To say life in Iluka revolves around the water is a bit of an understatement. This petite fishing village on the North Coast of NSW is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Clarence River – the largest on Australia’s east coast – on the other. It’s surrounded by kilometres of empty beaches and UNESCO World Heritage-listed rainforest, including one of the last remaining littoral rainforest areas in the Southern Hemisphere, and just across the river is the bustling town of Yamba.
This pocket of the state is home to NSW’s largest remaining seaside rainforest, the Iluka Nature Reserve, part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage area that preserves the planet’s oldest flora. Needless to say, it offers ample opportunities for outdoor adventures. Wander under a canopy of prehistoric trees on the Iluka Rainforest walking track, a 2.6km trail that navigates to the Iluka Bluff lookout, the perfect place for spotting dolphins year round and for whale watching between May and November.
On the river
The Iluka Nature Reserve is not just about land-based expeditions – you can also enjoy epic boating, fishing and surfing here. Hire kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from AAA Kayak Tours and explore the river, your journey offering the unexpected bonus of being able to swim with wild dolphins. Clarence River Ferries hosts scenic cruises and a passenger service to Yamba, with more dolphins likely to follow in your wake.
This bountiful marine environment equates to delicious dinners, with local specialties including juicy Yamba prawns. Head to the Clarence River Fishermen’s Co-op on Queen Street to pick up a few of these oh-so-tasty crustaceans as well as ocean bugs, whole salmon and snapper, lobster, clams and roe.
Iluka is blessed with sandy coves, among them the long and lovely Bluff Beach, sheltered from southerly swells by the Iluka Bluff. Waterside picnic tables adorn the southern end of the stretch, from where you can ascend to the Bluff Lookout (ideal for spotting migrating whales) and also find the start of the Iluka Rainforest track.
The beach sweeps 1.2km north to Frazers Reef, a secluded spot for swimming and snorkelling. It’s a short walk from here to the river’s break wall, a spot that attracts avid surfers and anglers in equal measure. At Shark Bay, in the southern stretches of Bundjalung National Park, go off-road and take your 4WD vehicle onto the sand at low tide, heading north along spectacular Ten Mile Beach.
Getting there & where to stay
The road trip north from Sydney to Iluka takes 7.5hr, although it would be a shame not to linger in the scenic coastal towns that dot your route. Alternatively, it’s a three-hour drive south here from Brisbane. You can also fly into the Clarence Valley Regional Airport on the outskirts of Grafton and hire a car for the one-hour drive north.
When you arrive, you’ll find accommodation options to suit all budgets, whether waterside apartments, motels or holiday parks. Plenty of overnight stay options also await just out of town, including the Woody Head campground and cabins north of Frazers Reef in the southern section of Bundjalung National Park.