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The Rivers Of Life - Exploring The Northern Rivers, Part One

Ben Hall

After negotiating the appropriately named Rainforest Way, we sweep down out of lush forest framed by the southern hemisphere’s biggest volcanic caldera into a town that looks like it’s been purpose built for a Baz Luhrmann film. Tiny Tyalgum is too cute for words and outside one of the local cafés, an old bicycle rests against a post, unchained, and a jaunty tune from an accordion echoes across the wide street. The one-man band behind the squeezebox is Dennis Scanlon, a local who serenades visitors, and as an award-winning bush poet and author he can spin a yarn, play a song and tell you how great it is to live in a place like this. Even after just a day, we learn that Tyalgum is a century-old town the locals have tried to keep in its original condition to reflect its history. The 102 year old general store is the heart and soul of Tyalgum and has retained its original timber flooring and village hall. There’s also new cafés, and art galleries set up in original and restored buildings, and it’s one of the many surprises on a driving tour of this area

Tweed Heads To Grafton

We’re exploring Australia’s  famous Northern Rivers region, a stretch of coastline between Tweed Heads and Grafton on the east coast enjoying an endless procession of classic white sand surf beaches, backed up by lush rolling countryside dotted with subtropical rainforests, waterfalls, and dramatic mountains forged by volcanic activity. It’s also one of the country’s best kept secrets, and home to a lineup of local characters in the guise of poets, artists, farmers, businessmen and eco-warriors. Australians have known about this slice of heaven for decades and four and a half million locals visit the area every year as day trippers and overnighters, and undoubtedly a road trip is the best way to experience the region. In three or four days it’s possible to experience a little of what the area has to offer, but the reality is that even in three months you’ll only just scratch the surface.

Tweed Valley

The Tweed Valley, for example, is just a 20 minute drive south-west of Coolangatta Airport, is a great place to start an exploration of the Northern Rivers. This is where you leave the “big city” behind and enter Australia’s Green Cauldron, which is the ancient remnants of the largest shield volcano in the southern hemisphere. It’s been awarded the status as a National Landscape in Australia, one of just nine, and the Tweed Valley lies smack bang in the middle of this giant caldera with the towering peak of Mt Warning as the major landmark of this area. Lush tropical forests sweep up the mountains, dotted by farms and homesteads, and tiny towns and fresh fruit and vegetable stalls break up the driving along the way. Chillingham Bush Tucker started out as a make-shift shack selling fruit, and now local Buck Buchanan has turned this mini-business into something a little more substantial. 

Barefoot Buck And The Miniatures

Barefoot Buck, as he’s known, owns 55 acres of rich red dirt farmland outside of Murwillumbah (where the UK version of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here is filmed each year) and his exotic native fruits are “exported” to major restaurants around Australia. The fresh native finger limes are the most in-demand produce, but he also sells yuzu fruit, Buddha’s hand, lemon myrtle, curry leaf and neem products to the likes of Tetsuya in Sydney. The old shack has been replaced by the “Banana Cabana” which is open to the public selling the fruit along with jams, preserves, ice creams and other organic products and it’s a popular stop for coffee and a snack. It’s a pleasant way to spend an hour or so, and the question is - does Buck, with red dirt literally between his toes, ever wear shoes? “I try not to. I got told at the markets in Brisbane I had to wear shoes to come in, and I told them to bugger off,” Buck recalls. John and Carolyn Tebbutt are another couple of locals who make this part of the world a bit special. They run one of Australia’s most unusual tourist attractions at Crystal Creek Miniatures, which is a collection of more than 100 miniature animals including mini horses, cows, donkeys and other animals. Even their pet dogs are miniatures and the Chihuahua family seem to run the joint. John Tebbutt drives the tractor tours around the Palmdale Stud and introduces visitors to the animals, which really are quite tiny, and they each have a story and personality of their own. 

Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat 

Simply driving around this beautiful area is an experience in itself and the journey into the Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat is a relaxing and invigorating way to end a day of exploring the Tweed Valley. The Retreat is a collection of eight luxury private bungalows and rainforest lodges for couples only with romance and seclusion as the main themes. Each accommodation is totally private and all you hear is the sound of Crystal Creek, and the occasional scrub turkey scratching around in the forest. All bedrooms look out over the rainforest, and they also each feature a large two-person jacuzzi, also with forest views and totally secluded. It’s the ultimate couples escape  and there are bush walks around the area which lead to a good swimming hole and the signature hammocks over Crystal Creek. A gourmet dining menu can be delivered to your accommodation in the afternoon, along with breakfast baskets and picnic hampers to take with you on your explorations. The resort has won many awards, and for those fortunate enough to sit in one of the jacuzzis overlooking an ancient rainforest and its abundant wildlife, it’s easy to see why.


Read Part Two of this story here


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  1. Posted by on 1st Jul 2019 Verified Customer

    Forget Byron 5 Star Review

    Go to Kingscliff or Casuarina and forget Byron Bay....much less busy and nicer people. Byron has been ruined!

  2. Posted by on 1st Jul 2019 Verified Customer

    Nice But Exxy 4 Star Review

    Love this part of the state, but my only moan would be the cost of good quality accommodation is high and not that great.