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

Ben Hall

Until about 15 years ago, the Northern Rivers was better known as a “fish ‘n chips” kind of place for families on holiday down from Brisbane for a weekend away. It’s still a very much a laid back area but the difference now is there’s a slew of restaurants and cafes which have sprung up all along the coast as an alternative to the burger bars and pub lunches.

Mavis’ Kitchen

Located just outside of Murwillumbah, this is one of those restaurants which has helped transform the region’s image. It’s set in a classic old Queenslander on 25 acres of farmland with Mt Warning as the backdrop and its reputation has been earned thanks to its use of its seasonal local and organic produce. Owners Charlie Ebell and Peter Clarke established their own biodynamic and organic garden on the grounds to supply the kitchen with most of its produce, while much of the remainder is sourced from local farmers. The end result is a constantly changing menu reflecting what is seasonally available and simple and unpretentious food which could probably be best described as “high end family cooking”. The restaurant building itself also has an interesting history. It was originally located on the Gold Coast where it was something of a landmark as the renowned Harley Street Brasserie in Labrador. When the land was sold, Peter and Charlie arranged for the old Queenslander to be moved lock, stock and barrel to their property in the Tweed Valley.

Brunswick Heads

The beaches of the Northern Rivers have been the biggest attraction for more than a hundred years and very few would argue that this is one of the most attractive stretches of coastlines in the world. From laid-back, almost sleepy little beach towns like Brunswick Heads to the glitz and glamour of the “big smoke” in Byron Bay, this is a place that’s definitely for lovers of the great outdoors and water sports. Tiny Brunswick Heads, with a population of 1,600, is a town that’s changed little in recent years and that’s a major part of its appeal and a reason there are families who keep returning here for 30 years or more. Nestled in the junction of the Brunswick and Simpson Rivers, groups of kids jump off old timber bridges into the warm water below, kayakers paddle up along the rivers’ edge and fishing families while away the hours with rods dangling into the water below. The river ways have plenty of swimming spots, and on the other side of the Simpson River, there’s a beach protected by a breakwater and a classic east coast surf break which stretches all the way down to Byron Bay. There’s very little development at Brunswick Heads, with accommodation including motels, caravan parks, a family friendly classic Australian pub, and holiday homes, and more than 22 restaurants, cafes and takeaway food joints which have evolved into high quality, but inexpensive, places to eat. 

Byron Bay

Just 15 minutes to the south of Brunswick Heads, and it’s a totally different world with the bustling town of Byron Bay continuing to grab headlines around the world as a happening place to take a holiday. The beaches here are no less fantastic than any other part of the Northern New South Wales, but it also boasts world class surf breaks and some stunning landscapes, including Cape Byron which is topped by the Byron Lighthouse, marking the most easterly point in Australia. Tens of thousands of international tourists pour into Byron Bay especially in the summer, hoping to catch a glimpse of resident celebrities including Chris Hemsworth, and as a result this is the place to be if you’re looking for stars and nightlife.


A further 15 minutes to the south is the riverside town of Ballina which marks the southern end of the Northern Rivers and is something of a gateway to some tiny villages back behind the main Pacific Highway including Alstonville,  Bangalow and Newrybar. In Ballina itself, another restaurant has been gaining a lot of regional attention for its innovative menu featuring local produce. The Point Ballina is right on the river, with menus drawing on produce from the Northern Rivers area exclusively, and offers wines from the privately owned Willow Lane vineyard in the Mudgee region of New South Wales. With dishes like Yamba prawns and avocado terrine with finger lime dressing and parmesan crusted sweet Bangalow pork chop with crispy kipfler potato and steamed beans and mustard fruit jus, it’s the type of place that’s  perfect to kill an afternoon while watching the fishing boats chug up and down the river.


Read part one of this story here.

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  1. Posted by on 8th Jul 2019 Verified Customer

    Don't Do Byron 5 Star Review

    We go down here from the Gold Coast a couple of times a year, but don't bother with Byron it's expensive and overrun go to We've eaten at Mavis's Kitchen thought and it was delightful if exxy.

  2. Posted by on 8th Jul 2019 Verified Customer

    Gorgeous Region 4 Star Review

    We road tripped here from Brisbane last summer and loved it. There are plenty of things to do, good places to stay and decent restaurants. I only marked it down a bit as my partner kept on stopping to surf LOL