Day 2: The Clarence Valley
It was a wrench to drag ourselves away from the arty Kings Studio Creative Stays B&B and our hosts Malcolm King and Julie McKenzie. Not only are they hard-working and prolific artists (Julie’s works adorn almost every space of every room and her paint-speckled studio was just off my bedroom) but super-friendly folk to boot. We could have stayed and talked for ages about tree-changers, local politics and their early life fronting rock bands in the 1970s and the area’s great food. But we were heading off for our daily hit of great coffee and seeking out the funky café culture of the Clarence Valley.
First stop Botero Roastery & Café where the locals were lining up and the baristas working overtime. But they don’t just make lattes and cappuccinos here, they roast the beans right on the spot. Roasting days are Tuesday to Thursday and everyone is welcome to have a poke around the roasting room or watch it through the glass doors from the comfort of a café table.
Owners Danny and Jill Young took over the old NRMA garage in River Street a few years ago and set to work. They now supply cafes and restaurants up and down the North Coast. The attached ultra-hip café opened in March. Sitting under a sparkling orb of a chandelier I ordered a bacon, cheddar and tomato omelette (with pumpkin bread on the side) and suffered a spot of food envy as my friend tucked into her dish of smashed peas, avocado, goat’s cheese and pesto! And we savoured two coffees each. Meals are a mini-feast and a snip at around $12 a pop.
The main street of Maclean is called River Street for good reason as it’s a hop, step and jump from the Clarence, the largest river in the region. To see it in all its wide, meandering glory, we headed up to the Pinnacle Rocks Lookout high above the town.
And you don’t want to miss the telegraph poles covered in tartan either, but they’re easy to spot as a total of 247 poles are adorned with the checked fabric, each denoting a particular clan. Well then we naturally had to pop into the Scottish Shop (on River Road of course) and chat to the volunteer manager Peter Leslie, who will happily talk about the Scots, clans and the history of Maclean (once called Rocky Mouth) and sell you a kilt. What a hoot… man! ~ Get it.
We swung past the Witzig Gallery where architect Paul Witzig will design you a fabulous beach house from his office upstairs and his son Rami will sell you great paintings and New Guinean artefacts downstairs. It was an unexpected spot of déjà vu for me, as I heard that Paul produced surfing films back in the late 1960s and I’d seen one of his flicks – the wonderful Evolution, which used the music of the psychedelic, progressive surf rock band of the day – Tamad Shud. We were all in love with Tamad Shud back then; well I was at least – when I aspired to be a surfie hippy chick but never quite made it!
Trying on kilts and reminiscing about my youth seemed to work up an appetite (again), so it was on to coastal Yamba and more brushes with nostalgia. At Irons & Craig café, owners Antony Perring and David Barnier had recreated every nanna’s house and were cooking up home-style comfort food – but with a definite twist. The café on busy Coldstream Street is named in honour of the guys’ own grandmothers – Olga Irons (David’s) and Joan Craig (Antony’s), who were both local ladies. The café is chock-a-block with retro gear from 1970s sideboards, laminex tables and louver windows all housed in a 1930s fibro beach house. And just like grandma, the owners don’t waste a thing – they grown their own vegies, make their own jams and relishes and can’t even bear to throw away a Hills Hoist or two. And the food – stunning. We feasted on Yamba prawns and shredded greens, chicken morsels and mushrooms and – a first for me – grilled watermelon with ricotta! Wonderful. They have big plans for the place and will open ‘beer garden’ in the backyard where diners can sip on their Coronas and Sauv Blancs, check out the veggies and chat to the two chickens.
After a wander down this ‘memory lane’ and a spot of window-shopping in Coldstream Street, we decided to salsa along to our new home – the Calypso Holiday Park just on the river (yep, it’s still the Clarence!) Our two-bedroom cabin was just the ticket with a deck, views of the river and perfect for a cup and tea and a nap in readiness for dinner. Oh the suffering…….
I didn’t know you could eat a decent meal at a backpackers but I discovered you can in Yamba. Block Bar Café on the ground floor of the Yamba YHA Backpackers’ Resort is the place to go for a fresh and tasty quinoa salad, a top notch macadamia-nut crusted salmon or classic burger, steak sandwich and nachos. My backpacking days were never this sophisticated, although I must say they are a distant memory. The 20-room backpackers is owned by the Henwood family – mum, dad, three sons and two of the sons’ wives and it’s a hip and happening scene. And you don’t have to be toting a backpack to dine in the café. Everyone’s welcome and it’s a hit with the locals as well as our overseas nomads.