Let Byrons Be Byrons, Hotels and resorts reviewed by Australian Traveller are visited anonymously by our writers who pay their own way.

How do you transform a 45-acre swamp into a stylish 5-star resort in one of Australia’s most desirable holiday destinations? Judging by Ian Cockerill’s visit to The Byron at Byron, you do it with $50 million, 14,000 new plants, two pairs of sure hands at the helm and a mosquito expert on the payroll.

As I drove my family five minutes south of the main township, the Byron at Byron quickly revealed itself as one of those rejuvenating places purpose-built for fried city couples, even ones with a demanding two-year-old (is there any other kind?) in tow. With its day spa, yoga classes, gym, tennis court and international-standard restaurant, it also proved to be a masterful makeover of what locals long knew as The Everglades, a mosquito-infested forest through which Tallow Creek flowed to Tallow Lake.

By my reckoning, the trick with resorts is to nail the entrance. I want to feel the cares falling from my shoulders with each step towards the reception area, so that by the time I get to my room I’m itching to race back to the pool for my first cocktail. The Byron at Byron achieves this by having one of those open, tropical-feel receptions suggestive of balmy days and warm, perfumed nights. The fact that we arrived after a week of torrential rain and flooding did little to undermine the mood, partly because the staff was so cheery and welcoming.
The other factor was the scene beckoning beyond the reception, where a hardwood veranda the width of a tennis court and twice as long overlooked a 25-metre, wet-edge lap pool. Fifteen metres further on was a dense forest, creating the instant effect of luxury cradled by nature. And that’s the combination for me. So while I didn’t have a pina colada in my hand within ten minutes – two-year-olds have their own schedules – I was already humming a merry tune by the time we set off for our room.

The room, of course, is the next thing you’ve got to get right, especially with a toddler. Quirkily, the resort’s 60 one-bedders, arrayed on two levels alongside raised wooden boardwalks, are exact facsimiles because of conditions imposed on the development by environmentally conscious authorities. Homogenous they might be, but they rank as the most imaginatively designed and functional rooms I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. Although designed primarily with couples in mind, the tastefully decorated rooms can be tweaked and pulled into different private spaces thanks to sliding screens between the master bedroom, the bathroom, the walk-in robe, the open-plan living area and two balconies bookending the apartment. Throw in a galley kitchen with all mod cons, a washer/dryer, a plasma TV, high-speed internet, a king size bed, a shower you could comfortably wash a St Bernard in and a giant freestanding bath and you’ve got something for everyone.

As soon becomes obvious, such eye for detail is at the heart of a resort that strives to provide a five-star experience at four-star cost – for now, at least. The competitive pricing is presumably due to the deep pockets of owner Gerry Harvey, of Harvey Norman store fame, who has set out with his first foray into the hotel game to give Byron Bay the international resort it hasn’t had before.
A lot of the credit for the resort’s early success must be put down to the professionalism and pleasantness of hoteliers John and Lyn Parché, a personable couple with more than 50 years’ experience in managing and marketing five-star hotels, and their hand-picked staff. Over our days at the resort, staff managed to strike that ideal balance between efficiency, warmth and discretion.

Not that our stay was faultless. When we showed up for breakfast at 6.45am on our second morning, the cook emerged to tell us the waiter hadn’t yet turned up. How she responded next revealed much about staff attitudes: after making a hasty phone call, she returned to ask us to take a seat – she’d be over with the menus in a minute. She happily took our order, made our coffees and prepared our breakfasts until the cavalry arrived. It mightn’t have been five-star organisation, but it was a five-star response.

Elsewhere, what the resort lacks in scale it makes up for in quality, intimacy and initiative. One of the effects of being confined to ten percent of the site – another condition of development – is that the resort doesn’t have its own golf course or kids’ club or the biggest pool in the southern hemisphere. What it does have is a superbly presented pool which complements the sort of veranda you can while away an entire day on. And in Tallow Beach, a short walk through forest from the reception, it has just the kind of giant sandpit to keep three-year-olds occupied for hours. Golf? No problem. Astutely, the resort has an arrangement with the nearby Byron Bay GC, so guests get $5 off the $30 green fees. That’s one more coffee by the pool.

All told, the resort packs a lot into a little space. The very thing that confines its facilities – the forest – is one of its greatest attractions. Thanks to an entomologist’s expertise, you can wander about the former swamp unmolested by mosquitoes, and without such distractions you can keep a leisurely eye out for the forest’s various inhabitants (wallabies, echidnas, goannas, bower birds, even the rare Mitchell’s rainforest snail); all part of the site’s ambitions to be certified as an eco-resort in the near future.

Back at the resort proper, the emphasis is on healthy leisure activities, pampering and fine dining. And after a few laps, a hit of tennis, a spot of yoga, some hot rock therapy, a body polish and a Swedish massage, there’s nothing better than savouring good food and wine. The resort boasts that it recruited Byron’s top chef, Matthew Wild, to head up its Wild at Byron restaurant and offer his interpretation of “modern Australian with a French twist.” The corn and crab soup in a shot glass is more than more-ish, the mahi mahi is mah-vellous, and the creme Catalan, a close cousin to creme caramel, is wickedly sublime.
The blissful expressions our meals left on our faces were still there when it came time to check out. The only real downside was that we were unable to take advantage of the option to check out as late as 3pm (at no charge) on day of departure if the room isn’t required.

Next time.

DETAILS: The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa
Style: Asian sub-tropical
Location: 5 kms from Byron Bay centre, ten minutes walk to Tallow Beach
Size: 60 one-bedroom rooms (increasing to 92 by year’s end)
Service: Relaxed and efficient
Cuisine: ModOz with a French twist
Outlook: From our rear balcony we looked straight into the forest canopy
Room Service: Yes, though limited (see below)
Children? Yes
Disabled Facilities? Yes. Better still, the resort has no steps except to the first floor apartments
Inclusions: Continental breakfast was included in the booking we made through www.wotif.com
Best months to go: September to May
Fee: $260 per night. $345 Easter & Christmas
(Best thing) A tight contest between the veranda, the rooms, the restaurant and the late check-out option
(Worst thing) Discovering that the restaurant no longer offered a snack menu as part of room service, decreasing the easy options with a child.
Contacts: 77-97 Broken Head Road, Suffolk Park (Byron Bay).
Phone: 1300 554 362
Email: info@thebyronatbyron.com.au
Website: www.thebyronatbyron.com.au

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