Nearly two million international and domestic tourists flock to the little town of Byron Bay every year, making it one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions. Byron, located in the Australian state of New South Wales about halfway up the east coast, attracts visitors from all over the world. Although only a nine-hour journey from Sydney and a two-hour trip from Brisbane, the town manages to retain an eerily distant atmosphere. It’s easy to get swept up in Byron’s chill attitude and forget about the outside world when you’re surrounded by hundreds of stunning beaches, excellent surf, and spiritual pursuits.
During most of the year, Byron Bay is home to more travelers than permanent residents, giving the town its own distinct culture. Although welcoming of a wide range of people, it can be hostile and intolerant of those who don’t conform. A lot of Aussies think of the place as snobbish.
The Belgian Theo Hayez had been travelling around Australia for about a year. Afraid that he would waste time away from his engineering studies, he had initially expressed reluctance about going on the trip. But he changed his mind and travelled around Australia to see loved ones, where he had a fantastic time, according to all accounts. A lot of his time was devoted to hanging out with his cousin Lisa Hayez. What Theo considered to be “backpacking” was later well described by Lisa.
Whereas many young travelers fall prey to drug use and excessive partying, Theo was a decent young guy. He aimed to build and maintain sober, meaningful relationships with those closest to him, and take pleasure in life outside of the confines of substances. He was a meticulous planner whose actions were always well thought out. Approximately once every two days, he’d call his mother.
On the evening of May 29th, 2019, Theo landed in Byron Bay, Australia. On Monday, June 3rd, he intended to take a Greyhound bus back to Sydney/Melbourne and then fly home to Belgium from there. This was his last day in Australia, and he was eager to return home and start a new chapter in his life at college and beyond.
Wake Up! Hostel in Belongil was where Theo decided to stay. While it is a little ways from the heart of town, Wake Up is one of the better hostels in town. The entire town of Byron Bay can be covered on foot by somebody in reasonably good shape. Wake Up is a hostel that offers free rides on their frequent shuttle buses, free use of their bikes, and is located only a twenty minute walk from the main street. Theo shared a room with several travellers and instantly made friends.
The evening of May 31st, in the midst of the Australian winter, was brisk. In fact, that night in Byron set a new record low temperature for the months of May and June. In the early evening, Theo and his new acquaintance rode a shuttle bus into town. They went to the bottle shop in the Northern Hotel at 7:45 PM, where surveillance footage showed them buying rose wine and acting normally. They took the shuttle bus back to the hostel, where they drank wine with their fellow travellers.
Theo and a group of fellow travellers took a late-night shuttle into town. They walked the short distance from the shuttle stop to the famous backpacker’s bar Cheeky Monkey’s.
The reputation of Cheeky Monkey’s is not good in the community. Every Byron native you encounter seems to have strong feelings about Cheeky Monkey’s, which was named one of Australia’s most violent pubs in the early 2000s. A reputable corporation that owns and operates several bars and pubs around Australia bought it not too long ago, and now it’s no longer known as “that bar where my friend’s drink got spiked” or “that bar where my mate got bashed by the security officers.” Although located outside of the heart of town, it is on one of the two main roadways.
Due to the lack of lights and people, walking around there at night is unsettling. Even while Byron usually comes alive during the summer and school breaks, it was a very quiet night on May 31. The number of Cheeky Monkeys has been reported to be at roughly 25%.
Theo was hauled out of the bar at 11 o’clock at night after purchasing two drinks. Some people said he was friendly, but others said he was clumsy. The degree of Theo’s intoxication is up for question, with several eyewitnesses indicating he wasn’t inebriated. According to reports, he hadn’t had too much to drink and wasn’t being belligerent or troublesome. As far as anyone knows, Theo Hayez was last seen alive on CCTV footage as he left the bar.
So far, neither Theo Hayez nor his two days in Byron have stood out as anything special. The events that followed would be inconceivable if we didn’t have proof that they really occurred.
It was previously believed that Theo had attempted to walk back to the backpackers’ accommodation, but had been incapacitated along the way. This was supported by grainy CCTV footage from a neighbouring gas station, and it just… made sense. The attached map should give you an idea of the distance from the hostel to the centre of town. Wake Up is fairly simple to find if you just follow the flashing lights and signs throughout Byron, which isn’t a very huge city.
Theo’s Google history, however, proved that he didn’t return to the hostel that night.
At 11 o’clock, Theo departed the bar. Security footage catches him making his way into the night on Kingsley Route, a street that runs perpendicular to Jonson. We can extrapolate that he contacted multiple friends via text message. These texts were written in French and reflected his style, thus it’s quite likely that he sent them. His partial viewing of a YouTube video is now established fact. About 1 in the morning, he communicated with his stepsister over Whatsapp. We have evidence that he consulted Google Maps more than once while trying to find his way back to the backpacker’s shack where he had been staying.
The fact that he walked from the hostel along Kingsley Street and onto Tennyson Street, all the way to the Youth Activity Centre, is further proof that he went in the opposite direction. We also know that he arrived at the Milne Track after a very rapid hike.
Taking a glance at the straightforward map provided in the linked article makes this topic much simpler to grasp. The location of Cheeky Monkeys pub is shown in the centre. This visual aid is essential for fully appreciating the peculiar nature of this path. The youth centre can be found at the upper left of the map (20 minute walk). The Byron Bay lighthouse is located in the upper right corner (a pleasant hour’s walk away). Theo hastened towards the bottom right before travelling through the Milne Track to Tallow Beach, a journey that took him a few minutes to the right and another few minutes up to a large outdoor recreation centre (think: a vast open field). Those taking a leisurely stroll from the bar to the Milne track would do so in under 20 minutes.
When he ventured out into the night, the streets were pitch black. Unusually dim. They’ve arrived in town but have found nothing to do. They’re only a few minutes from the heart of Byron, but feel worlds away from the activity, even on hot nights.
What about the Milne Track? The Milne Track is not popular with sightseers. There is no “hidden gem” here. The path begins on Milne Street and travels through the woods to Tallows Beach. Unfortunately, Theo’s misguided attempts to navigate the Milne Track led nowhere. He veered off into the bushes and headed north rather than continuing down the path’s arc to the south. The bush is dense out there, with many branches to climb over. He also appeared to have made a direct shot through, which would have been extremely difficult to accomplish without prior knowledge of the region.
Theo emerged from the woods and located the shore, as is well known. Google maps data indicates that he continued to walk at a rapid pace as he left the woods and headed toward Cozy Corner, which is located in the far upper right corner of the map.
All this transpired as he was still sending messages. His step-sister received the message just before 1AM, and he was last seen online on Whatsapp at that time before going offline.
At 1:42 pm the following day, his phone finally established a connection with the Cape Byron cell tower (not far from Cozy Corner). After then, there was no further communication.
Theo never made it back to the inn. A Greyhound bus passed him by, and he didn’t get on. He missed his trip back to Belgium.
When Theo’s mother didn’t hear from him for a few days, she started to get worried. While it was out of character, she did sympathize with his situation when he couldn’t reach her via phone. The alarm was sounded, and Theo’s disappearance was reported, three days later. Almost immediately, the hunt began, but the clues had already gone cold.