Stop the World I Want to Get Off
When Australia’s Baby Boomers want to get away from it all, they head to Byron Bay. But they don’t leave their hard-earned integrity, status and comforts behind.
Words and pictures by Roderick Eime. Additional photography courtesy the Byron at Byron.
“No one lives for the moment anymore,” laments Lyn Parché, manager of the once controversial Byron at Byron Resort and Spa, “people are just consumed with business and materialism these days.”
Lyn and husband John have spent thirty years in the hospitality business, but their youthful exuberance and enthusiasm belies their extensive international experience. Classic ‘Baby Boomers’, John and Lyn were snared by ‘early boomer’ and entrepreneur, Gerry Harvey, to manage his $45 million resort complex in the eclectic seaside town of Byron Bay on the New South Wales North Coast.
With a higher proportion of the post-war offspring than any town in Australia, Byron Bay is a whacky mix of spaced out surfer types, retirees, holidaymakers, affluent mid-lifers and plain old bums. Despite this seemingly unmanageable demographic concoction, Byron Bay has developed a world famous reputation as a delightful alternative seaside village that has ferociously resisted the tide of development and commercialism.
“When we first opened in 2004, elements of the community were very suspicious,” confides Lyn, “here’s one of Australia’s most successful businessmen bringing tens of millions of dollars into this sleepy little hippy town. Folks were scared we were bringing the Gold Coast to Byron. That was understandable.”
Now, three years on, the dramas are all water under the bridge. Condé Naste and just about every other magazine has been through the resort and declared it one of the country’s gems. Awards and accolades have flowed like Bollinger and The Byron is the toast of the town.
“It wasn’t easy,“ continues Lyn, “but we’ve earned their trust and demonstrated our intentions were honorable and responsible. We employ almost 100 locals and bring a lot of business to Byron that is showing up down the street. Hundreds and hundreds of residents signed a petition in support of us when we wanted to expand our restaurant. That was a touching expression and really appreciated it.”
Byron Shire Mayor, Councillor Jan Barham echoes the community’s sentiments: ”The Byron at Byron provides a quality 5 star tourism opportunity for the region and makes a considerable positive impact through employment, care of the environment and contribution to community organizations.”
The Byron at Byron have now added a further 32 luxury, apartment-style suites, bringing their total inventory to 92.
Lyn, a self-confessed tree-hugger, has been obsessive in maintaining the low impact of the resort on the environment. When Harvey bought the land in 2002, he could see the immense potential and undaunted, pursued his vision of an environmentally harmonious resort that offered a haven of relaxation and therapy to his time-poor and over-stressed generation.
Following lavish praise in the world’s luxury travel media, the cavalcade of celebrities ultimately followed. Names such as Tara Reid, Barry Humphries, Fred Schepsi, Allan Lamb, Brian Wilson, Lavinia Nixon and Moby have all appeared in the register, some more than once! Clearly it’s not just the individual and free spirited, Baby Boomers who flock to the Byron. The independent and entrepreneurial Generation X seems to approve too.
“The resort is a paradise for relaxation where I can recover my spirits with a variety of spa treatments, enjoy the warmth of not only the weather but of the fabulous staff and enjoy the food, comfort and ambience of this luxurious haven,” says Barry Humphries, “When I visited recently, I bumped into an old friend from Melbourne, the highly regarded Dame Edna Everage from Moonee Ponds, who just adores The Byron. For the first time in history, we were in cordial agreement!"
The latest news from the Byron is the successful extension of the award-winning restaurant’s trading license. Previously just servicing in-house guests, ‘The Restaurant at The Byron’ now serves the general public both lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Head Chef Gavin Hughes has been with the resort since the opening. Hughes’s impressive background includes the Aqua Luna (with Darren Simpson), The Bathers Pavilion (with Serge Dansereau) and Aqua Dining (with Jeff Turnbull) in Sydney. Prior to moving to Australia Hughes trained and worked in his homeland of Scotland’s finest restaurants. These include the Michelin starred and AA awarded Inverlochy Castle Hotel, 1 Devonshire Gardens and The Airds Hotel.
“Our menu uses the freshest local ingredients and is lovingly planned and prepared,” says Gavin. “The food is light Mediterranean style and based around the best of what’s available locally. And we use Bangalow Sweet Pork, Alstonville chicken, Yamba prawns, Hervey Bay sea scallops and the fish we get is second to none. Right now I’m making a fresh local snapper, pan roasted with yellow zucchini, gazpatcho vinaigrette and vine ripened cherry tomatoes. My other little love is zucchini flowers filled with ricotta and spinach, served with a basil mayonnaise, rocket salad and lemon.”
Clearly the resort has now melded successfully with the unusual community of Byron Bay. Lyn, John and Gerry’s lofty vision and expert execution was obviously grossly underestimated by the detractors. Instead of bleached concrete towers and painful glitz, the Byron is a shining, if somewhat camouflaged example of how modern architecture, big business and a loving vision can create a retreat from the pressures of the modern world in a delicate and protective community.
About The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa
The Byron at Byron Resort was designed to blend effortlessly with the majestic rainforest which surrounds it. The open plan construction and the wide covered verandahs, furnished with oversized cane lounges and slow turning ceiling fans, evoke a feeling of instant serenity and harmony with the environment.
Tranquil water features throughout the resort create ripples of peaceful sound, while lush gardens and rich timbers have the effect of nurturing the soul and delighting the senses. The apartment style rooms are a triumph of modern Australian architecture and include every luxury imaginable, from a king sized bed with choice of feather or foam pillows, to a free-standing bathtub big enough for two.
Located five minutes from the heart of Byron Bay and a ten minute walk along the rainforest boardwalk to unspoiled Tallow Beach, The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa also features a 25m heated pool, a sumptuous restaurant operated by award winning chef, Matthew Wild, a lobby shop and tour desk and day spa.
For further information on The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa, telephone 1300 554 362, or visit www.thebyronatbyron.com.au.