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, Sunrise Cycles or The Bicycle Emporium. There’s also plenty of coastal walks between Ballina and Lennox Head, and bushwalking available nearby at Nightcap National Park.
You can get out on the water with Out of the Blue Adventures, who run tours along the Richmond River, as well as ocean cruises and whale-watching cruises. 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.
Get your hands dirty in a workshop with a local artist. Brooke Clunie is a potter who can help you create your own unique piece at Red Door Studio. If you fancy yourself as a painter, book a session with Kim Michelle Toft at her Sea Silks Gallery and create a vibrant marine-themed work.
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 beaches. Three beaches are patrolled every day – Sharpes, Lighthouse and Shelly beaches – and you can find family-friendly swimming spots at Shaws Bay, a large tidal bay, and The Serpentine.
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.