As soon as we saw crystal clear waters of the Richmond River from the bridge – we knew we had made a big mistake. Why on earth did we never stop in Ballina until today?
On the 30 second drive it took us to drive on the bridge across to East Ballina we identified: a SUP-friendy river with soft rollers, an oyster shop, an undercover playground, a bike path all the way to the end of the break wall, pubs with live music and a pristine waterfront area! What else would we want as our first destination on our 2 year journey?
Did you know Ballina was an island?
Ballina is a caravanner-friendly, tranquil seaside town located in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, right at the very north tip of the state. It is a 2h drive from Brisbane and about 600km from Sydney. The town centre is actually an island – separated by the river and the ocean.
We spent a week in Ballina as we really wanted to take things slow on our very first stop with our 2 young daughters. And let me tell you, it was well worth it! As usual, what I first did was visited the visitor information centre located right by the waterfront.
Ride your bike from the town centre to the end of the break wall
Looking out over the bar from the walking track on the break wall, you can watch dolphins herding fish, whales breaching the water and surfers catching glorious waves. Ballina is mostly flat and super cycle friendly. The waterfront pathways are a fabulous ride taking you from Lighhouse beach all the way into the centre of town.
Council parks surround Shaw’s lake and they are a perfect spot for a relaxing family picnic.
Go for a drive along the coastline to Lennox Heads
Make sure you stop at the Ballina Lighhouse lookout on the way to Lennox Heads if you take the coastal road. Sometimes you can even catch a rainbow!
Take the kids to the beach
If you aren’t ready to tackle the playgrounds just yet make sure you grab buckets, spades and esky to head to the beach! Take your pick from calm water sandy beaches (Richmond River) or surf beaches (such Lighhouse Beach – Map reference B)!
Visit Summerland House Farm (Map reference E)
This beautiful Macadamia and Avocado farm is located in the Alstonville Plateau, 10 min drive inland from Ballina. It is free to visit and was recommended by the ladies at the visitor information centre and we spent about 3h there, including buying beautiful local produce, enjoying a great hearty and healthy lunch, the lot complemented by a good hour on the playground! In summer, they also have a waterpark for the kids.
Summerland House also provides support and employment with people a disability and let me tell you that the level of customer service and quality of the food we received truly exceeded what we had experienced in standard coffee shops! A big thumbs up to all the team there. They have made a great little brochure on 25 reasons to visit Summerland House which you can download here
SUP the rolling waves entering the Richmond River at the bridge and play with the dolphins
This had to be one of the highlights of our stay! Most of Ballina’s children have probably learnt to surf in this lovely little spot. If you’re lucky you’ll be greeted by the local sea creatures out for a bit of fun and a feed.
Grab a coffee by the beach at the Belle General Cafe (Map reference D)
Two minutes by car, North from the old Ballina surf club is the Belle General Cafe – right opposite the beach. Other coffee shops we liked were the Council Chambers and Restaurant Twenty Nine on the Riverfront (located in what is known to locals as the old Ramada building)
Feast on ‘To die for’ oysters at Richmond Oysters (Map reference C)
On our first day we went down a really windy road by the the river… and just landed on a little oyster shack at… 9 in the morning. We don’t have pictures of these oysters as we demolished them before even leaving the carpark!
Run the kids ragged at the playgrounds and skatepark
Not really much to say here other than mum and dad also are run ragged at the same time! All the playground we visited had soft-fall flooring and were in super excellent condition.
Our kids had the best time playing on the jumping pillow at the Ballina Lakeshide Holiday Park!
Watch the sunset and listen to live band on Sunday
Sunsets were spectacular looking over Shaw’s bay… On Sunday afternoons the live band from the pub across the lake could be heard from the Lakeside Holiday Park, perfect for a sunset wine.
Stay at Ballina Lakeside Holiday Park
We spent a week in Ballina – our home base was Ballina Lakeside Holiday Park – an excellent choice for families.
Download the visitors guide
There is so much more you can do in and around Ballina so make sure you download the visitor’s guide here.
Other recommendations from our social media followers
- Jason recommended to check out the Byron and Lennox markets on 1st and 2nd Sunday of each month respectively. http://www.byron-bay.com/byronbay/market.html My boys (5,7 and 9) particularly loved the Byron markets – an eclectic mix of food, music, artisan stalls and “characters”.
- David recommended we checked out the heritage listed Ballina Manor Boutique Hotel…. but we didn’t find a babysitter for the kids 😉
- Evelyn had heaps of tips: grab a a pie from the blue pie shop in Wardell (just south of Ballina) – yum. Also agree with Macadamia Castle. Harvest Cafe in Newrybar is lovely to visit for nice fresh bread and pastries. Miles and miles of beaches to explore particularly South Ballina where you might not even see anyone else.
- Paul and Suzy mentioned Flat Rock beach. When the tide is out, there are little pools amongst the rocks with little fish, crabs, starfish, urchins, seaweed etc, will keep the kids interested for a while