The Tweed Coast is an unsung gem on Australia's vast coastline

The Tweed Coast is an unsung gem on Australia's vast coastline

They say you are never too old to learn how to surf, which may be true, but if you have trouble getting out of bed and standing up straight then achieving the same thing on a moving board may be a little ambitious. 

Throw in the fact everyone else learning was a few generations younger than me and seemed to get it immediately, then maybe I was too old to learn. 

But at Kingscliff Beach in northern New South Wales I thought I would give it a go. The sun was out, the water was clear and warm and when in Australia, do as the Australians do. 

Kingscliff is a beachside town that runs along the ocean with the mouth of a wide creek opening at one end of it and it was here I tried to surf on what was possibly the world's biggest surfboard.

It seemed easy enough when the instructor showed me and the rest of the class on the beach, so we all marched confidently into the water. 

When I could barely even catch a wave, the instructor held my board and gave me a push when one came along. It reminded me of teaching my kids to ride a bike and, like them, on the first few rides I wobbled and fell off before I got going. 

But the very patient instructor from In 2 Surf persevered and for a brief but glorious moment, looking like a baby giraffe taking its first steps, I stood up before gravity and motion claimed me and sent me hurtling into the waves. 

Still, I am claiming that as a surf. An hour later, full of saltwater and sand, I carried my board back up the beach elated I had given it a go. 

Kayaking on Cudgen Creek.
Kayaking on Cudgen Creek. Photo credit: Newshub.

Kingscliff is on the Tweed Coast situated at the very top of New South Wales, just before the border with Queensland. 

To the north is the Gold Coast, with its high-rise skyline and 24-hour bustle, while to the south is Byron Bay, a Mecca for people travelling in Australia. 

But while the Tweed Coast is a stone's throw from those more famous tourist hotspots, it is a million miles away in what it has to offer. It barely features on a map of Australia but the coastline - as with many places in the vast country - features loads of stunning beaches with golden sand and water that is still warm enough to swim in in autumn. 

Surfing is one of the many activities on offer in the region, but on a recent trip I also went on a river cruise, kayaked up a creek, visited a sustainable farm and was treated to gin and rum tasting at a local brewery. 

There are boutique hotels, beachside resorts and most of the towns connect directly with the ocean. As is the standard in Australia now the food and wine, which is often locally sourced, is superb and truly world class. 

As you head inland from the coast the region becomes known as Northern Rivers due to the rivers that run through it, in particular the Tweed River. The rivers, like the ocean, provide ample opportunities for fun in and on the water, from guided kayak tours to more formal river cruises.   

The region is steeped in history with ample opportunities to learn about the local Aboriginal people and their stories about the land and how they live on it. 

The scenery is dominated by Wollumbin Mount Warning, the remains of a massive volcanic eruption that created much of the Northern Rivers landscape.  

The volcanic soil and warm climate make it an ideal place to grow just about everything, and many of the local restaurants serve locally sourced food. 

Australia has had a real renaissance when it comes to food and long gone is the old Aussie mantra of throwing another shrimp on the barbie. There has been a push to create stunning cuisine from local ingredients and the Northern Rivers region is no different, offering a wonderful range of great local food. 

Wollumbin Mount Warning.
Wollumbin Mount Warning. Photo credit: Newshub.

The main thing I noticed, having come directly from the Gold Coast, was how laidback and relaxing the place was. 

Everyone was friendly and wanted you to enjoy the region. There was no pretense, no hard sell; just a genuine warmth from the locals who were more than happy to show off the place they lived. 

If you are looking for a more relaxed holiday with long stretches of uncrowded beaches, great food and a region steeped in history, this is the place. 

Halcyon days

Caribata Beach is one of the many easily accessible beaches in the region. At one end there is a head of land that makes for a good walk, at the other it's just miles of golden sand as far as the eye can see. 

Halcyon House is a small, boutique hotel just a few steps away from the beach. The building used to be a motel but has been converted into a luxury hotel, restaurant and spa.  

Halcyon House.
Halcyon House. Photo credit: Newshub.

Each room was designed by Australian interior designer Anna Spiro and has its own unique features. The rooms are spacious, each with a large double bed, a huge bathtub and their best feature: a balcony overlooking the beach. 

There are plenty of nice touches around the hotel like free bikes and free use of surfboards, but the one I liked the most was the drinks and snacks in your room that are included in the price. They mean you can sit on your balcony enjoying a wine while watching a magnificent sunset over the sea without worrying about a nasty bill at the end of your stay.

The hotel offers packages and food at the restaurant Paper Daisy is included. The largely locally-sourced menu changes regularly and the food is first class. I enjoyed their ostrich tartare - I am not sure if the ostrich was locally sourced but it tasted good. 

Aboriginal heritage 

There has been a big effort in recent years to connect Australia's tourism with its Aboriginal heritage. In New Zealand there is already a strong connection with tourism and Maori, but in Australia, it is fairly new. 

The Northern Rivers has a strong Aboriginal heritage and the Bundjalung people are the traditional owners and custodians of the lands. 

Goodjinburra Dance Group.
Goodjinburra Dance Group. Photo credit: Newshub.

The Tweed River runs from the coast inland, cutting through the lush land and is a good place to view many of the landmarks, as well as some of the region's bird life. 

Tweed Escapes does a range of cruises and the one I took came with a breakfast of local food. 

The cruise began with a traditional Aboriginal smoke ceremony, in which you are welcomed by walking through smoke. This cleanses you and wards off any bad spirits. 

After that the Goodjinburra Dance Group performed a range of traditional dances, telling us the story behind each one and why it was performed.  

Onboard our guide Frank provided a fascinating history of the land and its people as we cruised down the river eating the breakfast buffet of local fruit and bread. 

Frank the tour guide on a river cruise.
Frank the tour guide on a river cruise. Photo credit: Newshub.

Frank gave us a lesson in the bush tucker his ancestors used to eat and he even brought some along for us to try, including berries, leaves and flowers. He told us how people would move around the land depending on the season and where the best food was. 

To hear him talk about the history of the land and the people was captivating and the highlight of the trip for me. 

Another good way to get on the water is to take one of the many kayak trips on offer. I took one up Cudgen Creek, which runs up from Kingscliff Beach with Watersports Guru. Once again the guides give you complete rundown on the region and where you were paddling through. 

Night in the rainforest 

Now I love visiting Australia but there is one elephant in the room - some of its wildlife. There are no crocodiles as far south as I was but there are plenty of snakes and spiders - and I am not a big fan of either. 

During my trip, one taxi driver told me he'd just seen a massive python crossing the road, while another told me a python lived in the roof of his son's shed. 

I asked him if his son was worried the python might take one of his children? 

"Oh that hardly ever happens," he replied. 

Crystalbrook is a luxury resort and spa set in a subtropical rainforest just south of Byron Bay. 

The resort bills itself as being "nestled in 45-acres of magical subtropical rainforest and is a celebration of nature, responsible luxury accommodation and the local environment" - which to me means lots of snakes and spiders. 

Crystalbrook resort.
Crystalbrook resort. Photo credit: supplied/Crystalbrook

By the time I arrived to check in it was dark and I was taken to my room by a golf cart which drove along a wooden boardwalk through the trees.  The night was alive with the sound of the forest and I asked the driver what sort of animals were out there. 

"Snakes," she said, "but not many of them are poisonous. Wallabies, koalas, goannas." 

She told me to get back to reception for dinner I could just follow the boardwalk. 

"What you mean the one that runs through the rainforest?" I asked. 

So, armed with the light from my phone which only served to attract every flying insect in the forest, I began the short walk back through the trees. 

I remembered the advice someone once gave me that snakes are more scared of you than you are of them, and to make a noise - so I stomped along the wooden trail and was relieved to make it to the restaurant without having seen anything slithering along the pathway. 


By the light of day Crystalbrook is one of the most unique places I have ever stayed. The cabins are all situated amongst the trees and have enclosed decks so you can sit in the forest and take it all in. 

The dawn chorus was something else as the birds and other wildlife woke up. It was almost deafening.  

Crystalbrook: A room in the rainforest.
A room in the rainforest. Photo credit: supplied/Crystalbrook

The main area has a huge pool, yoga area, spa and restaurant. The theme is very much a spiritual connection to nature and a tranquil rainforest escape. 

Everywhere you go in the resort there is a deep connection to nature, and once I got over my initial fears it was a truly unique experience. 

I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this unsung part of New South Wales, and how much different it was to its more famous neighbours of the Gold Coast and Byron Bay. 

From tasting gin and rum at a local brewery to visiting a sustainable farm, and from cruising on the river to just enjoying the laid-back beach life, it is a great place to spend some time relaxing. 

Newshub travelled to the Tweed Coast courtesy of Tourism Australia.