5 April 2011
Fisherman Dave’s confidence is catching. When I ask if I’ll catch a fish today, he quips, “Just one – don’t make me cry!”. There are snapper and trevalla deep in the waters off the coast of Yamba, and we hope to spy a whale. We’ve been here less than an hour, but already Yamba has us hooked. It’s the kind of town you want to pack up and take home with you – old cinema, a bustling but walkable main centre, plus food, views and some of Australia’s best surf.
Yamba’s been on my radar for a while. I’ve heard lots of things about it – that it’s the new Byron Bay, it’s one of Australia’s best coastal villages, and that it has Australia’s best surf. A quick search on Google revealed three holiday parks, an award-winning YHA and a rainforest retreat built along holiday park lines.
Oh, and we intend to do our bit for the local economy and are eating out. Take that recession!
We head in the direction of Yamba’s Eat Street, where there are some hard decisions to be made. We settle in at Caper Berry Café Emporium with blueberry pancakes and real maple syrup (bliss!) and watch Yamba-ites go about their business.
This town exudes old-school charm. It feels like the Australia of my childhood, and I can’t get enough of it. Cars potter rather than zoom down the main drag, locals and out-of-towners meander licking ice-creams, and the general store sells everything from milk to fishing rods and – oh joy – cars park nose in.
Yamba may seem like the quintessential beach holiday spot, but it has an historical core. The Yaegl tribe were the traditional owners, and in 1799 Matthew Flinders was the first European to arrive when he stepped ashore to fix a leak. He was on the lookout for a great river, but mistook the inlet for a coastal bay without realising there was a river nearby, and dismissed the area as “deserving of no more than a superficial examination”.
Colonists found the river later, and in the 1830s a port was established for the rush of cedar cutters and farmers. By the 1890s tourists arrived. Riverboats in the 1880s used to bring people from Grafton down-river for picnic days and a rush of guesthouses sprung up. The history is detailed in the old 1854 maritime station that functions as the excellent local museum, and there are a number of historical buildings, mostly from the 1930s heyday scattered around town.
The Pacific Hotel is one of the grandest buildings and positioned on the top of a cliff with knockout views. Don’t miss the Yamba Surf Club founded in 1908 and one of the oldest surf clubs in the world. And if like me you love a cute local cinema, the Yamba Cinema is a delight wedged on the side of a hill and surrounded by greenery.
Today, tourism and fishing rule. Now that Yamba has been ‘discovered’, there are fears its laid-back charm may disappear, but for me, it’s nothing like the overdevelopment that has marred Byron Bay.
There’s something about Yamba that just makes you want to relax and do nothing.
There’s not even a tourist office. Luckily we’ve pre-organised some activities, otherwise we would be tempted to sit in the sun all day. So we’ve arranged fishing, whale watching, cycling (plus shopping and eating). But first up is paddle-boarding.
We hop over to Hickey Island where Roger from North Coast Surf Styles meets us for a paddle-boarding lesson.
Originating in Hawaii, paddle-boarding is stand-up surfing, but is usually done in still water, with a long oar to guide you. It’s supposed to be a lot easier than learning to surf. But I’m a certified soft adventure scaredy-cat and being in control of a piece of plywood on the water is one of my worst nightmares. As I manoeuvre into my wetsuit and explain to Roger that I’m nautically challenged, he puts my mind at ease with, “timid girls do better at paddle-boarding than macho guys”.
Thanks Roger, but easy for him to say, as NSW champion. I hop onto the board, kneeling as though in prayer, before tentatively getting to my feet. At first I feel wobbly but then a funny thing happens and I start enjoying myself. We do a few laps of the river, feeling like explorers, and wave to the Iluka ferry before lunch calls.
The best place hands-down for lunch is the Clarence River Fish Coop on the outskirts of town, where they dish up cooked or fresh seafood.
For my money, Yamba seafood takes some beating. Yamba is home port to the largest commercial fishing fleet in NSW and fleets from Yamba, Iluka and Maclean catch 20% of NSW’s seafood.
We devour a plate of succulent Yamba prawns before demolishing trawler-fresh whole snapper, crab, chips and salad.
Luckily Yamba is a good size for walking. You can take the history walk (brochures at the museum) or indulge in some retail therapy. It’s a slow shopping kind of place, made for sauntering without pressure. The town has had a facelift and it’s nice to wander under shade-cloth fashioned into sails and overhanging palms. The shopping strip may not be huge, but there are enough sea-changers in town to have some seriously good homeware shops.
If you’re after artwork, try the Kay Cottee Fine Art Gallery (yes, really – owned by the Kay Cottee).
We’ve booked a whale-watching tour with a spot of fishing thrown in. Dave, our captain and guide, cleverly uses fishing as a diversion to whale watching. He lines us up with fishing reels and bait, and as we gaze out at empty sea, he seems overly confident that not only will we catch several fish but also see several whales.
We watch and fish and watch, then suddenly hear a cry, “whale”. Whoa, that’s some whopper! It shoots from the sea around 50m away. And again.
What’s more, the bream are biting, including some good-sized ones. We thank Dave and return to shore with some of the fishing trawlers, as the sun slinks below the horizon.
On the dinner front, there’s a reasonable choice. Yamba Golf & Country Club and Yamba Bowling Club are good staples. If you’re there in daylight savings, grab takeaways and picnic at Pilot Hill or Yamba Lighthouse.
Next day dawns bright and clear in the way I’ve always associated with the NSW north coast. Yamba’s made for cycling and biking from town to the breakwater is a popular route. If you’re after a gut-busting slog uphill, Yamba is the town for you, as there are several San Francisco-style massive up-hills.
Nearby Maclean, 21km inland, is a worthwhile side trip from Yamba. It’s dubbed as Australia’s Scottish town as many farmers of Scottish heritage settled in the area.
Some street signage is in Gaelic and over 200 telegraph poles are painted in tartan clan colours.
Maclean seems more Scottish than Scotland – if you ignore the blue skies and sunshine and faint whiff of sugar (Maclean is the southern gateway to the sugar industry). This river port has a wealth of restored Federation buildings, galleries and a fabulous local museum, and you can even try haggis! There’s an annual Highland Gathering usually held at Easter.
There are many scenic drives you can take. Drive to Iluka, a fishing village with World Heritage-listed rainforest, or better still take a scenic ferry ride. Commune with nature at Yuraygir National Park, which incidentally has the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in NSW, or take a spin down to Angourie, a 10-minute drive from Yamba.
Locals recommend swimming at Angourie’s Blue Pool and Green Pool, a deep blue and green pool separated by a rock shelf.
Angourie itself is a renowned surfie mecca. Surfing legend Nat Young first put Angourie on the surfing map, and in 2007 it was declared Australia’s first surfing reserve.
Six-time world surfing champion, Layne Beachley, has named the beach as her favourite surf destination in Australia.
We stop at Angourie Point Lookout for one last look at the surfers. It’s mesmerising, with I-could-stay hereforever views, but it is time to get on the road again.
Nicely rested, feasted, cycled and fished, we hop on the road bound for Coffs Harbour – I’ve never felt so relaxed getting back on the Pacific Highway
DID YOU KNOW?
- Yamba’s marina is owned by local Kay Cottee (OA), the first woman to successfully complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe. She came to live in Yamba after holidaying there.
- The Yamba Surf Life Saving Club is the oldest continuous ‘rural’ (non-metropolitan) surf club in Australia. Bondi and Coogee in Sydney were the first Surf Life Saving Clubs established, then Yamba in 1908 and later Byron Bay.
PLACES TO STAY
There are a number of accommodation options in Yamba:
BLUE DOLPHIN HOLIDAY RESORT
Set on the banks of the Clarence River, with a choice of cabin accommodation or powered sites.
Yamba Rd, Yamba, (02) 6646 2194
YAMBA WATERS HOLIDAY PARK
A member of Big4, located in bushland with a range of accommodation.
Golding St, Yamba, (02) 6646 2930
CALYPSO HOLIDAY PARK
Overlooking Yamba Bay with a mix of site and villa accommodation.
Yamba Bay, Yamba, (02) 6646 8847
FISHING HAVEN CARAVAN PARK
A quiet spot, five minutes out of town with accommodation to suit all budgets.
River Rd, Palmers Island, Yamba, (02) 6646 0163
YAMBA YHA BACKPACKER BEACH RESORT
Purpose-built, modern YHA resort that actively caters to seniors.
26 Coldstream Street, Yamba, (02) 6646 3997
ANGOURIE RAINFOREST RESORT
Eco cabin accommodation embedded in the rainforest, set out along holiday park lines.
166 Angourie Rd, Angourie, (02) 6646 8600
Yamba has a pleasant year-round climate. Christmas and Easter are very busy and advance bookings are essential.
Yamba fishing is superb with a choice of rock, beach, estuary or deep-sea fishing spots.
THERE ARE 11 BEACHES TO CHOOSE FROM
Main Beach is patrolled every weekend from September to April. Other beaches include surf heaven Angourie to family-friendly Spookies Beach.
THE MONTHLY OPEN-AIR MARKET
Is on the fourth Sunday at Ford Park (near Calypso Holiday Park).
YAMBA HISTORICAL WALK 6KM
(1-2 hours) is a gentle stroll past Yamba’s many historical buildings, finishing up at Yamba Museum. Information brochure available online or at Visitor Centre.
From Pilot Hill during August and September. Best spots for viewing are Yamba Lighthouse, Yamba Breakwall, Angourie and Lovers Point.
GRAB YOUR CAMERA
And watch the fishing fleet go out of the heads early evening and return at dawn.
HAVE A LEISURELY PICNIC LUNCH
At Pilot Hill or Yamba Lighthouse.
Shouldn’t miss the Yamba Rod Run in November – admire classic cars and hot rods at this annual event.
YAMBA MUSEUM – THE STORY HOUSE
This award-winning small museum has photographs, artefacts and displays of early Yamba. Exhibitions are changed regularly.
Open 10am – 4.30pm Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday and 2pm – 4.30pm on weekends.
River St (next to Golf Club)
(02) 6646 1399
HEAD TO THE CLARENCE RIVER FISH CO-OP
For fresh or cooked seafood straight off the trawlers (Don’t leave town without sampling Yamba prawns)
(02) 6646 2099
HIRE BIKES AT YAMBA SQUASH & CYCLE
35 Coldstream St (near Bowling Club)
(02) 6646 2237
PICK UP SWEET TREATS
At Sweet Vintage in the main street
(02) 6646 1377
CATCH THE FERRY TO ILUKA
A scenic 20-minute ferry ride along the Clarence River.
(02) 6646 6423
NORTH COAST SURF STYLES
Stand-up paddleboarding lesson for two hours.
(02) 6649 7043
REEL TIME ADVENTURES
Combined fishing and whalewatching tours for four hours.
0428 231 962