We had heard so many good things about Yamba that we decided to book in at a holiday park for a four night stay. We chose the Blue Dolphin Holiday Resort because it seemed to have it all – spas, pools, a tennis court, barbecues and kids playgrounds.
Unfortunately the sunny weather turned overcast on our arrival and it was a little bit too chilly to enjoy the pool. We thought the cooler weather would make it perfect for a dip in the spa. But our hopes of relaxing in a warm spa were soon destroyed when we realised the temperature was almost the same as the pool and no where near warm enough to enjoy.
We spent the next two days exploring the town but were definitely not overwhelmed with what we saw. While the beach was pretty, we have seem many places on our road trips that are miles more attractive. We soon came to the conclusion that unless you enjoyed boating, fishing and surfing, Yamba might not be the best place for you. Having said that we did meet people in the holiday park who were not big on either of those activities and still enjoyed coming back year after year for their holidays.
By far the most exciting thing we found were the DIY beach shacks on the beach made out of driftwood. They have a real Robinsoe Crusoe look about them and actually do offer shade, as we were to discover.
The next day we explored slightly further afield to the Scottish town of Maclean with its many tartan-painted power poles and character buildings. This town is a real treasure and has many inviting shops and cafes. We found a tiny little cafe that served amazing coffee.
Another real find is the nearby Ferry Park Gallery stocked full of handmade goods all made by the locals. The range included woodworks, little girl dresses, children’s toys, jewellery, paintings and household decorations. I was blown away by the quality of the goods and the prices seemed reasonable. We bought Aurelia a hand made, bright red bunny for $15, which she is sporting as a hat in this photo (see left).
The biggest surprise of all was the beautiful seaside village of Brooms Head with its great walks and understated charm. This laid back little beach town was exactly the type of uninhibited little place we had hoped to find on our trip. Our only regret was that we had not booked our accommodation in the rustic little caravan park right on the beach.
The walk along the sand at Back Beach, Brooms Head – part of the four-day Yuraygir Coastal Walk – was truly spectacular. We even saw three trail bike riders zooming along the hard sand and another little driftwood beach shack.
While we might not have rave reviews about Yamba town itself, we did fall for the homely and unpretentious Cafe Marina at Yamba. We found some of the more trendy looking cafes in Yamba a little to small, noisy and crowded, especially when you have a baby. But here we had room to breathe and a great view of the yachts at the marina.
The owners also have some creative menu options, including baked apples stuffed with roasted nuts and honey, and banana bread served with caramalised banana and bacon on the side if you are a fan.
Aurelia was a little traumatised though when we witnessed an epic pelican battle over a fish carcass thrown overboard by the nearby wholesale seafood vendor. Two pelicans were going at it in what for a moment looked like it was a battle to the death. Turns out pelicans are territorial and nothing like the happy bird from Storm Boy.
While Yamba had its highlights, sleeping in a tent right on the boundary of the holiday park close to the road was a downside and we were more than happy to push on home.
A visit to Coffs Harbour is never complete without experiencing the walk to Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve. The first time we stumbled upon this amazing spot was on the return journey to Queensland after a roadtrip through New South Wales. With night closing in and after being in the car for hours, we needed a good stretch of the legs.
We decided to take a walk at the marina, never expecting that we would soon have crossed over a breakwater and onto an island nature reserve.
The best thing about the walk is that it changes every time we do it because of the breeding cycle of the muttonbirds, also known as shearwaters. Trip number one was marked by birds circling in the darkness overhead and docile, little chicks out all over the path. Not initially realising we were walking on a rookery, we came very close to stepping on one.
This time there were no chicks and we were a little too early in the day to see much bird activity. But it was good just to be outdoors in such a beautiful area.
Being on sunset, the small crest of the island was lit by the warm glow of the sun as it sunk behind the path, making for plenty of good photo opportunities.
We gave the tent a miss for the night and settled down in a budget cabin at the Paradise Palms Resort, grabbing a gourmet pizza for dinner.
The next morning we found a great cafe, Cafe Aqua, just opposite the water. We say great because not only did it have a nice outdoor deck area, but a long list of mouthwatering menu options.
After breakfast, we continued our journey north toward Yamba.
We never thought we would be lucky enough to score a campsite at the popular Trial Bay campground. I had already established that the camp sites were well and truly booked out months in advance and had put visions of pitching a tent on the edge of the ruins of an old prison out of my mind. Even so, we thought it was worth a look at the old gaol anyway as part of the road trip.
It was a surprise then to find that there was an overflow campground with several empty sites offering what we thought were even better views over the coastline than those booked out months earlier.
This is one of the most interesting campgrounds we have visited. The Trial Bay Gaol walls tower above us to the rear of our campsite looking forbidding against the clear blue sky, while big coffee coloured cliffs form a a jagged natural barrier to the sea.
We spend an hour scrambling over rocks and taking in the spectacular ocean views.
In the morning we make the short drive to the Smoky Cape Lighthouse. The path takes you past charming little cottages that once belonged to the lighthouse keeper and the keeper’s assistant. The cottages are now used as a B&B and no doubt have many guests captivated by the romanticism of living as a lighthouse keeper once did.
After taking in the view from the lighthouse we set off on the Jack Perkins Track from Captain Cook’s Lookout to a secluded little cove.
That afternoon we got a taste for life on the inside by touring the Trial Bay Gaol. The gaol was built purely to supply prisoner labour to the building of a breakwater in the 1880s but was later used to lock-up German internees during World War I.
We had no idea what to expect from the seaside town of Urunga, but thought it would be nice to head to the coast for the cool ocean breezes seeming as it was so hot.
While it was a nice change of scenery for a night, we found nothing remarkable about this small beach town. We set up camp on a patch of grass that offered barely a slither of shade and used the car to at least cast some shadow over the lawn. The holiday park was clean, well kept and tight on security, meaning we had to remember different codes to get into the toilet block and to access the park.
We were even temporarily locked out at one point because we were late back to the campsite to pack up after the check-out time.
After one night at Urunga, we were more than ready to push on. And push on we did!
We never underestimate the value of knowing the best free camp spots to pull up for a night on the road and Rose Park at Thora, just outside of Bellingen, is no exception.
Plenty of flat ground to pitch a tent, shady trees, a toilet and in this case a free river to cool off in. By the time we set had set up camp on this hot humid day we were dripping in sweat. So it was with an enormous amount of relief that we were just a short stroll away from the cold, clear water of the Bellinger River. Pity nobody told us about the noisy locals – in this case the black cockatoos that decided to come by and pepper our car and tent with partially devoured pine cones from above. Falling from such a height, they became mini-missiles. We had to put Aurelia underneath a tarp for protection. Clearly all the excitement had her completely worn out by late afternoon.
Watching the grass grow might be boring, but watching cows graze in a field is non-stop excitement. That’s how we passed the time while stopped for the night at Dorrigo Mountain Resort on the Dorrigo Plateau.
Our campsite backed directly onto the perimeter of the park, which borders dairy farmland. It also came with a free wake-up call of loud mooing outside of our tent in the middle of the night.
Aurelia seemed to really like chilling out on the green grass as well.
In the morning we found this pearl of a cafe in the tiny little Dorrigo township. Food Angel Cafe is a book lovers delight. Hundreds of second hand books line the shelves. Some were only a few dollars. Others were first editions with a three-figure price. The cafe also serves superb coffee and has toys at the back for the kids.
Dorrigo Skywalk is definitely worth the short stroll. The view was worth the gold coin donation to the visitor centre.
After heading to the nearby Crystal Shower Falls walk through Dorrigo National Park, we were to find that the best view is not so much looking at the waterfall, but looking out from underneath. The path winds around behind the curtain of water falling from far above. From here, you can stand and feel in the cool air of a large cave looking out through the water at a suspension bridge. It gives quite a different perspective on things.
After packing up after our quick stop on the banks of the Mann River we were ready to push on to a place that stands out in our minds as the ultimate escape from city life to paradise: Danny Deckchair land.
Ever since we fell in love with the Australian movie starring Rhys Ifans and Miranda Otto, we have wanted to travel to Bellingen where the film was shot. Danny Deckchair is about a man yearning to escape the monotony of city life. After tying a bunch of hot air balloons to his deck chair as a prank one afternoon, he literally escapes his suburban backyard to life in a small country town in the beautiful green hills of the Bellinger Valley. We were keen to find out if Bellingen was really as beautiful a spot as portrayed in the move and were not to be disappointed.
After our version of roughing it in a tent, we had hit the luxury part of the trip where we got to live it up in a plush retreat perched on the edge of the beautiful Bellinger River. The road to Easy Street Retreat weaved and wound its way around the long arm of the river, took us over lots of little one-way wooden bridges, along a deep green belt of land, edged by forest on one side and water on the other, and through neat farms whose green lawns were shaded by huge old trees.
We were one of the first people to stay at Easy Street Retreat’s River Cabin. The owner had only just finished the refurbishment of the cabin, which was a converted art studio. We loved the modern touch given to the retro furnishings in the cabin, the high raked ceilings, the warm colours, polished timber floors, stained glass windows and uncluttered look.
Well Aurelia seemed pretty happy with it.
I set up Aurelia on the verandah and kicked back, taking in the fruit trees, river and forest on the far bank of the river. I realised that the blueberry trees I was looking at were the same that supplied my breakfast – left in a wooden basket in the fridge laden with other good stuff from the garden.
Later we walked down to the river to check out the deep water swim spot just in front of the property and explore further up the river.
The river is clear to the pebble lined bottom and narrows to a series of mini-water falls widening out to larger pools.
We walked as far as the next old wooden bridge before turning around to make the most of our plush accommodation.
Plans to go into Bellingen on New Year’s Eve were put on hold when Aurelia didn’t make it up past 8pm! Lucky there was a big selection of movies and TV series in the cabin.
After three nights of relaxation, we were ready to source out a big breakfast in Bellingen. We chose to stop at the very first cafe we were to pass – a converted Masonic Temple now home to Lodge 241 Cafe.
We took an outside table in a corner of the balcony overlooking the green banks sloping down to the river.
Andrew decided on a thickshake, while I was happy to find a tasty vegetarian option on the menu. The old building is worth a look in itself. It is three storeys, with interesting architecture and history to match.
After filling up, it was time to push west to the Dorrigo Plateau for a night.
After our stay at Dorrigo, we returned to explore the town of Bellingen, breakfasting at the hip Black Bear Cafe with its fresh twist on old breakfast favourites and superb fresh baked fruit toast.
The town has a string of cafes, restaurants and bakeries. In the short stretch of road where the Black Bear is situated you will find a handful of cafes to choose from. There are also lots of interesting buildings, including the beautiful, old Hammond and Wheatley store. It is nice to see it is still operating as a department store.
The fruit and vegetable store on the main street also has a wide range of organic and local produce, as well as serving up smoothies and other health drinks.
I couldn’t resist trying a coconut icecream at the gelato store.
After lunch we took a short drive out to the Promised Land to escape the heat in one of the deep, cold water pools in the river. There are many different deep plunge pools along the river for a swim.
Finding your own private pool is half the fun. We also passed the little church that inspired Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda.