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I feel like we have discovered Australia’s best kept secret.
Actually we may be a little late in the discovery. I think the cat was already let out of the bag with its recent accolade of being the best tourist town in Australia by the Australian Traveller magazine.
We almost didn’t come.
If truth be known we only came because of the Legendary Pacific Coast Drive’s recommendation. Thank God they know what they are talking about when it comes to great places to visit on your holiday along the NSW coast.
We visited Yamba 12 years ago and just did not feel the vibe. As I walked around falling in love with Yamba today I tried to work out why that was.
Was it because I had changed so much or the town?
I’m sure it is a bit of both.
As soon as we pulled into Coldstream Street where the YHA backpackers is I felt the vibe.
The travel vibe.
You know that feeling you get when you know you have arrived in a special place? A place that just leaves its mark as one of your best travel experiences you had, yet never expected.
It’s just as Shane, one of the co-owners of the YHA backpackers said:
“Backpackers arrive here for a couple of days and stay nine months. And when they have to leave they always find their way back.”
Right now I want to get lost here. One night is just not enough and I am spewing that I don’t have the free schedule of a backpacker where I can change my plans without a second thought.
Yamba is a beautiful mix of the old and new and has the bohemian charm of a small fishing and surfing town.
Want to know a little about how special Yamba is?
Ever heard of Billabong? Not the watering hole, but that iconic surfing brand. The owner, Gordan Merchant calls Yamba his home.
Local Kay Cottee, who became the first woman to single-handedly circumnavigate the world non-stop, owns Yamba marina.
Nat Young, another famous Australian surfer, lives here and famous surfers can always be found getting away from it all and surfing amazing waves where not too many people know their names.
Except for all the young grommets and surf addicts who live here, which is probably about half the town plus all the backpackers?
It’s the perfect place for surfers to come.
It’s quiet, the breaks are known to be some of the best in Australia, and you are not fighting for waves. Of an evening you can chill out and give your body time to rejuvenate to prepare for another day of surfing.
There are no wild night club hot spots here, no wild drunken debauchery or louts tearing up the streets. It’s early to bed here and early to rise to greet a usual warm, sunny day.
It’s a one street town of cafes and restaurants sitting under shady trees that are chilled out, yet classy, and boast delicious meals.
We can vouch for the Wato’s fish and chips on the corner. Not your usual fish and chip shop with Pluto pups and frozen calamari rings. Whatever is cooked here is made from scratch: potato and sweet potato scallops, mouth-watering calamari (I am an expert on what constitutes good calamari and it passes here) and then there are the seafood dishes that you’ll never find anywhere in another take away chipper: seafood laksa and coconut curry.
The YHA has a restaurant that is popular with the locals.
We were told it has some of the best food in town and although we didn’t have a meal, we had breakfast, and it sure was one of the tastiest bowls of toasted muesli I have ever had. I really never thought I could get excited about muesli, but I did.
My advice: if you love coffee get to the YHA restaurant and order a large cup. People are lined up at the door some mornings to grab a cup of this fresh organic roast from Campos.
And then there is the Yamba Tavern.
Sunset is said to be the magical time to be sitting on the deck watching the sky wash over in orange and pink hues. The tavern has a wide open covered deck area with the best playground for children. The vegetarian nachos Craig and I shared was pretty damn delicious.
Yamba is of course famous for seafood, particularly prawns.
If you climb up to the lighthouse hill of an evening and look back down the river you’ll see the lights of the trawler boats prawning for the evening. We remembered the prawns from 12 years ago so that says enough about how good they are.
Seriously I just want to stay here to eat.
Never mind the beaches.
Trust me you have 16 pristine ones to choose from in the area.
We walked from the breakwall past Turner’s Beach to Main Beach. The surf looked clean and like it was breaking nicely to my novice-surfie eyes. Why the waves were empty of surfers then I do not know, but if you love catching waves, then you should just bypass Byron and forget the crowds and surf here.
Shane’s expert opinion is the waves are better in Yamba anyway.
There’s Angourie Beach which is where the most powerful and pumping waves are and is the place where legendary surfers like Mark Occhilupo, Taj Burrow and Mick Fanning come to surf.
One of the highlights of the Yamba area that we loved on our first visit in 2000 was the walk to Shelly Beach through the National Park along the coastline.
There was no one around, the walk was stunning and we had the beach to ourselves when we arrived. Apparently it is still just as great, except a few more people can be spotted doing it now.
If all of that isn’t enough, Yamba also has pods of friendly dolphins and is a hot spot for whale watching. As Shane was telling us about the resident whale that swims up the river mouth with her baby every Sept, a guest walked past all excited, “Oh Shane we saw whales this morning off Pippi’s [beach] They were playing just off shore. I’ve never seen them that close to the beach before.”
The town has the look and air of a place that is modernizing itself.
It’s modern and classy yet still retains that old-world feeling to it. It’s the slowness, the gentleness of its people who stop to say hi and chat to friends and strangers on the street.
It’s also the old buildings like the iconic Pacific Hotel that sits on the cliff faces with the best views in town for a schooner.
It has the look of a place in desperate need of a reno, but doesn’t look like it would happen to soon, and you don’t really want it to. And then the movie theatre, just one old building with a small shop front, its sound and atmosphere worth experiencing.
Yamba has the energy of a town where everyone is happy. The locals will talk to you for hours about the secret little spot Yamba is and are happy to share with you their local favourites.
There’s just so much to love about Yamba. As a traveller to Australia, you’d be mad to miss it. It’s one of those places that will stay with you for the rest of your life.