I’ve ventured down the highway to Ballina more times than I care to remember.
It’s usually a practical journey that involves shopping or collecting someone from the airport.
Having done Clunes, Eltham and the surrounding hinterland in a small way, I realised while driving around these parts just how much more our countryside now provides for ‘us mere locals’ to take in apart from the sort of excitement created by the Big Prawn, now nine metres high thanks to Bunnings who shelled out $400,000 to restore the icon and give it a tail.
The Prawn Fest drew my attention to things to do in Ballina, which has many diversions, and it clicked (thanks to the very helpful Visitor’s Information Centre folk) that the whole of the northern rivers is really a region of towns and villages.
On closer inspection there are three major river valleys passing through the entire district and connecting over three hundred cities, towns, villages and communities; go figure! There is biodiversity; there are variations in climate and altitude, landscapes and geology; 21 National Parks (some World Heritage-listed); and apparently many of Australia’s rare plants and animals.
I think we can all agree that the lifestyle in the northern rivers is laidback and friendly, mostly welcoming (unless you’re trespassing or have a CSG agenda) and life here is, for the most part, authentic and diverse.
Ballina is a short drive from most places (apart from the obvious ones). Away from the coast, the hinterland is punctuated with the villages of Alstonville, Newrybar, Tintenbar and Wardell, where you’ll find parks and gardens, tea rooms, comfortable cafes, country pubs and galleries and shops filled with local arts, crafts and fresh local produce.
Along the way you’ll drive by Newrybar, a boutique wonder with its famous 100-year-old bakery and Harvest eatery. Macadamia Castle, if you have kids, is always that diversion you long for when your eyeballs are hanging out like the proverbial organ stops and the kids can virtually pet themselves into a stupor.
On the exit to Ballina is Thursday Plantation, the home of tea tree oil with some attractive grounds, a sculpture walk, a tea tree maze and rainforest walk – and all with free entry.
Missingham Bridge Market, though a tiny market, is one of the first to run in the northern rivers and after 20 years it’s part of the Sunday scenery and worth a visit if you’re in Ballina from 6am. It’s well patronised as most of the stallholders have been doing it for the past 10 years.
Food and seasonal produce is picked yesterday, made today and grown by the marketeers themselves. Expect only a little cooked food, pastries, cakes and slices, and value-added products.
Weekly on Sunday from around 6am until 12 noon at Missingham Bridge, Ballina.
For further information: [email protected]
Cycleways are a big drawcard, and cycling along them in a healthy thing to do in Ballina. The Heritage Trail includes signage on the European history of Ballina along with photos and information strategically placed along the path.
Starting in the CBD area, it runs right along the edge of the river along to the north wall (the mouth of the Richmond River) and continues along the coastline completing a loop of Ballina around 11.5 kilometres.
The Bicycle Emporium, a new retail bike shop in Ballina, provides a wealth of local information about the cycling opportunities in and around the area including a map of the cycleway on their home page: www.thebicycleemporium.com.au.
Hire bikes or service yours if the frames are under the house and rusty.
Talk to Mark or Andrew Downey for any questions or queries: 6681 4054 or visit 2/158 River St, Ballina.
Awaken on South Ballina Beach
Ballina Beach Village sits right at the apex of the Richmond River and South Ballina Beach, (the south wall is known as one of the best left hand surf breaks in Australia).
The South Ballina beach itself is an impressive 30km long: you can 4-wheel-drive all the way to Evans Head (if conditions are right).
The Ballina Beach Village folk bought a traditional caravan park five years ago, and created a very popular space to cater to the mind, body and spirit crowd. The Laughing Buddha Retreat Centre, Ballina Beach Village, is the now place to have your cathartic conferences.
Some of the world’s most prestigious mind, body and spirit events are hosted right here in Australia; the who’s who of mind, body and spirit. Path of Love, Diamond Way Buddhist Festival from northern Europe, First Ship Yoga Teacher training from Japan, along with other corporate clients. And it’s a lovely position from which to get spiritual too, with the sand close by, and a dedicated yoga shala (sacred space) that can hold 40 in yoga or 100 in concert style.
The meditation garden and Shoji Gate is a popular outdoor area and the onsite Dragon Yurt can seat 60 in the round. Qi Gong and African drumming are particularly well suited to the building.
Although modest, with only 36 cabins onsite, every year they are holding retreats for up to 300 guests, and have over 500 tourists at peak period onsite in cabins and camping. During school holidays it runs a festival type of accommodation with free music and cultural events, activities (kayaking, trapeze, circus, African drumming, tie-dyeing, kids club) and menus that range from the strict Sattvic vegetarian (no onions, garlic or egg) to full-fare. All food is dairy and gluten free. Ballina Beach Village: activities, health retreats, accommodation
Phone: 6686 3347 Address: 440 South Ballina Beach Rd, Ballina.
A walk on the wild side
Another attraction near Ballina is the Victoria Park Nature Reserve. The Reserve protects one of the last surviving remnants of the original rainforest – the Big Scrub, that once extended across the Lismore, Byron Bay, Ballina and Mullumbimby regions.
It’s complete with an easy and accessible boardwalk surrounded by a tranquil tropical landscape.
Ancient fig trees and black beans tower above the walkway and Bangalow palms and ferns grow up from under.
This is a cool, quiet rainforest with informative displays showing how the Wildjabul people, of the Bundjalung nation, relied on the local plants and animals for food, medicine and ceremonies.
There are shaded picnic tables, set in lush rainforest. The accessible facilities make the picnic area an ideal spot for older people and groups too.
Stepping out of the house
Summerland House Farm is an exciting House With No Steps business that has transformed a working macadamia and avocado farm into a large scale agritourism destination for the northern rivers area.
Established in 1972 as a regional operation for the House With No Steps, the organisation is dedicated to creating opportunities for people with a disability to make the most of their abilities. Summerland House is a must-see tourist attraction.
Located on 172 acres on the scenic Alstonville plateau, the farm has sweeping views of the east coastline and hinterland avocado and macadamia farms.
Visitors to the farm are treated to a number of activities all set in the tropical grounds. Families can take advantage of a water park and large, fully fenced playground, an unusual interactive nine-hole minigolf course and for the gourmet, there’s a cafe and one of the largest regional food showcases in the area.
The combination of activities and well-maintained gardens makes Summerland House Farm a very community-focused and unique property. There’s a nursery, a gift shop, a museum and a state-of-the-art hydroponic tomato facility.
The farm is the agricultural hub of the district, housing a large-scale packing and distribution system for avocados and tropical fruits from regional farms.
A tractor tour operates seven days a week, and is the jewel in the crown of attractions here. www.summerlandhousefarm.com.au. Open 7 days 9am–4pm. (Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday).
For further tantalising pastimes such as horse riding on the beach, microlight flying, hang gliding, kayaking, poly gliding, watersliding, or ten pin bowling just visit the web site: www.discoverballina.com.au or call the Ballina Visitor Centre, 9am to 5pm, seven days (including public holidays) on 1800 777 666.