The NSW road trip less travelled
Greta Stonehouse | AAP | 3:37 PM
If only we remembered our towels. We've arrived just in time for an afternoon window of tangerine and blush hues in the sky, as the waves roll gently in over multi-coloured stones.
My friend and I are on a road trip heading north along the NSW coast and we've stopped at Diggers Beach in Coffs Harbour. The light continues to fade and with limited time to ponder the fresh autumn air, we run straight for the water.
CSIRO has deemed this NSW's most liveable climate. The water attests to this fact with its bath-like temperature. The horizon is empty save a few scattered surfers. While the tourists flock to more well-known spots like Byron Bay, here we have the shoreline to ourselves. And to think we were worried about towels.
While the Coffs coastline and the Big Banana may be obvious attractions, a small detour inland has its own set of highlights. An easy thirty-minute drive takes us to the former heart of Coffs Harbour, Coramba.
It's hard to fully appreciate the landscape at 80km an hour, so we opt for a kayaking trip along the Orara River, one of the only eastern coastal rivers to flow west.
Matthew Sparrius from C Change Adventures has a background in marine and environmental science and is hosting our kayaking tour today. Matt's charm is matched only by his love of the local rivers and landscape.
Along the river we manage to weave under fallen logs with dangling elkhorns, and over gentle rapids. An azure kingfisher's royal blue feathers and orange belly catches our eye as it darts from a small log along the side of the riverbank. For those who harbour Matt's insatiable love of kayaking, he also offers all-day paddles and overnight adventures.
Too pressed for time we have to skip the hidden waterholes along North Island Loop and Dairyville Road (the local's spot for a cooling dip). However, we aren't too pressed for time to take in the lunchtime views from the backyard of the Coramba Hotel. We find a chair easily and marvel at the undisturbed views across the valleys and mountains. Truly a hidden gem.
Our final stop is at the Tweed Regional Gallery. When we enquire about the Margaret Olley exhibition a gift shop attendant fondly tells us "we managed to ship all 21000 items of her home into the gallery."
Her "we" is telling of how much the Tweed local community have taken ownership of this gallery, a visionary transformation from the original building - a Federation-style family home - into arguably Australia's finest regional galleries to date.
Designed by award-winning Brisbane architect Bud Brannigan, the gallery is situated on the Tweed River, and cuts an impressive silhouette against the backdrop of mountains. Inside the panoramic views extend towards the NSW and Queensland border.
I recommend getting there before 4pm to enjoy their open balcony with a glass of wine. We miss the cut-off and instead are greeted with a setting sun and another untainted view. Almost worth missing the wine.
The gallery is perfectly sized for the interested art-seeker pressed for time. But the grand finale - the remarkable recreation of iconic Australian painter Margaret Olley's famously cluttered rooms - is unmissable.
Peering into the windows of her jam-packed kitchen the benches are full - scattered paint tubes and flower vases, all the objects for her now famous still-life painting are here. Classical music plays throughout the installation, another memento of how Olley used to live.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Coffs Harbour is serviced multiple times daily from all major cities by Qantas, Virgin and Tiger airlines.
STAYING THERE: The Breakfree Aanuka Beach Resort overlooks Diggers beach and features comfortable rooms with plenty of amenities including tennis courts, putt putt, cave spas and more. Rates per night start from $A170 per night. http://www.breakfree.com.au/
PLAYING THERE: C-Change Adventures kayaking tours is the most immersive way to discover inland Coffs Harbour.
For a simple and easy ride on flat water kayak hires are available from $A20/hour
Half-day guided tours with Matt start from $A30 per child and $A60 per adult http://cchangeadventures.com.au/
Destination NSW are encouraging travellers to post their own NSW videos and images at visitnsw.com/ilovensw and use #IloveNSW. Prizes packs are up for grabs.
* The writer travelled as a guest of Destination NSW.
(Image: Safety Beach New South Wales/contentservices.melbourne)