As with Brisbane, I often don’t look at this area through tourist eyes having grown up here but every now and then over the course of this current trip I’ve tried to take a step back and think about what I would tell travellers if they were coming to this beautiful part of the world.
There really is so much to see in this area, most of which I have taken for granted for a long time and a lot of which I haven’t even seen myself. Ballina, Lennox Head and Byron Bay are three gorgeous small beachside towns not far from each other that are (as is obvious by the term ‘beachside’) surrounded by amazing beaches, rivers and lakes where you can walk, swim, surf, bike ride and take it all in. I say three because these are the three I’ve spent most time at and have always been considered ‘home’ in my mind, but a little further north of Byron is Brunswick Heads which is again gorgeous and a little further south of Ballina there is another coastal town called Evans Head which is also stunning. In between each of these places you’ll find a bunch of smaller townships and hidden beaches so it really is worth exploring. But it’s not just the coastal strip that is stunning – a little inland and you have towns like Mullumbimby and Bangalow that are worth a look at for their quaint shops and lovely surrounding areas. All the areas in between each of the towns I’ve mentioned have something interesting to explore as well, like Rocky Creek Dam, a few National Parks and some beautiful drives you can do all around them.
Ballina, where I grew up, is probably the biggest of the three townships and the best thing I think it has going for it is its beaches and its fishing spots. The town itself is like any small town in Australia really. Lennox again has a stunning coastal strip but also has some cute little shops and a strip of restaurants that you can dine out in which I feel Ballina sort of lacks. Byron Bay is the more famous of the three, and is packed full of tourists (mostly backpackers) who come there seeking to learn to surf and drink as much as possible. It is a bit of a hippy town, or used to be, which was part of its appeal a long time ago but over the years has become a little too hectic and overpriced and has lost some of its quaintness. That said, it is still a gorgeous little town again with better shops and some good restaurants, cafes and bars for the social scene. The main beach here is always good for swimming in because it’s north facing and tends to never really have any rough waves or anything and the walk up to the famous lighthouse and Australia’s most Easterly Point is well worth it for the views and at this time of year, the whale watching.
Aside from the fact that there are countless beautiful surfing beaches, swimming spots and rural spots to admire, here are a few of the best tips I can give you for the three towns I consider ‘home’.
Best of Ballina, Lennox and Byron…
Best Coffee: Bean Bank in Ballina. This is a relatively new place (in the sense that it wasn’t here when I was last here which was a while ago) and I’ve been pleased to see such a great coffee house in down town Ballina. It tends to have a long line out the door most mornings which only goes to show how popular it is. The coffee is faultless, the service is friendly, warm and open and the best thing about this place is it’s also licenced so a little later in the day when you are having lunch or something you can have a coffee or a harder drink if you so desire.
Best Breakfast: Byronian Cafe in Byron. This place is awesome and I always try to get up here at least once. They are right on the main street of Byron, great coffee and delicious food. Try the green eggs!!! There is also an exclusive breakfast place in Ballina and that is at home. My Dad makes a famous BBQ breakky that is hard to pass up but you have to have friends in high places to be able to dine there!! 🙂
Best run: I like to run from our place over to the North Wall in Ballina and back as pretty much the whole way I am running alongside water, whether it is the creek that my parents live near, or the river that comes through Ballina or Shaws Bay or Lighthouse Beach. For someone who goes most of the year without seeing water like this it’s a bit of a treat and there is a really good track that goes all the way along so you’re rarely on the road (not that the road is all that busy).
Best swimming spot: This is a tough one as it kinda changes and depends on both the weather and what you want to do. Main Beach in Byron is always good if the others are rough or dirty from storms but it’s always pretty busy. If you have a dog and want to let it off lead then the north side of Lennox is a good one. My personal favourites a little closer to home have always been Sharpe’s Beach or Flat Rock in East Ballina, for the kids it’s Shelley Beach as it has a rock pool and is the most patrolled, or Shaws Bay is good too – or just under Missingham Bridge, a little place called Shaws Bay Beach is good too. But a swimming spot is usually a pretty personal thing and there are loads to choose from.
Best Look Out: there are loads of places to sit and take it all in but my favourite is the Pat Morton Lookout between Ballina and Lennox. It looks out over Lennox Beach and is the perfect place to sit and eat your In the Pink Ice Cream (see below) and take it all in.
But the best place to watch the sunrise is from home over the water. This was the view on ANZAC Day. Amazing.
Best Pie: Aussies love their pies and before I found out I was gluten intolerant I would have happily smashed a pie straight after a long swim. The best pies in Ballina are from Martin’s Hot Bread Shop. AMAZING.
Best Fish and Chips: Another thing the Aussies love – my childhood favourite was always the Fish Cafe in Ballina, on Cherry Street. It might not be the best but it’s pretty good. Or you can always go to the fish coop and buy fresh fish and cook it at home. Or catch it of course (although they need to be bigger than this).
Best Lunch: Beanz Salad Bar in Ballina. This is an old favourite of mine and has been here as long as I can remember. Every time I’m home I hope to get down here for a Beanz Burger. It’s is run by a lovely couple who absolutely put their heart and soul into this business. Their salads are healthy, delicious and massive. They are so friendly and passionate and give amazing service and even though I only come in once every 2 years or so when I’m back from London they always remember me and are keen to have a chat. They make all their own sauces and their satay sauce is to die for. You can buy it in pots which is great so you can take it home and use it on your own cooking. My recommendation is to have the chicken satay burger. You will need to go in with an appetite and you probably won’t need dinner.
If you’re in Byron it’s a bit of a toss up between Bay Kebabs which do an amazing kebab (obviously) or this felafel place I can never remember the name of but is tucked in the shops behind The Beach Hotel (see below) on Bay Lane. The felafel place does the best felafels I’ve EVER had and the guy who runs it is really lovely.
Best Pub/s: The Beach Hotel, also known locally as the Top Pub, is a great pub while you’re up that way. It is a huge pub that does food, music and good drinks and overlooks Byron’s Main Beach. It gets pretty busy and hectic at times though. A little further south, The Shawsy (Shaws Bay Pub) in Ballina is pretty good. Much quieter but also overlooking some water (Shaws Bay) this pub does AMAZING food (standard pub fare done really well) and usually on a Sunday has a band playing so you can sit outside in the sun. You can’t get a much more Aussie experience than a Sunday arvo at the Shawsy; the bands are usually covers bands playing pub classics/beer songs, people are outside in their boardshots and pluggers (flip flops), the kids run around on the sand out the front, the staff walk around selling tickets for the meat raffle and chicken parmi is a big hit from the menu.
Best Ice Cream: There is nothing better than an ice cream after a morning at the beach. I don’t know what it is but it just feel like summer and it feels like home to me. The best ice cream you can get is from In the Pink which you can find in both Lennox and Byron. Homemade ice cream – need I say more? It is amazing, they do some amazing flavours some of which you can’t find anywhere else (like Apricot) and it’s all fresh natural ingredients and the ice cream itself is super creamy. Worth trying not to get too full while you’re wandering around so that you can try it.
Best Dinner: I don’t tend to go out for dinner much as I am usually too full from all the amazing breakfasts and lunches you can get in all the places above, either that or I tend to eat at home with my family (who can pass up a homecooked meal especially when my Mum is doing the cooking??!). But a new-ish place I’ve discovered is Quattro. They have one in both Lennox Head and in Alstonville, just outside of Ballina. It’s an Italian place that does GF pastas and pizzas and has a pretty extensive menu. The food was amazing but I didn’t get to try their GF pizza bases as they’d run out. Worth checking out. Fishheads in Byron Bay has always been a bit of a local favourite as well and is pretty popular (there is one in Bangalow too).