The Northern Rivers is the most north-easterly region of New South Wales – encompassing the catchments of the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed rivers. The area stretches around 300km from Grafton to Tweed Heads, with Casino, Kyogle, Ballina, Lismore and Byron Bay sleepily nestled in between.
Of course, many tourists flock to Byron Bay, often missing out on the surrounding secrets. But the real magic can be found beyond the glitz and glamour of beautiful Byron, where locals embrace a life of simplicity, serenity and slow living that’s facilitated by the incredible nature that surrounds. All of the following adventures are day-trip distance from Byron Bay.
Border Ranges National Park
Nestled in the west between Byron Bay and Tweed Heads, the Border Ranges National Park offers some of the most verdant views in Australia. There are bush walks galore, full of fascinating flora and fauna, and glimpses into the gorgeous Gondwana rainforest. With an abundance of picnic areas and lookouts, it’s the perfect place for a day trip, and the more adventurous will love the secluded camping and beautiful bush walks that the Border Ranges boasts.
If you’re heading to the ranges, Lismore is the perfect pit stop and might even be a day-trip option for urbanites. Flock is a popular café amongst both locals and visitors, the Dirty Wilson do delicious burgers, 20,000 Cows is a one-of-a-kind vegan restaurant that’s worth an evening visit, and if you’re an art aficionado you can’t go past the local art gallery or the street-art abundant Back Alley Gallery.
Rocky Creek Dam
Perfect for a family outing or bush walk, Rocky Creek Dam may even delight patient nature-lovers with a platypus encounter. Four simple walks are on offer, from a simple 20-minute stroll, to a six-hour hike that wanders through lonely, rich scrub. Take advantage of the barbeque facilities for a fun, family day out.
An easy walk leads you to a gorgeous, gushing waterfall nestled in the majestic Nightcap National Park. Protestors Falls also offers a beautiful story of 1970s protestors who saved this precious patch of pristine rainforest from destruction – and you’ll be so glad they did. If you’re here on a Sunday, The Channon Markets are also a pretty special Northern Rivers secret, or for a bite to eat, check out the local pub – offering perfectly quaint post-adventure vibes.
Also located in Nightcap National Park, the not exactly secret Minyon Falls can get pretty popular in peak times, but true trekkers will delight in a peaceful waterfall dip at the base of the hike. You can take a picnic and view the falls from the platform next to the car park, or pack your boots and enjoy the 13km (3-4 hours) round trip that travels through secret fairylands, crystal clear creeks and quintessentially Australian bushland. The trail takes you down to the base of the waterfall, where you can enjoy an invigorating swim in spectacular surrounds (just be prepared for the up-hill trek back).
Foodies must include a stop at the nearby Doma Café in Federal – a local gem specialising in sushi and boasting the best village vibes around.
While Byron Bay offers some pretty spectacular coastline, the drive to Ballina is absolutely worth it for the family-friendly seclusion (relatively speaking). Surfers flock to Shelly and Lighthouse Beaches, and chilled-out travellers will love the calm waters of Shaws Bay. If you’re up for a ferry ride or a longer drive, South Ballina Beach provides serene island vibes (if you don’t mind the occasional 4WD along the sand highway) that are the perfect backdrop to a sleepy picnic.
Across the road from Shelly Beach is the town’s most trendy eatery – The Belle General, which serves up local eats and treats, and attracts the belles of the shire. They also have a café in town, Belle Central, which boasts equally delicious fare in slightly more humble surrounds.
Jessica Humphries is a writer, yoga teacher and passionate traveller. After studying philosophy and immersing herself in the Sydney corporate world, she threw it all in to become a yoga teacher/writer, relocating to the lazy Northern Rivers to enjoy life. Jess has taken many a travel sabbatical and continues to jet around to scope out the best wellness escapes and yoga goodness, whilst working as a freelance writer, editor, copywriter and yoga teacher. See her own travel blog at www.jesshumphries.com