Bangalow is a sweet country town located 15 minutes drive from Byron Bay which is home to less than 5000 people. An eclectic mix of interesting shops, restaurants and cafes line the wide main street which was part of the old Pacific Highway. When a bypass was built in the mid 90s the township formed a committee to preserve and enhance the historic streetscape. It remains the only intact Federation village on Australia’s east coast.
I found Utopia on the town’s main street and the cute little cafe really was an ideal and perfect place that had previously existed only in my imagination. Not only did it have seriously good coffee and a sophisticated breakfast menu that would put many fancy city cafes to shame, the service was as laidback and friendly as the locals themselves. With vases of sweet-smelling roses and wholesome baked goodies on the counter it was hard to believe the building once housed a Gentlemen’s Club. Wall plaques are attached to many of the shops and restaurants and offer a fascinating insight into the history of the town.
Bangalow may have come of age in recent years but the town has stayed true to its roots. Alongside the trendy boutiques there is a Country Women’s Association store with hand-knitted tea cosies and baby booties brightening the window. Dogs wait patiently for their owners outside the pub and Bangalow’s alternative lifestylers continue to add a splash of colour. Most days you will find ‘The Cowboy’ sipping coffee outside a cafe or meditating behind his mirror sunglasses. Shanti Ananda is a well-known local identity who gets around in a cowboy hat, fluorescent suit and rhinestone studded boots.
Our Corner Store offers a masculine shopping experience with denim clothing, leather baseball gloves and quoits sets in tones of navy, taupe and cream. Even the shops have something for everyone. Wax Jambu Emporium is housed in Bangalow’s original general store and has racks of pretty, floaty dresses along one wall and an irresistible collection of toys along the other. Everything is modern although many of the items are reminiscent of days gone by. Think wooden trains, cupie dolls, wind-up robots and colourful puzzles. Pretty soaps and scented candles make the shop smell like the Garden of Eden.
Bangalow’s everyday stores are also worth a visit. Bangalow Pharmacy has wooden shelves stocked with Acqua di Parma and Aesop toiletries and a few doors down you will find Pantry 29, a deli selling organic soft drinks and products from Bangalow Cheese Co. Across the road there is Choux Choux Patisserie but don’t be fooled by the fancy name. If you are looking for a classic meat pie or vanilla slice you won’t be disappointed. Those who enjoy Italian food should keep an eye out for Sophia Loren. Striking photos of the famous actress adorn the walls of The Italian Diner, a friendly restaurant serving traditional cuisine. Simple yet elegant pasta dishes share the menu with more sophisticated mains like a crispy duck, speck, pea and sage risotto. Takeaway pizza is a great option if you don’t feel like cooking.
Town Restaurant is another popular dining option and has a split level design. Downstairs there is Downtown, a cafe serving breakfast, lunch and coffee. Uptown opens upstairs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and serves a five course degustation menu. Our visit finishes at the Bangalow Hotel which was built in the early 1940s. The hotel’s restaurant is called the Dining Room and serves dishes such as sumac spiced king prawns which are a far cry from the usual ‘pub grub’. However, despite the fancy menu, diners must still buy their drinks at the public bar. We head next door where a regular gives me a toothy grin and courteously moves his form guide so I can see the wine list. Unlike some gentrified country towns, Bangalow doesn’t appear to be in danger of losing its unspoiled charm anytime soon.
Disclaimer: The writer travelled at her own expense.