Northern Rivers

what? where?

A Guide to Northern Rivers

The Northern Rivers region of New South Wales is Australia in miniature - sparkling coastlines of endless beaches and lush rainforests, rolling countryside and miles of cattle country, mountain peaks and river gorges. Known as the birthplace of Australia's environmental movement and the most bio diverse part of the continent, the Northern Rivers is also one of the nation's top holiday destinations, thanks to its easy accessibility from Sydney and Brisbane.

Heads up

The Northern Rivers region is located in tropical New South Wales and stretches from Grafton to Tweed Heads near the Queensland border. Its most famous town is Byron Bay, renowned for its alternative lifestyles, while the other main towns are Ballina, Grafton, Lismore, Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads.

Tweed Heads is, in fact, considered part of the southern end of the Gold Coast and offers a slightly quieter version of the brash seaside and surfer experience that defines the Gold Coast. Close to Tweed Heads is Mt Warning, an enormous inactive volcano named by Captain Cook because its sheer size helped it act as a warning to sailors of the dangerous coast near Tweed Heads. Now a World Heritage Site, Mt Warning is the first point of land to see sun in Australia every day and visitors rise early to reach the summit and welcome the sunrise.

On the banks of the Tweed River and offering the most spectacular views of Mt Warning is Murwillumbah. The town has a pretty architectural heritage and an unusual museum in Tropical Fruit World, which boasts the world's greatest collection of - you guessed it - tropical fruit. Take the tourist drive from Murwillumbah to Tweed Heads along the Tweed River and explore some of the picturesque coastal towns and settlements here.

Once more on to the beach

The coastline of the Northern Rivers is blessed with excellent beaches that are a hive of swimming, surf and other water sports action, none more so than at Ballina. Situated on the banks of the Richmond River, close to Byron Bay and Lennox Head, Ballina has excellent shopping facilities to add to its great outdoor action. The town is also home to the region's airport with flights connecting Ballina to the rest of Australia. Ballina has some good locations for whale spotting during the migration season from June to October while dolphins play in the waves off shore all year round.

Just inland from Ballina is Lismore, the birthplace of eco-tourism in Australia and offering excellent access to the Australian hinterland and some lovely scenic drives. Head for Nightcap National Park with an incredible landscape formed thousands of years ago by volcanoes. As a student town, home to Southern Cross University, Lismore has a vibrant social, art and cultural scene.

River crossroads

The mighty Clarence River cuts through the elegant Victorian town of Grafton. The Clarence is part of the largest river system on the Northern Rivers with its tributaries, the Nymboida, the Orara, the Mann and the Coldstream, and with more than 100 islands dotted around the rivers. Grafton itself has a historic past that it still evident in its civic buildings and the foliage around the town, some of which were planted as far back as the 1870s. A well-marked heritage walk will reveal the best of the town's surviving Victorian buildings. Grafton hosts a jazz and blues festival at Easter and October brings the weeklong Jacaranda Festival and street parade, a colourful tradition that dates back to 1935.

Grafton is the perfect base to explore the national parks of the Northern Rivers region, including Bundjalung and Yuraygir, and the magnificent Solitary Islands Marine Park off the coast at Coffs Harbour, which is an ideal spot for scuba diving and snorkelling.

Towns located in Northern Rivers

  • Ballina - The pretty coastal town of Ballina is located on the east coast of New South Wales
  • Byron Bay - Tucked away in the far north-eastern corner of NSW
  • Grafton - Grafton is set in the Clarence River Valley in New South Wales
  • Kingscliff
  • Lismore - Tucked away among rainforests, tropical plantations, and historic country farmsteads, a scattering of rustic shops and cafes
  • Murwillumbah - Right in the heart of banana, sugar cane and dairy producing country lies a charming, arty town perched on the banks of the Tweed River
  • Tweed Heads - On the border between New South Wales and Queensland
  • Tweed Heads South