New South Wales: A fair dinkum treat

A friend's wedding gave Julian Eccles and his family the chance to explore New South Wales off the tourist trail

"Right: we're coming," we promised Jayne. Two years ago our good friend had emigrated to Australia to live with her boyfriend, Adam. She is our 10-year-old son Sam's godmother, so her wedding could not really be missed. But how sensible would it be to take the family, including four-year-old Dan, on a trip Down Under over the Easter school holidays? And where exactly was their hometown, Ballina NSW?

We assembled a wish list. Sam focused on playing inflight games at 30,000 feet and learning to surf. Dan wanted a close encounter with kangaroos. Catherine's aims were to see Jayne and to avoid creepy-crawlies. And I would be happy simply to experience Sydney harbour. These demands prescribed the route.

Singapore Airlines got the gaming vote. Sam was in Super Mario heaven soon after take-off. Thirteen hours later, we were in balmy Singapore. The airline throws in bargain stop-over opportunities at its home-base, breaking up what could for our lads have been a painfully long journey. It also gave us a taste of the tropics.

Two days later, as dawn broke over Botany Bay, we set foot on Australian soil - and my wish was granted almost immediately. The view from our 13th-floor pad at Quay West Suites was every bit the visual cliché I had anticipated: Sydney Harbour Bridge to the left, the Opera House to the right and cream-and-green ferries chugging out of Circular Quay below.

After a day's recuperation, it was time to use our transport of choice: the ferry. Our first stop was Manly, aboard the biggest ship in the municipal fleet. The vessel takes you the length of the beautiful harbour eastwards from Circular Quay, passing the Opera House and zoo on the way. After half an hour we were deposited at Manly quay and ambled down the Corso to the beach, picking up fish and chips on the way. For Dan's treat it was back on a ferry to Taronga Zoo, which brought both the "roo" encounter and that other zoological cliché: a photo with a koala.

The remaining days in Sydney were packed with ferry trips to Luna Park - the iconic, fading and nostalgic amusement attraction - and to the chic and modern Darling Harbour for its superb aquarium, maritime museum and child-friendly restaurants. On our final day we took a bus through town to the spiritual home of surf, Bondi Beach, and then treated ourselves to dinner at Doyle's quayside restaurant. It was the ideal place for Sam to tuck into his first lobster, with the Opera House reflecting across the water.

Ballina may be only a small town near the Queensland state border, but it has a smart little airport - and frequent flights from Sydney. The Virgin Blue 737 was full of weekenders heading for hippy Byron Bay nearby.

Every day for the next two weeks we were on a stunning beach under beautiful autumn sunshine interrupted only by the occasional tropical downpour. In Ballina, Shelly Beach gave us our first glimpse of dolphins riding through the surf as well as a daily bumper breakfast at the superb café above it. Most travellers only know Ballina for the absurd giant prawn atop a seafood restaurant beside the Pacific Highway which snakes round the town. If they stop, they find a quiet but friendly town.

These are not brochure beach towns, but they offer superb coastline, wildlife and space. Lennox Head, five miles north of Ballina, boasts the vast expanse of sand that is Seven Mile Beach. Its surf was perfect for the first of six surfing lessons which saw Sam stand up within an hour. Just inland from the beach is Lake Ainsworth, in whose tea-tree-stained brown water you can swim, sailboard and canoe. Byron Bay, 10 miles up from Lennox Head, is better known. The ultimate beach is Wategos where, even amid the luxury homes, we parked free right by the beach before hitting the surf and rock pools.

An hour's drive inland takes you to the heart of the rainbow region of New South Wales. There lies Nimbin, a timewarp town seemingly full of Woodstock extras loping past brightly painted wooden buildings containing cafés, galleries and even the Hemp Embassy. Heading northwards another 10 miles to the Border Ranges National Park, we arrived at an extraordinary World Heritage rainforest site with a 30-mile track around an ancient volcanic bowl.

The highlight, though, was the sunset ceremony on Lighthouse Beach. Against a reddening sky and the crash of surf, Adam and Jayne tied the knot.

I would have given plenty of tinnies to stay longer. But summer term 10,000 miles away beckoned . Counting three overnight flights and two Singapore stopovers, we had slept in nine different places in four weeks. We had not "done" Australia by any means. Instead, we got a taste of what it had to offer. And we avoided the crowds, searing heat and high travel costs of the peak New Year season and got a look at small-town life on the way.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project