Ballina, in northern NSW, is not as fashionable as its neighbour, Byron Bay. It is better known as home to the world’s largest prawn than for its trendy boutiques and alternative lifestyle. But with its endless array of beaches and waterways, Ballina is a much more family-friendly option.
Located at the mouth of the Richmond River, Ballina itself is an island. Thanks to the local airport, it has become the gateway to the far north coast. If shopping is your thing, then there are numerous centres to choose from around town. But Ballina’s appeal doesn’t lie in the sprawling shopping centres. Like the giant fibreglass prawn that welcomes you into town, these centres often detract from Ballina’s real beauty—the thirty-two kilometres of glorious beaches and bays that wrap their way around the area.
There’s something for everyone, but a sure-fire hit with the kids is Shelley Beach, which is always manned by lifesavers during the holidays. Older children enjoy wandering around the rocks, while young ones swim in the manmade rock pool. Overlooking the beach is Shelly’s, one of the most scenically situated cafes on the coast.
The area around Missingham Bridge has loads of child-friendly things to do. On the town side of the bridge is a shaded children’s playground for young kids and an excellent skateboard park for the older ones. The bridge crosses the tidal estuary of North Creek, with the Serpentine a great swimming spot when the tide is low.
Have lunch at the family friendly Shaws Bay Hotel, followed by a dip in Shaws Bay itself. And then follow the nearby walkway to North Wall and the mouth of the river. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins. They’re a regular sight in the afternoons.
Ballina was once the third busiest port in NSW. The town’s greatest claim to fame was when in 1973 the Las Balsas raft blew off course during its 178-day journey from Ecuador to Mooloolaba, and landed in Ballina instead. The raft is now housed in the Maritime Museum.
This is the original home of tea tree oil. Don’t be put off by the promise of lab tours and history displays—Thursday Plantation is a wonderful place for families. With its shady trees, lush sculpture gardens, rainforest walks, and maze, it’s especially great on a hot day.
Fifteen minutes north of Ballina is Lennox Head and Seven Mile Beach, one of the top ten surfing beaches in the world. But what really appeals to the kids is Lake Ainsworth, the tannin stained lake near the surf lifesaving club. There are small catamarans and canoes for hire, but most children are more than happy paddling their own boogie boards around the fresh water lake.
Amaze “n” Place
Further inland is the picture-perfect village of Alstonville. Set in lush hills, the rich volcanic soil produces some of the best coffee in Australia. You can sample a locally grown gourmet brew and entertain the kids at the same time at Amaze “n” Place, home of the Living Lattice Labyrinth, the only maze of its type in the world. This is multi-tasking at it’s best: have a coffee on the café veranda, soak in the view and still keep an eye on the kids as they find their way through the lattice maze. Amazing!
Ballina is an excellent holiday destination for families. It might not have the glamour of Byron Bay, but its beaches are less crowded and just as beautiful. And of course it lays claim to one thing its neighbour will never have—the world’s largest prawn.
Ballina is a 9-hour drive from Sydney and a 2-hour drive from Brisbane. Virgin Blue, Jetstar and Rex all fly into the Ballina/Byron Gateway Airport daily, from most major cities and many regional centres.
Grandview Apartments offer self-catering apartments starting at $175 per night. For more information phone 02-66866999.
Ballina Lakeside Holiday Park is within walking distance of many of the town’s main beaches and waterways. The park itself contains excellent facilities. Located on Fenwick Drive, cabin rates start at S69 per night. Phone (02) 66863953
Jane Tara is an author, travel writer, and director of the children’s travel publishing company, Itchee Feet. She has lived in Tokyo, Taipei,
Vienna, London and New York, but currently lives at Bondi Beach with her partner and their four sons.