There’s not that many places in Australia where you can still ride a horse to the pub, lucky for us Byron Bay is one of them, thanks to Zephyr Horses Pub Tours which include brunch or lunch at the North Byron Hotel.
Written by Alison Bone
I have walked, cycled, driven, and been driven to the pub, but arriving on horseback via a trail through the lush tea tree forest must go down as my most memorable entrance. “We refer pretty loosely to the pub,” says founder of Zephyr Horses, Kate Noller, on their pub tours, “but the North Byron Hotel is so much more than that. The venue and the vibe is amazing, then there’s the food; I think a lot of people are really surprised by how good it is.”
My Sunday Brunch Tour starts at the atmospheric Zephyr Horses ranch, on the edge of a tea tree lake in North Byron. I am paired with Bobby, a gorgeous chestnut mare who is thankfully quite chilled, as I haven’t been on a horse for years, and I soon settle into that distinctive bouncy rhythm that comes with riding a four-legged creature. It’s quiet in the forest, but for the crunch of leaves under hooved feet, the wind whipping through the tree tops, and the sound of crashing waves in the distance. The trail leads through patches of littoral rainforest and dense sub-tropical tea tree forest carpeted with bright green bracken and native grasses, before suddenly emerging in bright sunlight just behind the hotel. We cause a bit of a stir as we tether our horses to the rails and take a seat in the tropical garden that brims with vibrant edible flowers, continental herbs, chilli bushes and passionfruit vines.
“A pub tour is a great way to connect with nature in Byron Bay – it makes you understand why people are so passionate about the land,” says Jedd Rifai, Licensee of North Byron Hotel. It’s also a perfect fit with the creative menu that focusses on locally sourced ingredients. Café style brunch dishes include a Brookfarm Granola Bowl, Bacon & Egg Burger (with free range eggs from up the road), and Ricotta Hotcakes with whipped honey ricotta, seasonal fruit and agave syrup. I opt for a tasty and nutritious Barefoot Bowl, packed with broccolini, greens (freshly plucked from the garden), seeds and nuts, topped with perfectly poached local eggs and zaatar.
Sipping my coffee, I look around to see families, young couples with their dogs, a group of women celebrating a birthday, and our horses munching contently on hay. Kate is right, it’s much more than a pub. Since taking over North Byron Hotel two years ago Jedd has been on a mission to transform the venue into a communal meeting place; and there’s something for everyone, including Kids Club during summer holidays, generous happy hours, and live DJs on Friday and Saturday nights for a more up for it crowd. The fire pit in the centre of the flourishing garden also sets the scene for monthly Open Sky Barbecues in collaboration with a local brewery or distillery, with offerings like wood roasted kingfish, local king prawns and porchetta.
Brunch over, we ride back into the sun dappled forest, our departure from the pub as memorable as our arrival. Zephyr Horses also offer Saturday Pub Lunch Tours, and kids pony rides at the hotel (check website for details), as well as signature Forest to Beach Tours. If you ever dreamt of riding a horse on the beach, at sunrise – it would be hard to find a better place than the most easterly tip of Australia to do it.