A LOCAL’S GUIDE TO BYRON: Belinda Kirkwood / Beach Byron Bay

BELINDA KIRKWOOD IS ONE PART OF THE DYNAMIC DUO BEHIND MULTI-AWARD WINNING BEACHFRONT RESTAURANT, CAFE AND COCKTAIL HOT-SPOT, BEACH BYRON BAY, AND NOW AFTER HAVING CLOCKED UP 23 YEARS AS A LOCAL, SHE KNOWS THIS SPECIAL PART OF THE WORLD INSIDE OUT.

She's a restauranteur, designer, wedding and events planner, brilliant networker, a mum of two, an outdoors girl, philanthropic, warm, engaging and absolutely passionate about local - local producers, providores, suppliers and local business of all kinds.   She and her team have cemented Beach as a global advertisement for everything there is to love about Byron and it's delightful blend of laid-back hippy roots meets sophisticated beach holiday destination.  It starts with a relaxed breakfast overlooking the sandy dunes and clear blue ocean of Clarke's Beach and can turn into a long lazy lunch with 180 degree views out to the long peeling wave at The Pass.  Or sunset cocktails on the deck with waves crashing gently on one side and uninterrupted views back to the majesty of Mt Warning on the other before a night of  fine dining under the stars.  

Belinda shares her journey from living and working in the Carribean with husband Ben, to creating Byron's only hatted restaurant and her insider smarts on where to eat, play and spoil yourself in this beachside paradise.  

How long have you been a Byron local?

It feels like I've lived here my entire life, and in fact next month it will be coming up to 23 years. Prior to moving to Byron Bay my husband and I lived in the Caribbean managing restaurants and resorts.

What drew you to the area and what do you love about living here?

We always knew that we wanted our own restaurant in the area and Byron Bay seemed like the perfect place to call home. We purchased our first Byron Bay restaurant Toscani’s, which later became Byron Bay’s first fine dining restaurant, which we simply named ‘dish’. The almost overnight success of dish took us completely by surprise and we were incredibly honoured to win the highly coveted Good Food Guide Chef’s Hat for eight consecutive years. After dish we took over the Byron Beach Cafe, which is now called Beach Byron Bay, and have been here for nearly 13 years.

I love my job and there is also so much I love about living in Byron Bay. For me, because work is all consuming, a pamper package at a local spa is always welcome. For our family the beach is also a huge focus of life as well as staying fit, so you'll find me most mornings running up to the Byron lighthouse or along main beach. When we get the time, our family also loves exploring the hinterland and finding secluded places to camp, go bushwalking and rock pool swimming. On Thursday's I love to head to the farmers’ markets and chat to the local farmers, as well as buying our weekly produce.

I really can't imagine living anywhere else. I'm completely hooked.  

How has Byron influenced your style and lifestyle?

If anything it's hard not to embrace the laid-back Byron way-of-life. Both at home and at our restaurant, Beach Byron Bay, I’ve tried to create a relaxed atmosphere, preferring a paired-back style that makes nature the focus. At our restaurant customers are welcomed into a white, light space with banks of bi-fold doors that open up to give every table a view of the ocean.

We also work with local suppliers wherever possible. Our numerous garden sculptures were designed by local artists Dominique Sutton and Suvira McDonald. Suvira also hand-kilned and designed all our plates and ceramics.

On a personal level, my husband and I love to get involved in the local community. I was lucky enough to be invited to become an Ambassador for the local charity 'Our Kids', which I’m extremely passionate about. Each year we host a dinner to help raise much-needed funds which are used to improve local health services for children by purchasing paediatric equipment for the Lismore Base Hospital and surrounding hospitals. On a business level we’ve also been active with different roles at the Byron Chamber of Commerce, Byron Visitor Centre and Byron Artscape Bi-Annual. We also sponsor a number of local events, school charity drives and underprivileged groups.

IN BYRON, YOUR FAVE PLACE FOR …

Brunch? 

Eeeeek…I'm usually at the restaurant, so for me it's hard not to say Beach Byron Bay. But when I do get a rare day off I love to go for a swim at Brunswick Heads and then visit one of the many local Brunswick cafes. They’re all amazing and you can’t go wrong wherever you choose to brunch.

A healthy cheap takeaway?

For great takeaway eats I love heading to Bay Lane (located behind the Beach Hotel). There’s a great selection of ultra-casual ‘hole-in-the-wall’ style eateries serving everything from Asian, vegetarian, Italian, Greek and Thai.

A not-so-healthy but super tasty meal?

The gourmet burger bars on Jonson Street! They’re just the ticket if you’re after something that’s big on flavour that you can eat outside in the park, or at the beach. 

Fancy dinner to impress?

I know this is going to sound incredibly biased, but it has to be Beach Byron Bay. I’m so passionate about what we do and work closely with our hatted head chef, Enrico Semenzato, to design menus that reflect not only Byron, but also our love of coastal Mediterranean flavours. As the weather warms up it's hard to go past a sunset cocktail overlooking the beach followed by dinner under the stars on our large outdoor deck.

A cocktail?

I love a cocktail, and you are spoilt for choice in Byron Bay with so many great bars serving up inspired drinks. But if you’re after somewhere that not only serves cocktails that are big on flavour, but also in a beautiful space, it has to be Rae’s overlooking Wategos Beach.

Date night?

My ideal date night is a movie at Pighouse Flicks, followed by a cocktail and late-night snack at Locura - who offers fun and fresh Mexican plates paired with a killer drinks menu.

WHERE DO YOU GO TO …

Find a last-minute outfit? 

Currently, I’d have to say, it’s either between Hope and May and Rowie.

Hope & May carry beautiful Australian and international labels including Free People, The Beach People and Hansen & Gretel; while Rowie is my go-to local label for flattering clothes that you never want to take off!

Prep for a big event? 

Organic Beauty by Kamon. This is my secret pleasure and a pure face and body indulgence! This spa’s offerings go beyond the run-of-the-mill treatments, with Kamon growing all her own organic herbs and plants for her personalised therapies. It doesn’t get any better.

Get your hair done? 

Manik’ Hair Salon. I adore their organic products and always leave feeling amazing. My insider tip – ask for Merrilyn!

Get your nails and beauty maintenance done?

Again, Organic Beauty by Kamon! This place really is the very best in town.

Buy something for your home?

Island Luxe. And it's 'luxe' for a reason with one-off, bespoke items sourced from around the world. The owners have the most incredible taste and it’s what interior dreams are made of. My favourite purchases are their candles and ‘Black Afgano’ perfume by Nasomatto. Divine!

Listen to good music?

There is something magical about Byron Bay and calibre of bands it attracts including some of the biggest names in Australian and International music. There’s always someone good playing, from the big annual music festivals to the many live music venues in the area.  

Pick up your favourite market finds? 

As a foodie, my favourite market has to be the local Byron Bay farmers' market on Thursday mornings or the Mullumbimby Farmers’ Market on Friday mornings. Not only do they sell the freshest produce, but there are also food vans, coffee, flowers and so much more.

For second-hand treasure hunting, you can’t go past Lismore Car Boot markets, held on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month. If you love vintage clothing, you will be thrilled with the choice available here. Plus there is a genuine mix of antiques, plants, produce, food stalls and locals selling their wares.

Get out of Byron for a day trip?

In summer, there is nothing better than going for a swim in the fresh water rock pool at the bottom of Minyon Falls. It's Mother Nature’s natural day spa and the mineral-filled water will leave your body feeling soft, relaxed and invigorated! Another absolute favourite is Protesters Falls. While you can’t swim here, it is a beautiful spot for a picnic and offers one of the most stunning hinterland drives.

THE BEST … 

Coffee spot and what to order?

Anywhere that serves a double shot ristretto using Byron Bay Coffee Company beans.

Bar for a Sunday session?

Being the only absolute beachfront restaurant in Byron Bay, our afternoon sunset cocktails overlooking the Pacific Ocean are pretty hard to beat. From Negroni's, ice-cold mules and sparkling wines all matched with freshly shucked oysters, raw fish ceviche and Baccalá with roasted potato fritters. 

Places to eat with the girls?

Light Years is my first choice for a girl’s catch-up. Their menu is designed to be shared, with plates for between two and four people. Dishes include kingfish ceviche, steamed bao buns, turmeric and coconut fish curry, and my favourite, roasted duck pancakes.

Outdoor places to workout?

Running up to the lighthouse and being rewarded with those incredible 360 ocean and hinterland views. It's unbeatable. I also love running from town to Broken Head and across the Lennox Headland.

Local beach?

Clarkes Beach.

Place for a luxurious staycation in Byron? 

The Bower and that new circular pool. Bliss!

Finish this sentence. You know you’re a Byron local when… 

…you know how to get to White’s Beach.

Something only a Byron local would know…

That the best time to visit Byron is during winter. While most people flock here in summer, winter is actually my favourite season. The weather and water is still warm, the town is uncrowded and you can get some great deals on local accommodation and activities.

Your best tip for someone holidaying in Byron…

Pack your very best bikinis if you're planning on swimming at Wategos, because you never know what celeb you might run into (laughs). Also when the sun, surf and sand get too much, be sure to explore the Byron hinterland including Bangalow, Nightcap National Park and Mt Warning.

A quintessential Byron outfit that you should pack for your holiday…

I'd suggest you keep your bag packed with resort-style wear, beach clothes and some suitable shoes for exploring the Byron hinterland.  

What does a typical day look like to you?

As the weddings and events manager, I can honestly say that no two days are the same, because no two weddings or events at Beach Byron Bay have ever been the same. We don’t have packages or off-the-shelf products; we tailor each event to the individual needs of the client. The reason for this is simple. Every couple is different and we plan weddings that are unique and specific to each and every couple. We enjoy spending as much time as is necessary with each couple, helping them design a menu that’s original as well as delicious, sourcing beautiful pieces to make their day truly unique or working with the groom to plan a special surprise for his new wife! And vice versa!

How do you start your week?

A 5km run followed by a double shot coffee (or three).

How do you finish your week?

My current Friday afternoon wind-me-down is a Negroni cocktail. We serve three different varieties at Beach Byron Bay, so no matter your mood, we have you covered.

What’s one lesson your business has taught you about life?

That no matter how hard you try, you can't please people all of the time. Being a restaurant, our business is being reviewed daily on websites such as TripAdvisor, Google and Dimmi. I've learnt to turn unfavourable feedback into constructive criticism to help continually grow and improve what we do. I'm proud that the love and passion we have for our business has resulted in a 4/5 rating on TripAdvisor, but I'd be lying if I didn’t say that some comments can still be very hurtful.

What would be your dream creative collaborative endeavour?

When France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from binning good quality food, it has always been my dream to collaborate with all local food producers, restaurants and supermarkets to create a similar styled program. We have a serious homelessness problem in Byron Bay and I’d love to see all local businesses working in the food industry to come together and have a forum on how we might be able to achieve something similar on a local basis.

Magazine you read regularly

I religiously read Gourmet Traveller, Delicious and Donna Hay each month, and for fun Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Best downtime pursuit (if you have one)?

Hanging out with my two beautiful kids.