It feels unfair to compare Yamba, the gorgeous coastal haven on the north coast of NSW, to its now-glammed up neighbour, Byron. The two share some similarities – beautiful beaches, laid-back attitudes, a high proportion of linen-heavy boutiques – but Yamba marches to the beat of a different drum.
Here, time feels as though it moves a little slower. The smiles seem broader, the locals make time to have a chat. Even in winter, the days feel long and languid.
But not long enough. There's so much to do in this town on Yaegl Country, situated between the mouth of the Clarence River and the Pacific Ocean, 650 kilometres from Sydney and a three-hour drive from Brisbane.
It's been a favourite for generations of farming families from nearby towns. Between the two pubs, the bowlo, golf course, cinema and natural attractions, it's now captivating people from all over Australia.
Here's how to spend one perfect day in Yamba.
Start the day with a dip. There are almost a dozen beaches within the Yamba postcode, and six of them are (seasonally) patrolled. If you're inclined to hang 10, this town is a good place to do so; Yamba's surf club was founded in 1908, making it one of the oldest in the world. Hit Angourie Point or Turners for waves, or go for a dip at Main Beach or Pippi Beach before settling in the sand.
If you're inclined to hang 10, this town is a good place to do so.
After your dip, Laneway Lunchbox Espresso Bar, tucked in an arcade off the main strip of Coldstream Street, is a revelation. Unpretentious breakfast fare is treated with respect and style, as in eggs Benedict atop dill-forward hashbrown-style potato patties, with a punchy citrus hollandaise. Pair it with a slice of lemon ricotta cake and a flat white, both served on or in pottery made by local ceramic artist Amanda Brightwell.
Next door is secondhand bookstore The Nook, home to more than 20,000 books. Find a rare tome or a current favourite, and stuff it in your beach bag. And if you need a beach bag, there are lots of cute lifestyle shops on Yamba's main cross streets, including eclectic Flots and Jets, wellness-focused Coral and florist/boutique Willow Botanica.
Options for lunch are plentiful. For something quick, delicious and filling, pop into The Pie Shop for a "pot-belly" pie. They're magnificently domed and stuffed with chunky fillings such as chilli, chicken and mango; cheesy cauliflower; and lamb, mint and rosemary. Perch at one of the picnic tables out the front of the pastel-pink eatery and munch.
For something a little more involved, it has to be Beachwood Cafe. Run by chef and owner Sevtap Yuce, the eatery turns out Turkish fare via a tiny kitchen. It's all based on what produce is available that day. Consider octopus braised in a rich tomato stew and served with sesame-crusted Turkish bread, or a broad bean salad with yoghurt – and more bread.
Yamba is well endowed with fine produce. Being on the river and the ocean, the town doesn't want for great seafood, including those rightfully famous Yamba prawns. Nab a bag of them at the Clarence River Fishermen's Co-op, and peel away at one of the blue picnic tables overlooking the marina.
If you're around on a Wednesday, the Yamba Farmers and Producers Market has 45 permanent stallholders, all of whom are local and regional farmers, producers, growers and creatives. If it's a hot one, nab an ice-cream or gelato from Yamba Icecreamery.
When the day starts to melt into the afternoon, plant yourself up on the headland at the Pacific Hotel, which has been treating guests to great views since 1934. The bistro serves traditional pub grub, but go for a cold beer or G&T and enjoy the sweeping view of the ocean amid the banter of locals. (There's also new boutique accommodation upstairs, some with balconies.)
The gin that tends to be favoured comes from around the corner, at Clarence Distillery & Bar. They produce a variety of tipples out of their "distilling shed" in Yamba, including a rosella gin, a lemon myrtle vodka and – for a limited run – a mandarin gin.
For dinner head to Karrikin, only open Thursday to Saturday, with its set menu and chance to dine in a courtyard anchored by a graceful frangipani tree.
Enjoy plates celebrating Australian produce, from the wattleseed bread with macadamia butter to start, through to chewy potato dumplings served in a mushroom XO sauce with tender fungi; duck breast beneath Davidson-plum-braised radicchio and a ribbon of pickled beetroot; and a raspberry sorbet that tastes like a market-fresh basket of smashed fruit.
Roll into bed at The Surf Yamba, the luxurious accommodation newcomer sitting high on the hill with views across Main Beach.
The curved white facade pays homage to Art Deco style, while the interiors lean towards the natural: lots of sea foam and peach shades, light woods, terrazzo tiles, wide balconies and thoughtful amenities, including an all-inclusive minibar and outdoor shower to wash off the salty suds.
Riley Wilson was a guest of The Surf Yamba.
The hit list
Laneway Lunchbox Espresso Bar, shop 3, 18 Coldstream Street, Yamba
The Nook, shop 5, 18 Coldstream Street, Yamba
Flots and Jets, shop 3, 13 Yamba Street, Yamba
Coral, 24 High Street, Yamba
Willow Botanica, 19 Yamba Street, Yamba
The Pie Shop, 31 Coldstream Street, Yamba
Beachwood Cafe, 22 High Street, Yamba
Clarence River Fishermen's Co-operative, 15 Yamba Road, Yamba
Yamba Farmers and Producers Market, Whiting Beach Carpark
Yamba Icecreamery, shop 4, 23 Coldstream Street, Yamba
The Pacific Hotel, 18 Pilot Street, Yamba
Clarence Distillery & Bar, unit 3, 5 Neptune Place, Yamba
Karrikin, 27 Coldstream Street, Yamba
The Surf Yamba, 2 Queen Street, Yamba