little further out of town, however, the situation changes. Taylor's Guesthouse at McGettigan's Lane has-long been considered one of Australia's finest country B&B houses. Wendy and Ross Taylor, having just lost their wonderful managers to a nearby restaurant, are back to running the place themselves, so you can be sure of witty conversation and hearty cooking Wendy Taylor-style.

Taylor's is classy without condescension; each of the guest rooms is individually furnished with its own private terrace, ensuite and tv. Breakfasts are huge, while Wendy's afternoon teas by the pool are an occasion not to be missed. Dinners are extra, but quite an event; be prepared not to want to eat for days after, though! There is also a self-contained summer house — with: a huge open fire for winter nights — which can be rented out to guests who want a little more privacy

The McGettigan's Lane area in Ewingsdale is lush and private while still being only an eight-minute drive into town; it really is the best of both worlds.

About the same distance from town but in a different direction is the Coopers Shoot Guesthouse, owned by Jan Sharpe. An exclusive couples retreat, this guesthouse was originally a federation school residence, and a new wing has been added with large bedrooms, all with breathtaking views south to Lennox Head. One room has been specially built with wheelchair facilities. Fresh flowers adorn the bed heads, and with the feeling of being perched high above the rest of the world, it really is a little like heaven, If the drive down the hill to the beach seems too exhausting, there's a swimming pool for guests, and dinner is an optional extr8.

If you want to get right away from the towns and experience a little isolation, there are two quite different B&B style places outside Mullumbimby, north of Byron Bay. Ye Olde School House is set on two and a half acres on Left Bank Road in the Mullumbimby Creek Valley surrounded by prime grazing land. Built at the turn of the century for the resident schoolmaster, the house has been extensively renovated and features high ceilings, open fireplaces and wide verandahs accessed through the two guest rooms.

Bob and Maggie Tardif were "renegades" from the computer industry in Sydney, and since buying the house and establishing it as a B&B, they have done much research on the teachers who had worked at the school. They will entertain you with historical anecdotes and share with you their experiences of the ghostly figures they have encountered in the house. Breakfast is included and dinner is extra, but their nightly, rates are so reasonable, you might just feel inclined to order a feast.

Continue along Left Bank Road until you can go no further, then ascend a hill so steep you think your car might fall back over itself; there you will find Sakura Farm, a Japanese-style guesthouse with only one guest cabin, accommodating up to five people. Proprietor Genzan Kosaka believes Sakura Farm is a bridge between cultures, an opportunity for Australians to meet a real Japanese family and glimpse another society, as well as learn a little about Buddhist/Zen philosophy.

Alternatively, you can simply enjoy the view as you sit at an oak table under the mango tree perched on the edge of the plateau, 750 feet above sea level, listen to the bird life and be silent. The open bath house deserves to be experienced in all its ritual, with water straight from the farm's own deep spring, and even in the winter, to bathe with nature and gaze out at Mount Chincogan is just magic.

Genzan will be pleased to organise some mind and body therapy, whether it be Shiatsu massage or Zazen, a process of release akin to meditation. Genzan spent 17 years in a Zen Monastery, but is no missionary, and he encourages his guests to make their own choices. He will certainly advise you to enjoy the three meals a day prepared by his wife, Seiko, aI1 included in the tariff, as are morning and afternoon teas.

If you want a country cottage all to yourself, without the intrusion of hosts, then Yarraga Cottage at Goonengerry is ideal. Gorgeously restored by Theo and Amanda Poteris, the house dates back to 1904 and is set un 120 acres of pastures and orchards in the true Byron hinterland.

Although they restored the house for themselves, Theo and Amanda decided to move further down the property to work the orchards, so hit on the idea of renting out the cottage to holiday makers. The house can comfortably accommodate four people, six if necessary. Not only is the interior of the house attractive and extremely homely, but there is a private tennis court and three acres of subtropical and cottage gardens to meander through. Guests are free to pick fruit, vegetables and herbs from the gardens, and while a generous breakfast hamper is provided, dinner is DIY.

Yarraga Cottage is a 20-minute scenic drive from Byron Bay, but chances are you'll be so happily ensconced you won't want to leave, not even for a visit to the beach. It's the perfect opportunity to live out your fantasy of having your own country house. And odds on you'll be checking out the For Sale signs along those country roads as you head back to civilisation.

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