Ballina is located in the Northern Rivers region of Northern NSW. Close to Lennox Head, Pottsville and Byron Bay: boasting the most easterly point in Australia. Ballina is home to the world’s largest prawn and some of the best fishing we’ve seen in a long while. With a population of around 25 000 people Ballina is well equipped to cater to your holiday needs, particularly if that need is camping and fishing. Several caravan parks are scattered though the area to accommodate the growing population of campers and caravaners that flock to the region annually.
As you are probably already aware, we (the Tent) like to partake in kayak fishing on our break over Christmas. An unsuccessful fishing excursion to Yamba the Christmas before led us to closer waters and our stay in the Northern Rivers Region. As luck would have it, we left booking our holidays way too late (again) and the only available caravan park left that suited our needs was Ballina Central Holiday Park. Located conveniently on River st across the road from the Richmond River and the local Ballina waterslide, Ballina Central Holiday Park became our home away from home for seven days.
A couple of stops on the way-
Word has it that one of the best parks on the northern coast is Pottsville South Holiday Park. With this in mind we thought best to check it out on route and possibly book it for our holiday 2016/17. We walked through the park with oohs and ahhs as we looked on at the folk cooling off in the crystal waters of Mooball creek, literally metres from your tent, trailer or caravan door.
With bustling excitement and enthusiasm we hastily scampered off to reception merely to be laughed at and sarcasimed to. (yep I made that word up) You see, apparently a long term holidayer must die or you must inherit the privilege in a will, before a newby has any chance at booking a place over any peak period… ever! Though give it a shot if you’ve no fear of rejection and you’re feeling lucky. If you live on the other side of the border I’d head down there for a long weekend but for us QLD southern coasters, it’s just too far away. We did have a really nice lunch at the Corner Stop Espresso Bar that made the detour worth the while.
After a drive through; over rated, way to busy, people everywhere, drive two kms an hour Byron Bay we checked out another park recommended to us, Suffolk Beachfront Holiday Park. This place was shady, as close to the beach as one can be without being on the beach and just far enough out of Bryon to make it more appealing. With no access to fishing waters with our kayaks there was nothing else for us to see here. If you’re into surfing, chilling on the beach and still want to be close to Byron, then this place is worth a look.
After a scenic drive along the Coast Road (that’s actually it’s name) from Byron, past Lenox Head and East Ballina you come up over the headland and cast your eyes over the beautiful waterways of Ballina… ahhhh, so, so gorgeous.
We were greeted at Ballina Central with open arms and introduced to Lee Bolger the most amazing caravan wrangler I’ve ever seen! Jason and I watched on in awe as Lee directed Garry through the otherwise painstaking and somewhat nerve wracking task of fitting a 16 foot caravan into a fully occupied, narrow streeted, closely neighboured slabbed site. Piece of piss!! During our stay we were able to marvel at this wonder over and over again. “Look at me, look at me”, “Full turn to the left, half turn right, straighten, full left” Lee would chant. The driver listening intently clenches down, white knuckled on the steering wheel, his wife dares draw a breath till the engine is silent, all is still and the van is in place. Mesmerizing to say the least!
The park itself is pretty simple, clean amenities with a code to enter, a camp kitchen, everything you’d expect. It’s proximity to town was most convenient, the RSL, Woolworths and, thank god, BCF all within walking distance. BCF was frequented due to the loss of an anchor, a dodgy fishing rod and extra tarpaulins for the torrential rain that aggressed its way through on our second last day.
Near every day we kitted up the yaks, marched them across the road and headed straight out across the river to catch yabbies, dodge stingrays (all but one that barbed Garry in his foot) and fished our little hearts out. Each day we returned with Bream, Whiting and Flathead. We ate Fish Taco’s, Fish with sweet potato fritters, grilled fish with salad, fish and prawn risotto, (sounding like a scene from Forest Gump) but fish, fish, fish.
Ballina is not open to commercial fishing and the results of its absence are profound. Without doubt it was the most joyfully prolific fishing we’ve had camping to date. With much of the water uncovered it was unanimous by the end of our stay that we should return for another round next year.
There is much to do in the area; be photographed at the Big Prawn-just don’t eat at the pub across the road, it was poo! Visit the Maritime Museum, good value at only $5 bucks. Stop in at the Crawford House Museum or Ballina Manor. Enjoy the scenic walks in the area, laze on the beach, eat, drink, catch some good bands at the Ballina RSL or sit back and enjoy a good book in the sea scented Ballina Air.
Aforementioned it was agreed to return to this brilliant neck of the woods and until a walking excursion south one afternoon we would have subsequently re-booked at Ballina Central. Garry was off fishing while Gail, Jason and I walked off some of the fish meals we’d devoured over the past few days. No camping trip is without research and with this in mind we killed two birds with one stone and checked out the closest competition in the area. Enter Shaws Bay Holiday Park, with its picturesque lake on one side divided by a rock wall stretching out to the lighthouse and the beach on the other side. This was all enticing but then we discovered the Shaws Bay Hotel with its shore side volley ball court and the Shaw’s bay take away serving the worlds, that’s right the world’s best burger- according to their sign anyway, we fell in love. When we enquired about availability in peak times the reception staff did not throw sarcasm in our face, how utterly bizarre? Having said this, they don’t open Christmas bookings until February (lock it into the phone) and they do offer returning visitors first dibs . We waited patiently till the first of Feb, rang at 6:00 am, rang back at 9:00 am when the office opened and booked in for two weeks this coming new year. Genius what happens when you’re actually organised?
We couldn’t get around to all of the parks in the area, there’s just too many. We did make it over to Ballina Lakeside Holiday Park. It too sits on the man made lake and looks back over the water to the Shaws Bay park and Shaw’s bay Hotel, in fact you can paddle across the lake, grab a beer and paddle back home. It’s a huge park, with generous amenities, mini golf, a water park and the huge jumping pillow. A perfect place for those of you with young families, but for us it was a little too far from town and did not lend itself to our kayak fishing needs.
We also checked out the Ballina Headlands Holiday park, part of the Big4 group. No water access at all here and it was even further out of town. We met a couple that usually stay here but ended up at Ballina Central for the first two nights of their holiday due to booking mix up. They’d been going there for you years but now favour Ballina Central for its handy location to town and the waterways.
To summarise, Ballina Central was perfect for us, we enjoyed every minute of our stay. We met a divine group/family of people that have been coming to this park since they were children, so about 35 years for some of them. They would never consider staying anywhere else and if you’re reading this and end up staying here one Christmas, you will inevitably meet some of them too. Loyalist to their clientele, Ballina Central sent us a lovely email in February inviting us to re-book the same sites for this coming Christmas.
I hope I’ve inspired you to visit this beautiful part of the Australian Coast. Definitely, take a fishing rod and definitely take a good book. There are just so many perfect spots of shady grass to throw a towel on and enjoy a good read. Thanks Ballina, we can’t wait to go back and thanks Gail and Garry Chapman for once again being the easiest going, always entertaining, perfect camping companions that you are. I shall miss you both desperately while you’re foraying around the top end for the next six months.
Rose and Jason – The Tent.