Clarence: The coast less travelled

Is this the ‘Best kept secret’ on Australia’s east coast?

Of the countless holiday playgrounds stretching up the Pacific Highway, the Clarence Coast is something of a hidden gem.

It’s the place to come and explore the longest stretch of completely undeveloped coastline between Sydney and Brisbane. It’s where the tall timbers of northern NSW meet the sparkling Pacific, with thousands of acres of national parks and beaches that can be enjoyed all year round.

The busy Pacific Highway passes through, but the Clarence coastal retreats are located well off the main road. Perhaps that’s why they’ve maintained a special charm and largely stayed off the tourist radar -treasured by locals and the lucky few visitors who come back year after year.

Fishing at Wooli. Credit: Clarence Tourism

Fishing at Wooli. Credit: Clarence Tourism

Best of Best

If it’s been a while since you spent time in the bush, you can’t go past Yuraygir National Park.   Deserted beaches, remote campgrounds, and stunning coastal lookouts, it’s the park that lays claim to the longest stretch of pristine coastline in NSW. The four-day Yuraygir Coastal Walk allows you to fully experience the park.

For those with limited time there are shorter half and single day walks.

Enveloped by the national park, the seaside towns of Minnie Water and Wooli are renowned for their beautiful simplicity. The sort of places where you can throw a line in the river and let life’s cares melt away.

Forty minutes drive inland from Wooli is the Clarence “capital” of Grafton, a leafy city that was once a bustling river port. Famous for its towering Jacarandas planted in the 1870s, the Cathedral city is home to an interesting emerging arts and cultural scene.

The view from Iluka Bluff. Photo: Clarence Tourism

The view from Iluka Bluff. Photo: Clarence Tourism

Rich History

Cedar-getters were the first Europeans to make their way up what had previously been known as the Breimba or Berrinbah River. The local indigenous people were said to have lived in some of the most sophisticated settlements ever encountered by the early British explorers and colonists.   The abundant rainfall and rich soils of the valley saw agriculture boom, the products easily shipped from bustling river ports. Grafton grew quickly to become one of NSW’s first regional cities in 1885.   Notable heritage buildings include the Old National Bank and Anglican Cathedral. The city is also famous for its double-decker road and rail bridge over the Clarence, designed by Sydney Harbour Bridge’s creator JJ Bradfield in the 1930s.

Schaeffer House, home of the Clarence River Historical Society, is the place to learn more about this rich history. Volunteers are on hand to share local knowledge and show you through exhibits including beautiful displays of memorabilia, glassware, furniture and more than 150 pieces of Wedgewood china.

If the aim of your holiday is to really just relax and get away from it all, there are plenty of options. Getting really back to basics, campgrounds at Lilydale, Copmanhurst and Buccarumbi are popular with campers. All three within an hours drive from Grafton and have basic facilities. The dirt road to Buccarumbi can also be a bit rough at times, however the scenery is worth the effort.

Old National Australia Bank, Grafton. Photo: Clarence Tourism

Old National Australia Bank, Grafton. Photo: Clarence Tourism

New South Scotland

After spending time in the bush you can head back to the coast, follow the bonny banks of the Macleay and find yourself within a wee bit of Scotland.

Maclean is known as “The Scottish town in Australia”. Proud of its Scottish roots, the picturesque river town hosts a highland gathering every Easter, bringing together clans from all over the country. Now in its 111th year, the event features hammer throwing, caber tossing, and bagpipes galore.

It’s an easy drive from Maclean to some of the best coastal hideaways. At Brooms Head you can snorkel in the tidal lagoon and view whales on their annual migration. The surf town of Angourie lays claim to being the first surfing reserve in NSW.

Yamba and Iluka, twin towns at either side of the Clarence River heads are the region’s best-known holiday resorts. There’s more great surf, friendly locals and a range of bars, cafes and restaurants. Take the ferry for a relaxing 45-minute cruise between the two.

Fishing has always been one of the main Clarence drawcards, with a choice of rock, beach, estuary and deep-sea spots. Boats are readily available for hire. If you want to explore at a relaxed pace, there’s no better way than by kayak. Iluka Bluff Lookout, Yamba Lighthouse, and Yamba Museum are all worth a sightseeing stop.

Learn more about the Clarence Coast – clarencetourism.com

Link: Read more about The Clarence in Issue 15 of Time to Roam