Ballina, on the North Coast of NSW, flies under the radar of most of the travellers headed for its much better known neighbour, Byron Bay. And yet, it epitomises all the best attributes of the classic coastal holiday town – complete with empty beaches, winding trails and a spectacular river.
Things to do in Ballina
With 25km of cycle paths around town, explore the blue-water Richmond River and coastline on two wheels hired from Transition Cycles or The Bicycle Emporium. There’s also plenty of bushwalking available close to Ballina at the national parks of Broadwater and Bundjalong.
You can get out on the water with Kayak Ballina Tours. The only licensed operator running tours on the Richmond River, they offer morning and sunset tours. During whale-watching season, Ballina’s coastline is custom-made for spotting migrating whales.
Art and culture
Ballina is home to a thriving arts scene. Visit the Northern Rivers Community Gallery, a regional cultural hub for local artists to connect with audiences over four exhibition spaces in a stunning 90-year-old building. Check out the events calendar for festivals and markets, including the Ballina Fine Food and Wine Festival.
For more art head just out of town to David Lane’s Studio Gallery in Tintenbar. You can investigate the maritime history of the region at the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum or learn about life at the turn of the century at the Crawford House Museum in a restored Federation home in Alstonville, a former farming town.
East Ballina is the North Coast’s best-kept secret. This tiny seaside community is home to bustling waterfront cafes and restaurants, apartments with sea views and three beaches – Angels, Lighthouse and Shelly Beach. Lighthouse and Shelly beaches are patrolled, and the latter also has a small ocean pool.
The surf here is legendary, but still mostly deserted, with most surfers heading to the waves in Byron Bay or Lennox Head. You can watch fishing boats head to sea through the river’s entrance at sunset then taste the catch of the day at eateries like the Wild Prawn Cafe, Bar & Grill and the Lighthouse Beach Cafe.
Getting there and where to stay
Ballina is just over eight hours’ drive north of Sydney and two hours south of Brisbane. You can fly into Ballina Byron Gateway Airport, less than 10min away from the centre of town. You'll find plenty of accommodation options from budget-conscious holiday parks to luxury beachside apartments, like the four-star riverside Ramada Hotel and Suites.