Local's guide: Northern Rivers Region

From history to epic headlands, sand dunes to surfing, rainforests to multi-awarded restaurants, the Northern Rivers region specialises in serving up something for everyone.

Highlights
  • Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve
  • Crystal Castle 
  • Old Maids
  • Broadview Apartments

People looking for a quiet, unpretentious town for a family holiday will find that the Northern Rivers region is a genuine time warp - towns which, in their ambience and style, are more reminiscent of the 1950s than the 21st century. From world-class restaurants and local favourites, to hidden gems in Brunswick Heads, Mullumbimby and beyond, the best way to discover all that’s on offer is to grab some friends, jump in the car and hit the road (surfboards optional).

Where to eat

Lauded as one of the best restaurants in Northern NSW, Fleet brings a modern ma-and-pa sensibility and warmth that is in direct contrast to the minimalism of the space, best described as a concrete bunker warmed with wood and lined with wine. Hailed as destination dining at its best – you don’t want to miss your chance to eat here. Stop by the chic-coastal kitchen The Kingswood for a glass of natural and low intervention wine, as well as a few share plates. You can also order a picnic box to enjoy by the banks of the river, but if you’re fronting up to snare an outside table in peak season – it’s advised to make a booking beforehand. For a more budget-friendly option, drive ten minutes inland to the lovely, riverside town of Mullumbimby for wood-fired pizza at Milk and Honey.

Nothing goes with wet, sandy hair and salt-dusted skin like a two-hands-required burger and an ice cold milkshake, and that’s exactly what you can get at Old Maids. You can dine in their cute booths inside or outside under beach umbrellas, or you can even takeaway to enjoy ‘the best burgers in Bruns’ as a picnic. Sandy toes are also welcome at Milk Bar – a riverside eatery that serves excellent coffee, ice creams and, in true Byron Shire style, probiotics. Be sure to try the brown rice and beef bone broth congee, as it’s enough to fuel an afternoon of paddle boarding and other river-centric activities. And make sure you spend an afternoon sinking frosty pots in the beer garden and under the shady Poinciana trees at Hotel Brunswick. The heart and soul of this sleepy coastal hamlet is a mere 75 years young and comes alive with live music most weekends.

What to do

With amazing beaches, the Northern Rivers Region is a great destination for water activities. You can join the kids jumping off the bridge into the Simpson River at high tide, or throw your towel down on the beach. But if you’re more of a floater than a frolicker, Torakina Beach which is protected between two break walls is your pick. Always calm and fringed by shade, this little swim spot is nothing short of idyllic. Alternatively, you can spend the whole day fishing on Brunswick River or New Brighton Beach, drive, walk or cycle all the way to Harrys Hill Beach on the north bank of the river for a picnic under shady trees. Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve offers all the pleasures of the great outdoors within easy reach of civilisation. Whether you’re into fishing, canoeing, birdwatching or picnicking with a view, come and explore this charming reserve nestled between the townships of Ocean Shores and Brunswick Heads.

A short scenic journey into the Byron Bay hinterland lies a tranquil and magical sanctuary - the Crystal Castle. With its peaceful ambience and exquisite natural splendour, you can stand between two of the tallest crystals on earth - the Crystal Guardians or be immersed in the magic of the Enchanted Cave, the largest amethyst cave in the world. If you visit Mullumbimby on a Friday morning, do so. That's when the weekly Mullumbimby Farmers' Market swings into action at the Mullumbimby Showgrounds. As the 'farmers' market' tag suggests, you'll find plenty of the usual suspects like fresh fruit and veg, but you'll also have a chance to see the town at its colourful best. 

The Brunswick Picture Theatre has become the place to be for fun theatre, music, interactive shows and more. This retro theatre has been restored with much razzle dazzle and has been a beacon of entertainment in Brunswick Heads ever since. Expect plenty of cabaret on the dance card, along with films and comedy. The Brunswick Heads Monthly Market is held in the Memorial Park on the first Saturday of each month. Located on the riverbank, it’s within easy walking distance of the cafes and shops that line the main street. Take a Brunswick River eco-cruise and view native wildlife and marine life in their natural environment. You can enjoy a sunset cruise or a morning cruise, or you could also cruise with a kayak or paddle board. If you’re in Brunswick Heads during the winter, it’s worth your while to head to the North Wall to watch for migrating whales, what’s more eagles and kites can also be seen in the sky along the coastline all year round. From here, you can take an easy walk through endangered littoral rainforest on the North Head Track, or hike a short distance to Marshalls Creek for some birdwatching.

Where to stay

If you’re after a classic motel experience, then The Sails Motel has got you covered. Conveniently located on Tweed Street, the motel is within walking distance to the beach, river shops and restaurant and offers family room, queen and king single bedroom options. 

Book yourself into a self-contained holiday apartment at the stately Broadview Apartments and you’ll be surrounded by Art Deco. With its Insta-worthy façade, original floors and sun-drenched rooms, sit atop of a private deck and watch those working week stresses melt away. For parents or those that need some extra privacy, than the adults only The Brunswick is one of New South Wales’ best kept secrets. Nestled away from the hustle and bustle, The Brunswick offers guests boutique, contemporary and an environmentally conscience place to stay, while providing all the quintessential elements of a beachside holiday.

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