7 Days in … Ballina, NSW

Skennars Head Beach, Ballina, New South Wales

Skennars Head Beach, Ballina, New South Wales

Thank goddess for Byron Bay! The Byron tourist magnet sucks a conglomerate of backpackers, yuppies, new age-ists, surfers, whale watchers and regular local and overseas tourists into its vortex, leaving the fabulous, diverse and bakery-filled Ballina region relatively uncrowded. This is good.

This 7 day teaser is only an introduction – complete with ‘bakery alerts’ – as a week isn’t enough to ‘do’ it properly. I’ve found new things to do every time I go there – and that keeps me coming back!

Here’s some of the GREAT things I’ve found!.

Day 1: Ballina Orientation (Bakery Alert!)

If you’re not a bird watcher (if you were, you wouldn’t need me to tell you to go straight to Flat Rock!), head for the Visitor Information Centre then take a tour of Ballina’s main street. When (if?) you tire of the array of shops, galleries and cafés, grab a little treat from the main street bakery and wander along the Richmond river bank, or check out the Naval and Maritime Museum. Trek up to the lighthouse for great views north towards Cape Byron and south to the breakwall and surfing beaches.

We stayed at the Ballina Headlands Leisure Park between Ballina and Lennox Head. An excellent base, we’ve enjoyed many morning walks to nearby Skennars Head, almost always sighting whales, or to Flat Rock, almost always seizing a fantastic (in my opinion) photo opportunity!

Day 2: Cape Byron (Bakery Alert!)

Yes, yes, I know I slagged off about Byron above, but that’s just the crowds, and you can safely handle them for one day, right?

It could even be comical as we found when one visit coincided with Halloween. While this festival isn’t widely celebrated in Australia, we Aussies use anything for an excuse to party!

While waiting in the ATM line behind a hungover Brit backpacker waging a losing battle to recall his PIN, a heavily made up young blonde female lifestyle icon approached. Dressed, I guess, as a witch – if not, the hat was a REALLY bad choice!

 

‘Are you coming to the street party tonight?’ she asked, flashing a smile. Not at me (wrong demographic ie female), or Pilchard (right demographic ie male, but wrong demographic ie over 45 and sober) – we weren’t just irrelevant, for her we didn’t exist! But the Brit’s mate perked up immediately.

‘Yeah, sure,’ he spluttered, nodding and nudging the Brit, to whom she was clearly issuing the invitation, sadly distracting him from what (please goddess) must surely have been his 3rd and final attempt at entering his PIN.

But the Brit wasn’t playing along. Clearly more hungover than my initial assessment, he mumbled something about needing a night off the tiles and prepared for a final PIN attempt.

The girl took another look at the Brit’s mate, made a visibly conscious decision to cut her losses and started edging away. Thank goddess, it must FINALLY be my turn at the ATM. But … alas, not yet.

The Brit’s mate became agitated as the vision of loveliness, possibly his sole reason for visiting Australia, de-materialised.

‘He’ll be feeling better tonight,’ he pronounced, simultaneously maintaining eye contact with the witch and nudging the Brits arm. ‘Won’t you, mate?’ he implored.

The Brit gave up the battle with the ATM, and turned to us.

‘We’re keeping these people waiting,’ he announced, and modelling the diplomacy for which the Brits are known, guided the others away from the ATM. The other two looked at us like we’d just dropped from the sky.

‘See you at the party,’ I called as they departed. Maybe I just imagined their shudder of horror …

Quite apart from fun with the tourists AND the superb bakery, Cape Byron’s magnificent views over Australia’s easternmost point often include the Byron wildlife trifecta (whales, dolphins, turtles), and the odd feral goat. The hungover backpacker, exercise freak, whale watcher and crowd-dodging local are also frequently sighted at the lighthouse and on the walking trail.

And if that isn’t enough marvellous scenery for one day, drop in to Broken Head Nature Reserve on the way home and walk around the headland.

Day 3: Market Day

In the market for handmade soap, local coffee, sugarcane&ginger juice, hydroponics books, exotic fruits, massage implements, plants, handmade jewellery and clothing you won’t find anywhere else? The major Sunday market each week is held at either Byron Bay, The Channon, Nimbin or Bangalow with a range of smaller markets at other locations.

My personal favourite? The Channon – also the kick-off point for a visit to Terania Creek, aka ‘Protestors Falls’ where the 70’s blockades stopped logging and led to National Park proclamation. Worth it? Take a look and see!

Days 4 & 5: Somewhere on the Hinterland …

The Ballina Hinterland contains a range of spectacular natural features where you can expend as much or as little energy as you wish. Or are able …

Rocky Creek Dam ensures the Ballinese rarely suffer water restrictions – well, that and the tropical strength rainfall! Platypus, water dragons, and a variety of birds (eg Paradise riflebird, Rufous fantail, White-bellied sea-eagle and the ubiquitous Australian brush turkey) can be seen on the various walks through the Rainforest Reserve.

 

Minyon Falls, in the Whian Whian State Conservation area, has a very short walk to a great viewing point opposite the falls, or a longer, steeper, more difficult hike to the base and back. HHHMMMmmm… which one to pick?!?! An icecream from the stall en route suits either choice!

Drive past the Nimbin Rocks to Nimbin itself for a glimpse of how different the world would be if the 70’s peace and love hadn’t been overtaken by 80’s greed and capitalism. This fascinating place to browse, shop and de-tox on natural, organic food and beverages will leave you well able to tackle the delights of Mt Nardi, just up the road! Again you’ve got options – scenic drive/scenic public toilet OR reasonably strenuous hike! Or both, of course.

Please Note: Unless you’re a masochist with a death wish, these activities will take more than a day!

Day 6: Ballina Esplanade Walk

The Esplanade walk from Ballina to the Richmond River mouth on a fine day is one of life’s great pleasures. Spot for dugongs, nesting Ospreys, fish and birds (eg Mangrove gerygone, Superb fairy wren) along the way. Ponder why the kids at the skate park aren’t in school, then cross the bridge over the inlet, pass the lake and head out along the breakwall. Lunch (or at least snack!) at the takeaway and cafe near the caravan park to restore the tissues for the walk back!

Day 7: Lennox Head (Bakery Alert!)

For some of the most spectacular scenery you’ll see anywhere, take a walk from Skennars Head to Lennox Head over the headlands. Indulge in whale, bird, people, surf and extreme sport watching with the secure anticipatory knowledge that yet another wonderful bakery awaits at the end.

But even if you’re unable to walk there, Lennox Head is worth a visit in its own right. Lake Ainsworth, Seven Mile Beach and the amazing (so they tell me) right hand surf break; boutiques and book shops; fantastic fruit and veg shops; a clutch of interesting restaurants – all this and more should see you right for yet another day in paradise.

For the best lunch experience on the coast take your bakery booty to Lennox Head itself – and envy the people who have chosen to live here!

And look all you want – you won’t see any evidence of the mini-tornado that ransacked the town earlier in 2010!

You won’t have time on this trip to take the Richmond River cruise; visit South Ballina; explore hinterland villages (with their own bakeries!!); experience other of the many National Parks, coastal reserves and conservation areas; visit nearby Evans Head and Brunswick Heads; surf, swim and fish; or just hang out!

And you know what THAT means – yes, you’ll just have to come back another day 😀

Happy travels!

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