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Ballina is an Irish name, but it was also adapted from the Aboriginal 'Bullenah', which means a 'place of many oysters'. Ballina was established as a port city for shipping out timber, dairy produce and other products to Sydney and the wider world, in the days when the Richmond and Wilsons Rivers were navigable at least as far as Lismore. As the railways were developed, the roads were built and the rivers silted up, Ballina retained its importance as a regional centre, but developed different types of industries.
Ballina is still known for its seafood, with both the ocean and the estuary offering fishing opportunities, and many local industries based on fisheries. Perhaps the best example of the connection between Ballina and seafood is the Big Prawn tourist complex, on the Pacific Highway on the southern side of town. The huge pink crustacean belongs to the family of mega-kitsch fauna (and flora) that grace tourist complexes around Australia.
Aboriginal occupation of the area is evident in middens, especially at Chickiba Creek, which shows that the original inhabitants, enjoying a life of abundance, occupied this site continuously for at least two thousand years. The easy subtropical climate and fresh seafood are still main drawcards for people to this area, and Ballina now has a permanent population of around eighteen thousand.
Ballina has long been popular with 'grey nomads' - retirees with caravans - but is now developing an identity attractive to much younger people, with restaurants, nightlife and accommodation suited to young families and singles. Accommodation is available in caravan and camping parks, motels, hotels, B&Bs and some lovingly restored federation guesthouses. Ballina airport is serviced several times a day from Sydney, while the Pacific Highway runs right through town.
Just north of Ballina on the Pacific Highway is the Thursday Plantation, developed in the 1970s to extract tea tree oil from the leaves of melaleuca alternifolia. Tea tree oil was recognised by the Bundjalung people for its potent antiseptic properties. Dropped in the disposable 1960s in favour of synthetics, it has since been picked up and is now widely recognised for its multi-use healing powers. The Thursday Plantation is the original tea tree plantation, and incorporates a tea tree maze, an outdoor sculpture exhibition and a café.
Norton Street in Ballina is the resting place of both the PV Richmond and the MV Florrie, a pilot vessel and river boat respectively. The Richmond served for fifty years on the river with which it shares its name, while the Florrie plied the river from 1880 to 1975. On display at the Naval and Maritime Museum in Regatta Ave is one of the famous Las Balsas rafts, made from the remains of three such rafts that made the voyage from Ecuador to Ballina in 1973 to prove that early South Americans could have made the journey.
During the winter months (June to October) this coastline offers great vantage points for whale-watching. Apart from Cape Byron, all the headlands along the coast afford sightings of humpback whales on their northerly journey early in the season, and their return journey in September and October. Moving usually in family groups, or pods, the whales often breach and slap their flippers and flukes to the delight of watchers.
At any time of the year bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles and giant rays can be seen in the turquoise-blue waters of this part of the Pacific. Ballina has dual-purpose pathways for cyclists and pedestrians, with the best vantage points being the lighthouse and Shelley Beach in East Ballina. There are some great cafés en route, including the beach, from where you can observe the natural beauty while recharging your batteries.
Some of the original wealth of the area is evident in the restored Victorian and Federation buildings such as Ballina Manor, Brundah and Riversleigh guesthouses, all of which offer elegant accommodation.
How to get there:
Ballina is on the Pacific Highway, a 9-10 hour drive north of Sydney, and 2½ hours drive south of Brisbane. Ballina airport is now serviced by several flights a day from Sydney. Interstate coaches and local buses serve Ballina.
Regional Towns & Villages