What you need to know about Byron Bay, the Aussie town taking on a Netflix reality show

Byron Bay from above
Byron Bay from above
12:57pm, Mon 19 Apr 2021
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

When Netflix announced Byron Baes, an upcoming docu-soap centred around Instagrammers and influencers on the sun-soaked sands of Byron Bay they probably thought they’d unearthed Australia’s answer to Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Instead, the show’s generated an angry petition with nearly 7,000 signatures, and a scathing attack from the local mayor.

Described as “a love letter” to the coastal town, Byron Baes will feature “hot instagrammers living their best lives”, and promises “fights, flings and heartbreak” with “#nofilter guaranteed”. Byron Bay will be a backdrop to all the shenanigans – “the playground of more celebrity-adjacent-adjacent influencers than you can shake a selfie stick at.”

Unfortunately, local residents think Byron Bay is already quite influential enough, and are concerned the show will cast the region as a ‘reality show punchline’ and have called for boycotts against film crews, citing harm to Byron’s reputation, environment, and community.

Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson went even further, telling ABC the show was “offensive” to the region. “We’ve almost got a Truman Show-type portrayal of who we are where everything is quite idyllic and superficial,” he said, “where out the back it’s an empty parking lot.”

Sumptuous sun and sand

Set on the easternmost point of the Australian mainland, overlooked by the historic Cape Byron Lighthouse, the town has wowed generations of visitors with the delights of both land and sea.

With a subtropical climate, far removed from Australia’s arid Red Centre, rainforest rises just a stone’s throw from the beach, and the surrounding hills are a hiker’s dream. Snorkelling and surfing make up the bulk of Byron’s aquatic activities, while by night the beachside bars play up to the ‘seaside town’ stereotype.

Surfers at sunset, The Pass, Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia

Spas and wellness facilities abound on the town’s tree-lined streets, and in many of the resorts, morning yoga is practically mandatory. In normal years the town hosts a music festival, Bluesfest, which has sadly been cancelled two years running.

An Instagrammer’s playground

Despite the protestations, it’s easy to see why Byron Bay was picked for a show about Instagram filters and celebrity. Two of the Hemsworth brothers have properties there, while sightings of Zac Efron, Natalie Portman and Matt Damon have seen the town nicknamed ‘the new LA’.

Once known as a hippie hotspot, today’s visitors are more boho-chic than boho, but influencers are one drop in an annual flood.

A Mecca for backpackers and bus groups alike, in 2019, Byron Bay was named one of 98 destinations worldwide severely suffering from overtourism, by UK tour operators Responsible Travel

A paradise already lost

Byron has long been a victim of its own popularity, and some have suggested that Byron Baes is simply the last horse out the stable door. Overtourism is so rampant that some travellers make a point of avoiding the town rather than visiting it, and settlements up and down the east coast are jockeying to become ‘the New Byron’.

Byron Bay

“We’ve got a community that is in real stress, that has real life issues dealing with housing, work, affordability,” says Mayor Richardson, while the petition drew attention to housing affordability, coastal erosion, increasing unemployment, traffic management challenges, and more.

Rumours abound about cast members, but none have yet been confirmed, and some onlookers remain determined to keep it that way. “Can the Baes survive the summer without a collab going wrong?” asks the press release. Based on the growing backlash, probably not.

Sign up to our newsletter