Sand, surf, gourmet food and privacy draw buyers and vacationers to Wategos Beach, a small enclave of Byron Bay, an eclectic beachside town on Australia’s east coast. Part of a small peninsula, Wategos Beach grants its residents exclusivity, beautiful views and gorgeous northern-facing sunlight.
“As you come in and approach Wategos Beach you look down and see whales leaping out of the water right in the bay,” said Vicky Innes, principal of Byron Bay Property Sales. “The surfers are out there, people are kayaking, there are dolphins, and you think: ‘This is where we live and it’s just stunning’.”
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The hardest part of living at Wategos Beach is snaring a home there in the first place. There are fewer than 100 houses on the peninsula and they’re rarely sold. They front a secluded beach with very limited parking, reducing the number of people residents have to share it with.
That seclusion draws a range of celebrities to luxury guesthouse Rae’s on Wategos on one end of the beach. Guests have included Elle Macpherson, Russell Crowe, Keith Richards and Tom Cruise.
For fans of great food, music festivals and shopping, Byron Bay is a few minutes away by car or bicycle. The whole area is a colorful mix of entrepreneurs, health fanatics, musicians, hippies and tourists and is known for its surf beaches and relaxed vibe.
The homes of Wategos Beach are accessed via Lighthouse Road, which leads to Cape Byron Bay Lighthouse, the most easterly point of Australia. The most expensive beachfront houses are built along the beach on Marine Parade. Further up the hill, the houses on Brownell Drive are a little cheaper, but still offer expansive views. Brownell Drive and Marine Parade draw a perimeter around this residential enclave.
The highest price paid for a Wategos Beach house is A$15.68 million (US$12.5 million), according to property records. This was for a 1,400-square-meter property on Marine Parade, with a dated colonial-style house built on it, in 2006.
In recent weeks, a contract was issued for another property on Marine Parade for more than A$10 million (US$8 million), according to selling agent Vicky Innes, although the sale has not yet been confirmed. This is an 800-square-meter property with a dated two-bedroom cottage that will probably be demolished and replaced.
Another 664-square-meter property on Marine Parade sold for A$8 million (US$6.4 million) late last year. It’s a two-bedroom California bungalow with a separate two-bedroom granny flat.
“Some of these blocks aren’t very big,” said Nicolette van Wijngaarden, director of real estate firm Unique Estates. “Buyers are paying for a front row because they are basically across the road from the beach. Most of these houses have a great view not only of Julian Rocks and the ocean, but also a great view of the lighthouse, which is an iconic landmark.”
Ms. Wijngaarden is the selling agent for a home on Brownell Drive with a price guide of A$5 million to A$5.5 million (US$4million to US$4.14 million). That is a simple timber beach shack on an 800-square-meter block of land, ripe for redevelopment.
Homes at Wategos are typically either original beach shacks built decades ago when Byron Bay didn’t attract the attention and high prices it does now, or view-focused architectural masterpieces built more recently.
The former are usually demolished and replaced not long after changing hands.
At the other end of the spectrum, one of the more famous homes is the ultra-modern Wing House on Brownell Drive, designed by architect Peter Stutchbury. Wing House sold in 2014 for A$5.9 million (US$4.7 million), and is designed over two levels to take in views of the ocean and mountains behind. It has expansive outdoor entertaining areas and a 22-meter lap pool.
What makes it unique
With fewer than 100 houses on the peninsula, there is a natural limit to how many people can live on Wategos Beach.
The white sand beach has a popular surf break, and dolphins and humpback whales are regulars in the bay.
The area’s relative isolation doesn’t mean a lack of beachside amenities, though. The aforementioned Rae’s has one of Byron Bay’s most famous restaurants—Rae’s Restaurant—serving fresh local seafood and produce at its 50-seat al fresco dining room overlooking the beach.
Every Christmas, Wategos comes alive and residents picnic together on the beach.
The center of Byron Bay is a five-minute drive, or about 15 minutes on a bike, and Byron Bay is known for its vibrant community where artists and creatives live alongside wealthy entrepreneurs and, for the most part, get along.
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“There’s people from everywhere, they’re very accepting and welcoming,” Ms. Wijngaarden said. “It doesn’t have that small-town, closed-mind mentality, it’s a very open community.”
The area’s hinterland, with its subtropical climate, is famous for its gourmet produce and craft markets selling macadamia nuts, coffee, organic fruits and vegetables. It is dotted with small towns like Bangalow, which has quaint historic buildings, art galleries, and restaurants and cafes making the most of local goods.
Yearly events draw crowds from around the world. These include music festivals such as Splendour in the Grass in July, the Byron Bay Bluesfest at the end of March, and the Falls Festival at the year’s end, along with the Sample Food Festival in September, the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival in August and the Byron Bay International Film Festival in October.
Byron Bay feels a world away from the city, but it’s less than an hour’s drive away from the Gold Coast, which has an international airport that is currently undergoing a major expansion. Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland, is around a two-hour drive away.
For those moving there with a family, there are private schools in nearby Ballina and Lismore, as well as two Steiner schools in the area. Lismore, around 45 minutes’ drive away, is home to Southern Cross University. The respected SAE Creative Media Institute has a campus in Byron Bay.
There is plenty to eat and drink in the area. The Farm is a community of growers, producers and eateries that offer paddock-to-plate foods on-site, including at the famous Three Blue Ducks restaurant.
Other culinary institutions include The Byron at Byron Resort, the Italian At The Pacific restaurant and the Mez Club, which offers food, cocktails and a vibrant atmosphere.
Who lives there
Byron Bay draws an eclectic crowd but the residents at Wategos Beach usually own their own businesses, say realtors who work in the area.
“Being successful entrepreneurs is the common thread among many of them,” Ms. Wijngaarden said. “Most have these properties as holiday homes. They live elsewhere full time but spend portions of the winter and different times of the year enjoying themselves at Wategos.”
Byron Bay’s relaxed lifestyle draws celebrities from around the world, many staying at Rae’s on Wategos Beach and others owning property in the area.
Famous residents of the Byron Bay area surrounding Wategos include musicians Jack Johnson, Andrew Stockdale and Olivia Newton-John, and actors Simon Baker and Chris Hemsworth.
Byron Bay’s housing market is buoyant, and desirable properties in tightly held areas such as Wategos sell quickly, Ms. Wijngaarden said.
“There are lots of people looking to invest in the area…and there’s not a great deal for sale at the moment,” she said. “The properties that do come on the market that are well-presented are selling quickly.”
Prices at the top end have risen significantly over the past two years, according to Ms. Wijngaarden.
Figures from real estate portal realestate.com.au suggest this is the case. The median sale price for houses in Byron Bay sits at just over A$1.5 million (US$1.2 million). This is up substantially from a year ago when the median was $1 million, suggesting strong demand and rising sale prices. (Note: Wategos is so small that prices aren’t tracked separately).
Ms. Wijngaarden expects prices to rise further in the near future.
And demand is particularly strong for tightly held localities like Wategos Beach, said Ms. Innes.
“People pay a million dollars-plus over current values to secure property here, because it may take 70 years [for that property] to come up again,” she said.
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