Byron Bay is home to a diverse and thriving marine environment, and hosts some of the best marine interaction experiences in Australia. Cape Byron Marine Park, established just under 20 years ago, extends 37km along the coastline and conserves many marine habitats home to sharks, rays, turtles, eels, starfish and corals, along with some threatened and protected species. Just a ten minute boat ride off the shore of Byron Bay's Main Beach, Julien Rocks is one of the top dive sites in Australia. The remains of a volcanic eruption more than 20 million years ago, it provides shelter and food for more than 500 fish species, and is one of the top spots in the world to encounter the critically endangered Grey Nurse Shark.
The Bay is also home to several species of dolphin, with Bottlenose, Indian Ocean humpback, and common dolphins spotted regularly from the beaches and coastal tracks around Cape Byron. Wategos is always a great spot to see pods of dolphins playing in the surf, with kayaking tours one of the most popular experiences available for travellers looking for adventurous wildlife interactions. Being Australia's easternmost point, Byron Bay is also a fantastic place to spot migrating whales off the coast during winter months. They travel north from Antarctica between May and July to breed in warmer waters, and can be spotted heading back with their calves from August to November.
One of Byron Bay's locals well versed in marine interactions is ocean & aerial photographer Saxon Kent. Boasting an incredible portfolio of imagery showcasing breaching whales, pods of dolphins and turtle interactions, Saxon's Instagram feed is a collection of incredible experiences documented around the Byron Bay region. We caught up with Saxon to chat about his favourite marine interactions and tips for travellers looking to get their own taste of the underwater world.
Best spots to see wildlife?
I love Wategos Beach as I can always find wildlife when I'm out and about, such as dolphins, whales, turtles, birds and wallabies. Another favourite spot for me is Broken Head Nature Reserve, especially when the whales are passing through, as they tend to come in really close around that area. In winter when the whales around, Wategos and the Lighthouse are also great spots to spot them, or out on a whale watching boat where you get extremely close to the whales. I have had a few opportunities to go out with Wild Byron Bay which have been great.
Best time for wildlife spotting?
Winter is one of the best times to experience some incredible wildlife, particularly migrating whales around August. Dolphins can be spotted all year round in the bay, as well as turtles off the beaches and around the local reefs. There is also quite often large sea eagles around the Broken Head Nature Reserve.
What have been your favourite wildlife interactions?
One of my favourite local wildlife interactions was when I was surfing at Tallows with dolphins, and as they were jumping out of the wave next to me we locked eyes. I explore underwater all summer, but not so much in the winter as I don’t really like the cold. The underwater environment all year round is pretty unique. I've witnessed mullet running, massive schools of sting rays, age-old turtles, different varieties of fish, whales, sharks and even false killer whales all within the Byron Bay beaches and headlands.
Best spots for snorkelling?
The best snorkelling in Byron Bay would be out at Julian Rocks. You can expect to see turtles, sharks, and heaps of unique fish. Around the wreck and even just off the beaches around the bay you can often also see wildlife in the water.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
A perfect weekend in Byron Bay would begin with sunrise at Cape Byron Lighthouse, surfing at The Pass or Wategos and a coffee at Sparrow Coffee. Sunset from the lighthouse is also spectacular if you're not up for the early wake-up call. I would head out to Minyon Falls for a nature walk, or even just a run up to the lighthouse from the surf club along the coastal boardwalk is a special thing to do.
Photography and words by Saxon Kent