Roads, rivers, rainforest and beaches – Join us on our NSW roadtrip

Country road in Bellingen
One of the country roads in Bellingen

Three weeks. More than 17 locations. More than 1500km of driving. Two major rivers, dozens of beaches and even more coffee shops.

From the sun scorched grazing land of Glen Innes to the rainforests of the Dorrigo Plateau, the deep green hills of the Bellingen Valley and beyond to secluded seaside coves and vast, empty beaches.

Buckle up and join us on our latest roadtrip adventure in the New South Wales mid-north coast and northern rivers region.

Warwick town hallFirst Stop – Warwick

This is our starting point before we cross the border bound for the Mann River Nature Reserve not far from Glen Innes.

Chilling out by the campfire at Mann River Nature ReserveSecond Stop – Mann River Nature Reserve

A roaring campfire,  green grass, shady trees and our own  swim spot. We find one of the best free campsites in NSW.

Looking over the Australian Standing StonesThird Stop – Glen Innes

We reconnect with our Celtic roots at the Australian Standing Stones in Glen Innes and put Crofters Cottage to the test.

Aurelia in the Mann River at JackadgeryFourth Stop – Jackadgery

We cool off from the summer humidity in the Mann River at Jackadgery.





Aurelia gives the tick of approval to our River Cabin near BellngenFifth Stop – Bellingen

We swap the tent for a luxury river cabin in the area that was the setting for the ultimate escapism movie Danny Deckchair.

Dorrigo SkywalkSixth Stop – Dorrigo

Leaving the heat behind, the cool mountain air of the Dorrigo Plateau beckons.

Resting at ThoraSeventh Stop – Thora 

We take time to rest up at a free roadside campground at Thora.





UrungaEighth Stop – Urunga

We make a brief stop at Urunga, but find it too hot to set foot on the beach.


Trial Bay GaolNinth Stop – South West Rocks

There is much to love about the South West Rocks area, prison ruins and all.

Muttonbird Island Nature ReserveTenth Stop – Coffs Harbour

It must surely be impossible to tire of the beautiful Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve walk. That’s our verdict.

Pelicans at Yamba boat rampEleventh Stop – Yamba

Our controversial review of our stay at Yamba is sure to provoke those who call the spot their home away from home.

Aurelia ready for the roadtripThe Road Home

All the highlights of our trip back to Queensland.






Bonus posts:

Coffee Not by Clowns at Glen InnesCoffee wars at Glen Innes

You have to love this cheeky shot at Maccas.

Paint thick precision reverse parking near the Bruce HighwayPaint thick precision parking

You are not going to believe how close this motorhome parked to the car in the bay beside him in the Glass House Mountains.





The road home

After more than two weeks on the road it was finally time to turn the car around for home. But as they say: it’s about the journey not the destination. Here’s what we saw on the way.

Chatsworth Island
Chatsworth Island has become a bit of a ghost town since it was bypassed by the highway. Perhaps that’s why the locals have come up with some quirky ideas to enliven the town, including the community thong tree and gnome houses.
Community Thong Tree, Chatsworth Island
Ever wondered where all those missing thongs go? At Chatsworth Island it is not so much about buying a souvenir as leaving one behind.
Boatshed Cafe, Iluka
The Boatshed Cafe is tucked away behind a boat shop, but offers some of the best views over the water in Iluka.
Small boat at Iluka, New South Wales
Small boat at Iluka, New South Wales
Our Daily Bread Cafe
Our last stop, We love the chance to step inside this wonderful cafe every time we head back home. The Our Daily Bread Cafe is a great place to debrief from the trip over a coffee.
Aurelia ready for the roadtrip
Aurelia thinks it’s time to start planning our next roadtrip.






Eleventh stop – Yamba

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.Yamba

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 Pelicans at Yamba boat rampconclusion 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.

Angourie Surfing Reserve
Pool at Angourie Surfing Reserve

By midday we had seen all of the sights accessible by road, including the Yamba breakwater, the famous Angourie Surfing Reserve and Lake Wooloweyah.

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.

Driftwood hut at Yamba

Maclean, NSWThe 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.

Ferry Park Gallery, Maclean
Ferry Park Gallery, Maclean

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 Aurelia at Yambadecorations. 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).

Back Beach, Broom Head

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.

Back Beach, Broom HeadThe 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.

Back Beach, Broom Head
Back Beach, Broom Head

Cafe Marina, YambaWhile 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 at Yamba
Aurelia after the pelican incident

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.

Tenth stop – Coffs Harbour

Muttonbird Island Nature ReserveA 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.

Muttonbird Island Nature ReserveWe 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.

Muttonbird Island Nature ReserveThis 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. Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve

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.


Ninth stop – South West Rocks

Trial Bay Gaol, South West RocksWe 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.

Trial Bay Campground
View from our tent site at Trial Bay Campground

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.

Trial Bay campgroundThis 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.South West Rocks

Smoky Cape LighthouseIn 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 Smoky Cape Lighthouse B&B and cottagesassistant. 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.Captain Cook Lookout

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.

Eighth stop – Urunga

UrungaWe 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!


Seventh stop – Thora

ThoraWe 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. DSCN6230Clearly all the excitement had her completely worn out by late afternoon.

Sixth stop – Dorrigo

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.

Dorrigo Mountain ResortOur 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.Dorrigo

Food Angel Cafe, DorrigoIn 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 SkywalkDorrigo 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 Crystal Shower Fallsnot 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.

Fifth stop – Bellingen

Country road in Bellingen
One of the country roads in Bellingen

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.

River Cabin at Easy Street Retreat near BellingenAfter 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.

Easy Street Retreat near BellingenWe 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.

Aurelia gives the tick of approval to our River Cabin near BellngenWell Aurelia seemed pretty happy with it.





The deck at Easy Street Retreat near BellingenI 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.



Hamper at Easy Street Retreat

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.

Bellinger River near BellingenThe river is clear to the pebble lined bottom and narrows to a series of mini-water falls widening out to larger pools.



Bellinger River outside Easy Street Retreat near BellingenWe walked as far as the next old wooden bridge before turning around to make the most of our plush accommodation.

New Year's Eve 2013 Big Party
New Year’s Eve 2013 Big Party

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.

Lodge 241 Cafe, BellingenAfter 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.Lodge 241 Cafe, Bellingen

Thickshake at Lodge 241 CafeAndrew 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.

Black Bear Cafe, BellingenAfter 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.Fruit toast at Black Bear Cafe, Bellingen

Bellingen townThe 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.


Fruit and vegetable store at BellingenThe 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.

Gelato store at BellingenI 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.


Promised Land near Bellingen
Cold water plunge pools are speckled throughout the Promised Land near Bellingen, NSW.

Finding your own private pool is half the fun. We also passed the little church that inspired Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda.