Byron Bay on the North Coast of New South Wales has the answer to all our fantasies about the perfect Aussie beach cottage. They have beach cottages to suit just about every family and friend configuration and better yet, they are actually right behind the beach!
There is something built into the Australian DNA that summertime must be spent with family and/or friends in a simple beach house as close to the water as possible. Memories of salty sun-kissed bodies, towels thrown over veranda railings, surfboards propped against the fence, and casual barbecues within earshot of the surf bring us all back to those carefree days.
Problem is that in most cases our aesthetic has grown up a little and there is a huge gap between those wistful fantasies and the real life comforts we all now seek on holiday. Alternatively, often when we go for all the mod-cons we find ourselves in some soulless highrise apartment or a house with no view of the beach at all.
Enter the four sensitively renovated Byron Bay beach cottages, tucked into bushland smack bang behind one of the prettiest beaches in Australia, the north-facing Clarkes Beach in Byron Bay. All were built in the 1920s on miner’s leases (the beaches around Byron used to be sandmined) and were used by families as homes and holiday houses. In 1997 when the Cape Byron Headland Reserve was created, the pre-existing cottages were allowed to be kept in the family but when the final family member passed away they each reverted to the Parks Department.
As a marvelous experiment in social history and with a keen interest in environmental sustainability, the four cottages have been thoughtfully restored by the Cape Byron Trust.
Today, they feature solar hot water heaters, low wattage lights, underground rainwater tanks, louvered windows for cross ventilation, water saving taps and shower heads, energy-efficient glazed windows, decking made from reconstituted timber that doesn’t require painting, and plantings of native bush.
And they have all the modern conveniences, including fully equipped kitchens, gas barbecues, TVs, DVDs, radio/CD players, ceiling fans, air conditioning, and washers and dryers. There are also local bird identification books, classic Australian DVDs and a welcome pack with Byron Bay coffee and teas, honey, cookies, lemon myrtle soap and the Surf Lifesaving Beach Safety Guide.
But it is the whimsical connection to the past…and the cottages’ individual character and charm…that are their most endearing features. Each cottage, named in memory of the family that owned it, has a kaleidoscope of crazy colored kitchen and bath tiles that reference the way people used to source tiles from just about anywhere to decorate their simple shacks. And they all feature historic black and white photographs of beach holidays of yore in good old Byron Bay.
The three-bedroom, one-bathroom Thomson Cottage is the probably the most classic and private, tucked into the rainforest but still with magnificent views from its spacious deck and the main bedroom over the world-renowned right-hand break at The Pass.
A glass louvered breezeway links the main bedroom to the rest of the house which has a spacious living and dining area and open kitchen. Bi-fold doors open up wide to the expansive shaded veranda with picnic table and chaise lounges overlooked by a fragrant frangipani tree. A Hills Hoist clothesline is perfect for all those wet beach towels.
Directly behind Clarke’s Beach with a panoramic view of the ocean and Mount Warning in the distance, the two-bedroom, one-bathroom Imeson Cottage, formerly known as Clarkes Beach Cottage, is the oldest of the four. George Imeson built it in the early 1900s by relocating the paymaster’s office from a nearby butter factory and adding on rooms over the years.
The renovated cottage now has a spacious deck overlooking the beach and a beach-inspired mosaic tiled shower.
The main bathroom has a wall made from local rounded stones, which also form part of the outdoor terrace. High ceilings have colored sun and moon skylights and colored-glass windows let light into the bathroom.
Tucked into the trees and barely visible from the beach, the two-bedroom Partridge Cottage is named after Geoff and Edna Partridge who lived here until 2007 and left much of their 1950s furniture and knickknacks, which have been restored and retained. It is a retro lover’s dream with tomato-red kitchen cupboards, Formica table, leatherette chairs and brightly colored period crockery.
Adjoining the cottage is another bedroom, en-suite bathroom and kitchenette in Geoff’s Shed. It used to be filled with his tools which have now been mounted in glass cases, as a tribute to him. An old surf board is wedged evocatively into the corrugated iron roof of the deck.
Cape Byron Lighthouse Cottages
There are also two renovated Cape Byron Lighthouse Cottages on the headland next to the lighthouse that provide a taste of life in the early 1900s. These are particularly popular during the winter months when the humpback whales come through Bryon Bay.
To get the low down on everything on offer in the iconic beach town Byron Bay, check out my app Australia’s Best Places!
I know there are other great beach houses and cottages all along the Aussie coastline but many of them are for private use only. I’d love to hear any of your insider tips about great beach cottages that are available for rent.
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