Is Yamba Still the Best Town in Australia?

When I first moved to Newcastle I was not impressed.

It struck me as dull and suburban, especially in contrast to London, where I’d most recently lived. Newy lacked the backpacker vibe I’d loved in Coffs, and if I wanted to get to the beach from my in-laws’ place, I had to drive.

Like, in a car. I know, it’s horrifying.

Newcastle NSW
Ugh, soooo hideous.

I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to live in Australia, but it wasn’t Newcastle or Sydney. Fortunately, Australian Traveller had just released a list of the 100 Best Towns in Australia. Number one was Yamba, a town I had never heard of but instantly wanted to visit. (Newcastle was notably absent from the list, validating my rapidly-formed opinion.)

Seven years later, Yamba worked its way into our road trip.

Sunset Yamba marina
Part of Yamba’s versatility: there’s a river for boaters/fisherpeople and an ocean for everyone else.

My first impression of the town came from the Calypso holiday park. It’s hard to decide if a place qualifies as the ‘best’ of anything when you’re looking at tight rows of caravans, bent iron fencing, and worn patches of grass, so I held my tongue until I’d seen the town proper.

I was quietly disappointed when it appeared that we wouldn’t be able to walk to the famous Yamba beaches – the roads to Main Beach and Pippi Beach were hilly and long, difficult to navigate with a surfboard under my arm.

What we didn’t realize is that there the perfectly surfable Turners Beach was right around the corner from the campsite. There was a back way to Main Beach that took about 10 minutes by foot; conveniently, the Pacific Hotel and its range of craft beers was in that direction, too.

Yamba was looking better by the minute.

Main Beach Yamba
Helloooo Yamba

After an initial afternoon of getting our bearings, I got Yamba’s appeal. It was small but friendly, with enough shops and restaurants lining its main street to keep people interested. I highly recommend the Yamba Icecreamery and Wato’s for fish and chips. We also had a pretty sweet baby octopus dish at the Pacific Hotel, if you need something to fortify your stomach for the beer.

It wasn’t the food that made Yamba for us, though it did sweeten the deal – what really clinched it was proximity to Angourie, site of the first National Surfing Reserve in Australia. You do need to drive a whole 6km to get there, but I promise it’s worth it.

Angourie Surf
Still not 100% sure how to pronounce that.

Angourie isn’t known as a beginner’s break, so while Jared tugged on his wetsuit I laced up my running shoes. He surfed and I ran to the nearby Blue Pool, an old quarry that has become a swimming hole. When I came back Jared was still in the water, so I grabbed my camera out of the car and went to get some photos.

Angourie blue pool
The Blue Pool. There’s also a green one.

The waves looked so tempting that the next day I decided to go out and give it a shot. They were big (for me) but rolling, and best of all there were only five of us in the water. I’m easily intimidated by crowds in the surf, so that was a huge draw.

Surfing Angourie NSW
Go Jared go

The group was made bigger when a pod of dolphins cruised by, one surfacing directly in front of my board. Even if I hadn’t caught a single wave I would have been pumped.

I did get a wave though – I caught a few, and I even managed to surf them. As much as I mention surfing on this blog I feel that it’s important to clarify that I am not a good surfer. I love it, and I’m trying, but it’s been a long, slow process. At Angourie, it felt like I sped things up all in a single morning.

whale breach
Oh, and I saw this whale FROM SHORE. Zoom in to be really impressed. I promise it’s a whale.

If all of this sounds a tad unremarkable, I can’t really argue with you. You can eat, camp, drink beer, and surf in plenty of places, so why Yamba? In fact, you can do all of those things in Newcastle so what makes Yamba better?

Sunset NSW
I mean, the sun sets everywhere, why bother leaving home? BECAUSE THIS.

I don’t know, really. What I can say is that we had a consistently good time in Yamba, and it sounds like plenty of visitors do; it’s why they keep coming back. But my opinion, of course, is merely that – an opinion.

In 2011 Lonely Planet named Newcastle one of its top 10 cities in the world, a case study in the way that opinions vary wildly. (They also change – if you’ve been following the blog you know that I learned to love Newcastle and eventually bought a house there. So. There’s that.)

Is Yamba still the best? Obviously, it doesn’t really matter what I think, or even what Australian Traveller thinks. But if you want my opinion, I can confidently recommend that you make your way there and decide for yourself.

Lighthouse Yamba
Another point to Yamba: there’s a lighthouse.

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  1. I would really like to see Yamba. And Newcastle for that matter. Anyway, I’m impressed that as a midwestern girl, you can even get up on your surfboard at all!

  2. Seeing one of the photos of Yamba with the pine trees, it feels like you guys are going to New England, up north. 😀 Love the photo of Jared surfing! Very focused and graceful. xo

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