As East as it gets!
Ballina to Byron Bay- Where massive Prawns, Fabulous fishing, Surfing beaches and culture come together to make one great family holiday destination.
Throughout our travels around Australia, no other place has come close to having such an eclectic mix of people like the north east corner of NSW and in particular the towns of Ballina and Byron Bay. This area really is a ‘melting pot’ of people from all walks of life. Its a place where tourists, die-hard surfers and backpackers from all around the globe all come together to mix it up with the rich and famous. Its such an exciting place to visit and the friendly locals welcome tourists with open arms.
As we travelled north to QLD earlier this year with our camper in tow we decided that a stay in Ballina would be a good option and a perfect base to explore the area . We already knew that there was plenty to do around Ballina and even more so, plenty of fun things for the kids to do. We booked into our Holiday Park for the week and set up camp. After some great conversations with the staff at the tourist information centre we realised we needed to extend our stay to 2 weeks instead. Our list of ‘must do’s’ grew quickly and lucky for us the weather had been great.
Ballina is situated near the mouth of the Richmond River around 740kms north of Sydney and 200kms south of Brisbane and has recently received a much needed highway bypass to relieve the traffic pressures of the main street. Ballina is known famously as being the home of the Big Prawn which over the past 10 years or so had been left to fade and was looking a little worse for wear until a refurbished prawn was recently erected on the current Bunnings Warehouse site. Thankfully it has been restored and is slowly making its way back on to the list as one of Australia’s most photographed ‘big things’.
A few great features of Ballina instantly stood out to us, firstly the waterfront and beach areas are so well maintained and kept tidy and so are the river front recreational areas. You could really tell the locals and council have great pride in Ballina’s natural assets. The other thing that we appreciated was there being plenty of park lands and playgrounds for the kids.
As a family, we find taking short drives and venturing out on day trips the best way to see and experience any area we visit. By taking the back roads and stopping for a closer look at areas that seem interesting we often discover little quirky places that aren’t on the usual tourist maps. But one place that was on the map however was Evans Head, we had never been there before so we thought we would check it out as we had heard people speak very highly of this place. Evans Head is your typical ‘beach side village’.
The beaches here are overwhelmingly popular and I could only imagine the influx of tourists that would visit the town during each school holidays. There is a centrally located holiday park situated right between the beach and the town centre which would make a great place for a camping holiday. Fishing is a popular past time here and when we visited, the boat ramps were packed with empty boat trailers and plenty of people were fishing the estuary from the banks and rock wall. Near the bridge over the estuary there was a great spot for us to set up in the shade to have some lunch. This place was also a popular picnic spot for caravanner’s passing through to call in and take a break. We overheard a small convoy of caravanner’s on the UHF radio state they thought the place was nice and they would stop there for a few nights instead of continuing on travelling for the day. So it obviously wasn’t just us that were impressed by the inviting charm of the town.
A place we had often driven past on our trips to QLD was the Macadamia Castle which is situated on the highway between Ballina and Byron Bay but had never had time to call in. It was somewhere that we were very keen to visit. Jane took the kids out for a look and they were amazed at just how much there was to do there- its so more much than just a cafe that sells macadamia nuts!
The kids were able to go through the outdoor area and got to listen to a few educational talks on reptiles which they thought was great. They got to get hands-on and pat the snake- something their mum wasn’t too keen on doing. Other great activities at the Macadamia Castle include train rides, mini golf and baby animal feeding. There is a small entry fee to the outdoor area but we were able to keep the kids entertained for a few hours and we reckon they learnt a few things too. Definitely money well spent.
No visit to the Macadamia Castle should end without first grabbing yourself some of their delicious Hot Nuts! These are macadamia nuts that have been roasted and flavoured in a variety of different ways. Our favourite was the ‘crystalized honey’ and the ‘chilli’ nuts! Yummo! Our suggestion is set aside a few hours for a visit, check their website for animal feeding times and stay for lunch at the cafe. Try the pancakes and ‘The Castle Burger’. You know the food must be good when you see locals making the trip out to meet friends here for lunch.
If traditional make it, bake it, grow it style markets take your fancy then a visit to the monthly Channon Craft Market must make your itinerary. At the Channon Craft Markets not only are there your usual food and craft stalls to visit but there is plenty of entertainment to keep you amused and entertained. Local bands and buskers perform whilst the kids can be kept busy making their own candles, getting their faces painted or playing in the giant inflatable worm or playground. The Channon Craft Markets are located about 20 minutes from Lismore at Coronation Park- detailed directions are on their website. Definitely a quirky market to visit that gives you a great feel for the local area and the friendly people that live there.
A short drive north along the coast road from Ballina is the small village of Lennox Head. I have found memories of going here on a school excursion to Lake Ainsworth when I was younger. I’m glad to hear that many school groups still visit the sports & recreational centre for school camps for some ‘outdoor’ learning- we had a blast as kids kayaking and canoeing out on the lake or doing various other outdoor activities that the centre provides.
Lennox Head is a great little town situated right on the beach with a retail shopping strip of boutique shops and cafes. There is also a popular Holiday Park located opposite the Lake which is popular for families. Not only is the short drive to Lennox Head very scenic as it traverses the headlands but it also provides access some great swimming and surfing beaches too.
There is one place that must not be left unexplored by any visitor travelling through this area- the interesting town of Byron Bay. With white sandy beaches and a diverse culture- Byron, as it is affectionately known, offers something for everyone. The beach and foreshore areas are often packed with locals and visitors enjoying the laid back seaside atmosphere or taking advantage of the perfect surfing conditions that Byron is famous for. You won’t need to look too far to find an overseas backpacker discovering for themselves what all the fuss is about.
Beaches aside, Byron Bay or more specifically Cape Byron is must notably known for being the eastern most tip of the Australian mainland. Exploring the Cape Byron Lighthouse and taking the short walk down to the eastern tip are two things that must not be left off your list of things to do- just don’t forget your camera!
You wont find it hard to fill in a whole day here, keeping busy with scenic walks and plenty of boutique shopping. There is definitely no shortage of cafes and speciality food outlets about the place, perfect for that much needed caffeine hit and to satisfy your rumbling tummy.
Byron Bay frequently plays host to many festivals, the most well known being the annual ‘Bluesfest’ music festival. A festival that showcases a mix of both local and international performers that is sure to have something for everyone. People are known to regularly travel from the other side of the country just to attend. It goes without saying that accommodation in the area during these festivals are in high demand so booking early is definitely recommended.
Whilst we are on the topic of accommodation, there are plenty of options available around Ballina, but in particular this area makes for a perfect caravanning or camping holiday. With a wide selection of holiday parks to choose from, all budgets are catered for and families are well looked after. A very popular choice for both couples and families is the Ballina Lakeside Holiday park. With it’s modern facilities, various kids activities, resort style pool area and its fantastic location – it is no wonder that this park has so many regulars that return year after year for their family holidays. But be advised that their popular waterfront camp sites go quickly so make sure you book. To check out all of their facilities, accommodation options and current tariffs, visit their website.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Ballina and our many day trips to the surrounding towns. There were plenty of days where we were kept very busy but on the other hand we found this a area great spot to simply sit back and do nothing except relax.
Our Top 10 ‘Must Do’s’
- Get a photo of the new and improved Big Prawn
- Go fishing along the break wall
- Take the kids to the awesome skate park
- Visit the Macadamia Castle
- Grab a cuppa at Lennox Head
- Visit Cape Byron Lighthouse
- Take a stroll down the main street of Byron Bay
- Visit the Channon Craft Markets
- Take a drive to Evans Head, Mullumbimby and Alstonville
- Visit the Thursday Plantation and learn all about the wonders Tea Tree Oil