Categories: Destinations

5 Significant First Nations Sites in Byron Bay

Delta Kay is passionate about sharing First Nations culture. An Arakwal Bundjalung woman and a respected Elder in the Byron Bay area and beyond, she has ancestors who have lived in the area for thousands of years. After previously working as an education officer with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and serving as chairperson of the Cape Byron Trust, which manages the Cape Byron State Conservation Area, she began leading walking tours for Explore Byron Bay in October 2020.

Photo courtesy of Delta Kay

“We want to share our culture and connection to the land and raise awareness for people to come here and enjoy the beautiful place, but also behave and look after it and respect Country,” she says. “We call it Garimaa.”

As well as learning about bush tucker, natural medicine, tools, and artefacts, guests on the tours are taught words from the Bundjalung language and take time to visit notable Aboriginal spots. Here are five significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural sites in the Byron Bay region, as highlighted by Delta.

Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

1. Cape Byron (Walgun)

The site of the landmark Cape Byron Lighthouse is a sacred place for the Bundjalung people, who once gathered here for ancient ceremonies. As the most easterly point in Australia, it provides 360-degree views of Country, or Indigenous land. When Delta visits, she feels her ancestors’ presence, as if they are still there looking after her and ensuring she looks after Country. She is unable to reveal exact details of the ceremonies conducted here, as that knowledge is sacred. The lighthouse was built in this area at the turn of the 19th century to protect ships passing along the coast and was operated by resident keepers until 1989 before becoming automated.

Photo courtesy of Delta Kay

2. The Pass (Gurenbaa)

Just below the lighthouse, the popular surfing spot known as The Pass was another sacred gathering place. Here you can see an ancient midden—an archaeological accumulation of shells gathered by First Australians who collected, cooked, and ate shellfish near a spring.

Photo courtesy of Delta Kay

3. The Three Sisters

Nine kilometres south of Cape Byron near the Broken Head Nature Reserve and headland, the Three Sisters rock formation represents the story of three sisters who drowned. It has long served as a warning to Bundjalung women of the dangerous currents here. Delta says the story is also connected to another sacred women’s site.

Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

4. Julian Rocks Nguthungulli Nature Reserve

Now a popular dive spot, Julian Rocks is also the resting site of the Bundjalung creator, Nguthungulli. “Ngunthun” means “creator,” while “Gulli” means “of the world,” Delta explains. It’s said that once he finished his work, Nguthungulli went to rest in the ocean cave at Julian Rocks.

Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

5. Wollumbin (Mount Warning)

An ever-present feature of the skyline in Byron Bay, Wollumbin (Mount Warning) has long been a central place and spiritual site for the Bundjalung people, whose Country stretches from Grafton’s Clarence River in the south, to the Great Dividing Range in the west, and the Queensland’s Nerang River to the north. The remnant of an ancient shield volcano, the peak was renamed Mount Warning by British explorer Captain James Cook because it warned mariners of the treacherous offshore reefs along this stretch of coastline. But prior to that, it was a traditional place of spiritual education, cultural law, and initiation for Bundjalung people. Under their law, only specific people, who Delta likens to professors, are allowed to climb Wollumbin. Just like Uluru in the Northern Territory, the Bundjalung people ask visitors to refrain from climbing the mountain out of respect. They also feel a great sense of responsibility for the safety of visitors, and it can cause them great distress when people are injured while climbing it.

Hipcamp Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past, present and future and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

Angela Saurine is a writer, copywriter and editor based in Sydney, Australia who specialises in travel and lifestyle. She was national travel reporter for News Corp Australia before embarking on a freelance career. Angela was named Best Travel Writer in the 2012 AFTA National Travel Industry Awards and winner of Best Travel or Tourism News Story in the 2017 Australian Society of Travel Writer Awards. She was also a finalist for Best Responsible Tourism Story in the 2013 ASTW awards, and Travel Photographer of the Year in 2014. She has travelled everywhere from Arnhem Land to Antarctica and Christmas Island to Easter Island.

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