A popular gateway to Byron Bay, Ballina is a great holiday destination in its own right thanks to its beautiful white sand beaches, reliable surf, and crystalline waters teeming with marine life. It’s also home to The Big Prawn! And if you look beyond the obvious attractions, you’ll discover a town rich in Aboriginal and early European pioneer history.
Founded on lumber in the 1840s, Ballina still boasts a number of character-rich heritage buildings. The town’s name reportedly came from a word meaning “plenty to eat” in the local Bundjalung language, and if you go searching, you’ll find many significant Aboriginal sites including ancient middens and sacred places steeped in myth.
Given Ballina’s proximity to laid-back hippie settlements such as Nimbin, you can also expect plenty of health-conscious fare, alongside lip-smackingly fresh seafood and abundant Northern Rivers produce. This town is also home to the Thursday Plantation of tea tree oil fame, so take the opportunity to stock up on the delightful natural products produced by this unique brand.
If you’re planning to enjoy a holiday here, organise Ballina car hire or book a campervan before you arrive at the airport as taxis into town can be pretty expensive even if the trip’s only short! Get the best deals on all the biggest car rental brands including Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty on DriveNow.
Read on to learn more about what Ballina has to offer, including our top picks on where to stay, where to eat, and the must-do attractions.
210 Southern Cross Drive, Ballina, NSW 2478
Telephone: +61 2 6681 1858
Ballina Byron Gateway Airport is located approximately 4km north of Ballina
No. of Terminals: 1
Timezone: GMT +10:00 / GMT +11:00 Daylight Savings Time
Ballina Byron Gateway Airport is the principal airport for the Far North Coast of New South Wales. Situated just 5 kilometres from Ballina CBD and less than 30 minutes from Byron Bay and Lismore, Ballina Airport is primarily serviced by Virgin Australia, Jetstar, and Regional Express aircraft, and receives flights predominantly from Sydney, with services also from Melbourne and Newcastle.
Ballina Airport boasts a host of facilities to help make your stay enjoyable. Tired from your flight? Stop by the onsite café for a coffee and freshly made sandwich or burger. Don’t forget to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi service that’s available throughout the terminal either.
The terminal is very compact so finding your way around is easy. Ballina airport car hire service desks are located adjacent to the baggage carousel in the Arrivals Hall. If you’re having difficulty locating car rental at Ballina Airport, head to the visitor information desk positioned in the arrivals area near the exit doors and one of the friendly members of staff will help point you in the direction of the counters for hire cars at Ballina Airport.
Most of Ballina’s hotels are close to River Street, the town’s main shopping strip, which faces the Richmond River. The majority are modest, friendly, and down-to-earth. All are also unique in character and equipped with everything you might need for a comfortable stay.
The swishest hotel in Ballina, the popular Ramada Hotel and Suites Ballina sits right on the Richmond River providing guests with sweeping views over the water and hinterland. Enjoy a flavourful Indian meal at the restaurant downstairs, then go out for a stroll and savour a beautiful sunset. Dolphins have been spotted in the water from the balconies of this hotel so do keep your eyes peeled!
On Norton Street, close to the football oval, the Ballina Manor Hotel occupies a restored 1920s building that was once part of a girls’ college. Guestrooms perfectly capture the property’s historic character with their period furniture and fine antiques. Join a guided tour to inspect the magnificent College Dining Room constructed in 1925 and to check out the extensive gallery outlining the history of this well-kept landmark.
For a taste of tropical Bali, choose Ballina Palms Boutique Hotel on Bentinck Street, across from the local footy oval. Rooms here feature plenty of island accents, from bright cushions with palm leaf motifs and cool hardwood floors to traditional wooden furniture. There’s also an inviting saltwater pool, a lush garden dotted with serene stone statues, as well as a thatched wooden hut perfect for morning yoga or meditation.
This classic motel sits on River Street with a nice big sign outside so you can’t miss it. Close to the local RSL and the shops, the Comfort Inn All Seasons is a truly convenient choice. It also has a pool and a quality restaurant onsite so for the price, it’s great value – a fact validated by the many savvy road trippers who choose this property as a stopover when driving between Sydney or Coffs Harbour and the Gold Coast!
Located on quiet, leafy Tamar Street, Ballina Travellers Lodge Motel is another sensible choice for guests after a cheap, clean, and comfortable place to spend a night or several. Generously sized guestrooms face a swimming pool, while there’s a shared kitchen and laundry so you can whip up a meal or do some housekeeping while chatting to other guests.
A good place to start your explorations is with a stroll along Ballina’s most prestigious thoroughfare – Norton Street. Lined with handsome Norfolk Island pines and gracious period buildings, this street runs from the Richmond River to Meldrum Park at the edge of North Creek. Pick up a guide from the Visitor Information Centre on Regatta Avenue or download one here to learn some of the secrets behind the elegant facades. The former North Coast Girls College – now the Ballina Manor Boutique Hotel – offers complimentary guided tours of the property each day.
Continue walking up Fox Street towards Ballina Fair if you feel like shopping, a snack or a movie. This retail complex has over 50 stores, a supermarket and a cinema, as well as a variety of dining options. Otherwise, backtrack towards River Street and peruse the excellent Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum on Regatta Avenue. This facility houses a fine collection of model ships and the last remaining Las Balsas raft, which set the record for the longest known raft voyage in history, crossing the Pacific Ocean from Ecuador to Australia in 1970.
Should you be hungry after this, the good news is that River Street has the town’s widest selection of eateries. There’s also an RSL Club here where you can enjoy hearty bistro-style sustenance in a fantastic waterfront setting, then perhaps partake in a leisurely game of lawn bowls.
To appreciate Ballina and its surrounds from the water, Kayak Ballina offers guided tours on selected Saturdays throughout the year. If dates don’t suit or you prefer a tailored experience, you can also book a private excursion. Learn about the area’s diverse flora and fauna from a local qualified instructor and enjoy interesting commentary about Ballina’s heritage.
Kayaking tours depart near the corner of River Street and Quays Drive. On your drive up here, why not take a short detour into the carpark of Bunnings Ballina? This is the home of the much-loved Big Prawn, a 6 X 9m concrete and fibreglass landmark that narrowly missed demolition in 2009. Today, this hard-to-miss crustacean features in many Ballina family photographs and travel selfies.
Should you find your lips a little chapped from being out in the open or your skin in need of a pick-me-up, head straight for the Thursday Plantation Visitors Centre & Café on Gallans Road near the airport. Drop the kids off to navigate the Tea Tree Maze, while you shop for the latest Thursday Plantation products in the gift shop.
Armed with premium skin products and essential oils, you should now be ready to hit the beach. Patrolled during school holidays, Lighthouse Beach, which extends from North Wall to Ballina Head is very popular with families, fishermen, surfers, and windsurfers. Also well frequented is Shelly Beach, nestled between Ballina and Black heads. That said, none of Ballina’s beaches are half as busy as those in Byron Bay!
For a stretch of sand virtually all to yourself, visit secluded Angels Beach beyond Black Head. Its craggy northern limits at Flat Rock offer brilliant fishing whilst the pristine bushland that flanks the ocean harbours echidnas, wallabies, and other interesting native wildlife.
From June to November, humpback whales may be seen as they migrate up the coast to warmer waters. Ballina’s coastline is dotted with viewing platforms, such as the ones found at Ballina North Wall, Lighthouse Hill carpark and Angels Beach, designed for viewing these incredible mammals from land as they journey north.
Fifteen minutes outside Ballina in Knockrow, The Macadamia Castle is a fantastic destination for families. This working macadamia farm offers an array of attractions for children ranging from toy train rides and mini golf to a petting zoo. To keep adults happy, there’s a delicious range of specialty food and gourmet treats, many themed around the quintessentially Aussie macadamia nut.
Teven Valley Golf Course is another choice ion if you’re travelling with children. Set in rolling hills, this 9-hole golf course is well-maintained and challenging to play. It also offers FootGolf, a fun combination of soccer and golf that requires little more than sports shoes and a soccer ball. The object of FootGolf is to kick the ball across the course into 52cm holes located by the greens or in the rough.
To delve into Ballina’s Aboriginal history, take a Bundjalung Coast tour. Experience Nyangbul Bunjalung culture, uncover mythological sites, hear Dreaming stories, and sample bush tucker. On a full day trip, you’ll travel upriver as well as along the coast to inspect scarred trees, see ancient middens, and admire Minyon Falls.
If you haven’t yet been to Byron Bay, then this famous town is definitely worth a day trip or longer. Easily accessible via the Pacific Highway by Ballina hire car, this former beachside hippie hamlet has transformed into a much more upmarket destination in recent years, attracting over 1.7 million visitors annually. Top things to do here including surfing, whale-watching, and scuba diving. Byron Bay is also home to a photogenic lighthouse situated close to the easternmost point of Australia.
With ocean, rivers and fertile hinterlands at its doorstep, Ballina might be small but the town boasts great eating for its relatively small size.
In a charming old building on Cherry Street, this cute, laid-back café adjoins the Northern Rivers Community Art Gallery. Open for breakfast and lunch, Ballina Gallery Café provides reliably good coffee, healthy smoothies and a smorgasbord of simple yet delicious dishes showcasing regional produce and seafood such as locally smoked ham and green prawns.
On Shelly Beach Road, this insta-worthy café and food store wouldn’t look out of place in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane. Run by two sisters and their cousin, The Belle General is a one-stop shop where you can indulge in clean eating, imbibe full-bodied espresso and pick up house made granola, beautiful homewares or quirky jewelry.
Open 7 days for lunch and on selected nights for dinner, the Boardwalk Ballina RSL is an award-winning restaurant on the Ballina riverfront. Expect honest fare from authentic pastas and chargrilled steaks to oversized seafood platters. There are also plentiful options for little stomachs including chicken nuggets and spag bol.
Beloved by locals, Thai by Night by Chalee is a no-frills, well-priced eatery on River Street plating up northeastern Thai cuisine. The menu features all the usual suspects – satay, tom yum soup, pad thai and green curry – as well as a few delicacies hailing from the chef’s homeland. Lunches are especially good value, with fixed price two and three course options.
Given the many beaches and boardwalks in Ballina, you simply can’t leave without at least one meal of fish and chips. One of the best places in Ballina for this classic takeaway dish is A Fish Shop Called Dory’s on River Street which sources its seafood and fish exclusively from Australia and New Zealand. Aside from traditional hoki, dory and barramundi with perfectly golden potato batons, you should try the mouthwatering coconut prawns or the salt-and-pepper squid.
For the finest, freshest seafood baskets in town, look no further than Northern Rivers Seafood. This family-run business on River Street also offers huge locally caught prawns, hefty seasonal mud crabs and a wide range of fish that might tempt you to fire up the barbie for your next meal.
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