Yamba re­vival: a child­hood hol­i­day hotspot’s come­back



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.

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