Carved by the Richmond River and North Creek, this sleepy coastal town on the North Coast of NSW is the perfect union of long, uncrowded Pacific beaches, tidal bays, fertile valleys and a forward-thinking food scene. Not to mention the Big Prawn, erected in 1989 and telling a mouth-watering story of regional produce.
Ballina is blessed with 25 kilometres of cycle paths, meaning that one of the best ways to explore the town and its surrounds is on two wheels. Hire a bike from Ballina Byron Bike Hire, E bikes 2U, Transition Cycles, Sunrise Cycles, and pedal along the banks of the Richmond River on the lookout for birds and native wildlife.
Drive northwest just over an hour to reach wild and wonderful Nightcap National Park, an immense expanse of forest that forms part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Lace up your hiking boots, and wander along trails to thundering waterfalls, not in the least Minyon Falls, which you can observe remotely from a lookout, or up close when you dive into the cool swimming hole at its base. About a 20-minute drive outside of Ballina is Killen Falls Reserve. The viewing platform to the waterfall is about a 660-metre return walk.
Whether it’s the abundance of nature or laid-back country vibe, the far north of New South Wales is a magnet for creative types. They’re celebrated at the Northern Rivers Community Gallery, a regional cultural hub for local artists to connect with audiences over four exhibition spaces in a grand historic building. A dynamic roster of public activities adorns the place as well, from artist talks to interactive workshops. If you’re feeling inspired, get your hands dirty – quite literally – with local potter Brooke Clunie. Brooke’s clay masterclasses through her company Red Door Studio are at once calming and creative. And you get to take home personalised decorative earthenware to pop on the mantlepiece.
One of the state’s most impressive museums dedicated to the ocean is Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum.The museumoffers a well-curated collection of historic memorabilia, among them the largest collection of ship models in Australia, plus interactive displays recreating naval vessels, and rare shipwreck items. Heritage of a different kind is unveiled at Crawford House Museum, set in a restored Federation home in nearby Alstonville and telling the story of life here at the end of the 19th century.
Every Sunday you can stroll through the Ballina Farmers Market for fresh fruit, vegetables, and other produce directly from the grower. Check out Ballina’s events calendar for additional festivals and markets showcasing regional talent, including the Ballina Food and Wine Festival, historically in October.
Situated between the Pacific Ocean and North Creek, the East Ballina community is all dreamy waterfront restaurants, cafes and apartments, making the most of the area’s ample beaches and endless sea views. Three stretches of sand 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, just before North Creek meets the Richmond River. From here, you can watch fishing boats head out to sea at sunset, then taste the catch of the day at eateries like Wharf Bar & Restaurantor Riva Bar & Grill–order a bowl of Ballina prawns.
While you’re at Sharpes Beach, become acquainted with local Indigenous heritage at the Aboriginal Cultural Ways interpretive area, on the Coastal Recreational Path stretching toward Angels Beach.
The surf along this part of the coast is epic, but you’ll find you have a lot of waves to yourself as many surfers head straight to big-name breaks in neighbouring Byron Bay and Lennox Head. You can get to the latter town via a scenic four-hour coastal walk along dramatic sea cliffs, with sightings of dolphins and whales.
Shelly Beach, Ballina - Credit: Ben Wyeth - Ballina Shire Council
Getting there & where to stay
Ballina is just over eight hours’ drive north from Sydney or a two-hour drive south from Brisbane. Or you can fly into Ballina Byron Gateway Airport, less than 10 minutes from the centre of town. When you arrive, bountiful accommodation options await, whether holiday parks with every imaginable entertainment trimming, luxury beachside apartments.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.