Twenty years ago, if you were looking for a laid-back beach holiday in New South Wales, Byron Bay was your best bet. But with Byron Bay becoming increasingly overcrowded and overpriced, many have started to declare Yamba, 120 kilometres to the south, ‘the new Byron’.
As a Yamba local, I’ve watched the sleepy fishing town of my childhood mature into an impressive beachside destination, which still manages to maintain its unpretentious essence and strong sense of community.
Where is it?
Yamba is located on the coast of northern NSW at the mouth of the Clarence River. It’s about a 3.5-hour drive from Brisbane. Visitors arriving from Sydney can catch a one-hour flight to Ballina-Byron Airport and drive the remaining 100 kilometres down to Yamba.
Other towns worth visiting within day-trip distance of Yamba include: the charming riverside town of Maclean; Iluka with its UNESCO World Heritage-listed rainforest; the rugged, unspoilt beaches of Brooms Head and surfing hamlet of Angourie.
What to do
With five options to choose from, Yamba has a beach to suit everyone.
Best for: amenities.
Main beach has a surf club, cafe and ocean pool and is located directly beneath the Pacific Hotel.
Best for: small children.
A short 10-minute walk from the centre of town, Whiting Beach is long and flat and has virtually no waves, so it’s perfect for kids, kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders.
Best for: walkers (and their dogs)
This pristine 1.6-kilometre beach is the best place for a morning stroll and the south end is an off-leash dog area.
Best for: seclusion
One of Yamba’s lesser-known beaches, Convent is sheltered by surrounding cliffs and has plenty of vegetation for natural shade.
Best for: All-rounder
Turner’s Beach is good for swimming and surfing. It’s patrolled during summer and is just a short walk from the centre of town.
Held in the carpark between Whiting and Turner’s every Wednesday morning from 7am to 11am, this quaint market is a favourite among locals. You’ll be able to pick up everything from organic fruit and veg grown in backyards and high quality meat like Dorper Lamb and Esperanza Pork, to artisanal products like Ashby Sourdough and Little Things Grown microgreens.
Grab a smoothie and breakfast burger from the farmers market and head off for a walk down to Turners Breakwall. On your right you’ll get a great view of Turner’s Beach and the lighthouse on the hill, while on your left you’ll see the open water where the ocean meets the Clarence River and, if you look carefully enough, you’re likely to spot a dolphin or two.
Blue and Green Pools Angourie
Though it’s not technically in Yamba, the quiet coastal village of Angourie, just an eight-minute drive from town is well worth a visit. While die-hard surfers will love the challenging break at Angourie Point, the whole family will enjoy a visit to Blue and Green Pools. Follow the lead of the local kids who expertly climb the rocky cliff face to dive into the freshwater pools below.
Surfers love Yamba because there is (almost) always good surf at at least one of the beaches. If the wind is blowing north, head to Pippi or Turner’s near the breakwall. For a southerly, Angourie Point, Turner’s or Main Beach are your best bet and if it’s blowing west you can surf anywhere.
Eat + Drink
Skip the big crowded cafes in the very centre of town and head around the corner to Drift (next to the Post Office) which serves up city-quality breakfasts. Try their Wakie Wakie, a posh version of a bacon egg roll with spicy capsicum jam and coriander in a garlic sourdough roll.
Arguably the best coffee in Yamba, this quirky cafe is a converted house filled with eclectic vintage furniture and lush plants. Outside is a thriving kitchen garden complete with chickens. The signature treat here is the house-made sourdough donut which is the perfect midmorning snack.
By far the best burgers in town, the juicy patties, clever flavour combos and high quality toppings really hit the spot here. The knowledgeable, laid-back staff at this street-inspired venue are more than happy to guide you through their broad selection of craft tinnies.
After your burger, cross the road to the cliff-top Pacific Hotel for one more beer and enjoy the best view in town, looking out over the magnificent coastline below.
Snacks at Friendly Grocer
The unassuming Friendly Grocer is in the centre of town: it’s your go-to for authentic, freshly made Pakoras for just .50c a piece.
If you’ve driven out to Angourie, it’s definitely worth staying for lunch. This light-filled bohemian cafe serves up healthy gourmet goodies such as roast cauliflower tacos, vegan bowls and coconut tumeric lattes. After lunch, pop next door to Yum Yum’s General Store and check out their impressive range of locally sourced products and house-made pastries.
After the roaring success of their cafe Leche, local couple Clare Bourke and Zac Roberts turned their attention to evening food, opening Karrikin just over a year ago. Karrikin manages to encapsulate the very essence of Yamba with its stylish, laid-back decor, unpretentious but accomplished staff and surprisingly inventive share plates showcasing local produce and native Australian ingredients.
The menu changes with the seasons and chef Zac can be found at the local farmers markets every Wednesday, stocking up on fresh seasonal produce from the Clarence Valley and Northern Rivers. The menu is somewhat cryptic, with only the key ingredients listed, making each dish a delicious surprise. The entire menu is refreshingly unpredictable and the desserts are particularly special, nodding to the chef’s creative reimagination of nostalgic classics like fairy bread and Golden Gaytimes,
While a visit to Karrikin is a must, Yamba has plenty of high-calibre dinner options including Sandbar for fresh seafood, Barbaresco Angourie for Italian and The French Pan Tree for classic French cuisine.
If you’re looking for a change of pace, take a 20-minute drive to the quiet riverside town of Maclean. Fish off the wharf, head to the lookout for panoramic views of the Clarence Valley or simply sit and read a book on the riverbank before checking out some of these eateries.
Stop by this unassuming roadside shop, located between Yamba and Maclean, to try one of their delicious house-made pies or load up on gourmet goodies like imported cheese, charcuterie and craft beers. Palmers Island is the second largest of the 100 islands dotted along the Clarence River.
Ask any local where to get the best coffee and they’ll proudly point you to Botero, Maclean’s very own roastery, which supplies beans to cafes throughout Australia. The floor-to-ceiling windows inside the cafe give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the roastery in action, while the outdoor seating offers a fenced in play-area so you can supervise your kids while enjoying your coffee.
This tiny cafe in the centre of Maclean is run by a husband and wife team who serve up an inventive, diverse menu. Choose between signature dishes such as a rich lamb korma, light and refreshing Asian salad, or Turkish plate with fresh, crunchy falafels.
This newly opened craft brewery has become an instant hit with the locals (you’ll notice a much younger, trendier crowd here than at the town’s pubs). The venue offers wide, open spaces, live music and experimental brews like pineapple coconut sour and blueberry crush as well as pale ale, lager and XPA. The large fenced field also makes Sanctus perfect for kids and pets.