The must do stops from Coffs Harbour to Coolongatta…
- Woolgoollga – via Moonee Beach, Emerald Beach and Sandy Beach
- Red Rock
- Evans Head
- Lennox Head
- Byron Bay
- Mt Warning Summit Walk
- Brunswick Heads
- Tweed Heads
After Coffs Harbour we seemed to stop off at every beach in our path; Moonee Beach, Emerald Beach and Sandy Beach… all nice places but not much to do other than go to the beach.
For the past few weeks we seem to have been crawling along at snail’s pace up this coast with beach after beach after beach and now we were excited to be heading to another!
It was mid afternoon when we arrived at Red Rock.
Red Rock, now what can I say… we loved this little place tucked away from the rest of the world. It had a quiet caravan park that was idyllically positioned by the mouth of the Corindi River and we spent most of our visit riding our bikes along the very scenic Corindi River coastal track or walking along the beach to the top of Red Rock Headland.
This tiny settlement takes its name from the red-tinged rock stack at the headland but the local Gumbaynggirr people know it by a more sombre name: Blood Rock.
The headland is part of the Solitary Islands Coastal walk and a significant place to the Gumbaingirr people as it was the site of a massacre in the mid 19th century. The massacre began at Blackadders Creek when mounted police entered the camp and started shooting and then pursued the survivors to the Corindi River where they were driven off the headland. A memorial had been erected at the base of the headland to commemorate this horrific event but their women and many members of the tribe’s descendants avoided this area as a consequence.
We had spent quite a bit of time camping in National Parks on this coast but every now and then it was nice to pull into a caravan park just to wash clothes and have a decent shower and North Coast Holiday Parks have done a great job of picking some of the most beautiful spots down this coast for their parks. All their parks we stayed at have been quiet, friendly, clean, and very affordable and provided great facilities in natural settings… but best of all after 6 nights stay at any park we get the 7th one free!!
Red Rock was a beautiful little place and although it rained while we were there, it was an incredibly peaceful place and we could have happily stayed longer… but no matter how good a place is, there is always somewhere just as good up the road, so after a few days of chilling out it was time to move on again.
Leaving Red Rock we headed inland to Grafton. We were only about an hour north of Coffs Harbour via the Pacific Highway but it seemed like we had travelled many kilometres since leaving Coffs a few days before.
Grafton was a picturesque town, with tree-lined streets and historic Victorian and Edwardian architecture.
Located on the banks of the Clarence Valley river, it took us on a journey back in time and after a relaxing a cuppa and a morning checking out the sites and stocking up on groceries we jumped back in Harry Hilux and headed north to Yamba, another little surf town well worth of a pit stop .
This sleepy seaside village is situated at the mouth of the Clarence River with beautiful beaches to explore and another lighthouse… and just 5 minutes down the road was the little coastal town of Angourie known for the Blue and Green Pools which are spring water fed pools in the remains of an old quarry. Angourie Point is also one of the most famous surfing spots in Australia… for experienced surfers only that is!
Further up the road at Evans Head we headed into Bundjalung National Park where we found Chinaman’s Beach, a secluded peaceful beach. A lovely walk took us along the beach, dodging the blue jellyfish all the way and then up to Goanna Headland.
Evans Head was next on our agenda. With a population of just under 3000 this town is split in two by the Evans River. It was a nice little town nestled between Broadwater National Park to the north and Bundjalung National Park to the south… and also had another good surf beach.
Back on the highway we followed the road to Ballina. Located on the Richmond River Ballina is also blessed with lovely beaches and is the home of ‘Thursday Plantation’, Australia’s original tea tree plantation. We didn’t spend too much time here other than to check out the giant prawn, go to Bunning’s and fill up with diesel, as we were eager to keep moving.
Next the scenically beautiful coastal drive between Ballina and Byron Bay bought us to the quiet surfing town of Lennox Head. Lennox Point is noted as one of the top ten surfing breaks in Australia and was a laid back and funky place to hang out for the next few days.
We arrived late in the day and headed straight to the North Coast Holiday Park where we booked in for a couple of nights. This time, we actually got 1 night free… being our 7th night in one of their parks.
Our days were spent riding, reading and swimming here. There was a nice headland walk over to Boulders Beach at the southern end of town and a plunge in Lake Ainsworth was an exhilarating experience, especially when swimming between the salty ocean and the fresh water lake.
Lake Ainsworth, more commonly known in the area as ‘Tea Tree Lake and we didn’t have to go far from the caravan park to rejuvenate our mind, body and soul… just stroll down the road and we could smell the thick yet refreshing smell of tea tree.
Lake Ainsworth is a fresh water, tea-tree stained lake and meant to be quite medicinal… so how does this Tea Tree lake ‘heal’ exactly? Apparently when Tea Tree plants grow beside a lake, as they do at Lake Ainsworth, their supernatural oil drips down into the water, creating something similar to a ‘medical bath’. It colours the water so it looks like a cup of tea with an oily film on top and it didn’t look very appealing at first… but the water really was quite fresh! We were told the tea tree oil would work wonders on our skin and after a good long soaking we would come out of the lake feeling fresh and revitalised… and a little bit of tender loving care was just what we wanted after just over 4 weeks on the road.
The Bundjalung Aboriginal people were the first to use the Tea Tree plant for medical reasons. They would take some leaves from the tea tree plant and crush them up. Once crushed they would rub them into bites, grazes, burns and other skin irritations. They would also use it as an insect repellent.
Just 20 minutes up the road was Byron Bay and Australia’s most easterly point.
Byron Bay… now where to start! Another lighthouse, which incidentally is the brightest lighthouse of its kind in the southern hemisphere and a must do tourist attraction, funky boutique shops, lots of surfers and a lively backpacker scene would just about sum this town up.
Nearly every Australian we have ever met have sung it’s praises… but here is what the Lonely Planet had to say about it:
‘Its locals have come to symbolise an Australian haute-boho lifestyle, yet much of the town is a squat, architectural mishmash and has a traffic problem. So why the legions of global fans? As they say in Byron, it’s the vibe. Come to surf epic breaks at dawn, paddle through hazy beach afternoons and sigh at the enchanting sunsets. Come to do reiki, refine your yoga practice, do a raw fast and hang with the fire-twirlers by the beach at sunset. Idle with the striped T-shirt set at the town’s excellent restaurant tables, then kick on with backpackers, musicians, models, young entrepreneurs, ageing hippies and property developers at one of its beery, shouty pubs. Or, because it’s Byron, do all of the above, then repeat‘. For most, a weekend here turns into a week, a week into a month, and then before you know it, dreadlocks are a serious consideration….
…well it was not for us and we certainly didn’t end up with dreadlocks!
We had high expectations of this little town from what we had been told but sadly on this occasion these expectations were not met. I expect it probably used to be unspoilt but time seems to have made it more a commercial place now, where there seemed to be more tourists than locals. It just didn’t seem to have the friendliness of the other places we had visited! It didn’t do much for us on our last trip and it didn’t do much for us this trip!
One attraction a bit further outside of Byron Bay that we didn’t visit this time but did last trip, was the hippie village of Nimbin, a colourful, creative and crazy town which is top of many people’s bucket lists if visiting Byron Bay.
This town was a very chilled out place and actually it was more a street than a town. It was home to the Aquarius festival in 1973 and is still very much a hippie town with a hemp embassy and museum… and apparently weed freely available on the street despite the best efforts of the local police! It has its own ‘Mardi Grass’ festival in May every year which lasts for 2 days and serves as a rally for cannabis law reform and many of the shops, which had very colourful graffiti-style shop fronts, promote alternative and eco-friendly lifestyles, organic food and natural herb remedies.
Nimbin also promotes respect for the local Bundjalung indigenous people and the street code of the town follows Bundjalung law – wana bomalay (don’t fight), wana wergahli (don’t steal), wana gabanunu (don’t be greedy) – and encourages love, tolerance and good karma.
Another memorable excursion out this way was our climb to the summit of Mt Warning. My elderly aunt, now 94, had completed this walk on her 70th birthday, so on her suggestion we headed inland through the town of Murwillumbah and set up camp at Mt Warning Rainforest Park.
Wollumbin (Mount Warning) summit track is located 12 kilometres southwest of Murwillumbah, in Wollumbin National Park. Captain Cook called it Mount Warning but the Aboriginal people named it Wollumbin, which means ‘cloud catcher’ and it is a traditional place of cultural law, initiation and spiritual education for the people of the Bundjalung Nation. It was declared an Aboriginal Place in 2015 and like Uluru, visitors are asked to respect the wishes of the Bundjalung Elders and avoid climbing this very difficult track.
The Mount Warning track was a steep hike to the top of a volcanic plug and if you choose to tackle this challenging track it is advised to take extreme care as the 8.8 kilometre return walk takes at least 5 hours and is long and steep, with a very strenuous 100 metre vertical rock scramble up a chain to reach the summit.
This high, exposed summit can attract wild weather and the occasional thrill seeker wanting to be the first in Australia to see the sunrise from the top of Mt Warning has lost their life when the weather has turned bad! This track shouldn’t be attempted in poor conditions, especially during thunderstorms and in winter it is important to start before midday to avoid a dangerous descent in the dark.
Setting off on our adventure, we immediately started to climb up through subtropical and temperate rainforest along a well-maintained but very wet and slippery track. As we continued on we maintained a consistent climb as we negotiated lots of steps and tree roots, zigzagging our way through a rainforest canopy cover.
There were not many people on the track only a few workman repairing the track. We side-stepped a snake and had the occasional glimpse of a view through the foliage but apart from this there was not a lot to see… that was until our fun started at the 4 kilometre mark!
The last 400-metre section to the summit was a near vertical climb over rocks with only the aid of a chain and the occasional handrail to pull yourself up and it was very scary but at the top we had 360-degree views of the Byron Hinterland, ocean views as far as Tweed Heads, Coolangatta and Surfers Paradise and even the Byron Bay lighthouse… and it was well worth the climb just for the views.
I couldn’t even imagine how difficult it must have been when this mountain was first settled. The climb took us just over three hours but it took the early explorers three and a half days!
A sign at the top read;
Glorious View – While your climb may have been tough, it was easy compared to earlier ascents. In 1871, botanist Michael Guilfoyle took three and a half days to reach the top. The effort was well worthwhile…”When we reached the top we were so enchanted with the glorious view that we quite forgot the inner man, remaining on top all night without food.”
…and what goes up must come down! After negotiating the chain descent over the rocks the track down the mountain was a little faster than our 1 ¾ hours up… and just over 3 ½ hours later we were shedding our boots in the car park and feeling quite proud of our achievement.
Moving on we checked out the nearby towns of Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads. 20 kilometres from Byron Bay, Brunswick Heads (or Bruns as the locals call it ) was a buzzy little town with a great local feel where life seemed to centre on the local pub.
Making our way north through Pottsville we came to the relaxed beachside town of Kingscliff. We were now only a 15 minute drive to the Queensland border yet Kingscliff seemed enough off the beaten-track that it hadn’t lost its lay back appeal.
The nearby towns of Cabarita Beach and Fingal Head were also worth the detour. At Fingal Head we pulled on our walking boots again and headed off on a short walk through remnant coastal rainforest to the headland and another lighthouse… that was actually closed to the public. Built in 1872 of stone and painted white it was not a high tower but the fixed white light of 1,000 candelas was very effective as the lighthouse was built on one of the most easterly points of Australia with plenty of deep water offshore.
Just a bit further down the track we stumbled upon the Gold Coast. I was pretty excited to finally reach the border… not just because we were crossing into sunny Queensland, but it was also a great opportunity to catch up with my sister and surprise my elderly aunt.
After booking into Kirra Beach Tourist Park for a few nights we then set about making ourselves comfortable. We had stayed here previously and really loved this park! It had excellent toilet, shower and laundry facilities that were always clean, a games room and a lovely pool and we were given a great camp site on a large open lawn area right next to the camp kitchen. The park, which at the southern end of the Gold Coast, is situated within walking distance (riding for us), of world-famous Kirra Surf Beach and close to the shopping centres and clubs of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads.
Over the next few days we retraced previous tracks ridden along the coastal bike paths, down one way back streets, along roads and up and down hills through Kirra, Bilinga, Currumbin, Palm Beach, Burleigh Heads, Miami, Mermaid Beach, Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise to Southport (a 50 kilometre return route), visited old acquaintances, cooled off in the on-site pool and swam and body surfed!
This amazing east coast road trip we had just taken from Sydney to the Gold Coast was a truly amazing journey for us.
Known as the Legendary Pacific Coast, it is renowned as being one of the best Australian road trips and certainly the most travelled. Stretching 900 kilometres along the Pacific Coast corridor this drive has something for everyone: stunning beaches, green rolling hills, beachside towns, lots of wildlife, mountains, great caravan parks and beautiful bush campgrounds and lots more.
We hope you enjoyed our trip along the Northern New South Wales coastline and the small sample of spectacular beaches in this corner of Australia.
There are still many, many more that will take your breath away so continue your journey with us and hopefully we will drop in again on our way home later in the year… but for now!