Day 3: The Clarence
Following a restful night in our cabin by the river at Calypso Holiday Park – (we didn’t dance too much to the Calypso beat) – we headed to Mantra Café for a caffeine hit and chatted with the owner Reena. A Yamba-ite for the past four years, Reena hails from Mumbai, India and serves an inventive fusion of Aussie, Indian and Mediterranean treats in her little eatery in town.
It was then up Pilot Hill to the Yamba lighthouse to check out the view of magnificent beaches that stretch for miles both north and south as far as the eye can see. We detoured past the pub, aka the Pacific Hotel Yamba, which is not only a popular drinking hole for locals but just about everyone who’s ever made their way off the highway and ventured down to Yamba . Being far too early for a bevy, we swung the car south and headed to Angourie, 10 km away.
This is surfers’ heaven and the canny dudes who followed the waves up and down the coast in their youth, came back and bought beach houses years later and now live in paradise. Motoring around we spied a few surfboard-shaper shops operating out of people’s backyards. My friend announced she was coming back as a surfer in the next life, while I reckon she’s got plenty of time to take a few lessons and hang 10 (is that still part of the surfer lexicon?) in this life.
We’d heard a lot about the Yuraygir Coastal Walk and the fabulous Blue and Green Holes right by the beach – folks jump from rocky ledges into these pools – so we donned the walking shoes in readiness and slapped on the sunscreen.
I couldn’t get over how well-maintained the Yuraygir National Park trails are; we only ambled a tiny section of the 65km coastal walk (which most people tend to do over four days) but the coastal scrub and its patches of Pandanus Palms (and our glimpses of Clarence Peak in the distance) had me thinking we were in another far-off world, not just a km or two from a little surfing hamlet.
The Angourie Blue Pool as it’s officially called is actually a former quarry. After the rocks were dug out and used in various breakwaters, an underground spring sprang up and voila! ~ a very deep freshwater swimming hole was born. We arrived in the mid-morning and not a soul was stirring. The local authorities have paved the area around the pool with huge slabs of sandstone giving it a backyard patio meets billabong look which I reckon needs to be featured in a home-décor magazine. It’s fantastic and Mother Nature has fashioned a dramatic rock wall with protruding rock ledges that act as diving platforms. Just around a bend or two, we discovered the Green Pool, which resembles a Kakadu waterhole and I’m sure a few TV crews must have discovered this site when scouting for Outback scenes. We looked around for Crocodile Dundee to no avail, but when we wandered back to the blue pool, a young tourist with a German accent had stripped down to his boardshorts and before I could say ‘cheese’ or ‘Instagram’ had launched himself off the rock platform and jumped in! His two friends didn’t seem too keen to follow.
Driving back into tiny Angourie I spied a Kombi van, pale green and in ‘mint’ condition so to speak. In my day all the surfer guys I fancied had a Kombi. For a minute or two I was transported back to the 1970s and once again I was thinking that I could easily pack up and move to this lovely little town.
I was snapped out of my reverie by the need for a coffee and a snack and as we moseyed along we came across Silk and Sand, a café-cum-trendy boutique. As soon as I stepped over the threshold and saw the clothes, I knew I was a goner. As I waited for my flat white coffee and muesli slice, I rifled through the racks and chose a cute little knee-length kaftan, or was it a shift – blue, gold and pink – just perfect for summer nights.
We pressed the pedal to the metal (figuratively speaking) and headed to Iluka, just a few km away on the northern side of the Clarence River. While not as surfie chic as Angourie, Iluka has all its natural attributes – rainforest, national park and beaches – and an emerging café culture.
To work up an appetite we walked through the World Heritage listed Iluka Nature Reserve in Bundjalung National Park to Iluka Point lookout. Later when I looked at a map of this little town, which is literally just across the river from Yamba (the two towns are connected by ferry too), I realised that almost a third of it was national park.
We lunched at The Laneway Café (in the main drag of Charles Street) and I’d have to say, it was the best meal I’ve eaten in the Clarence Valley in my short sojourn here…and that’s saying something as I’ve had some knock-out meals. Owner Aaron Moon, who hails from the Lismore area, certainly knows how to combine flavours and produce lip-smacking dishes. I had the pork belly with eggplant and sobo noodle salad with a sesame and miso dressing and, seriously, if I’d been eating this at home, alone, I would have licked the plate. Wonderful in every way. The sauce was sweet but not overpowering and the salad a perfect fresh balance to the richness of the pork. My friend had a roasted blue pumpkins salad with tahini and I kept pinching pieces of it. If you love eggplant and pumpkin, then order these two dishes and share them. From November 15, Aaron will be opening his rustic-looking café on Saturday nights offering a limited menu of a couple of entrees and mains, and a few cakes. Otherwise he’s open for breakfast and lunch daily.
As the wind had picked up, my kayak tour operator, Geoff Warne, rang to tell me he’d cancelled my afternoon paddle. I was disappointed for this area has so many waterways that cry out to be explored by paddle-power. We chatted for a while and I said I’d love to come back after Easter to take up his offer of showing me around the rivers. One of his favourite trips is the half-day Adventure Eco Tour where you paddle across the Clarence from Yamba to Iluka and meander along the river through the rainforest and take the ferry back to Yamba after a brunch at the beach. I hope to come back on my way home from the Byron Bay BluesFest next April.
After such a busy day, I swooned when I checked into our super comfy cabin at the Anchorage Holiday Park. Complete with spa bath and free Wi-Fi, the two-bedroom cabin was more a 4-star resort suite and I marvelled at how far caravan parks had come since the days when I stayed in a little laminex-box-on-wheels many years ago with girlfriends on the Central Coast. We had fun in those days, but we would have loved a spa bath! With internet, TV and bubble bath beckoning, we decided to skip the restaurant meal and grab take-away fish and chips instead.
As the fishermen’s co-op was closed, we headed for the locals’ favourite pub, the Sedger’s Reef Hotel. The Friday night meat raffle was in full swing as we ordered a couple of dry whites from the bar and battered flathead, chips and salad from the bistro. Back in our cabin, we flicked on the telly and tucked in! Sheer bliss and for the first time in days I felt like a gal on holidays!
Farewell Clarence Valley, it’s been brilliant.
And just like Arnie promised in The Terminator way back when: “I’ll be back!”