6 min readIn case you’re not familiar with the area, Ballina is located on the NSW North Coast, just 30 minutes from the world-famous Byron Bay and nestled along the mighty Richmond River. The origins of the name Ballina are not entirely known, but some suggest that it is a deformation of the Bundjalung word bullinah, meaning ‘place of many oysters’.
The town of Ballina is often overshadowed by its famous sisters further up the coast, but there is a lot more to this town than just the Big Prawn! Here are the top ten things that locals like to do in Ballina.
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Our top 10 things to do in Ballina
1. Walk the Ballina to Lennox Head trail.
The Ballina to Lennox Head trail is 21.5 km long, so you could walk it section by section if travelling with children or inexperienced walkers. With a moderate pace, you can complete it in about four to five hours. Prepare for totally breathtaking scenery as you walk along some of the most dramatic coastline and beaches in the area. You may even find a new favourite spot to visit with your beach umbrella and picnic basket. If you do walk the entire stretch, you can take a bus back to Ballina from Lennox Head for under $10. The trail is suitable for people of all ages but bear in mind that walking up the headlands requires a good level of fitness.
2. Aboriginal Cultural Ways path.
This pathway is on the Coastal Recreational Path at Angels Beach to Sharpes Beach. The Indigenous community have shared their history in the form of 22 panels along this walkway, depicting their cultural heritage through stories and art, and expressing the deep cultural significance of this area and country. Along the path there are QR codes on the panels scan them with your phone for additional information and audio content.
3. Thursday Plantation Visitor Centre.
Tea tree oil is a popular home remedy for most Australians and was used in the armed forces first aid kits in World War II. Tea tree leaves were also used by the Aboriginal people of Northern NSW for thousands of years for its healing properties.
At Thursday Plantation they grow tea tree in stunning surrounds. They are the pioneers of the tea tree industry and set the standard for quality worldwide. You will surely recognise their product on supermarket shelves or in your own medicine cabinet.
You can visit the home of tea tree at the visitor centre on Gallans Road (off Tamarind Drive). There is a cafe, an information centre with a 15-minute video about the history of Thursday Plantation, a small rainforest, a tea tree maze and garden art. It’s great fun and free of charge, so you can save your money for the gift shop full of natural products to test and buy. Locals suggest that you don’t attempt the rainforest walk without insect repellent, which you can also get for free at the gift shop.
4. Whale watching at Lighthouse Beach.
This spectacular beach deserves its own number and mention. You can start at the Ballina Head lookout, walk down the hill to the Lighthouse Beach Cafe, with its stunning views and awesome food. Then walk it off on a stroll down the North Ballina Wall. Finally, take a book and a rug or a board of any kind and bliss out for the day. Lifeguards patrol Lighthouse Beach during school holidays for a safe swimming experience but check it out off-season too. Some of the magic of Lighthouse Beach comes out when winter approaches and the migrating whales pass by, then there’s no better place to be. If you enjoy the whale watching and care about ocean wildlife, consider taking three for the sea while you’re there.
5. A ferry ride to South Ballina.
If you are looking for a really secluded beach, a local surf spot or a stunning spot along the Richmond River, head over to South Ballina on the Burns Point Ferry. It’s a delight for kids and kids at heart to take a thrilling boat ride. It costs $6.50 per car, one way, and if you don’t want to make the return trip, you can always take the scenic route back to Ballina via East Wardell.
The South Ballina Wall is a local surf spot and a lovely secluded beach. You can park your vehicle right at the Ballina South Wall. The waves can be counted on for surfing year-round. It’s a fun spot for a beach day and a change of scenery from the more central beaches.
The Burns Point Ferry operates from 5.30am to 12.30am daily and is closed on the second Tuesday of each month from 9.00am to 12.00pm for maintenance.
6. Coffee and art.
It is just such a treat to get a barista-made cup of coffee poured like a work of art at the same time as admiring some fantastic artworks. For coffeeholics try the Ballina Gallery Cafe, where you can take in local artwork before and after your coffee fix. The Ballina Gallery Cafe is located at 46 Cherry Street, Ballina and is open from 6.30am to 2.30pm daily.
7. Waterfall massage at Killen Falls.
A short drive from Tintenbar, down windy Friday Hut Road, is Killen Falls. It is the closest waterfall and freshwater swimming spot to Ballina. A truly magical natural wonder, where you can walk inside the cavern behind the waterfall. If you’re brave enough for the chilly water temperatures, sit on a rock under the falls and experience the best natural shoulder massage in the shire. The 660m return walk to the bottom is steep and may not be appropriate for anyone with knee or balance issues. However, the lookout from the top is still worth a look and you can also visit the Emigrant Creek Dam viewing area from the same carpark. Killen Falls is located on Killen Falls Drive in Tintenbar.
8. Ballina Pool and Waterslides.
Can you ever be too old for a water park? If you want a fun day guaranteed, sliding down long curvy waterslides and squealing with laughter is an excellent idea. Ballina Pool and Waterslides are a privately-owned business next to the Ballina Memorial Pool with a separate entry fee. What an awesome thing to do on a hot day or even in the off-season as the pools are heated.
The waterslides are open from 10am to 4pm during the NSW school holidays. Check their site for more details: Ballina Waterslides. The cost is $19.50 per person including the pool entry.
9. Bird watching.
There are numerous spots around Ballina Shire recommended for getting a good visual on water and land-based birds. Some places like Victoria Park Nature Reserve have wheelchair access within about half an hour drive from Ballina. Whether you’re into bird watching or not, these are all beautiful, natural spots to visit: South Ballina Beach, Mobbs Bay and Richmond River Nature Reserve at South Ballina. Victoria Park Nature Reserve near Dalwood. Heading North there is Flat Rock, Lennox Head Heathland (North of the stunning lake Ainsworth) and the Broken Head Nature Reserve (spend a whole day here and check out Whites Beach too). South of Ballina, there is the Tuckean Nature Reserve, Bagotville Barrage and Broadwater National Park.
If you are keen to learn more about local birdlife, check out Seabird Rescue where you can find information, educational talks and ways to contribute to their incredible work.
10. Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum.
Ballina has a rich history of ocean transport and seafaring. The Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum is home to some fascinating artefacts and history. Special mention to the ‘Women in the Navy’ display, a well-deserved tribute.
That sums up our list of popular things to do in Ballina and should keep you busy for many days (if not weeks!). When you’ve explored Ballina, stray a little further and you will find yourself in Yamba and Brunswick Heads, or Tweed Heads and The Channon.
You will never lack interesting and thrilling things to do in the Northern Rivers and you don’t have to have a Chris Hemsworth budget to enjoy this magnificent shire.