This coastal town at Richmond River’s mouth was a hub for shipbuilding in the middle of 19th century. It also served whaling vessels as they traveled up and down the east coast.
Although whale-watching has been largely forgotten, the humpback, southern right and humpback whales still attract people to Ballina. You can also see them from the shore during their migration between May to October.
Ballina is home to a number of high-quality beaches that are surrounded by headlands and thundering waves.
1. Ballina Naval & Maritime Museum
Ballina, a town rich in maritime history and shipping, has an enthralling maritime museum located right at the Richmond River.
The remarkable cross-Pacific crossing by rafts of Spanish explorer Vital Aslar in 1973 is one event that has been well documented. After six months of drifting across the ocean, he arrived in Ballina.
You can see one of the three rafts and a documentary about the journey.
The museum also houses Australia’s largest collection of merchant and naval ship models, as well as fascinating information about the Port of Ballina.
For heavy-duty applications, there is a British Mark 9 21’’ Torpedo and a working triple expansion steam engine.
2. Lighthouse Beach
The classic Northern Rivers beach is located between the North Wall at Richmond River Mouth, and Ballina Head to North.
Lighthouse Beach measures approximately half a km long and has a sandy strip that curves gently for about 50 meters.
Surfers love to ride the waves created by the currents at the North Wall.
You can also walk up to the seawall and cast a line for tuna, blackfish, tailor, snapper and sometimes mackerel.
Ballina has many amazing sights, including trawlers competing with the challenging Ballina Bar surf at its mouth.
Lighthouse beach is patrolled during school holidays and is slightly safer for swimmers towards its north and middle ends.
3. Whale watching
Each winter, the southern right and humpback whales leave Antarctica in June and move up the east coast to calve in tropical waters. They return in November.
Humpbacks are known to avoid the coast when traveling north but to swim closer to the shore when returning home.
Southern right whales are more interested in shallow water and boats than their northern counterparts.
You can take a whale-watching cruise with a marine biologist from June to November for exclusive views and insight into the behavior of these majestic animals.
You can also bring your own binoculars to see the top of North Wall and Ballina Head. This is a more economical option.
4. Big Prawn
Uninitiated: Every state and territory of Australia is dotted with giant novelty structures, all trying to be the largest of their kind.
These were first discovered in the 1960s. Many are now heritage listed to prevent their destruction.
Ballina’s Big Thing is a Big Prawn that stands at River Street’s western entrance.
This structure was constructed of concrete and fibreglass in 1989. This giant crustacean measures nine meters in height and weighs 40 tons. It is the largest of its type in the world.
In 2009, the Big Prawn was at risk of being demolished. Residents in West Ballina fought hard to save it.
A few years later, the structure was restored and given a tail.
5. Ballina Historic Waterfront Trail
This walk is like an outdoor museum with beautiful scenery. It starts at Fawcett Park near the Richmond River in the CBD and ends at the North Wall at its mouth.
You’ll find 19 plaques that provide information about the seafaring industry and the role of rivers in early European settlement of this area as you travel.
You can cross the bridge to reach the North Wall and you will have a good shot of seeing Ballina’s dolphin pod. The eastern tip of the wall, which is the best place to spot the whales that pass by in winter or spring, is also a good place to look.
6. Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR)
Australian Seabird Rescue is a great organisation that does invaluable work along the east coast. They have branches all along the NSW coast, and are connected to other groups across the country.
This grassroots community group rescues and rehabs shorebirds, seabirds, and other coastal animals, especially sea turtles.
ASR’s headquarters is located in Ballina, where you can take a guided tour of their centre.
You’ll be able to see the turtles and birds that are in their care as you learn more about the group.
Find out how they rescue birds, what their nesting habits are and the work required to track down and identify this delicate species.
The tour lasts approximately an hour, and $8 goes back to the organization.
7. Crawford House Museum
You can take a short break from the roaring Pacific by visiting a small museum in a historic house on the Alstonville Plateau.
Built in 1910, this Federation-style property features an elegant verandah and hosts the local historical society. It is filled with fascinating household items from the 1960s to the early 20th centuries.
It has an extensive program of exhibitions that give a glimpse into rural life in the first half century of the 20th Century. The museum also has a research area, which is a great resource for anyone who wants to explore their connections to Alstonville.
8. Shelly Beach
The best beach for families in Ballina is located between two 40-metre high promontories: Black Head to its north and Ballina Head south.
Current-wise Shelly Beach is safer that most other beaches in Ballina. There are also lifeguards on duty during school holidays.
As the surf is affected, you will need to swim between flags.
The beach’s south side has a man-made, clear wading pool that children will love at low tide.
Families can also take a stroll along the paved path that runs the length of the beach.
9. Ballina Head Lookout
You can admire the beauty of the landscape from multiple directions by visiting the lighthouse-capped headland located between Shelly Beach and Lighthouse Beach.
You may see a breaching humpback whale out in the ocean between June and November. Dolphins can be seen closer to shore all year.
This height makes the surf look amazing. You can see Lighthouse Beach right through to the North Wall at Richmond River’s mouth.
Further up the slope is the Richmond River Light, which has a range of 26 kms and has been in existence since 1866.
10. Missingham Park
This park is located at the junction of North Creek and Richmond Rivers, just before they merge into the Pacific.
It is a popular place to relax, whether you are looking for waterside walking or cycling trails or a relaxing spot with a barbeque surrounded by greenery.
The amphitheatre is available for community events and concerts, and there’s also a large covered playground with a liberty swing for children with disabilities.
The skate park right next to the amphitheatre offers teenagers a fantastic view of the river. There is also a small beach on the south side that allows people to exercise their dogs.
11. Northern Rivers Community Gallery (NRCG).
This gallery is located in a restored heritage building that dates back to 1927. It showcases the work of the top artists from the Northern Rivers region. You’ll find a mix of established and up-and-coming talent, as well as a quick turnover of exhibitions with something new every month.
All of the items you see are available for purchase. The gallery’s shop also offers locally made jewellery and gifts.
The NCRG’s success has led to its expansion into another heritage building in 2018, the former Ballina Fire Station.
Ballina is blessed with safe waterways that can be explored by kayaking or canoeing.
Kayak Ballina, a local company, has the ability to take you on a guided tour with an Australian Canoeing-certified instructor.
For a comfortable and safe cruise, you will paddle in a high-end, double-seat inside kayak with rudders.
You may have the chance to be joined by Ballina’s dolphin pod if you’re lucky.
13. Thursday Plantation Visitor Center
A few minutes from Ballina’s hinterland is the home of Thursday Plantation, a well-known tea tree brand and essential oil company.
This distinctive name is literally a result of Eric White’s 1976 crown lease, which was granted to him to harvest tea trees.
The visitor center is dedicated to natural remedies. You can find out more in the rainforest botanical gardens. Smaller members of the clan will enjoy the maze.
The shop also sells essential oils, balms, and creams. There is a cafe in the building.
You can also find a short film on the origins of the company inside.
14. Ballina Food and Wine Festival
The Northern Rivers region is home to some incredible produce, both from the Pacific Ocean as well as the many specialty farms located in the hinterland.
For more than a decade, the local Rotary club has organized an extravaganza to celebrate this. Usually, it is held on a weekend from mid-October through late October.
Sunday is the main festival day. There’s live entertainment and over 70 vendors to see.
Enjoy premium wine, beer and cider, as well as great food and cooking demonstrations. You can also attend a wine appreciation workshop, browse stalls and view a variety of industry brands.
15. Ballina Visitor Information Centre
It’s no surprise that the local visitor can provide detailed information on the area and help you to book accommodation and tours.
Ballina also has one of most attractive visitor center shops you will find.
This pantry is home to the region’s delicious specialty foods.
Macadamia nuts are used in coffee, honey, fancy chocolate, oils and preserves.
There are many local handmade crafts available so it is possible to take home a souvenir.