Our editor takes the family on a 4WD trail along this beautiful NSW waterway.
Planning a full day’s drive to get to your holiday spot with three kids under six years of age needs to be done carefully. Snacks, drinks, toys, music and (if you have an in-car DVD player) movies, need to be carefully thought out and selected to keep everyone happy. Memo to self – be sure and pack them in an easily accessible location next time, not in the bottom bag at the back of your camper trailer!
We reached our destination at 7pm after a full days’ drive from Sydney, and in the middle of the most terrific thunderstorm the kids had seen. The campground at Woody Head was fairly full considering the weather, but the challenges of setting up with darkness only a few minutes away in the pouring rain were deemed avoidable, and we decided to head into town in search of more comfortable accommodation for the first night, and reassess in the morning.
We struck gold just two kilometres down the road at the Iluka Motel, where owner Les handed over the keys to a family room with kitchen and bathroom, a queen bed, two singles and a couch. Within five minutes, we had sausages cooking in the frypan for dinner, and the kids were getting bathed and changed into their pj’s, before settling down to a movie and then a comfortable night’s sleep.
The next morning dawned with a bright blue sky and few signs of the previous night’s downpour. After a quick breakfast and thank you to Les, we were back at the campsite and setting up for the next three days. Administered by NSW National Parks, Woody Head Campground is located in Bundjalung National Park, and has plenty of spots for tents, camper trailers, caravans, and there are even a few family cabins for those who don’t want to give up all of the creature comforts.
The boys came back having spotted a bush turkey, plenty of birds including a sea eagle, and the resident kangaroos.
The amenities are clean and modern with flushing toilets and coin operated hot showers – a 20 cent coin buys two minutes of hot water. There is an undercover area with picnic tables, and also free gas BBQs positioned with full views of the ocean. In fact, one of the best features of Woody Head has to be its position. Many of the campsites also have views out to the ocean, and there is a beach, a boat ramp and plenty of rock pools.
We had our camper trailer set-up in no time, and the boys took to their bikes to explore the rest of the park. They came back having spotted a brush turkey, kangaroos, a sea eagle, and a plover with its nest built right next to an empty camp site.
By 10am, we decided to take a short drive around to Yamba as we had heard that the local markets there were very good. Not having done a full shop for the trip yet, we thought this may work in our favour. My brain must have been in holiday mode already though, as it didn’t occur to me until it was too late that my wife might also see this as an opportunity for some other ‘completely necessary’ purchases and before I knew it, there were bags with new shoes, a couple of dresses and some local craft knick knacks that apparently would be perfect for Christmas presents.
After the markets, we explored Yamba beach and the rocky foreshore, before climbing up to the lighthouse to enjoy the view from the top of the hill. It’s easy to see why Yamba is one of the most popular holiday spots on the North Coast.
After some late-night s’mores and a great night’s sleep, we woke to a picture-perfect morning and took the opportunity to hike through the coastal rainforest just around the headland. The start of the hike is on the outskirts of Iluka village, and finishes at the bluff lookout, which has fantastic views of the whole coastline across to Yamba. It is also the perfect place to go whale watching. The hike is less than 3km one way, and is a very easy grade with no elevated sections until you come to the climb up to the lookout on the bluff.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing, and a late afternoon fish yielded a few small bream, but it was all catch and release. It did provide the inspiration for a seafood dinner though, and we headed down the road to Clarence River Fishermen’s Co-Op that evening to sample some Yamba prawns, reputed as the best in NSW.
Our final morning had us exploring the local bays by kayak thanks to Geoff Warne who runs Action Adventure Activities at Iluka. Geoff also does bike and scooter hire, and stand up paddle boards, so families can really get out and explore the area. My two sons, Ryan (6) and Noah (5), and I were soon surfing the small waves down to the beach and enjoying gazing through the crystal clear water at the sea life below. We were told there is a resident turtle who lives just off the point, but didn’t catch sight of him this trip.
On the way home we passed massive fields of sugar cane (we stopped at one so the kids could see where sugar came from) for which the Clarence river flats are well known, and stopped by the Clarence River Visitor Centre. The centre is well stocked with information and lovely staff who are very helpful.
It is easy to see why Iluka is a popular spot for families. Perfect for both weekend escapes or long family holidays, I don’t think you could ever tire of spending time here.
02 01 The fishing is great 02 Local paths are easy enough for little legs to tackle 03 Smile everyone! 04 Kayaking on Woody Bay 05 The views are simply beautiful