LOOKING up at water falling from 100m, with dappled sunlight through a thick subtropical rainforest canopy, was a serene part of my weekend in the Byron hinterland.
Minyon Falls, about a 30-minute drive from northern New South Wales town Bangalow, was a magical place and the drive to get there was a treat in itself. The rolling green hills of the hinterland gave way to ancient, World Heritage-listed Nightcap National Park. A couple of walking paths of different difficulties lead to the waterfall.
The falls are fed by Repentance Creek, and were made full by the recent rain and flooding, which created a mist shower in the rock pool below the water drop.
If you prefer not to walk to the falls alone, Byron Bay Adventure Tours has a number of adventures to choose from and all include wilderness experiences and sweeping views.
Do yourself a favour and go a little further than Byron Bay and its beautiful beaches. Just a few kilometres on is a whole other world where experiences await.
Highly seasoned traveller, Tom Ihle, of Germany, decided to settle in the Northern Rivers after stopping in for a visit when travelling around the country.
"There is no other place like it in Australia," he said.
And where better to stay than the region's first settlement town, Bangalow. Accommodation at Bangalow Guesthouse offers a home away from home in natural-light-filled rooms with cloud-like beds, cable TV and an upscale shared living and indoor-outdoor dining area for self-catering.
I quickly found the best way to take advantage of the communal kitchen space is to head to Bangalow markets (held monthly) and buy seasonal produce. Hundreds of stalls transform the usually sleepy town into a vibrant gathering of food, arts, crafts and music. Goodies from the stalls make perfect culinary souvenirs of the hinterland.
And activities are at an arm's length from quaint Bangalow - waterfalls, hiking trails, delectable food and stylish shopping.
I relished a day with Taste Byron Bay founder Terase Davidson, a local chef who proved picking food locally and seasonally tastes a whole lot better.
Taste hosts and caters for the foodie tour you never knew you needed, and makes a conscious effort not to do the obvious.
Terase takes her guests to places that are hard to stumble across yourself. The experience is something special, as is her must-try, heavenly salted caramel sauce.
In a perfect way to finish my hinterland adventure I navigated more winding roads until I reached the retreat, Gaia, where I enjoyed the most relaxing and rejuvenating deep tissue massage.
I was at one with nature at this luxury retreat. It's a hard place to leave.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
ONE lunch or dinner at acclaimed chef Katrina Kanetani's restaurant Town, in Bangalow, is a must if you're feeling a little fancy.
I enjoyed a degustation course with matching wines. The plump snapper fillet submerged in ginger and shallots was a highlight along with the cream brulee with caramel caviar and blood plum sorbet. Town has made the Australian Financial Review's list of Australia's Top 500 Restaurants this year.
But, if you want a slice of local life, head down to Bangalow Bowling Club's Stockpot Kitchen for food, drinks, games and entertainment. The restaurant's motto is "feeding the people", and feed the people it does. For a hearty feed, I couldn't go past a meat extravaganza platter, as its barbecue smokehouse is town-famous.
A hidden gem in an unassuming weatherboard cottage is Doma, in Federal. It is a relaxed place with incredible Japanese eats. Take a seat outside among free-ranging chickens and enjoy the fresh food, a colourful mix of contrasting textures: crunchy vegies, chewy seaweed and soft rice that make a feast for the eyes and the mouth. Its basic accommodation, its charm and the friendly owners reate an awesome remote foodie service.
Also keep an eye out for macadamias, mangoes, avocados and other fruit and vegetable delights sold by farmers direct from roadside stalls.
Bangalow Guesthouse, Byron Street, Bangalow, bangalowguesthouse.com.au
Byron Bay Adventure Tours: byronbayadventuretours.com.au
Taste Byron Bay: tastebyronbay.com
Gaia Retreat and Spa: gaiaretreat.com.au
The writer was a guest of Destination NSW. Share your own favourite memories of a New South Wales holiday by uploading your photos and videos to social media with the #ILoveNSW hashtag.
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