Beaches, rainforests & the great outdoors

a couple sitting at Clarkes Beach at Byron Bay.

Clarkes Beach at Byron Bay. Photo: Destination NSW

The NSW North Coast beaches are the best free fun you can have. There’s hundreds of kilometres of sand and surf to swim, surf, paddle, picnic and play on. Without a doubt, the beaches, rivers and creeks are the main attraction of the north coast. Even better, they are swimmable all year round. (Obviously the warmer months are super popular, but you really can swim here any time of the year).

Surfers from all over Australia and overseas flock to the NSW Coast beaches, and if you’ve never surfed, why not book a lesson at one of the many surf schools and have a go at ‘walking on water’. Go for convenience and choose one near where you’re holidaying. (One of my favourite surf schools is Walk on Water at Greenmount Beach.) Otherwise, hire a boogie board and ride the waves. If you’re visiting the creeks and rivers, maybe hire a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard and float around the calmer waters.

When the sun goes down, the beaches become your ideal dinner venue. I highly recommend dining al fresco with fish and chips, a picnic or a barbeque on the beach. (Beachside barbecues are free to use so pack your sausages and tongs and start sizzling). 

Which beach will you hit first?

a man surfing at the beach on the NSW Northern Rivers

Surf until your heart is content on the NSW Northern Rivers. Photo: Alexandre Saraiva Carniato, Pexels

There’s over 40 beaches on the NSW Northern Rivers to choose from so experience as many as you can. A few recommendations are:

  • Duranbah beach sits on the NSW and QLD border. D-Bah – as it’s called by the locals – is renowned for big waves and is a much-loved beach for experienced surfers. Walk up the hill to Point Danger and check out the Captain Cook Memorial and the iconic Point Danger Lighthouse. During winter, this is a perfect place to spot whales. 

  • While you’re in the area, why not pop around the point to Snapper Rocks beach (which is a short 200 metre walk). Snapper Rocks is a beautiful protected beach and is popular with suffers, swimmers and families. It’s also the home turf of Aussie surfing world champions Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson.

  • Walk around the point and you’ll find Greenmount beach and Coolangatta beach. Snapper Rocks and Greenmount beaches have great learn-to-surf lessons. Otherwise bob around in the water, walking along the beach, build a sandcastle with the kids or head up to the parks and let the kids try out the playgrounds while you sip your coffee. (For the record, Snapper Rocks, Greenmount and Coolangatta beaches are all on Queensland soil, so not officially part of the NSW North Coast but they are among my favourite spots to hang out.)

  • Fingal Head and Dreamtime Beach are 10 minutes drive from Tweed Heads. These beautiful and secluded beaches are perfect for beach-goers wanting to escape the crowds. Walk through the rainforest before the sand and surf magically appear before you. This is a popular surfing beach but it’s also prone to rips.

  • Go snorkelling or diving at Cook Island, which is only 600 meters from Fingal Head. Swim with green turtles, clownfish, parrotfish and the very harmless leopard sharks and look out for seabirds such as terns and Shearwaters. Tip: as tempting as it seems, don’t try and swim to Cook Island from Fingal Head – it will end in tears.

People snorkelling and diving around Cook Island on the Tweed River.

Go snorkelling or diving around Cook Island on the Tweed. Photo: Destination NSW

  • Head to Kingscliff where you’ll find one endless stretch of surf and sand, dotted with inlets and creeks to float around in. You officially have four beaches to choose from – Kingscliff beach, Cotton beach, Casuarina beach and Salt beach. If you’re keen for a surf lesson, or want to hire a paddleboard or kayak, speak to the Water Sports Guru at Kingscliff. Ladies – if you’re after a girls-only surf lesson, book a class with Salty Girls surf school. Salty Girls also offers a yoga class and surf lesson for the ultimate zen.

  • Just down the road is Hastings Point which has a creek inlet from the beach and perfect for snorkelling, paddling and just floating in the water. The kids love bobbing around in the crystal clear and calm water and pottering around the rock pools. Pro-tip: Grab some pool noodles for $2 at one of the local shops or discount stores and float around Hastings. Hastings Point beach itself is a popular surf spot and thanks to its headland, it generally always has good waves.

  • Cabarita beach and Pottsville beach are both long open stretches of surf and sand. These beaches are surrounded by nature reserves and walking tracks, and are popular with both surfers and families. Surfers will love the swells, while families enjoy the creek inlets with calm waters. Don't forget the pool noodles and snorkels so you can paddle and float in these beautiful swimming holes that are surrounded by nature reserves. Kayakers and canoers also love these areas.

a couple walking with their bikes on the sand on the Byron Bay beach

Enjoy long stretches of sand on the Byron Bay beaches. Photo: Tourism Australia

  • Head to Byron Bay for one of the most iconic beach and holiday experiences possible. This town used to be an ‘alternative’ place to hang out but over time, it’s morphed into an exclusive holiday hotspot and playground for the rich and famous. Today, it’s an eclectic mix of people from all ages, cultures and backgrounds. Another feature of Byron Bay is Cape Byron – which is the most easterly point in Australia. Take the 5 km Cape Byron walking track that leads to the lighthouse. The views are amazing.

  • As for Byron Bay’s beaches, they are all ideal for swimming, surfing, paddling and walking but each has something unique to share.

    • Main Beach is one of Australia’s most iconic beaches. The dramatic white sand and blue water is a regular feature in postcards from the area.

    • Nearby is the equally popular Belongil beach that is loved by surfers and swimmers. Join the crowd at Belongil and watch the sunset over Byron Bay. 

    • Go swimming and surfing at the beautiful and protected Wategos beach and Little Wategos beach. Enjoy paddling around the water with the backdrop of expensive houses and boutique accommodation perched on the hills.

    • If you want to escape the crowds, head to the more secluded Clarkes beach or Tallow Beach. Clarkes Beach is a popular surfing beach and is tucked between the Cape Byron Conservation Park and Arakwal National Park. Tallow Beach is Byron Bay’s longest beach (6.5km long), making it popular with walkers. 

The Lets Go Surfing instructor showing people what to do on land before they take their boards out into the ocean

Why not learn to surf? Photo: Lets Go Surfing

  • Head south of Byron Bay to Ballina and you’ll discover another 32 km stretch of beaches. Patrolled beaches include the beautiful Lighthouse beach, Shelly beach, Sharpes Beach; Seven Mile Beach; and South Ballina Beach. Unpatrolled beaches include Angels Beach, Flat Rock Beach, and Boulder Beach. Heads-up, if you’re not a confident swimmer, stay near to shore because these beaches are long and exposed.

Boating, cruising & fishing

People enjoying a pot-to-plate adventure with local Aboriginal tour guide - 'The Black Cockatoo' when they booked a Tweed Cruise

Do a pot-to-plate adventure with your tour guide - The Black Cockatoo. Photo: Tweed Eco Cruises

  • If you love fishing, there are many wharves and rivers to throw a line in. It’s really just a case of choosing where you want to fish. You can buy fishing bait at most petrol stations. 

  • Hire a tinnie (small boat) and go fishing, or just cruise around the river. Jack Evans Boat Harbour in Tweed has calm waters and water equipment for hire.

  • For something different, hire a BBQ boat and potter around the Tweed River. The boats come equipped with fishing rods, BBQ, esky and a canopy to keep you shaded. Cook a few sausages, jump in the water and try your hand at catching dinner.

  • Alternatively, book a tour on the river, and choose from a cruising, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. 

People pumping for yabbies before the catch a crab

Book a Catch-a-crab-cruise. Photo: Destination NSW

  • Go cruising on the Tweed River. For a different kind of experience, take a catch a cab cruise where you get to hand-feed pelicans and other birds, go yabbie pumping, mud crab catching and do a bit of fishing. There are plenty of other cruise options as well if you want to sit back relax and let someone else do the hard work while you cruise the Tweed River.

  • Go whale watching between June and November. This is the time to watch the whales frolicking and breaching as they head up the East Coast to the warm waters of the Whitsundays. I promise you’ll never get tired of watching these gentle giants at play. You can take a whale-watching cruise or watch them for free at one of the many great vantage points along the beaches.

National parks & rainforests

A woman sitting on the wharf and admiring the Tweed Coast mountains

Great mountain views surround you on the Tweed Coast. Ryan Fowler, Destination Tweed

The Far North Coast NSW has all kinds of national parks, coastal rainforests, and beach trails, and waterfalls for you to explore. Pack a picnic and make a day of it. Below are just a few national parks and hiking tracks to explore.

1. Mt Warning / Wollumbin National Park – near Murwillumbah

Mount Warning is a much loved hike for visitors and locals. (As a kid, it was an annual family tradition to hike Mount Warning).

  • Lyrebird track - 250m, 20 minutes. This is as easy walk across Breakfast Creek, through a lush subtropical rainforest to a viewing platform. If you’re a bird-watcher, pack your binoculars.

  • Summit track - 8.8km return, 5-6 hours. This is a challenging walk. The last part of the walk involves climbing up rocks with the help of a chain fence to reach the summit. When you reach the top, you get 360-degree views of the Tweed and Gold Coast. It’s a spectacular walk but not for the feint hearted. Many hikers climb Mount Warning so they can be at the top by sunrise because it’s the first place on mainland Australia to get the first sunrays every day. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone – you’ll meet plenty of other sunrise walkers along the route.

NOTE: Mount Warning is on Bundjalung land (who are the traditional Aboriginal landowners). 

2. Nightcap National Park (near Murwillumbah)

Nightcap National Park features sheer cliff walls, green gullies and waterfalls (including the steep drop at Minyon Falls), which are the result of years of thousands of years of erosion and a volcanic past. Nightcap National Park is also home to the little bent-winged bat, wompoo fruit-dove, masked owl, kookaburras, brush-tail possums, spotted-tailed quoll, koalas and the endangered Fleay’s Barred Frog.  Popular walks include:

  • The Big Scrub Loop – 1.5km walk that takes 45 minutes. You’ll pass large fig trees, crystal clear creeks and abundant birdlife. 

  • Protesters Falls - 1.4km return, and takes 45 minutes. This is an easy walk through Bangalow Palms to the base of the falls. Enjoy the serenity but don’t plan on swimming in the falls – this area is home to the endangered Fleay’s Barred Frog. 

  • Pholis Gap or the Boggy Creek walk (both walks are 4km return and take 1.5 hours). Pholis Gap takes you to the escarpment edge for views of Mt Warning. (Side note:  The track is named after Athol Pholi who was killed by a tree fall while he was working in the area.) The Boggy Creek Walk takes you past eaters and pools before ending at Minyon Falls.

  • The Minyon Loop (7.5km and takes 4.5 hours) takes you to the base of Minyon Falls and along the escarpment edge. 

a woman hiking and sitting on the mountain top on the Tweed Coast national park

Hike and reach the mountain tops on the Tweed Coast national parks.

3. Border Ranges national park (near Murwillumbah)
  • Falcorostrum Loop – (750m, 30 minutes) and takes you through ancient Antarctic Beech trees with falcorostrum orchids hanging off them.

  • The Pinnacle Lookout – (200m circuit, 20 minutes) – Walk past Hoop Pines and Antarctic Beech trees for views of Mount Warning.

  • Border Loop – (1.2km, 45 minutes). Walk through eucalypt forest of Brushbox, Blue Gums and Tallowwood. 

  • The Rosewood Loop — 6km and takes 3 hours – takes you past a creek and rainforest regrowth. If you’re brave, you can take a dip in the swimming holes but the water.


a woman sitting in a farm paddock and enjoying in the clean air and open spaces on the Tweed Coast

Breathe in the clean air and open spaces on the Tweed Coast. Photo: Ryan Fowler, Destination Tweed

4. Coastal walks in the NSW Northern Rivers

There’s plenty of beautiful coastal beach walks to enjoy, just choose a location and follow the signposted walking track. A few suggestions are:

  • Maggies Beach Walk at Hastings Point. This is a 6km walk along the coastal track. This is suitable for all levels of fitness and you’ll enjoy beautiful views over the ocean.

  • Hastings Point and Cudgen Nature Reserve (near Cabarita) are perfect for bird-watchers. This area has Indigo Buntings, Albatross, Australian finches, Little Terns, Beach Stone Curlew, Red-Capped Plovers and Australian Pied Oystercatchers. 

  • Another spectacular Coolangatta coastal walk (and is across the border in QLD). The walk takes you from Coolangatta, Greenmount and Rainbow Bay beaches to Point Danger lookout. Continue on the track past Duranbah beach and down to the Jack Evans boat harbour and back to Coolangatta. This is a daily ritual for many locals and walking groups, and is one of my favourite walks. Now it’s time to reward yourself with a swim!

  • Cape Byron walking track is 5km and takes 2 hours. This magical clifftop walking track ends at the lighthouse with views over the ocean.  Otherwise, there’s the Palm Valley loop (200m and takes 15 minutes). 

  • The two sisters track (800m one way, 30 minutes), at Broken Head Nature Reserve near Byron Bay. This is another scenic clifftop walk with stunning ocean views. 

a couple doing the Byron lighthouse walk

Do the Byron lighthouse walk. Photo: Destination NSW

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