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Byron Bay News

Whaling turns to whale-watching in Byron Bay

Whaling turns to whale-watching
By Halden Boyd (Lismore)
Byron Bay, tucked into the corner of north-eastern New South Wales, has become one of Australia's biggest tourist icons.

The sleepy seaside village at Australia's eastern-most point was pushed into the spotlight during the 'surfing sixties', when Byron was identified as one of the country's premier surfing spots, hugged on every side by small, lush dairy farms.

It has now evolved, thanks to a backpacker tourist boom and a concerted effort by the local shire council to promote it worldwide.

This has been helped along by a dedicated community which has resisted development to keep Byron Bay as it is, a lifestyle destination.

Prior to its new stunning rise to international stardom in the tourist arena, Byron Bay was known for its whaling activities, which ceased in the 1970s.

Ironically, it is now whale-watching from Australia's most easterly point which is its main tourist drawcard.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors climb Cape Byron to get a glimpse of humpback whales on their annual breeding migration between the Antarctic and warmer Queensland waters.

The Cape Byron Lighthouse has been turned into a tourist museum based on whaling and there is a documented story in its archives about a whaler who was swallowed by a humpback and survived the ordeal.

Behind the capital cities and Cairns, Byron Bay has the highest the number of backpackers visiting it in the country.

There is a constant stream of buses coming and going, carrying the budget-conscious backpackers, who contribute to more than 20 per cent of Australia's tourism income.

Byron Bay also boasts magnificent coastline where sub-tropical palms and native vegetation creep down spectacular valleys to the water's edge.

The major impact on the coastline and the ocean around Byron is from recreational pursuits, including surfing, fishing, and scuba diving.


While the residents of Byron Bay understand their community's financial cornerstone is now tourism, they will only go so far.

They have resisted high-rise developments and fast-food take-away chains, and recent vocal protests saw a beachfront Club Med Resort halted in its tracks.

The efforts to keep Byron Bay "how it was" provide a drawcard, but one which has its drawbacks.

The local council is also under pressure from the 'boom of Byron', which has seen many wanting to settle in the area to soak up the atmosphere as a part of their daily lifestyle.

Byron Shire Council placed a freeze on development applications recently because of the pressure on staff, and on infrastructure like sewage which cannot handle the load from the mushrooming residential population.

Byron Bay is a jewel on the east coast of Australia but is quite literally bursting at the seams.

Many older locals now avoid going to Byron because it has become too busy, but for the passing tourist, it has become a magnet which is becoming stronger and stronger as each day passes.

Its attraction is that it is in a time-warp of its self-imposed isolation - a small coastal village which everyone wants to believe has been kept "the way it was".


Nearby Ballina is facing many of the same issues as Byron Bay, although not to quite the same degree.

Once a thriving fishing village, it has now succumbed to coastal residential development.

The fishing fleet has been reduced by more than half in the past 20 years due to a rapidly depleting resource of fish and prawns off the coast.

Between Ballina and Lennox Head, where once there were rolling dairy farms, there are acres of tiled roofs perched on the headlands, all trying to outdo one another as they bustle for that small glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.

The ocean around Ballina is under increasing pressure due to its own evolution from a holiday fishing town to a part of the late 20th century.

The main activities involving the ocean are recreational ones, including surfing, fishing and boating, and are mainly at centres along the growth strip between Ballina and Lennox Head to the north.