Culture

Is This Australian Town The New Byron Bay?

Swimming holes + good cafes + chill vibes = beachside bliss.

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Yamba is what Byron Bay was 20-years-ago. Better even. At least that’s what Shane Henwood will tell you on one of his world famous tours. He’s one of the co-owners of the town’s only hostel – Yamba YHA.

Shane was 17-years-old when he first realised opening up a hostel to showcase his hometown was something worthwhile. By the time the pipe dream finally became a reality in 2008, the keen surfer had built up decades of globetrotting experience to draw on. But it took more than just experience to make the hostel happen. Shane, his brother Justin, both their wives, and the Henwood brothers’ parents all sold up their properties to invest in the business and get it off the ground. Now each member of the family has a speciality niche in the running of the hostel – the most notorious, of course, being Shane’s famous $15 tour of Yamba. But I don’t need to tell you how good it is – the internet will do that. The whirlwind tour goes for about four hours and covers everything worth doing in Yamba, with running commentary from a bloke who lives and breathes the town. His excitement and enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s coupled with a wicked sense of humour. By the end you’ll be itching to get back out and spend more time soaking up each destination.

Some of the fun facts Shane will be keen to point out on the tour is Yamba’s title as Australia’s top town, as voted by a panel of travel and tourism experts for Australia Travel magazine in 2009. It also tied with San Diego in California and Bunbury in WA for having the world’s best climate for work, live or play, according to a study by CSIRO and Stanford University. It’s hard to see from the centre of town, but there are four spectacular beaches all within 7-20 minutes’ walk.


Beached as bro

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Looking over the ocean pool to the Surf Life Saving Club on Main Beach.

You can’t go to a quintessential Aussie coastal town and not have a dip (or two) in one of the amazing beaches on offer. Turners Beach is the most northerly one, separated from the river entrance by the South Wall. It’s a popular swimming and surfing beach that’s patrolled during summer. Around the corner is Main Beach, or ‘miniature Bondi’ as some like to call it, which has a great 33 metre salt water rock swimming pool – one of the few on east coast north of Sydney – for those keen to do a few laps or take a time-out from the breaking waves. Convent Beach, which is the next one down, is small, cosy and great for swimming and snorkelling because it’s calm in almost all conditions. The fourth beach, Pippi Beach, has the longest stretch of sand in Yamba and is great if you’ve had a bit too much to eat and drink and feel the urge to go for a morning run (or just a casual stroll or picnic).


The Green and Blue pools

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The Blue Pool.

One of the great things about Yamba is there’s no shortage of awesome (and free) natural attractions. The two you’ll probably hear about first are the Green and Blue pools at Angourie. Both are freshwater and the result of quarries hitting underwater springs back in the day. The only downside is that both pools are subject to algae (due to the freshwater) – but the council will put signs up if it’s not safe to swim. Both back on to sheer cliffs with ledges and are popular spots to jump (or accidentally belly flop, in my case). Park at the Crescent carpark, follow the path and you’ll come to the Blue pool first. The cliffs are smaller here and the water is less blue than its name would have you believe (due to high use and excessive clay in the water from people jumping) but it’s a great place to get warmed up.

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The Green Pool.

Around the path to the right is the Green pool, where the cliffs are about four times as high. You can refer to Youtube for some footage of the jumps. Both spots are also great if you just want to chill, sunbake and read a book or have a picnic.


The Angourie rock pool

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The ocean rock pool behind the Angourie Blue Pool.

While the Blue and Green pools are great, the best spot is the saltwater rock pool behind the Blue pool. Because it’s ocean water and tidal, it’s crystal clear, never has algae problems and is full of cute little critters just doing their thing. You can jump in there with them and wade around, sit down, or even swim in some of the deeper parts. Or just chill on the edge with your feet in the water, narrating the movements of the aquatic life, David Attenborough style. The rock shelf that separates the rock pool from the ocean is also pretty cool to explore.


Yum Yum Angourie Store

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You know how every now and again you’ll stumble on a little gem of a cafe… That’s what this place was for me. It’s the kind of place where you can grab a coffee, read one of their many (up to date) magazines or newspapers and just let the hours slip away with the worries. The vintage plates, cups, cutlery and old school crooner music really adds to the atmosphere – one of simpler times in a bygone era. With a long rustic bar out the front and an assortment of different size tables, it’s perfect for both solo travellers or friends keen to catch up over some coffee and organic grub. The owners, Morgan Bramwell-Baker and her husband Chris Todd, opened the shop two years ago with the idea of creating an ‘old fashioned’ style general store with delicious home-made food and organic basics like eggs, bread and butter for sale. Chris does most of the cooking for breakfast and lunch while Morgan specialises in the baking of all things sweet and delicious. Burgers are the main dish on the lunch menu ranging from a $6.50 grommet burger to an $11.50 veteran burger. Very reasonably priced for what you get.


Learn to surf

There are few things more exhilarating than standing up on a surfboard for the first time and catching a wave. And if you’re visiting Yamba and Angourie, known for some of world’s best surf breaks, why not give it a go? There are two ways to go about it; hiring a surf board and heading out on your own, or signing up for a few hours with a surf school. Having done both, I would highly recommend the surf school. It will cut your learning curve by heaps. plus you’ve got pros who know where the best beginner spots are. Jeremy Walters is the owner of Yamba-Angourie Surf School. He’s an Australian champion and professional surfer and teaches all levels. You’ll learn surf safety, how to stand up, how to select waves and what surfboard is best for you.


The Pacific Hotel Yamba

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After a big day of surfing, hiking, kayaking (or any excuse really) there’s nothing better than a tall, cold schooner of beer or cider on tap to relax and unwind. And there’s not really any better place than the Pacific Hotel Yamba to do it. The views are absolutely amazing. Big glass doors out the back give you a panoramic view of the ocean, from the waves breaking at Main Beach to the swell coming in past the wall. You should even be able to do a spot of whale watching during migration season. If you’ve had enough of the ocean, or just want a change of pace, head out the front and catch some of the amazing live musicians playing every Thursday to Saturday.


The Wobbly Chook

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A Jabba Smash cocktail.

To step through the door of The Wobbly Chook is to step back in time to 1940s Brooklyn. There are a lot of things to love about this place, including the name. From its chesterfield lounges and footstools to its elaborate gold-frame mirrors, lantern-style lighting and indoor ferns, you can tell a lot of thought has gone into the decor. It’s on the third story of the Yamba YHA hostel and is open Friday and Saturday nights. Live musicians are a regular feature with blues and roots being the general vibe. If you need some fresh air, or just get the sudden urge to stargaze, there’s a balcony that overlooks the main street. Overall, The Wobbly Chook is a great place to have a yarn and spin some talks with fellow travellers or locals over a cocktail or spirit. I’d recommend trying the Jabba Smash, a home-spun concoction of locally grown berries, vodka, pomegranate liquor, lime and mint.


Headland hike

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If you’re up for a little adventure, then put on your hiking shoes and do the Angourie Walk through the Yuraygir National Park. Be warned, it’s a bit of mission before you even get started, but I promise the breathtaking views are absolutely worth it. You’ll leave from the Mara Creek picnic area, but remember to bring $8 in change – it’s old school paid parking envelopes (no EFTPOS, I’m afraid). Also, the Mara Creek picnic area may not show up on your iPhone’s Google Maps – but switch to satellite mode and you can see two dirt-road loops – it’s the southern one. Otherwise, go to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website to get all the info. The distance is 10 kilometres to Shelley Beach and back, and once you leave the picnic area there are no toilets along the track. The first 15 minutes of the walk is a little bland, but then the track opens up onto panoramic ocean and headland and you’ll be forced to stop and take a selfie (or two).


Wato’s fish and chips

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Tony Young from Wato’s Fish and Chips.

You can’t go to the town of the famous ‘Yamba prawn’ without actually trying one. And why not try a prawn fit for the Queen? Literally. The co-owner, Tony Young, has a resume that includes cooking for the Queen, U2 and Tom Cruise. Tony and his wife, Annie Watson, who the business is named after, decided they wanted the simpler life and opened up Wato’s Little Fish Bistro & Takeaway on the corner of Yamba and Wooli streets. Tony has four professional local fishermen who call when they’re coming in with fresh seafood, so he gets the pick of the catch – and you can tell. He also preps and cooks everything to perfection. You can either eat there or get takeaway and stroll up the hill and have a picnic at the lighthouse, overlooking the ocean. If you’re after something a little more fancy, wait until 5pm, when the place opens up as a seafood restaurant.


Headland haven

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Taking a stroll over headlands, getting slightly lost, and walking bare foot from one beach to another, is highly under-rated (at least in my humble opinion). The entire Yamba/Angourie coast is breathtakingly beautiful (think of all the Instagram likes) and you can pretty much walk all the way. Every headland and beach is unique and has its own special features. From June to November each year, tens of thousands of whales migrate from the cold southern feeding grounds near Antarctica to the warm tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef to give birth. Keep a lookout on the horizon as you’re enjoying the headland views and see if you can spot one.

With locations all around Australia no two YHAs are the same: from train carriages, to old movie theatres, a former prison cell, a tropical bungalow or a purpose-built eco-hostel, YHA is the number one choice.