There’s not many destinations in Australia where the rich soil from volcanic activity meets the ocean, supporting lush pockets of subtropical rainforest that date back to the Gondwana period, while also having some of the best beaches in Australia. Nambucca Heads has all this and more.
Nambucca Heads is located midway between Sydney and Brisbane on the NSW north coast. Now bypassed by the fast track freeway, it’s a quiet and peaceful area, and a few days here will have you coming back for more. Nestled right on the coast, Nambucca has all the services of the larger cities in a laid back kind of way. The Nambucca River ends its 87km journey on the southern side of town and, from its starting point way out in the hinterland, gives life to the whole valley.
A bit of history
Before white man set foot here, local Gumbaynggar and Dunghutti Aboriginal people called this place home and lived off both water and land that was rich in food.
Back in 1820, explorer John Oxley explored the area looking for convicts who stole a boat, but what they found instead was red gold – massive stands of red cedar trees. It wasn’t long before the area was settled and logging commenced. In 1874 a town site was surveyed, land was soon sold, and the town grew from there.
The river was a base for shipping up and down the coast, and it was soon realised that there was a pretty dangerous sand bar at the river’s entrance. Ships ran aground and lives were lost – in 1934 a wooden steamer that was actually named ‘the Nambucca’ ran aground enroute from Sydney with a load of cargo.
You can delve deeper into this rich maritime history at several museums in town, or the pioneer cemeteries at the Captain Cook and Rotary lookouts. Here, the old headstones detail a sad time in maritime history when lives were lost, and it was customary to position graves overlooking the ocean.
In 1895 a 500 metre break wall was built alongside the river. Now known as the V wall, it’s become a tourist attraction where anyone with an idea and some paint can graffiti the rocks that line the path. This unique idea has become so popular that people come from all over Australia to sign their own rock. You can spend hours walking along the wall reading the cartoons, signatures, memories and graffiti.
Rainforest meets the sea
The beaches are some of the best – and uncrowded – that you will find on the east coast. One has even been named the 8th best in the country thanks to its gleaming white sand and crystal clear water tucked in a little cove. The many protected coves with the gentlest of waves are perfect for the kids to snorkel around, while open cut beaches that suck the swell in create some awesome surf breaks too.
But the Nambucca area isn’t limited to water-based activities like fishing, walking for miles along deserted beaches, spending hours on a SUP, snorkelling and swimming – it’s also known for nature walks and forest drives. There are walking trails crisscrossing between coastal rainforest pockets and the waterfront that’ll have you racking up a few miles wandering around town.
Heading west out of town, Bowraville is a pleasant surprise. Known as the “Veranda Post” town, it has an alternative feel with colourful buildings, wide streets and festivals. Bowraville is like a town where time has stopped, where progress just wouldn’t fit in.
From the old town clock in the main street and wrought iron verandas on the old Bowra pub, to the war museums and the Bowraville theatre built in 1940, there’s not many towns like this around anymore.
The Pub With No Beer
One of the most iconic destinations in the area is the Taylors Arm. About an hour’s west of Nambucca, it’s now better known as the Pub with No Beer.
Extremely rich in dairyland and a few colourful locals, the valleys out here were stripped of the red cedar trees from the mid 1800s. By 1900 a small town evolved with a pub, post office and several stores to service the growing community. These days the pub has a cosmopolitan feel with camping outside, great meals and a variety of beer from around the world.
The Pub with No Beer was made famous by Slim Dusty when he recorded a song about the pub when it ran out of beer (and did you know that Midnight Oil released their own version too in 1988?) The walls are lined with memorabilia from days gone by like 100 year-old tools, photos, newspaper articles and more. Out front it’s hard to miss the massive red cedar log that was hauled down the valley as a reminder to days gone by.
While you might think it’ll just be a quick drive out to the pub for a squizz then back to camp again, it’s worth staying longer to check out the old relics outside, and the donated church that is now jam-packed with beer cans from around the world – strange but true. It’s a popular spot for weddings and music gigs so if the timing’s right you might end up spending more time here than you planned.
Get out there
The Nambucca Valley is one of those destinations you might not think twice about, but like me you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you can find if you look a little deeper.
While we were in Nambucca we decided to stay at Reflections Holiday Park. This ever so peaceful park is only a stone’s throw from the main beach and a two minute drive to town – a beautiful headland location where you can smell the ocean breezes, enjoy plenty of trees for shade, explore walking trails along the headland to nearby beaches, and to top it off the park is dog friendly. The park’s lookout has views all the way up and down the coast, perfect for whale watching or seeking out a perfect wave.
Reflections Holiday Parks Nambucca Headland
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