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...
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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