February 16, 2013
A wild weekend in Ballina
It was oppressively overcast, but dry, all the way to the border and beyond. I could not ignore the signs to Byron where, after coffee at Twisted Sista (naturally), it started to rain. In Byron, you continue to walk in rain wearing next to nothing: that way you don't get wet clothes, I suppose. The beaches were deserted save for crazy kite surfers, but the streets were buzzing. The theme for the weekend was quickly established – hunkered down, disgruntled gulls.
We were booked in for dinner that evening, so had no need to go anywhere. But it was only raining moderately and I knew it could only get worse. I felt duty bound to see something of the town while we could still walk around. So we waterproofed and went to Ballina North Wall, a breakwater on the north shore at the mouth of the Richmond River, one of New South Wales's great Northern Rivers. Most of the town fronts the river or North Creek – Fishery Creek effectively makes an island of central Ballina – but East Ballina has fine Pacific beaches. As we walked along the Wall, sand from Lighthouse Beach blasted any exposed skin, the waters across Ballina Bar churned ominously and I feared for my camera lens as I crouched in the lee of the breakwater's boulders.
Unfortunately few towns can escape the 'Australian ugliness': Ballina's pub, the Australian Hotel, is blighted by big yellow XXXX Gold signs, and the RSL lettering is so big it can probably be read from the space station. But never mind, watery Ballina, with its wide Northern River, creeks and beaches, is worth a visit. It caters for tourists and recreational fishers, and if you're a Sydneysider hellbent on Byron, then Ballina's airport is only 20 minutes away. There are commercial fishing villages further south, and that's where we were heading next.
* Lighthouses of Australia by John Ibbotson