Byron Bay
New South Wales

Rae’s At Watego’s

June is a dreary month of fog, rain and tax preparation for most of us, and I had decided to fly north for the winter. After much gnawing of lower lip, I decided on Byron Bay. I thought it was time I checked out Rae’s but was a little wary after reading various comments suggesting that it was tired, overpriced and resting heavily on its celebrity laurels.

I was fretting that I would be weighed, measured and found wanting for not wearing a Pucci kaftan or swimwear by a Brazilian designer. I needn’t have worried. Climbing the steps to the bar late at night, I was greeted by Laurence who was friendly, helpful, charming and handsome in equal measure. His attractiveness increased tenfold by his ability to make a perfectly balanced Amaretto Sour. He took our luggage up, lit the fire for us, and rustled up a late night sopressa and caramelised onion pizza.

In the morning, we opened the shutters to our Moroccan-tiled terrace to find a view of the park and the beach in front of us (and the car park to our right). The king- sized daybed could easily have fit five people across and was a perfect place to lounge around with a book or write a blog.

Aside from the dominance of David Bromley artwork (invariably prepubescent preppies or nudes with Dr Seuss breasts) which led me to think that family Bromley probably spent a good deal of time here, Rae’s has a quirky character which I found altogether inviting. For a start, it’s a large, candy-pink rendered art deco palace perfectly situated at the western end of Watego’s beach, a short walk or drive to Byron Bay proper. Each room is different, but all are spacious. There is an eclectic assortment of middle eastern, African and Asian objets and furniture which add warmth and interest to the rooms and many throws and cushions to add comfort. A tiny gold walled spa adds further glamour (although my therapist was almost entirely ineffectual.)

I thought it well-loved, rather than tired, and I think there is a difference.

I can’t say the same about Byron Bay –  unless you’re a surfer, I’m really not sure what the attraction is. The walk to the lighthouse is pleasant enough and the beaches are clean and clear. However the town is a hodgepodge of backpacker lodges and all that comes with them – cheap tour agencies, surf shops, fast food joints (AbraKebabRa: for magic kebabs), and tacky craft and crystal shops. One of the local pubs was hosting an 80’s night, performed by none other than Brian Mannix, lately of Uncanny X-Men. The most uncanny thing about Brian is his striking resemblance to a sulphur-crested cockatoo. Pop one in some acid-wash jeggings and you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart. I digress. 

We much preferred the hinterland towns –  Bangalow, Federal, and Newrybar were all set in rolling pastoral country and with their cafes, antique stores and well preserved timber buildings, they were far more charming than Byron.

As it was, we were more than happy to lounge around at Rae’s, keeping Laurence busy at the bar, and snoozing on our daybed to the sound of the waves.

Post script: Rae’s has since been sold but continues to operate as a boutique hotel, with very little change.