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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 after it appeared on the best tourist town in Australia list by the Australian Traveller magazine.
The truth is, we almost didn’t come. 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 North Coast.
If you’re not familiar with Yamba, it’s a small coastal town in northern New South Wales, on the mouth of the Clarence River.
It’s known for its beautiful beaches and great surf, as well as relaxing and quiet surrounding countryside.
If you’re thinking of visiting Yamba, New South Wales but you’re not sure what it’s all about, this guide will tell you everything you need to know…
Where is Yamba?
Yamba is a small town on the East Coast of Australia in the New South Wales province.
It’s approximately 279km south of Brisbane, 220 km South of the Gold Coast, and 126km south of Byron Bay.
From Byron Bay, it’s a 1.5 hours drive to Yamba via M1 and Pacific Highway/A1.
And if you are travelling north from Sydney, it’s a 7 hour drive (666 km) up the Pacific Highway.
The closest airport to Yamba is Clarence Valley Regional Airport, which is located on the outskirts of Grafton a 50min drive north from Yamba.
It sits between two national parks, the Bundjalung National Park and Yuraygir National Park.
Is Yamba Worth Visiting?
We visited Yamba in New South Wales 12 years prior 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.
Most visitors come to Yamba for the beaches and fishing, especially the baby boomer crowd. But it also has amazing surfing spots, which attracts more younger people and a thriving surf crowd.
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.
Shane, one of the co-owners of the Yamba Backpackers, which sadly closed down in the pandemic and never reopened, said to us:
“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.
Before, Yamba felt like the Benidorm of Australia, but it’s now turned on its head and is exciting for any type of traveller. And here’s why…
What is Yamba famous for?
The surfing culture and the food are undeniably what makes Yamba famous these days.
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).
There are also seafood dishes that you’ll never find anywhere in another take away chipper: seafood laksa and coconut curry.
Things to Do in Yamba
Yamba is a beautiful mix of the old and new and has the bohemian charm of a small fishing and surfing town. When it comes to things to do in Yamba, there is so much to see and do, you won’t ever be bored.
1. Try the Seafood
Yamba is of course famous for seafood, particularly prawns.
If you climb up to the Yamba 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.
2. Explore the Beaches
Visiting the beach is one of the top things to do in Yamba and, trust me, you have 16 pristine Yamba Beaches to choose from in the area.
We walked from the break wall past Turner’s Beach to Yamba 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.
Yamba Main Beach also has some ocean swimming pools on the south end of the beach, which I think is something quintessentially East Coast Australian. If you’ve never swam in an ocean pool before, you got to give this a try!
Then there’s Convent Beach which is a popular spot for surfing as the waves are quite rough (not ideal for swimming).
For swimming, head to Whiting Beach on Hickey Island, which is sheltered by a bay and so the waves are gentle. It also has soft golden sand and a gradually sloping shoreline. If you have small children, this is a great beach for them to play on.
Pippi Beach is a popular dog-friendly beach to walk along. You’ll see a few surfers off the shores here too.
3. Visit The Angourie Blue and Green Pools
There’s Angourie Point 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.
It’s also famous for its freshwater pools. The blue pool which sits just behind the beach is a former rock quarry that hit a spring and filled with natural fresh water. It’s a great place to swim and jump off the rocks into the refreshing water below.
Then there is the green pool, which is just a short walk away from the blue pool and was formed in the same way.
Don’t skip Angourie Point beach, where you’ll find some natural rock pools that rest on the shores and glisten in the sunlight. You may find some sea life in the shallow pools, such as grabs and tiny fish.
4. Walk to Shelley Beach on the Yuraygir Coastal Walk
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 Yuraygir 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.
The walk extends all the way on to Red Rock, a small hamlet 98km south of Yamba. So, if you feel like you could stretch your legs further, continue on.
5. Go Whale Watching from the Shore
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 September, when a guest walked past all excited, “Oh Shane we saw whales this morning off Pippi Beach. They were playing just offshore. I’ve never seen them that close to the beach before.”
6. Walk Around the Town
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.
7. Check out the Yamba Farmers & Produce Markets
The Yamba Farmers market is a weekly produce market where local farms and food producers sell their produce every Wednesday morning.
There are 45 permanent stalls, each offering a chance to buy fresh fruit and veg, as well as cooked food. There’s also entertainment and events, which makes the whole town come alive.
Pick up some produce for a picnic or simply come to soak up the atmosphere, this is one of the age-old traditions of Yamba and something not to be missed.
The market takes place every Wednesday morning from 7.00 am – 11.00am, at the Whiting Beach Carpark next to Turners Beach.
8. Catch the Sunset Views of Clarence Valley from the Maclean Lookout
Just a 20-minute drive out of Yamba to the town of Maclean, you’ll find a beautiful viewpoint which overlooks the Clarence Valley and ocean in the distance.
The lookout also has picnic benches and toilets, so it’s the perfect place to bring your fresh produce from the farmers market to for a picnic with views.
9. Hike The Iluka Rainforest Walk
If you want to take a break from the beaches, then there is a lovely family-friendly walk in the Iluka Rainforest.
The walk is just 2.6km one way and takes roughly 1.5 hours to complete there and back.
The walk takes you through the jungles of Iluka where you’ll get to see many species of native trees, plants and flora, and you may also spot some local wildlife too, such as wallabies, kangaroos, wombats, echidnas and even emus.
Where to Stay in Yamba
We stayed at the YHA Backpackers Hostel but sadly it closed down during the Pandemic. But the hostel has been renovated and rebranded and is now open as Yamba Central.
It has many of the features that we loved from the old hostel but has that fresh, clean and modern look.
Rooms are spacious and clean, and you can also book family rooms which come with two bunk beds and a double bed for mom and dad.
I love how the hostel caters to everyone, you could be a family with kids (like us) or you could be a backpacker, and all have a comfortable stay here.
The Yamba Central 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 hostel 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 (now Woobly Chook Brewing Co.).
And then there is the Yamba Tavern, the Wobbly Chook Brewing Co, which has its own home-brewed beer.
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.
Travelers will love a stay in the villas at Angourie Resort. The pool, jacuzzi and cocktail hour are an added bonus.
There are plenty of amenities for families including restaurants, tennis court, children’s palay areas and kids wading pool with waterslides. It’s 5-minute drive to Yamba Beach.
The Surf Yamba
Teh Surf Yamba is all about location with 5-star boutique accommodations. It’s located within 1,650 feet of Yamba Lighthouse and 350 feet to Main Beach.
All rooms have balconies with most enjoying views of the beach and Pacific Ocean. The rooftop terraces enjoy panoramic views with a heated pool, sundeck & indoor/outdoor lounge.
The Sands Resort
Located directly opposite Pippi Beach and a 10-minute walk to Yamba town, The Sands Resort at Yamba offers self-catering apartments with ocean or pool views. Facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, heated spa pool and 2 tennis courts.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Yamba
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 destinations that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
More travel ideas for the NSW North Coast
- North Coast NSW Road Trip – Lennox Head to Gold Coast
- 5 Stunning Byron Bay Beaches You Must Set Foot On
- The Sleepy Beachside town of Kingscliff NSW
- 22 Things to Do in Port Macquarie
- 12 Reasons to Visit Byron Bay with Kids
- Best Things to Do in Coffs Harbour
Have you been to Yamba before? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.