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Ballina attracts grey nomads
Ballina’s scenic waterways are a photographer’s dream. PIC: Destination NSW

The opening of the Ballina bypass a few years ago, may have taken a lot of the traffic out of the beautiful northern New South Wales town … but it certainly hasn’t done the same to the grey nomads.

Huge numbers of long-term caravanners and motorhomers are continuing to prove themselves keen, willing and able to turn off the Pacific Highway and enjoy the attractions of the home of the Big Prawn Sitting on the Richmond River.

Ballina is located about 750 kilometres north of Sydney and boasts a population of some 25,000. Originally founded back in the early 1800s when the first Europeans arrived looking for cedar to cut, the town grew quickly in the 1860s when gold was found at the mouth of the Richmond River.

Today, it is the beaches, the nearby waterfalls, the historic buildings, and the relaxed holiday ambience that draws in experience-hungry travellers. Offering a wide range of services, shops and caravan parks – and no longer any through traffic – Ballina has an awful lot going for it.

However, it is the Big Prawn that remains the town’s headline act. The giant crustacean, made of concrete and fibreglass, rode the wave of Big Things popularity surge before it nearly met an untimely end in 2009. The Ballina Shire Council actually voted to allow its demolition, but Bunnings Warehouse saved the day by buying the monster prawn which it now sits on a stand at the store’s entrance.

The main street of Ballina boasts some attractive buildings, including the post office and the courthouse, which was built in 1867. The nearby Fenwick House was built in the style of a Scottish manor house complete with a mahogany staircase, slate roof and stained-glass windows. Similarly, the heritage-listed Ballina Manor has recently been restored to its Edwardian splendour and now offers luxury accommodation.

The impressive Maritime Museum is a great place to understand the unbreakable ties between Ballina and the sea. Perhaps, the most famous exhibit here is the 12-metre long Las Balsas balsa wood raft which floated across the Pacific from Ecuador and landed at Ballina in November, 1973. On the waterfront there is the MV Florrie which was built in 1880 and traded on the Richmond River as a passenger vessel and tug from 1880 to 1975.

The Ballina lighthouse, one of the smallest on the Australian coast, was first established in 1866 and turned automatic in 1926. For those looking to spot humpback whales during their migration from June through until October, there are some stunning coastal lookouts in an around Ballina offering superb vantage points.

Ballina sits in a magnificent part of the country and there are some great country drives around. It’s certainly well worth a 30-kilometre or so drive out to the Victoria Park Nature Reserve on the Alstonville Plateau, and also to the Killen Falls Nature Reserve some 20 kilometres away.

The highway may bypass this gem, but long-term travellers most certainly shouldn’t.

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