Driving north to Queensland

There are two main highways heading northwards to Queensland and Brisbane from Sydney

  • The Pacific Highway – which heads along the coast from Sydney and Newcastle, and
  • The New England Highway – which runs inland to Queensland from Newcastle

BOTH take roughly about the same travelling time to Brisbane, depending on traffic and how often you stop, but they offer quite different scenery along the way- and there are certainly more towns to travel through via the Pacific Highway.
There is also a third way – Thunderbolt’s Way – a smaller and very picturesque way too, and as a fourth way you could as also head westwards over the Blue Mountains – then through Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo, Narrabri, Moree, Goondiwindi via the Newell Highway – and then to Brisbane via Warwick or Toowoomba.

You can of course also take a train trip or Fly too! Here we are looking at road trips -
THE NEW ENGLAND HIGHWAY – takes you inland
From Newcastle – the highway heads up through the Hunter Valley – through the wineries, coal and power stations as well as horse studs and sheep properties and through the small towns along the way -
In some ways the Hunter Valley is a strange mix of coal mining, power stations and the rural landscape.

  • Through Maitland – a small country town with a main street, a few historic buildings and cafes, bakeries and places to eat and stay over. Close to Maitland are the wineries around Cessnock, Pokolbin and Broke (see Country Trips), and the small hamlet of Morpeth – where there are some really quaint buildings dating back to the early 1800’s. Morpeth is also linked to Arnott’s biscuit family too.
  • Muswellbrook – is very much a rural small town surrounded by sheep, cattle and horse studs. It has a real country feel about the town.
  • Aberdeen- is also a horse and sheep area with a few wineries around it too.
  • Scone- is a slightly bigger town and is said to be the horse capital of Australia. There are larger shops and even accommodation for horses on some of the properties outside Scone, and the annual Horse Festival is a great time to visit. See if you can do a home stay on one of the properties nearby. Lake Glenbawn is also nearby, and also Belltrees the historic family home of the author Patrick White.
  • Murrurundi- is on the Paige River at the top of the upper Hunter and is just below the Range. As you come into town you will see the Emirates Horse Stud on your right side, and in town there are a few small shops, a museum, bakeries and to your right the mountains that are often misty that surround the town. See if you can find the small pedestrian swing bridge across the River.
  • The Hunter Valley is always a pleasant drive, and travelling through this area is always interesting just for the drive and what you can see.

Heading over the range from Murrurundi is a steep climb, and at the top of the Range you can stop at the lookout and look back at the Hunter Valley and the town below. The railway line heads through tunnels due to the steep climb. In 1926 a number of carriages on a train broke loose and ran out of control down the steep track smashing into a Mail Train heading north with both catching fire. Some 27 people died and 40 more suffered injury, making it one of the NSW Railway’s worst disasters.

Over the Range just north of Willow Tree (a tiny village) you can either stay on the highway heading to Tamworth direct, or follow through the small towns of Quirindi and Werris Creek to Tamworth. These are both small rural towns, with a main street with shops along it being the centre of each town. Both Werris Creek and Quirindi were railway towns established in the days of steam, and then as agriculture and wool production began, they built silos for the grain near the tracks. Werris Creek has a coal mine nearby, and Quirindi, a bigger town is known for the sunflowers that grow here.
Tamworth is the home of Country Music – Australia’s smaller version of Nashville in the USA. As you drive into town you will see the giant Golden Guitar as a symbol of the country music, and a lot or people get their photo taken here. The town and area’s economy is based around sheep, cattle and agriculture, and there are lots of places to stay, pubs, restaurants and shopping centres. The Country Music Festival happens each January, and the city being on the main highway between Brisbane and Sydney also is a trucking stop too for heavy vehicles.
Heading north from Tamworth on the Highway you will pass over the Moonbi Hills – a steep climb and then on to Armidale passing through Uralla. This whole area is full of large sheep and cattle properties and in winter, particularly at night it can get very cold. Granite boulders beside the road can also be seen, and about 6 kilometres from Uralla there are a group of Granite Boulder named Thunderbolt’s Rocks where the 1830’s bushranger Frederick Wordsworth Ward, more popularly known as “Captain Thunderbolt” used to hide behind waiting to rob mail coaches that passed by. In Uralla you will also see a statue erected in his honour, and Thunderbolts Way is also named after him. There is a visitor centre in town, and the popular Dangar Falls are near town too. It is also worth seeing McCrossin’s Mill – an old 3 storey Flour mill that once operated here. There are also farm stay properties out of town to stay at too. For interest take a look at All Saints Anglican Church in Gostwyck Road – with its avenue of Elm Trees leading up to it, and also the remarkable Deeargee Wool Shed on the same road – which is built in an octagonal shape, and a multi-level roof above it.
Armidale is both a centre for agriculture, cattle and wool but also a University town too, with many historic homes and gardens making it one of Australia’s most picturesque and prosperous towns to visit, with an almost English feel to the town. The city’s parks, tree lined streets, nice shopping areas and cool climate make this a popular destination for both city and country people and there are many places to stay, good restaurants and wines to be found. You can also either head north from here, or head to the coast over the Great Dividing Range via the very pretty small towns of Ebor, Dorrigo and Bellingen and on to Coffs Harbour. This road is called Waterfall Way with Cathedral Rock (45 kilometres from Armidale) and Ebor Falls being quite spectacular.
Heading north you will pass over Black Mountain to Guyra and then on to Glen Innes.
Guyra – with a population of a little over 2000 people is the highest town on the New England Tablelands, so it can get quite cold in winter. It is 1330 metres above sea level. Look for Thunderbolt’s Cave at Black Mountain (near the Roadhouse) and also the quaintly named Mother of Ducks Lagoon – a place to see migratory birds. In January the town celebrates its Lamb and Potato Festival.
Glen Innes – is a much bigger town with small villages scattered around the district with names like Ben Lomond, Llangothin, Dundee and Glencoe signalling the area’s Celtic history of settlement. The Celtic heritage is celebrated here, and in Centennial Parklands on Watsons Drive you will find the “Standing Stones” – a circle of massive 17 tonne boulders modelled on the 3000 year old Ring of Brodgar Standing Stones in the Orkney Islands in Scotland. Legend has it that these were dancing giants that were turned to stone in the morning light. Also in Glen Innes there are a number of heritage buildings in and around the main street, including the Crofters Cottage and the Land of Beardies History House folk museum.
Inverell – “Sapphire City” is 67 kilometres west of Glen Innes on the Gwydir Highway. The town is a centre for fossicking for gemstones including sapphires, and has wineries, olive groves, galleries and a magnificent Pioneer Village – where you could easily spend a day looking at all the old buildings, cars, workshops, pub, miner’s cottage and other interesting things to see. It is located on Tingha Road. Also near Inverell are Pindari and Copeton Dams too.
Tenterfield – The town is surrounded by sheep and cattle properties, and there are also some wineries here too. In town you will find the ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ – made famous in the Peter Allen song of the same name. Also look for the Sir Henry Parkes museum and the Railway Museum set up in the old station building built in 1886. Also head to the Bald Rock National Park (about 28 kilometres from Tenterfield) to see a giant granitic rock 220 million years old – 750 metres long and 500 metres wide – like a small Ayers Rock in Uluru in the Northern Territory. It’s a 2 kilometre long walk to get to the top. The Boonoo Boonoo waterfalls are near here too – with a 210 metre drop.
Wallangarra – is located right on the border with Queensland. At one time you had to stop at the tick gate on the border and have your car checked over before crossing over, but no longer. At one time too trains heading north would stop here, and passengers move to a Queensland train on the other side – as NSW had a standard gauge railway, and Queensland has a smaller gauge. The grand Station building is still here.
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING QUEENSLAND – and will head through the Granite Belt and Stanthorpe, then on to Warwick on the Darling Downs, down through Cunningham Gap to Ipswich and then Brisbane.
THUNDERBOLTS WAY – the alternative way north linking up to New England Highway at Uralla.
Most people heading via the New England Highway from Sydney to Brisbane will head via the New England Highway – but there is another slower road, but also very picturesque road called Thunderbolts Way which leads from Gloucester and Bucketts Way in the south, north to Uralla, and it then also heads north from Uralla to Inverell .
When you think of the Pacific Highway – you are travelling along the coastline, while the New England Highway travels on the western side of the Great Dividing Range across the New England Tablelands. Thunderbolts Way leads you through the tributary and upper catchment regions of the main rivers that flow to the coast – and so the landscape can be quite dramatic, and also the rivers fast flowing, and many also crystal clear. The small towns along the way also add to the experience – in some way this area is hidden away from the main tourist regions – the beaches on the coast and the wine areas of the Hunter Valley, which in turn makes it somewhat special too.
Gloucesterwith a population of around 6000 people is located in a valley at the junction of the Avon, Gloucester and Barrington Rivers that all flow into the Hunter River with Bucketts Hills forming a dramatic backdrop to the small town. The town has a main street with cafes, restaurants, shops and pub and the area has dairy and beef cattle, timber as well as Olive Groves. In town head to the Visitor’s Centre (27 Denison St) where they have lots of information about places to see and stay. Here you can also find out about the Copeland Gold Mining Tour – that takes you on a tour of an old gold mining mine. There are camping grounds near the River and farm stays, B&B’s, lodges and motels t stay over, and if you stay at the Gloucester River campground (off Gloucester Tops Rd)you could well see Brush Turkeys, Pademelons and Lyrebirds on one of the walking trails.
Barrington Tops National Park is also nearby too – and in winter it can even snow here. The rainforest, walking trails and mix of rivers, hills and valleys here make this one of the most interesting National Parks in NSW, with walking trails being of different levels of difficulty and length to suit most walkers. A number of rivers start here in the Barrington Tops – including the Hunter, Peterson, Allyn, Karuah, Williams, Gloucester and Manning Rivers – which gives you an indication that it may well rain here too!
While on the New England and Pacific Highways you will pass through many towns and villages – there are only a couple of towns on Thunderbolts Way. What makes it so attractive is drive itself through the rugged range and countryside.
Nowendoc – is a tiny village with a population of around 150 people where there is a Police Station, school, a church, Rural Fire Service building, service station and a small number of houses and a motel. It was originally an outstation in the 1830’s when sheep were herded along a track called the ‘Peel Line’ to Gloucester. The tiny village made news in 2012 when a murderer, Malcolm Naden, who had eluded Police capture for more than 3 years was caught near here. The rugged terrain and isolated properties in the area had enabled him to live off the land and find other food by breaking into properties that were vacant. The fact that he had been able to avoid detection for so long captured the imagination of the media, and Nowendoc became a centre of attention for a short while.
Walcha – is 1067 metres above sea level and is surrounded by sheep and cattle properties – with probably a million sheep living near here. The town is said to be the oldest town on the New England Tablelands and also near the Werrikimbe National Park and the Gorges of the Macleay River. You will also find the Walcha Pioneer Cottage and Museum Complex here
( Open on Saturdays Tel: (02) 6777 2928) where there are a number of buildings including a slab timber cottage, a Cessna crop dusting plane and old machinery sheds. Walcha is also renowned for trout fishing too, and is at the cross roads of the Oxley Highway and Thunderbolts Way. There are a number of hotels, farm stays and other accommodation as well as a caravan park with Cabins here too. Look for the Tia falls and also Apsley Falls off the Oxley Highway in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, and if you get a chance look at the street sculptures in town, and some of the historic buildings. There is also a stately home nearby called ‘Langford House’. It is worth asking about it at the Visitors Centre in town.
Uralla and even further northwards on Thunderbolts Way, Inverell – see above on the New England Highway section.
The Pacific Highway runs basically along the NSW Coastline from Sydney to Brisbane, and although it is a coastal highway, in most cases you need to turn off it to get to the coast and see views of the ocean.
There are hundreds of beaches along the way – some big, some small, some with seaside villages and towns and others pretty much deserted – which makes it interesting just to turn off the highway and head to a beach area and see what you find.
Here we will tell you about some but certainly not all of the places that we think could be of interest to you.
ON THE NORTHERN SIDE OF NEWCASTLE – you can either head North on the NEW ENGLAND HIGHWAY or head over the Hexham Bridge to Raymond Terrace following the PACIFIC HIGHWAY.
To your right you will have passed Mangrove wetlands in the River, and if you head towards Nelson Bay you will see the massive piles of coal being water sprayed to keep them cool before being taken onto coal loaders and the Coal ships heading to China and other markets. (See short trips from Sydney – Newcastle and Port Stephens)
From Raymond Terrace you can either head to Nelson Bay and Port Stephens on the coast – a good place to stay and enjoy the Bay, beaches, seafood and restaurants there, OR you can head further north about 30 kilometres further up the highway and turn off to go to Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest on the other side of Port Stephens. All of these small towns have tourist accommodation, places to eat, enjoy fish and chips and of course the water – with boat ramps, canoeing and other water and beach activities.
Further north again is Bulahdelah – a small town on the banks of the Myall River that leads into to Myall Lakes and Great Lakes area. This was once a mining, timber and dairy town, and being on the River and the Lakes makes it a favourite destination for families on holiday, as well as fishermen, boaties and campers. Places close by include Stroud, Bombah Point, Bungwahl, and the popular Seal Rocks beach. Just north of Bulahdelah just off the highway is the 76 metre high Grandis tree – a Flooded Gum thought to be the tallest tree in NSW.
Just north of Bulahdelah you can either continue northwards on the highway or turn right towards the coast onto the Lakes Road that takes you to Elizabeth Beach to Forster and Tuncurry – the two beachside towns both on the Great Lakes with a small bridge in between them. Both Forster and Tuncurry have great beaches, pelicans, fishing, the lake, restaurants, cafes, gift shops and lots of places to stay including camping grounds.
Back on the highway, the next biggest village is Nabiac and then Taree on the Manning River. Taree is an old town in the beautiful Manning River Valley. On the coast nearby there are a number of beaches including Old Bar, Manning Point, Harrington, Crowdy Head and Saltwater Beach. There is a lighthouse at Crowdy Head too. Inland from Taree is Wingham built around a village green, and nearby Wingham Brush Nature Reserve. Look for Elleborough Falls and also the massive 1000 year old Moreton Bay fig trees and the Strangler trees. Flying foxes also like the native fig fruit too. Taree itself has a relaxed country style and its location on the river makes it a good place to stay too
Further north from Taree is Kew and then Port Macquarie just off the highway on the coast. Port Macquarie is a vibrant town with beaches, the lake and lots of places to shop, wander, to enjoy a coffee or meal and plenty of places to stay. It is 390 kilometres from Sydney and 570 kilometres from Brisbane, making it more a holiday destination than a day trip or weekend away. Here you will find cruises, great fishing, boating and beach activities. There is an airport with regular flights to and from Sydney, and helicopter joy flights can be enjoyed here too. Golf, horse riding, movie theatre, museums and galleries are all here too, even a Boutique Brewery called Black Duck. One of the must see activities is to visit the Sea Acres Rainforest, about 6 kilometres from town near Shelly Beach. You might also enjoy the Billabong Wildlife Park on Billabong Drive (Tel: (02) 6585 1060). About 20 or so kilometres away is the town of Wauchope – a old timber town. You will also find the Bago Maze and Winery here too on Milligans Road (Tel: (02) 6585 7099).
Kempsey – is located 428 kilometres from Sydney set on both sides of the Macleay River, with a bridge connecting both sides. There is also a bi-pass road too, but Kempsey is worth stopping over at on your journey north. Over the years Kempsey has become known mostly by the floods that have flooded parts of the city, but the town with a population of around 11,000 people has survived. The town has a rural country town feel, more so than a coastal town feel and is surrounded by rural dairy lands, with the Macleay Valley itself very pretty to drive along both upstream and down. Kempsey is also close to South West Rocks and Crescent Head beaches. In town there is the Kempsey Museum (See Tel: (02) 6562 7572 Address: Lachlan St), and also the Wigay Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Park on Dangar Street (Tel: (02) 6563 1555).
Crescent Head – is located about 20 kilometres from Kempsey on the coast and has a number of beaches including the 14 kilometre long Killick Beach, where Killick Creek also flows into, which makes this long beach popular with both surfers and families too. There is also Point Plomer, Delicate and Goolawah Beaches.
Hat Head National Park runs between Hat Head and Smoky Cape in the north. Originally Smoky Cape and Hat Head were islands, but wave action over the centuries have built up great banks of sand in the 16 kilometres between the two islands, so that you now have the long beach and sand dunes, banksia, paperbark trees and even some rainforest running back from the coastline and even coastal lakes. Smoky Cape Lighthouse, designed by James Barnett and built in 1891 is also located here and camping is also possible in the National Park, with walking tracks taking you to different parts of the Park. You can also stay in the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottages but would need to book early. Tel: (02) 6566 6301.
South West Rocks is located north of Kempsey on Trial Bay and is quite a historic location. In 1816 thirteen convicts stole a brig named “Trial” from off ‘Sow & Pigs’ off Watson’s Bay in Sydney Harbour – the brig was owned by Simeon Lord (1771-1840) also a former convict, but by 1816 one of the wealthiest landowners and businessmen in Sydney. The convicts sailed north taking the crew and passengers with them, but the brig ran aground and was wrecked here – the place later given the name of Trial Bay, in reference to the brig.
The convicts, crew and passengers were never seen again.
More ships continued to be lost here too, so in 1877-1886 a Gaol was built here to house prisoners from the settlement in Sydney, their job being to both build the gaol and also a 1500 metre long breakwater, only 300 metres of which were ever built.
In 1896 South West Rocks was established, near the Macleay River estuary. The Gaol was then extended in 1900 with a west wing built, but then closed in 1903. It was then again reopened in 1915-18 and became a Prisoner of War Internment camp where people of German birth and even origin were detained here as “Enemy Aliens” with most deported in August 1915 on board the ship “Yulgibar” leaving from Sydney Harbour.
The Trial Bay gaol – built in sandstone is still standing though much of it over time has been destroyed.
Today South West Rocks attracts people to its beaches and great location near the Smoky Cape Lighthouse and the Macleay River Estuary. You can take a cruise up the river with or a fishing or whale watching charter off the coast or just offshore there is great scuba diving location at Fish Rock – where there is an underwater cave 120 metres long. See the Fish Dive Centre at 134 Gregory St Tel: (02) 6566 6614 ( ). There are many places to stay and also eat, and not far north is Stuarts Point next to the Macleay River, with a long wooden footbridge and in turn Scotts Head also a beautiful beach with long white sandy beaches, a caravan park and other accommodation as well as great fishing too. You can also go canoeing, fishing and boating here too on Warrell Creek which has about 30 kilometres of accessible waterways, and there is rainforest too in the nearby Yarriabini National Park with Mt Yarrahapinni nearby too, where you can drive up to the top by 4WD on the gravel road.
Macksville - like Kempsey is inland from the Coast and also on one of the great rivers that flow from the Great Dividing Range to the coast – the Nambucca River. The town has a population of around 6000 people, and was originally a timber town – with Red Cedar being logged here in the early days as well as other tall Eucalypts. Cedar trees are now a rare sighting in the rainforest and totally protected from logging, which means the only time you will see this remarkable timber is in antique shops as furniture, although there are some older houses, civic building, pubs and churches where you may come across it. In Macksville head to Mary Boulton’s Cottage (38 Gumma Rd) to see and learn about the timber pioneers from the early days of Macksville. Being on both sides of the Nambucca River, Macksville is very much a rural town with shops along the main street, a couple of traditional old pubs (the Star 1885 and Nambucca Hotel with a cedar staircase), a butcher, bakery and other shops and cafes making it a pleasant place to be. Beside the river there is the restored old wharf and the Lily Pond in Rotary Park is also a good place to stop and have lunch or a picnic. There is also a shop selling locally grown Macadamia Nuts at 48 Yarrawonga Street ( ) and about 5 kilometres from Macksville is the “Valley of the Mist” native ‘Bush tukka’ tree orchard (88 Congarinni North Road, Talarm Tel: (02) 6568 3268.
Bowraville is also close to Macksville, and is listed as a heritage town due to the number of shops and buildings with verandas. Here you will find a great Folk Museum Tel: (02) 6564 8200)and also the Frank Partridge VC Military Museum here too. Frank Partridge (1924-64) received the Victoria Cross for his heroic valour in New Guinea during World War Two, but is equally well for his wins on the TV Quiz show, “Pick a Box” hosted by Bob Dyer in the early 1960’s. He was killed in a car accident in 1964, and is buried in Macksville Cemetery.
Also near to Macksville is Taylors Arm where there is a pub that sells their own boutique beer. This pub is also said to be the one that inspired Slim Dusty’s song about “The pub with no beer”. Slim Dusty was born in Kempsey and no doubt knew this part of the NSW coast very well. (See ) You can also stay at the pub too, and eat there too.
Nambucca Heads – is just off the main Pacific Highway, which originally passed through the town but now bi-passes it. Nambucca is right on the coast with both great surf as well as quiet water beaches too where the Nambucca River enters the ocean. The town is a popular beachside town with a good variety of shops, cafes and places to stay, as well as boardwalks and lookouts to see the ocean, river and even rainforest nearby. Take a look if you can at the Headland Historical Museum and if you play golf head to the local gold club on Stuart Island in the middle of the river.
Urunga – is 34 kilometres north of Nambucca Heads “Where the rivers meet the sea and the Waterfall Way”. Urunga has a population of around 2000 people, and is located between two rivers – the Kalang River and the Bellinger River at the point where the Kalang River joins the Bellinger River and flows into the Ocean. This means that Urunga has the best of both worlds – the river where you can canoe, paddle board or sail and the ocean beaches all close by at Hungry Head. There are Caravan Parks and other places to stay, enjoy a coffee, a beer at the Ocean View pub and either head to the river or the beach, with long timber walkways to take you down along the river to see the river and birdlife. Urunga also is close to the Waterfall Way the road that heads west to Dorrigo, Ebor and the National Park. The Waterfall Way also leads up the New England tablelands, Cathedral Rock and Armidale. The Waterfall Way has to be one of the most scenic roads in Australia – with the lush green dairy lands giving way to rainforest as you head higher up the range to Dorrigo. It can be quite misty as you go higher, depending on the weather, but this just adds to the atmosphere. Dorrigo itself is a small village, but the main attraction is the National Park with its skywalk through the tops of the rainforest trees, the views and the waterfalls that you see.
Raleigh – is just north of Urunga and this is where an International Go Kart Track and waterpark is located – on Valery Road in Raleigh. See Tel: (02) 6655 4017.
Sawtell is also just north about 20 kilometres away, just off the main highway with a great beach, and quite trendy shops, cafes and a main street with large fig trees in the centre section of the road. Being close to Coffs Harbour, it attracts people from Coffs to visit, but it remains much quieter than Coffs Harbour.
Coffs Harbour –is known for its banana trees that cover much of the steep slopes outside the town and leading north to the Big Banana – a recognized landmark here on the North Coast. The city has shopping centres, an airport with flights to Sydney and Melbourne, a number of beaches, hotels, Tourist Parks and resorts to choose from – Look for Diggers Beach, a marina, dolphin pool ( ), jetty and long breakwater, and with islands off the coastline Coffs Harbour is dynamic city, even with its own University Campus. Coffs as the locals call it, is around 540 kilometres from Sydney, and 390 kilometres from Brisbane and a lot of people stay over in Coffs as a halfway stop between the two cities.
Woolgoolga is about 25 kilometres north of Coffs Harbour and has both great ocean beaches and also riverside beach areas around the Lake making it attractive to family holidays. There is a large Sikh community here too that have been here for more than a century. There are two Sikh temples – the original ‘Gurdwara’ (the Punjabi word for Temple) and the Guru Nanak Temple on River Street. The Pacific Highway bi-passes Woolgoolga so most of the main truck traffic doesn’t come into town. With banana plantations hugging the hillsides, and the lake and beaches, Woolgoolga has a number of places to stay and enjoy.
The next big city heading north is Grafton, but in between there are a number of smaller beachside villages – including Arrawarra, Mullaway, Corindi, Red Rock before the Pacific Highway heads through the forest areas to Grafton. There are also turn offs to the beaches at Wooli and Minnie Water. All of these beachside villages are small and easy to get to with holiday homes, and places to camp or stay.
When you arrive in Grafton “The Jacaranda City” – you will be coming into South Grafton first, with Grafton itself on the other side of the mighty Clarence River that flows between South Grafton and Grafton itself. The Pacific highway turns at South Grafton towards Maclean heading eastwards towards the coast from Grafton while the Gwydir Highway from Glen Innes on the New England Tablelands also ends here in South Grafton too. The whole Clarence Valley and Grafton are worth exploring if you have the time.
Grafton itself was first established in 1851, but for 20 or so years before that the valley had been explored and cedar trees cut down and transported back by boats to Sydney for sale with cedar even exported to Britain. Farming and agriculture followed – with dairy cattle on the lush flood plains and sheep and beef cattle on the drier lands, and later sugar became a big industry with the Sugar Mill at Harwood built in 1874 on Harwood Island. The mill is still operating with a sugar refinery built in 1989. The timber industry also moved to the milling of hardwoods rather than cedar – as the cedar trees were almost all cut down. There are still some houses in Grafton constructed using cedar timber.
From the early days of the Australian Colony, coastal transport and communication was by boat as there were no roads or rail to compete with the ships. Ship building also took place on the Clarence. While the first rail line was a short private one in Newcastle for coal, the first company and then Government line was a 22 kilometre line from Sydney city, where Central Station is located to Parramatta Junction and it opened in 1855. A line north to Newcastle was built in 1857 and then to Wallangarra in 1888 on the New England Tablelands (to the border with Queensland). The main reason for not building a line along the coast was the wide and fast flowing Clarence River, which also flooded at different times too. A line to South Grafton was only built in 1911-15 from Maitland, and then on the Grafton side of the river a separate line was built to Casino (1905) extended to Kyogle (1910) and to Brisbane (1930). It was not until 1932 that the double decker bridge between Grafton and South Grafton was built across the Clarence River – one level to carry cars and the other to carry the rail line. It’s a long bridge and while most bridges are straight, this one has a number of bends in it.
In some ways Grafton is a microcosm of the economic changes that have taken place across Australia over the past century. Grafton was and still is a large city established through its rural farming activities becoming a city in 1885, even having its own Cathedral (Christ Church Anglican Cathedral in Victoria Street, built in 1884 and designed by John Horbury Hunt), with other churches such as St Andrews Presbyterian Church with its spire built in 1887, banks, hotels, a main street, homes and other signs of prosperity becoming apparent about the same time.
In the 1950’s Grafton developed its manufacturing industry – with Grafton Brewery in North Street built in 1951 and continuing to operate until 1997; the Peter’s Ice Cream Factory built in 1953 but closed in 1983; the Federal Match Company making match boxes (skillets) and matches (splints) using initially Hoop Pine and then Poplars from 1942 to 1984 – with Poplar plantations set up in Grafton too. Local soft drink and cordial factories (Saxby’s and Zietsch – both still going) In the 1950’s stores including G. J. Coles Penny Stores, and even local department stores (Gerards, Bloods, Fosseys) followed. There were even flying boats landing on the River from Sydney – a service that began in 1948 with Sunderland Flying Boats run by Trans Oceanic Airways – that even flew once to Santiago in Chile, South America. That company went into liquidation in 1952, with Ansett taking over the Sydney to Grafton service using Short Sandringham Flying Boats and continuing to land on the Clarence during the 1950’s.
Today almost all of the manufacturing industry is gone, and Grafton is now a service city, but its old banks, hotels, the Notorious Grafton Gaol, churches and homes with tree lined streets make it an attractive city to visit. The annual Show in May, June Horse Racing Carnival and the Jacaranda Festival in late October that began in 1935 bring large numbers of people to the city. There are many places to stay, parks, cafes and restaurants, and a drive around the city and walks near the river – where sailing boats, rowers and ski boats can be seen at different times make Grafton a worthwhile visit.
The Clarence River is also a good fishing spot, and fresh fish, prawns and oysters are all found here. Downriver from Grafton are a small villages such as Lawrence where there is a Car Ferry service to cross the River, Ulmarra, Maclean and then at Harwood the Pacific Highway crosses over the River and heads over Harwood Island and heads to Ballina.
Maclean is the biggest of these small villages with around 2600 people, and lays claim to it being the most proudly Scottish town in Australia. It even has dressed up electricity power poles in tartans! About 12 kilometres further east of Maclean is the beach and riverside town of Yamba. Yamba has been a popular surfing beach for over 100 years, with the Yamba Surf Club formed in 1908 at Main Beach below the headland, on which the Pacific Hotel built in 1934 is located. There are a number of beaches in Yamba, and the town is also located at the mouth of the Clarence River with the Clarence Head Lighthouse and breakwater located here too. A few kilometres south of Yamba is the surfing beach of Angourie, which is the home of surfing legend, Nat Young. The Angourie beach was declared in 2007 as a “National Surfing Reserve” due to the great waves that are found here. It has become something of a mecca for board riders.
On the opposite northern side of the Clarence River is the beach town of Iluka but in order to get to it, you need to travel north from Harwood on the Pacific Highway and turn off and travel another 17 kilometres to get there.
Yamba, Angourie and Iluka are all popular beachside towns, Yamba being the biggest town and there are lots of holiday homes, resorts, hotels, caravan parks and other places to stay, and of course places to eat.
North of Harwood and the sugar cane fields is the Bundjalung National Park – named after the Aboriginal Tribal Clan of the same name here and the small town of Woodburn located on the banks of the Richmond River with a population of around 700 people, roughly 34 kilometres from the City of Lismore and 12 kilometres from Evans Head on the coast.
Take the time to stop at the New Italy museum and café at 8275 Pacific Highway in Woodburn to read about a remarkable story. In 1880 a French Nobleman, the Marquis de Rays promoted a scheme called “La Nouvelle France” (actually in today’s New Ireland in Papua New Guinea) – where people could buy a passage to Port Breton in the South Pacific, and given a house and 20 hectares of land – where there was already a developed city and farmlands, much like the Riviera in France. This city, houses and farmlands did not exist, but 340 Italians from Veneto each paid the Marquis 1800 francs to take the voyage, which set sail from Spain, due to the scheme being deemed a scam in both France and Italy. The ship and the Italians remained in Port Breton for 3 months before abandoning the settlement, sailed on to Noumea. Hearing of their plight, Sir Henry Parkes, at the time the Colonial Secretary in NSW arranged for a ship, the ‘James Patterson’ to bring them to Sydney. Only 217 Italians of the 340 who had sailed from Spain arrived – the others having perished through sickness, malaria and other reasons. In 1882 these new immigrants founded a new settlement in Woodburn and this became known as New Italy (See ) A truly remarkable story.
Evans Head – has a population of around 2600 people and has both river and beach areas. There are lots of places to stay and fishing, swimming and surfing are all very popular. This town is also next to both Bundjalung National Park and also Broadwater National Park – and besides the natural landscape, wild flowers, birds and beauty of the area, a unique feature is the ‘Coffee Rocks’ – rocks formed from sand and peatmoss which creates their unique coffee colour.
Ballina – is a big town located on the coast next to the mouth of the Richmond River and North Creek – so it has the best of both worlds – the river and the ocean too. There are said to be 32 kilometres of sandy white beaches in and around the town. Ballina has its own airport, hospital, a number of schools, lots of shops, hotels, motels, bed and breakfast and other camping and holiday accommodation with great walkways, cycle ways, golf and all the water sports and activities that you might be interested in from Kayaking, surfing, fishing, boating, cruises up the river, whale watching (June/July, September/October), dolphin spotting and even helicopter flights over the town and area.
One of the most interesting stories however dates back to 1526 when Spaniard Conquistadores came across small wooden rafts off the coast of Ecuador in South America. Theories since then postulated the idea that perhaps peoples from South America could have set out on these rafts and populated the Pacific. In 1947 Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl built the ‘Kon Tiki’ raft to test the theory and he and 5 companions set out from Peru on April 28, 1947 the currents pushing them out into the Pacific. The voyage ended on the 7th August when they hit a reef off the Tuamotu Islands – a distance of 4300 nautical miles. The ‘Kon Tiki’ is now in a museum in Oslo.
In 1973 a similar adventure began in Ecuador when a Spanish Adventurer, Vital Alsar and 11 others built 3 Balsawood rafts in Ecuador, and set sail on the 27th May with 2 parrots, 3 kittens and 2 monkeys to keep them company. Their destination was Mooloolaba on the Queensland coast, and they almost got there but drifted south. Eight kilometres off the coast of Ballina on the 21st of November they were rescued and the rafts towed to Ballina. One raft fell apart and drifted south to Newcastle only to be vandalised, and the other two were rebuilt into one raft and that raft is now part of a great collection of shipping and naval material on show at the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum on Regatta Avenue (Tel: (02) 6681 1002). The voyage had taken 6 months to complete, and covered a distance of 8600 nautical miles.
Lismore and Casino – are inland from Ballina and Casino is on the Richmond River , and Lismore on the Wilsons River that runs into the Richmond River. Both towns have been subject to flooding over the years, and the Nightcap mountain hills and valleys to the west of the cities is an area with very high rainfall. The Nightcap National Park is located here where there are a number of walking tracks, waterfalls and other attractions. Look for the Minyon Falls. Both Casino and Lismore are located in rich agricultural and pastoral land – and timber, dairy, beef, macadamia and even coffee and tea are grown in the valleys surrounding the towns, The Southern Cross University is also located in Lismore. Both towns are well established traditional country towns, so a great contrast to the coastal ones that are more orientated to tourists coming by, more so than locals.
Byron Bay on the coast about 26 or so kilometres from Ballina is one of the best known and most popular coastal towns in Australia – attracting people from all over Australia to it – both for its beauty and beaches but also for its lifestyle, pubs and nightlife. It is trendy town with great cafes, spas, quirky, fashionable and interesting shopping and places to stay, and Byron attracts a lot of young people who enjoy the nightlife, pubs and beach culture. South of Byron there is the much quieter village of Lennox Head in a stunning location, while heading away from Byron, you will find Nimbin – which started life as a small rural country town, and then in the 1970’s in the Woodstock days, they had a music festival that attracted lots of young people, who simply decided to stay on there. It became known for its counter culture, tie-died clothes, marijuana plants, drugs and hippie culture.
What makes Byron Bay and the area most interesting is the great variety of landscapes, people and activities all within a short distance of each other. Cape Byron is the most easterly point of Australia, and from the headland and lighthouse you can look almost straight down into the ocean, and then looking south see a long stretch of white sandy beach, and to your left a much smaller beach and houses almost tucked under the headland. Looking back you see the mountains and valleys and when you drive there you find the Hippie town of Nimbin, country style Kyogle, trendy Bangalow and other small towns like Mullumbimby – all within a relatively short driving distance from Byron Bay – each having almost a different culture. The rainforest, National Parks, the beaches, the spa properties, gardens, creeks, avocado and macadamia nut plantations, dairy lands, trendy and traditional shops all add to this mix, making Byron Bay and the surrounding area a place where it is easy to relax and just enjoy the experience of being there.
In travelling north on the Pacific Highway you travel across a number of different valleys and the cross the rivers that run through them. Heading north you will be passing through yet another valley and the River that runs through it – The Tweed River and Tweed Valley.
Murwillumbah – has been bi-passed by the Pacific Highway but is worth dropping in to see. Murwillumbah has a population of around 7500 people and is a traditional small country town surrounded by sugar cane, bananas and other farmland in a very green valley with the Tweed River being centre stage, and Mt Warning and the mountain ranges forming a spectacular backdrop to the town. There are traditional country style shops along the main street, but also 18 galleries in the town, which gives you the indication of the town’s new lease on life and many ‘sea changers’ have moved here from the cities to enjoy the relaxed country life in the town. If you get a chance see if you can hire a houseboat on the Tweed River and stay for a while. One of these Houseboat companies is just downstream from Murwillumbah at a tiny village called Tumbulgum – where there is a pub, the Ferryside store and of course the houseboats to hire (See Tel: (02) 6676 6227. Others operate from Tweed Heads ( ).
You are now almost in Queensland – and you can either head straight to Tweed Heads on the border, which overlooks the Tweed River where it enters the ocean, or you could have taken a road that runs along the coast through Pottsville, Hastings Point, Bogangar and Kingscliff.
As you can see, there are so many choices of beaches along the NSW coastline that it is hard to choose which one is the best or better to stop at than another. In many ways it depends on whether you like crowds of people, or no crowds, lots of facilities or just a camping spot, and of course it also depends on whether you are looking for big surfing waves or a quiet beach next to a lake or river so the kids can play. There are certainly beaches to suit everyone- you just have to find it!
The South of the Border, beaches like Kingscliff have grown tremendously in popularity as an alternative to the big crowds that come to the Gold Coast, but as the Gold Coast develops, Kingscliff and the beaches south are also becoming busier.
THE PACIFIC HIGHWAY – continues to head over the border, through the Gold Coast and on the Brisbane – and you can read all about both on the Queensland section of this website.

Happy Travelling.

Geoff Stuart

Happy Traveller

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