Next Family Getaway? Give The Kids Their Best Beach Holiday Yet

29 January 2018
Read Time: 8.4 mins

In our highly-scheduled, always-on world, the simple Aussie beach holiday ­– the kind we remember from childhood – is more appealing than ever.

The good news is, if you’ve just settled your kids back into school and are already wondering ‘Where to next?’, the Australian coastline is filled with beachside towns and old-school holiday spots that offer just as much beach holiday magic as when we were kids.

One idyllic destination is on the New South Wales north coast.

Why Yamba and Iluka are Perfect for Family Holidays

Jump in the car and drive roughly 3.5 hours south of Brisbane or 7.5 hours north of Sydney and you'll arrive at the coastal towns of Yamba and Iluka, separated by the sprawling Clarence River. The river is the largest on the eastern seaboard, meandering to the ocean and dividing, then dividing again so much so that there are more than 100 chartered islands in the area.

All that water means a whole lot of things to do...

Two children having fun at the beach Shallows are just as fun as big waves when you're a kid.

Splash around

Long stretches of golden sandy beaches are only part of the story in this natural wonderland. Rocky outcrops, bluffs and points make for a pretty interesting coastline with loads of opportunities for exploring and having fun on the water’s edge.

Iluka Bluff Beach Easy waves for the little people at Iluka Bluff Beach, new south wales

Swim at the beach

Did someone say golden sandy beaches? From Pippi Beach on Yamba’s southern shores to Iluka Bluff beach and further north, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the simple pleasure of beach time. Several of the 13+ beaches (including Pippi and Iluka Bluff) are patrolled in season, with Iluka’s Main Beach stretching out an incredible 2.5 kilometres. Take the Frisbee, cricket bat or – as my family and I sighted on Iluka Bluff Beach recently – an oversize inflatable rainbow pegasus (not to be confused with a rainbow unicorn, as my 4-year-old daughter pointed out).

young girl at beach looking out to bushland in Iluka new south wales Turtles, crabs, fish galore... so much to wonder at and talk about after the holiday is over.

Spot a turtle

If you’re lucky, you may even catch sight of a turtle in the shallows, and you’ll certainly be able to see all sorts of small fish darting around the shoreline.

limpets in a rock pool at Iluka, new south wales There are the limpets, and then there are the shells that crawl away...

Explore the rock pools

The area is teeming with sea life, and kids will love discovering all sorts of interesting creatures in the rock pools around Iluka and Yamba when the tide is out. In the school holidays, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) run a WilderQuest ranger-guided tour which introduces children aged 5 -12 to the fascinating world of rock pools at Woody Head.

Iluka Bluff Beach new south wales Iluka and Yamba have beaches for every level of wave-riding ability.

Master the boogie board or surf board

While there are some well-protected beaches that will suit parents with very young children, there are also some great locations to take older children who are learning to surf – namely, Spooky Beach in Yamba.

two children building a sea fort in iluka, new south wales What ipad? The sea fort is the ultimate interactive game.

Build a sea fort

This one works, no matter what beach you’re on. One of the time-honoured pastimes of the classic Australian beach holiday is the building of sandcastles – or, if you have a young boy, operational sea fort with moat and super-reinforced barrier walls.

Buy fresh seafood

fish and chips It wouldn't be a beach break without some hot, fresh fish and chips.

Stop in to the Clarence River Fisherman’s Co-op for some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever taste. The Co-op has a retail outlet in both Iluka and Yamba. If you’re in Yamba, take yours up to the grassy area surrounding the Yamba Lighthouse for an amazing picnic with a view.

pelicans in iluka, new south wales Remember what it was like to see a bird as tall as yourself?

Meet the pelicans

If you pop into the Clarence River Fisherman’s Co-op in Yamba, you’ll probably get to meet some of the local pelicans who like to hang out near the Yamba Bay Oysters shed.

children exploring water's edge at yamba new south wales More exploring, near Yamba Bay Oysters.

Go for a paddle

Rent a kayak and combine relaxation, activity and a bit of sightseeing. With double and single sea kayaks for hire, you’ll be able to navigate your way along the sheltered waters of the Clarence River estuary with ease, and if your kids are old enough, take them out for a paddle.

family playing frisbee on beach at iluka, new south wales Slightly more room to move than at some other family beach destinations.

Introduce the kids to fishing

You can fish right off the wall at... well, ‘The Wall’. This is what the locals call the break walls of Yamba and Iluka. According to local Iluka resident John Ford, it’s almost impossible not to catch a fish in the waters off his home town. With such a high chance of success, what better place to get the kids into fishing?

Yamba cinema That movie theatre experience of yesteryear is alive and well in Yamba.

Catch a flick at Yamba cinema

Most beachside family holidays come with the odd rainy day or stormy afternoon, and luckily Yamba has the answer for those rare moments: The Yamba cinema. This is an authentic, old-fashioned movie theatre, with one screen – but thankfully, all the latest releases. Stepping in the door is like stepping back in time. No reclining seats or Gold Class, but bucketloads of character and charm.

Wallabies at Woody Head, new south wales Nature comes up and delights children daily, at Woody Head campground.

Get to know the wildlife

With Bundjalong Reserve to the north of Iluka, encounters with wildlife are an everyday occurrence. At the Woody Head campground, this furry family is people-friendly and just part of the local scene.

children on their scooters There are loads of ways to keep the fun up for the kids in Yamba.

Squeeze in some scootering

When you want to head into town to meander along the main street of Yamba, bring the scooters with you and include the town’s fantastic skate park on your must-see list. With bowls and bumps for all ages and levels of skill, your kids won’t mind so much if you want to browse through the boutiques or chill out at a cafe if they’ve already exhausted themselves at the skate park first.

Catch the ferry between the two towns

Another cheap and easy way to make this a holiday your kids will remember is to catch the Clarence River Ferry between Yamba and Iluka. On Sundays they even do a live music cruise.

Thinking old school beach holiday for your next family vacation? Yamba and Iluka are just two of the Australian beachside towns that give you that nostalgic beach holiday experience, with so many more – including Torquay, Port Macquarie, Kingscliff and Caloundra – around the country. 

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Feature image: Getty

All other images: Erin Bennion

Erin Bennion

Experience Erin's experience

Based in Brisbane, Erin is a writer and content creator with a penchant for using fancy old French words wherever possible and an insatiable hankering for trawling through vintage markets in small Scandinavian towns (no really). One of her dreams is to take her family to see General Sherman in Sequoia National Park and give that big, old guy a group-hug.