NSW: Off Path Takes Some Beating

Originally published in Sunday Telegraph, 23 August 2009

Byron Bay Hinterland

Byron Bay Hinterland

Roderick Eime gets lost somewhere out the back of Byron and finds an oasis of good taste

Spindly branches and twigs whip my face and shoulders as I hurtle down the wet, rocky trail. I retain just enough control to dodge fallen logs, puddles of unknown depth and angry-looking rocks strewn across the steep forest track.

It’s been a long time since I rode a push-bike of any description, let alone a state-of-art mountain bike with shock absorbers, 30-odd gears and disc brakes. I’m hanging on for dear life knowing that the tiniest mistake will bring a world of pain but I manage to bring the entire unwieldy package to a skidding halt at the bottom of the trail. Flecks of mud, shreds of leaves and a few red welts are testament to my enthusiasm if not my two-wheeled, downhill ability.

“Not bad,” offers Braden as some consolation who’s almost had enough time to boil the billy and cut the sandwiches as he waits for the rest of us to catch up.

Braden Currie, a champion mountain biker in his native New Zealand, and yoga-therapist partner Sally Schott run Mountain Bike Tours out of Byron Bay, taking pedallers of all ages and ability on wild rides through the seldom-explored Nightcap National Park among others. Braden’s gnarly knees and whippet-like physique indicate he’s no stranger to a wet saddle – or coming off one occasionally.

“One lump or two?” enquires Braden as he pours the steaming tea into hot tin mugs. This is the bit I usually get right. The fat Anzac cookies look good too.

Touring the Byron Bay Hinterland and its UNESCO World Heritage-listed rainforests doesn’t have to be all white knuckles and splatter. You can hire one of Braden’s space age pushies for a leisurely family doddle around bike-friendly Byron Bay or you can get your corporate group together for a bit of blood, sweat and bonding.

It’s so easy to ignore the beautiful backwoods of NSW’s far north Pacific coast as we rush up and down the well-worn highway that links Sydney and Brisbane. A few clever detours can easily uncover darling little villages overlooked by the frantically holidaying throngs.

It takes a deliberate diversion to land in Yamba. Recently voted ‘top town’ in a Top 100 survey by Australian Traveller Magazine, Yamba is a dinky-di little fishing village that has everything but crowds. Unfortunately that notoriety may be changing things – and some are clearly ready for fame.

Sebastian Molloy and sous chef Karan turn out stunning cuisine from the kitchen of the deceptively unprepossessing Pippi’s Café attached to the Best Western Yamba Beach Motel. In a style they describe as “brash and experimental”, such delights as Muscovy duck breast and dukah-spiced lamb ($31) will add to your Epicurean vocabulary.

Yet they’re not alone. Decent tucker can also be found at the superbly located Pacific Hotel up the hill on Pilot Street where your Yamba prawns, rock oysters and seared Tasmanian salmon can be washed down with a Coopers Ale on tap.

Poke around down by the marina and you may just spot a familiar face in the upstairs gallery. Celebrated yachtswoman and now sculptor, Kay Cottee, and her partner Peter own the local marina complex and are well progressed with plans to make it much more than a parking lot for prawn trawlers.

Well positioned at the mouth of the Clarence River, Peter wants to develop an ultra-low impact resort and upgrade his marina to attract the growing superyacht fraternity.

“People forget that the Clarence River is one of our largest waterways,” Peter reminds me, “there are over 300 navigable kilometres along the river that are just waiting to be explored. Kerry Stokes (Superyacht ‘Antipodean’, 36m) called in for fuel on the way to Brisbane and ended up visiting every pub along the river between here and Grafton. He loved it.”

Even if you’re not rubbing fenders with the likes of Stokes, you can still enjoy the Clarence in a modest tinny or centre-console runabout loaded with a few rods and soft drinks. The unprepared can hire from Peter at the marina or enjoy a simple cruise on the 60-year-old former Sydney ferry “Clarence Head” across to Iluka. There’s even a jazz band on board every Sunday.

For those not ducking low branches or hopping logs on a mountain bike, there’s an almost endless foodie trail that takes you into the Eltham Valley, located halfway between Byron Bay and Lismore. You’ll need help from a navigator, virtual or human, to find the secluded Eltham Valley Pantry tucked away on Boatharbour Road out of Eltham. Proprietor, Julie Rhodes, wasn’t fussed that I turned up almost an hour late for breakfast at the little cottage amid the orchard trees and rolling hills adjacent the windy Wilsons River.

“Just in time for morning tea,” Julie announced with skilful creative deflection, “let me get you a coffee.” And this isn’t any ordinary coffee. Grown and roasted on the property, Julie’s local Arabica beans make a to-die-for latte and I immediately put my hand up for a takeaway bag. Her face falls. “We don’t have enough to sell anymore,” she tells me sadly. Such is the popularity, “but please have some of our pecan nuts, they’re fabulous!” and I’m suitably consoled.

Where does it end? Not at the Eltham Friendly Inn that’s for sure, where I’m quickly ensconced with a frothy ale and conversation before being led next door to the Eltham Siding Restaurant and a surf’n’turf replete with local on- and offshore produce.

The balance of your journey can easily be consumed with an alternative culture exploration of Nimbin or a retreat to the beachside holy grail of Byron Bay where the benchmark eco-resort of The Byron at Byron beckons with spa therapies and five-star cuisine for those not constrained by budget.

Whether you choose to explore by bike, Tarago, Range Rover or superyacht, the growing, if restrained, sophistication of the region now known locally as The Rainforest Way, will remind you that tacky tourist traps can be easily avoided.

Fast Facts


• $$$ The Byron at Bryon 1300 554 362
• $$ Club Yamba 02 6646 3737
• $ Suzanne’ Hideaway (Clunes) 02 6629 1228


* Pippi’s Café and Restaurant - 6646 1425
* Eltham Siding Restaurant 02 6629 1294
* Pacific Hotel Yamba 02 6646 2491


• Mountain Bike Tours, Bangalow, 1800 122 504
• Eltham Valley Pantry – Farm tours 02 6629 1418 –
• Eltham Village Gallery
• Kay Cottee Fine Art Gallery Tour

Getting there

From Sydney, exit the Pacific Highway at Woodburn and head to either Lismore or Casino. From here you have a number of options or stop at the Visitor Information Centre at Woodburn for more information.

Further Information:

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