I was heading to Byron Bay, on the NSW north coast, to stay at Shambhala @ Byron.
I wanted to see what the place looked like so I typed “Shambhala” and “Byron” into a Google search.
My hits included a choice of accommodation in Port Douglas, Magnetic Island and Parrot Cay which is somewhere in the Turks and Caicos Islands, northern Caribbean, about 850km southeast of Miami.
You see, Shambhala is said to be a mythical kingdom hidden somewhere in Inner Asia. Or as some call it, a Buddhist Pure Land.
And so, when it comes to naming rights, it seems everyone wants a piece of paradise.
After spending a few nights at Byron’s Shambhala, I think it is appropriately named.
The resort is not that easy to find.
It is hidden almost at the end of a private road in Byron Bay’s Belongil Beach enclave.
Its timber door opens to reveal a tropical sanctuary that makes you instantly feel like you are in Bali.
A cluttered canopy of green covers the central walkway as we pass flowing water features and head towards our mini-house one of four on the property.
We are in the top left-hand corner of the property as you face the beach.
While our house is “small but perfectly formed” it has an incredibly indulgent outdoor space that has direct access downstairs to the beach.
There is an outdoor dining area that would seat 10 comfortably, an eight-person jacuzzi, a lawn and an outdoor lounge area, which is perfect for relaxing on while you read the Escape section on a Sunday morning.
Inside the house though, the space downstairs is cramped. An awful lot a kitchen, a seating area to watch TV, a dining table and toilet have been squeezed into a small space.
It is a tad incongruous considering how much outdoor space there is.
Upstairs there is a bathroom and bedroom which opens on to a deck that has uninterrupted ocean views.
Even though the outside night air is cool, we leave the bedroom door ajar so that we can hear the waves crashing on to the rocks.
The space is very private, despite the fact that there are three other houses of varying sizes.
Shambhala @ Byron is about a kilometre north of the main part of Byron town so it is quiet and the best dining option is at the funky Tree House cafe, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The bacon and egg rolls are superb and overall the quality of the food was a pleasant surprise. Some nights, they also have live music.
A little further north up the beach (around Belongil Creek), if you feel like bathing sans swimmers, you will find the local naked beach worth a peek, even from a distance.
Shambhala has surfboards, kayaks and boogie boards available for guests who want to catch a few waves.
The water was too cold for us sowe grabbed our bikes and rode through Byron across to another famous point, Watego’s Beach, to check out the new menus on offer at Rae’s on Watego’s.
For many, many years Rae’s on Watego’s has been regarded as the epitome of beach chic. I doubt there is a hotel anywhere in Australia with a better beach outlook.
The first menu we tried was the spa menu. The spa at Rae’s is small, which helps make the service warm and very personal. Manager Marionne de Candia, known in the spa world as a celebrity facialist, has worked on the likes of Elle Macpherson, Kate Hudson and Catherine Martin. They look pretty good to me so I was happy to trust my chubby cheeks in her soft, welcoming hands.
Even though it was only 11am, Marionne’s bespoke facial treatment put me to sleep within minutes.
For me that is the sign of an excellent facial. If I can relax that quickly, then the treatment using skincare range LaGaia is worth every cent of the $140 for 60 minutes.
Once I’d returned to the land of the living, we headed upstairs to the new-look, 60-seat, indoor-outdoor Fish Cafe. As the name suggests, seafood is the order of the day.
My wife and I shared the crispy fried calamari with lemon and caper mayo ($18) and the zucchini flowers, Meredith goat cheese and green leaves ($18). We both had Freckles catch of the day battered fish and chips with tartare sauce ($28).
This is the second time I’ve dined at Rae’s. On the first occasion I was surprisingly disappointed considering its reputation. Not this time. The food was fresh and tasty. The service was spot-on. When we needed a top-up of wine, the waiter just seemed to appear.
Something happened at the table next to us, though, that I think showed why Byron Bay is such a unique destination. The diner left the table for a swim between each course. That doesn’t happen in many restaurants.
Shambhala winter retreat special: Book four night and recieve an additional night for free. Book eight nights and recieve two nights for free. This offer will be available until the last day of August.
To book call 1800 Shambhala (1800 742 624) or see: www.shambhala.org.au