The Pacific Highway Shuffle through the Northern Rivers

It was with some sadness that we turned our backs on sunny Kingscliff, but needs must ……. and the Pacific Highway was calling.

But, it is a shuffle along our major highway, for two reasons. One is that the NSW Government has obviously decided it is well past time to make our national highway into more than a two lane track, so we travel slowly through ongoing roadworks from Ballina to Coffs Harbour. There is enough work going on to keep the road building workers of the State fully occupied until retirement I’d say.

The other is that we keep diverting off the main road to check out the various towns and hamlets along the coast. First stop is groovy Brunswick Heads, for a coffee and a walk around the block, where almost every second shop seems to be a café or restaurant.

Back in the car and we shuffle along to Yamba, the twin sister to Iluka across the Clarence River estuary. It is no wonder they call this region The Northern Rivers, as there is water, water everywhere. The rivers are wide and deceptively slow moving. Either side lie flat, fertile flood plains – covered in sugar cane plantations up until about Yamba, then moving into rich pasture land. Houses are on stilts – wise move given their proximity to rivers that obviously like to break their banks. The rivers, estuaries and lakes that criss cross the land must be a fisherperson’s dream – even Pete starts to get visions of life with a ‘tinnie’!


Not a lot is happening in Yamba, but we admire the flotilla of pelicans, hanging around hoping for tidbits from the fishermen, and the lighthouse, before setting off for our final destination for the day, Nambucca Heads.



Here we are staying in a lovely Airbnb granny flat beneath Nancy and Ben’s huge work in progress of a house. The flat is simple and stylish, but oh so cold. They have only had it up and running for a couple of months, so hadn’t realised that it would need more than an oil heater to make the large, high ceiling rooms anywhere near warm. Never mind, I just wear my puffer coat inside and out!

Next morning, after breakfast kindly supplied by our hosts, on Ben’s recommendation we walk down to the Wharf Café for a very good coffee, sitting in the sun and enjoying the view.


This is followed by a walk along the estuary to check out the V-Wall. Visitors and residents alike are encouraged to bring their weatherproof paints, and in some cases, their mosaic tiles, and leave a memory on one of the concrete breakwater blocks. But, no painting over or defacing anybody else’s memento.

Standing guard on the wall is Buddy, the kelpie, border collie & maybe other things cross. Buddy is a fish pointer. His owner tells me that he will happily stand there all day if necessary, looking out for fish. Has he ever fallen in? Yes, indeed but it doesn’t seem to have deterred his enthusiasm for fishing.


We finish with a hike up to the top of the headland, where we find a tiny pioneer cemetery.

A final look at the sweeping views, then down the hill and into the car.


Next stop is South West Rocks which we could spy from Nambucca Heads. It is a lovely little seaside town, a few houses, some apartment blocks, a motel or two and a caravan park with magnificent views. We enjoy a sandwich from the bakery, sitting in the sun watching young lads risk life and limb jumping off the rocks – as you do when you’re young and male.


There seems to be a bit of a POW theme emerging during this trip as we check out the Trial Bay goal, which was used to detain Germans living in Australia and Asia during WWI. The goal has been lovingly restored by volunteers, although I’m sure the prisoners were not so admiring of the beautiful sandstone buildings, or the views. In the distance we see a couple of whales moving up the coast, before climbing into the car once more.

Our last stop, and resting place for the next two nights, is Forster, another seaside town perched between inlet and sea, this time on the Wallis River estuary. The other theme of this road trip is slightly daggy 60s/70s motels, of which there are plenty. You have to love them. This time we are in the Forster Motor Lodge, where the very genial caretaker Gary makes us welcome.


We start the next day with a whale watching trip with Amaroo Cruises, as I have a burning desire to see these amazing creatures up closer. Although we come across one, the wind is strong, the waters are choppy and we end up unable to stay nearby for long. We do however idle by a large pod of the Wallis estuary dolphins, small but highly active creatures.


Into the car to explore a little further down. Again, there is water whichever way you look, all surrounded by forests of paperbarks and native conifers. Lovely. We head to Seal Rocks. Beautiful beaches, a couple of houses, and a gorgeous lighthouse (with cottages you can stay in). Windblown but oh, that view. Must store this away for future reference.


We finish the day with a dash to the oyster seller. Wallis Lake produces something like 60% of the Sydney Rock oyster supply. We indulge in a dozen each, just opened. Delicious.

We have found places we would like to come back to and spend more time. That’s the trouble with a road trip, it just keeps adding to the We will have to come back here list.




2 thoughts on “The Pacific Highway Shuffle through the Northern Rivers

  1. I loved Yamba and South West Rocks. Could almost live there, for the swimming and the golf! And did you find Sevtap Yuce’s seaside cafe for fabulous coffee and Turkish Flavours in Yamba?


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