Even a sea change for just a few days can have lasting benefits.
Nestled in the swell haven of Crescent Head, Surfaris Retreat captures the region’s enduring love affair with the sea.
15 July, 2021
No hidden secret among surfers, this headland perched on the southern edge of the Macleay Valley Coast is one of Australia’s most revered surfing destinations
The stretch between Byron Bay and Sydney was once a sprint from A to B. But these days there are a cluster of coastal villages en route that are deserving of your attention, or at least a leisurely pit stop. Among these seaborne towns, each heaving with lesser-known surf breaks and the definitive embrace of a more relaxed lifestyle, is Crescent Head.
No hidden secret among surfers, this headland perched on the southern edge of the Macleay Valley Coast is one of Australia’s most revered surfing destinations. Heavy on the laidback lifestyle, shoes are optional here, but boards are not – the town 340km north-northeast of Sydney in Kempsey Shire, is one of Australia’s National Surfing Reserves, as the home of one of the longest right-hand point breaks. Though there are plenty of wave options outside the headland – wax up at the likes of Racecourse Beach, Killick Beach, Big Hill Beach and Goolawah Beach.
To cater to the steady stream of wave chasers wandering through town, a new haunt has emerged that has combined the region’s passion for the sea with a comfortable place to rest your head – Surfaris Retreat.
“We are a surf, creative and lifestyle retreat. A place where adventurous and fascinating minds come together to have a good time,” explains Brenden Yeo and Xahlia Pashen, who manage the regional escape with a passionate staff on behalf of Newcastle entrepreneur Brad Downes.
The couple’s extensive hospitality experience across Byron Bay and the Gold Coast, as well as a soft spot for surfing, led them to the former motel in 2020 which sits on 15 acres of bushland. While it was originally overhauled in 1994, they added a bounty of personal touches.
“We have put some honest hours into this space. Mentally and physically. For the most part, it's all just been cosmetic, but with a few extra zones created we've brought the place up to speed and given it new momentum – a few new rooms and furnishings, the Cafe/Bar and the Yoga deck.”
The result is a cluster of rooms designed with everyone in mind, with King Suites for those craving privacy, and Family Deluxe options (bunk beds included) for those with kids in tow.
But how guests spend their time is just as important to the Surfaris crew – wellness and yoga retreats, creative workshops, and film premieres are woven into the weekly schedule. “For us, it's all about the experience,” they say of their approach.
“We are a surf, creative and lifestyle retreat. A place where adventurous and fascinating minds come together to have a good time"
Of course the emphasis is on surfing, with the chance to tweak your existing skills – or gain some non-existing ones
“Disconnecting to reconnect and all that jazz. You'll surf some of the best waves of your life, eat great food, laugh, explore, listen to live music, join a retreat, do some yoga or simply relax by the pool. It all flows together here.”
Of course the emphasis is on surfing, with the chance to tweak your existing skills (or gain some non-existing ones) at the heart of the Surfaris concept.
“We wanted to create a premium surf experience in Australia, that's true to its core,” say Brenden and Xahlia. “A place that reminded us about our surfs trips and adventures around the world, but with a local sensibility anchored in culture, respect and a conscious connection to the environment.”
It explains why a steady stream of creatives continues to visit. “We've had such an interesting mix of surfers, artists, filmmakers, photographers, yogis, musicians and everyone in between to call Surfaris home for a few days or a week,” the duo explain. Monster Children, Surfing NSW, Black Market Coffee, and Young Henrys have all been through their doors, alongside the crew who filmed the Audi Electric Eye film earlier this year. “It’s nice to have created a place that feels welcoming and inspirational all at once.”
But Surfaris Retreat wouldn’t be the same without the backdrop of Crescent Head, a destination integral to the overall experience as a town rich in surfing culture and fluent in the laidback lifestyle that’s synonymous with quiet coastal towns.
“We've shared some great times here, moments etched in our collective memories for the rest of our days. Crescent Head has been in the cultural heart of surfing forever, and we want to do our part to share this incredible place with good people who appreciate the environment, the locals and the culture the way that we do.”
It helps that this is a place not largely touched by gentrification just yet – it’s more a sleepy village boasting a few coffee shops, a rather beloved bakery, and an enduring passion for the waves just out front.
Despite a strong start, Surfaris isn’t resting on its laurels just yet, with expansion already on the cards.
“The future is bright,” say Brenden and Xahlia of their plans for the Crescent Head escape. “There are some epic brand collaborations on the horizon, talks of a surfboard shaping bay, a music studio, an eco-lodge, new retreat concepts and a thousand and one other ideas. There's only one way to eat an elephant – one bite at a time.”
Crescent Head is rich in surfing culture and fluent in the laidback lifestyle that’s synonymous with quiet coastal towns
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