Yamba revival: a childhood holiday hotspot’s comeback
THE NORTHERN NSW BEACH TOWN OF YAMBA IS THE HOLIDAY HOTSPOT OF YOUR CHILDHOOD. ANNABELLE HICKSON DISCOVERS WHY FAMILIES LOVE IT.
OVER THE LAST 10 YEARS OF LIVING in north-west NSW, I have heard the word “Yamba” many times, uttered with what I can only describe as desperate reverence by hot mothers standing in the brutal December heat of the supermarket car park, saying “soon we will be in Yamba” as they load their groceries into the furnace that is their car boot. Come January, those who can escape do. Many take their families on the annual pilgrimage to the east-coast town of Yamba, at the mouth of the Clarence River between Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay, the same place they went for summer holidays when they were children. I’d avoided going to Yamba, wondering why you’d want to holiday in a small seaside town with the people you spend the rest of the year looking at. I had gravitated to the brighter lights of Byron Bay, only an hour and a half north, willing to turn a blind eye to the somewhat harrowing experience of finding a car park outside the increasingly popular, super-cool venues there. But that changed when one night, over a wine, a friend was singing Yamba’s praises. She said Yamba is a place where you can park the car when you arrive and not get in it again until you leave. There’s Coopers on tap at the
“Kick back on the sand after doing some laps in the glorious ocean pool.”
pub, the beaches are great and you don’t feel old and washed up. And with that, I mentally farewelled Byron and booked a house in its quieter cousin down the road. Now, I am a total Yamba convert. How did it take me so long to see the light? Yamba is the ideal beach town. There is one road in and out — in its early days, access was only by boat — and as such it’s the sort of place where your children can roam around in packs, flitting between Main and Pippi beaches with ice-cream money in their board shorts pockets. Meanwhile, grown-ups can kick back on the sand after doing some laps in the glorious ocean pool at Main Beach or a morning run along the sandy stretch at Pippi. You can remain incognito with a hat on your head and your face buried in a book (a good place to stock up is the second-hand book store, The Nook) on one of the 11 lovely beaches around the Clarence Head — five of which are within walking distance from the town centre, albeit with a hill in between. Or you can stay up late partying with old and new friends at the Art Deco Pacific Hotel, lovingly known as the Fountain on the Mountain, perched on the edge of the headland overlooking the vast ocean beyond. There’s a dated but charming little cinema, perfect for the odd rainy day. There’s great beach fishing at Whiting Beach, amazing surf down the road at Angourie, surrounded by the pristine Yuraygir National Park, and all sorts of sailing, paddleboarding and boating pleasures in the ocean and up the Clarence River. Yamba, which has a permanent population of about 7000 people, can get very busy over summer when numbers swell to more than double that, but the last two weeks of January, when we were there, were just perfect. My favourite days started with an early morning walk down Main Beach, past the charming weatherboard Surf Life Saving Club — one of the oldest in the world (one of its
founding members is credited with bringing the first surfboard to Australia). I’d head south over the grassy headland known as Lovers Point, from which you can see whales pass by between May and October. Then it was over to tiny Convent Beach with its pandanus trees, and down the narrow path through the tunnel of coastal banksias onto the long, open stretch of Pippi, where, if I was lucky, I’d spot a dolphin. If I kept walking, I’d reach Angourie Point after about five kilometres. But I never made it that far. Instead, I’d watch the surfers launch themselves into the warm water at Pippi and paddle out into the waves, while their loyal dogs waited patiently on the shore behind. There were friendly “good mornings” from fellow walkers passing by and young families, whose children didn’t yet understand the concept of a holiday sleep-in, setting up the beach brollies and unpacking the buckets and spades while their kids rolled around in the sand. Afterwards I’d head into town to grab a coffee, either from the delightful Beachwood Café (which has the softest, most delicious braised octopus on its lunch menu) or from Irons and Craig, which has a lovely sunny deck and a garden out the back. I’d often stop off at the Yamba marina to pick up some prawns straight off the trawler. You can watch the fleet head out into the Pacific as the sun sets, and as the sun rises the next morning, they return to shore. The bulk of the prawns are processed on the other side of the river at Iluka, so you need to be in with a fisherman to get them off the boat from the Yamba side, which is a matter of mooching around the marina one morning until a trawler comes in. That’s when you pounce, get the phone number of a fisherman, ask him to keep some prawns aside for the next morning. With the prawns in the fridge, I’d get the troops ready for a morning session at the beach. We’d go to Main Beach for the gentle surf, where my little country kids could get
a feel for swimming in the ocean without getting too freaked out. Their older friends would almost always be at Pippi, where the surf is a bit bigger, but for now they don’t mind missing out on that. The kids would explore the rocky outcrops underneath the lighthouse and hunt for crabs and fish in the shallow rock pools. Later, they’d run over to the little shop on the beach next to the surf club to get an ice-cream for morning tea (it was holidays). The sight of my four-year-old’s sand-covered legs, up on her tippy toes paying for a Golden Gaytime all by herself was a daily highlight. We’d head back home for lunch and a siesta and re-emerge mid afternoon, ready for an excursion. Our favourite was leaping off a cliff into the Blue Pool at Angourie, the legendary surf spot about a 10-minute drive south of Yamba. The pool had been a rock quarry just off the coastline until an underground freshwater spring burst and filled up the vast hole with sparkling blue water. The quarry’s loss is everyone else’s gain. The only problem with waiting for the afternoon to head to Angourie is that you miss out on eating at the Yum Yum Angourie Café and General Store, which has got to be my favourite café around here. It’s a breakfast/lunch affair that reminds me of the beach shops of my childhood, only better. Outside are bright brollies shading a couple of tables. Inside, you can order fish burgers, proper milkshakes and good coffee, all made with love in the cheerful kitchen. Be sure to come back one morning and head down to Spooky Beach, play a game of beach cricket with some of the abundant driftwood as the stumps and the bat, and then head over to Yum Yum’s for brunch. Nights in Yamba are all about taking a bottle of white wine and some prawns to Lovers Point, on the headland between Main and Convent beaches, or enjoying fish and chips on the grass at Main Beach while the kids chase crabs by torchlight. For a special night, line up a babysitter and head back over to Angourie for excellent Italian food and cocktails at Barbaresco. When the stars are out and your belly is full, it’s time for bed and falling asleep with that deep bliss that only comes from a day in the sun and surf. Yamba, you have stolen my heart. I’ll be back next year and the one after that, too.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT Beach gear under the pandanus trees at Spooky Beach, Angourie; Yamba’s Surf Life Saving Club is one of the oldest in the world; Yamba Cinema; Annabelle’s kids Harriet, Tom and Daisy with friends Liam and Lachie on Spooky Beach;...
Built in 1934, Yamba’s iconic Pacifific Hotel overlooks Main Beach. FACING PAGE The ocean pool built into the rocks at Main Beach is a good spot for a morning swim without the waves.