The new Byron – that’s what those in the know will whisper when describing Yamba.
The parallels with the world-famous beach town 90 minutes up the road are obvious. There’s a brilliant food scene, the salt-kissed subtropical northern New South Wales climate, exquisite beaches and lush hinterland, and of course a village that feels like it’s surrounded by the sea.
Yamba, though, remains relatively undiscovered. You can usually find a rental, it’s easy to get around town and Instagram hasn’t quite caught on. This is old Byron – brilliant surfing, unfussy locals and a life that’s what you make of it.
And a stay here doesn’t begin and end with the town. Yamba is also the major centre in the wider Clarence Valley – an under-appreciated slice of the country that rewards exploration. There’s the exquisite riverside charm of Maclean, the iconic breaks and swimming holes at Angourie, and the bucolic seaside rainforests of Iluka Nature Reserve.
Here’s a guide to the region – what to eat, drink and do, and where to stay.
At this tiny al fresco daytime cafe in the centre of town, owner Sevtap Yüce serves regional produce and seafood from the local trawlers. Yüce has also written a bunch of cookbooks (so you know you’re in good hands), and many of her dishes are inspired by her Turkish heritage – including menemen eggs, chilli-garlic local prawns, Turkish-style sardines, and Turkish beef sausage with hummus, olives and pickles.
Coffee is Allpress, and wine, Turkish beer and Turkish soft drinks are available at lunchtime.
This old shopfront turned conjoined restaurant and boutique bar is all original brick, reclaimed local timber, custom lighting and gilt-framed mirrors.
It has the feeling of a gussied-up dive bar – and it plays that role well with an evolving list of fresh, fragrant cocktails – but just as many folks come for the brilliant food. That includes pan-Asian share plates such as Yamba prawn wontons, Cantonese crispy duck and red-braised Wagyu brisket – all served on polished concrete tables in a low-lit dining room.
Beers lean towards imported Asian brews, and the wine list hangs on minimal intervention riesling and white and red blends from Sigurd Wines.
Go early in the summer evening when the open windows catch the sunset shining through the nearby Norfolk pines, or stay for drinks late into the night.
This cafe is indicative of the rapid evolution in Yamba’s food scene.
Not more than a stone’s throw from Spooky Beach, it’s the spot to get an espresso before you hit the waves – or enjoy a slap-up brunch afterwards. You might eat shakshuka; smashed avo; a chilli and Meredith goat’s cheese scramble; or go one-handed with a bacon-egg roll. There are also fresh-pressed juices and a lengthy smoothies menu, with coffee supplied by Single O.
These are also some of the prettiest digs in town. Grab a seat outside at a white picnic table with the sound of the breaking waves in the distance, and this place will soon feel like your second holiday home.
It’s hard to imagine Yamba without the Pacific Hotel. For 86 years, this iconic white building with its red-tile roof has sat like a beacon high on the hill overlooking Yamba Beach. It’s a favourite watering hole among locals and an irresistible magnet for visitors.
The thing to do at the Pacific? Perch at one of tables at the front window with a frothy or three and watch as the sea crashes onto the beach and surrounding headlands below. But Thursdays through Sundays you’ll find live music, and the restaurant dishes out food that’s a cut above your average pub fare.
The on-site accommodation has just received a beautiful refurb too, in case you want to park for the night.
Sanctus Brewing Co
You’ll find this modern brewpub in an old industrial district about a 20-minute drive from town.
Sanctus head brewer Banjo Hillier’s beers lean towards the approachable, with the core range including a lager, a pale ale, an XPA and a mid-strength – but there’s also a Blueberry Crush sour and a whopping 10 per cent ABV stout (yes, thankfully there’s a courtesy bus). There’s also a terrific selection of elevated pub grub that includes fish tacos, a Cuban sandwich and pale-ale-battered fish’n’chips, alongside a menu of woodfired pizza.
The location itself is a handsome, high-ceilinged corrugated steel and brick edifice with timber high tables and plenty of greenery. The killer feature is the adjacent lawn, meaning Sanctus is a welcome spot for dogs and groms.
Yamba River Market and Yamba Farmers & Producers Market
If you’re in town on a Wednesday, make time to check out the Yamba Farmers and Producers Market. It features 40 permanent stallholders – farmers, makers, bakers, artisans and producers – peddling everything from seasonal produce, to sourdough and pastries, to pasture-raised pork and beef and free-range chickens.
The market runs 7am to 11am in the car park between Whiting and Turners beaches at the mouth of the Clarence River.
If you can’t book your trip for the middle of the week, try instead to line it up for the fourth Sunday of the month to catch the Yamba River Markets. Located at Ford Park on the Clarence River foreshore, this is a much bigger affair, with 120 stalls (more during peak season) selling fresh fruit and vegetables, plants, second-hand furniture, books, jewellery, clothing, and arts and crafts. There’s always a stack of food stalls, too. Yamba River Markets runs from 9am to 2pm (just keep in mind the event takes a break in December).
Surf Spooky Beach and explore Blue and Green Pools
Spooky Beach – or Spookies as it’s often called – is one of northern NSW’s best-known surf spots. It’s a beautiful narrow patch of sand with a break that’s powerful enough for intermediate riders, but kind enough that an advanced beginner can jump in and challenge themselves. If you’ve packed your board, this where to head.
If surfing’s not your thing, head south of the beach to Angourie’s Blue and Green Pools. These former quarry sites were mined in the 19th century (to supply the rock for Yamba’s break wall) until workers hit a spring and managed to fill them with fresh water. These days, they’re populated by locals leaping into the water from the old quarry walls or simply cooling off in the summer months.
Keep in mind the pools sometimes close because of algae blooms (which is totally normal) – if so, the beach is a short walk away.
This riverside town just 15 minutes west of Yamba is known as the gateway to Australia’s sugarcane industry. Maclean’s streets are lined with heritage pubs and churches, and it’s a pleasant place to hang out and explore – maybe sipping specialty coffee at Botero, or knocking back a frothy on the shaded riverside verandah at the Maclean Hotel.
Maclean Lookout has brilliant views across the region, which will help you get to grips with its geography. It’s also the location of the Pinnacles, a dramatic rock formation and an important cultural site for the local Yaegl people. The town also has a strong arts scene.
Hike in Iluka Nature Reserve
It’s on the other side of the river from the centre of town – about a 40-minute drive away – but Iluka Nature Reserve is worth checking out. The strip of Gondwana Rainforest has more than 180 unique species of plants and is the largest remaining seaside rainforest in NSW.
The best way to take it in is with an easy hike along the 2.6-kilometre Iluka Rainforest track. There are 144 species of birds living in the forest, making it an excellent spot for birdwatching, or perhaps just a bit of self-reflective shinrin-yoku (forest-bathing). Pack a picnic and have lunch at the end of the trail at Iluka Bluff – it has a lookout with views across the sea and access to Bluff Beach.
The Black Ace
You’ll need to book well ahead, but it’s worth it to land a few nights in this fully restored 110-year-old weatherboard cottage in the heart of Yamba village (and an easy walk from the main beach).
This humble beach house – which has room for up to 16 people, if you really want to cram them all in ¬– has been given a designer do-over with black VJ-timber walls and white timber floors. There’s a full kitchen, an enormous deck with a barbeque, and a games room with a pool table that converts into a table-tennis table. If you have a crew or you’re travelling with the extended family, this is the place to pitch up.
Angourie Resort, a short drive south of town, is surrounded by lush subtropical rainforest. It splits the difference between Yamba and Angourie, a sleepy village known for its fabulous beaches and swimming holes.
The one-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom villas here are ideal for families. These are laid-back rather than luxury digs, with tiled floors, airy living areas and large enclosed verandahs. Each unit comes with its own kitchen, so you can stay in as much as you want.
There’s a pool (and pool bar), a restaurant, a barbeque area and a day spa on-site, and a playground and indoor playground for the kids. If you’re taking your young family on a northern NSW holiday, this is the place to stay.
Riptide Holiday House Wooli
It’s 50 minutes down the highway, but try to reserve at least a couple of nights to stay at this achingly quaint beach house in the tiny two-pub town of Wooli.
Right on the dunes, there’s not much to do here other than read, drink, swim, surf, cook and repeat – or maybe jog with the dog on the relatively deserted beach, which is pooch friendly. But Riptide has everything you need: three bedrooms (two queen-sized), a fully equipped kitchen and comfortable living area, plus a couple of deck chairs at the top of the dune out back to sit and watch the sea.
The house even has a Tesla destination charger, if that’s how you roll.
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