In Travel

Palm Springs Meets Morocco At This Byron Rainforest Retreat

I wake from a deep sleep in my bed of cloud and before I open my eyes I just listen. To the leaves in the surrounding forest of trees dancing to the wind, and to whipbirds with their cracking calls greeting the day.

It’s a far cry from the usual cacophony of noise that I notice as soon as I wake up in Sydney – the traffic, the neighbours’ kids getting ready for school and to that hum that city people don’t even notice anymore. Except when it is not there.

I note the absence of the hum as I open my eyes and look out to the rainforest and the early morning sky with its hues of blue merging with the sea that lies yonder. It is the view from my bed at Blackbird Byron, a boutique bed and breakfast in the hills above Mullumbimby.

blackbird byron

Designed as a country escape for stressed out, tired city people, it has only three villas, perched on the side of Mt Koonyum. Driving up the little single-lane track lined by tall grass, there is no inkling of the vista that awaits, but when we walk through the earthy, wooden doors, in the striking iron fence, it is quite a sight.

The property

A beautiful pool dressed in Moroccan-style black and white tiles plays second fiddle to the rainforest ahead, the view to the ocean to the right and the spectacular lounge and pool pavilion on the left. James Hudson, who along with his wife Stella, created this place, points out Cape Byron and its lighthouse, Mt Chincogan and other points of interest.

We sit down at the oversized timber table for a welcome champagne and olive platter, admiring the mismatched but somehow perfect mix of styles in the space. We ask James how Blackbird came about, and he responds that he and Stella had decided to make a treechange five years ago to focus on their family. The challenge was in finding the right place.

blackbird byron

“It took 18 months but we found this place and here we are. We thought there was an opportunity for people to come from the city and to immerse in the country,” said James. And immerse we do.

With his past as an industrial designer and Stella’s skills as an interior designer, together they created a haven of calm. As for the design, James says Blackbird is a “melting pot of influences giving a bit of a nod to Palm Springs, with a touch of Morocco with tiles and rugs, an industrial look softened by recycled timber and iron and a modern feel”.

Whatever the look, it is the feel that is important and you cannot help but relax here. My villa is beautiful and I love just staring out at the trees through the natural frame created by the timber that was recycled from a decades-old derelict banana packing shed on the property.

The bathroom is large with a shower of exposed copper pipes, and the louvres ensure a constant flow of fresh, country air. I leave the glass sliding doors open, reading in the comfy lounge chairs, or move outside onto the balcony to enjoy the scenery. This spot is also the place to enjoy some stargazing, as at night the canopy of stars is spectacular.

The surroundings

It is easy to while away the day. The magnesium pool is refreshing and it is easy to spend a few hours either in it, or by it, or move inside to the lounge area. It is here that a lot of the magic happens at Blackbird, with the fusion of the guests and the graciousness of James and Stella. Complete strangers from all walks of life meet over breakfast, or afternoon drinks, chatting with James and having far too good a time.

Like most guests, we do putter into Mullum for lunch and a look around, while others might choose to go for walks, a surf, kayaking, visit one of the local farmers markets or explore Minyon or Killen Falls. James reports that many plan to spend the days exploring the local area, but end up coming back to Blackbird to just chill out. It does have that effect on you.

blackbird byron

The ultimate in relaxation is the 90-minute massage I book. The massages are carried out in your room, and I have to say it is perhaps the best massage I have ever had, held to the usual relaxing music but with a solo from a beautiful blackbird in a nearby treetop.

James and Stella have a great knowledge of the local area and recommend their favourite restaurants, with Harvest in Newrybar, Barrio in Byron and Punch and Daisy in Mullum high on the list. There is a kitchen in the poolside lounge so if you don’t want to leave you can just pick up some ingredients in town and rustle up something yourself. James won’t let you go hungry.

Before we begrudgingly say farewell to our new country friends in this beautiful place, we sign the guest book, and read the other entries. They are all singing from the same songbook, and I can’t help but agree with Irene, who wrote: “I arrived at Blackbird Byron from Sydney, a tired and worn out soul. James and Stella, you two are angels and this is heaven.”

I couldn’t put it better myself.

The writer stayed as a guest of Blackbird Byron.

(All images: Blackbird Byron / supplied)

Published 27 September, 2019