Ballina weekend guide: Australia’s cheapest destination

If you’ve traveled to the hippie town of Byron Bay by plane, you’ve probably heard of Ballina. But for everyone else, Ballina has always been just a ‘retirement village’ on the coast. However, the town has come alive in recent years with super cheap flights, holidaymakers and the overflow of Byron.

It’s not hard to see why the city changes its narrative with access to the most pristine stretch of 32 kilometers of aqua blue coastline, subtropical rainforest, untouched landscapes and iconic Australian wildlife. It not only challenges its MTV-approved neighbors, but competes on the biggest stage as a serious tourist destination.

Shelly Beach in East Ballina is a local favorite © David Mckelvey

Ballina is one of the cheapest destinations in Australia

With flights from Sydney as cheap as $42 one-way in November, Ballina is one of Australia’s cheapest domestic tickets this summer. Only melbourne and the Gold Coast exist in the same budget ballpark while seriously lacking the small-town seaside charm that Ballina offers in abundance.

Exclusively available through Jetstar, you can fly from Sydney for $42 with a Club Jet Star membership or $49 without. Designated Flight JQ456, services will favor early risers, with the flight departing at 6:15 a.m. and arriving at the coastal town at 7:30 a.m. Flying seven times a week, the airline uses its spacious single-aisle Airbus A320 for the route.

Costing less than a fancy cinema ticket or a meal for one in Sydney, the fare will only cover the basics, like a 7kg carry-on bag. If you need 20 kg of checked baggage, free flight date changes or in-flight meals, you will need to upgrade to the airline.More‘, costing $85 for members and $92 for non-members. Despite the price hike, flying is still relatively cheaper than most domestic flights in Australia this summer. If you plan to travel without frills, the ride will be cheaper than a taxi ride to the airport!

Ballina Lighthouse Beach
Lighthouse Beach stretches from Ballina Head to the man-made breakwater that marks the mouth of the Richmond River © Expedia

More than just a gateway city of Byron Bay

With a coastline that rivals the perfect breaks and the turquoise shimmer of Hawaiian waters, Ballina might be your next favorite surf trip this summer. Thirty-two kilometers of crystal-clear South Pacific sea surrounds the town with waves that closely rival Byron on the road, it’s hard to find a reason not to love Ballina. Thanks to its ‘lesser’ reputation, the beaches are quieter all year round but enjoy the same sunny conditions as the neighboring hippie commune.

While the sleepy coastal town boasts some of Australia’s most beautiful coastlines, it’s also gaining popularity on the culinary map. From farm-to-table experiences to bustling weekly farmers markets, fresh produce is just as important here as it is in Bryon. Head to Ballina Farmers Market at Missingham Park on Sunday mornings for the oldest farmer’s market on the NSW North Coast. Here you’ll find produce and produce made within a few miles of the market for a truly authentic Northern Rivers experience.

If one market isn’t enough, the wider area from Byron to Mullumbimby sees several markets each weekend, including arts and crafts markets to flea markets. Markets aren’t for everyone, but fear not, as the city is a vibrant hub of outdoor activity. From kayaking and river cruises on the Brunswick River to hiking trails and Aboriginal art tours, the area has something for every outdoor enthusiast.

At the Dusk Market in Ballina
On Dusk Market is a market featuring designers, makers, makers and artisans from the Northern Rivers region held weekly on Saturdays from 4pm to 8.30pm in Ballina © On Dusk

The Northern Rivers region is also blessed with some of Australia’s most intact and vibrant national parks and subtropical rainforests. Bundjalung National Park is located south of Ballina and offers unspoiled beaches, river walks and campsites. It’s also a great place for whale watching, with November being the last month to make the most of the South Pacific whale migration season.

Broken Head Nature Reserve is another stunning coastal reserve offering rainforest walks, pristine beaches on the horizon and a long and rugged history of Aboriginal culture. In fact, Aboriginal culture is deeply rooted in Ballina. The town’s name is thought to derive from the Aboriginal word ‘Bullinah’ which means ‘place of plenty’ or ‘big stomach, full to eat’.

Bundjalung National Park near Ballina
Bundjalung National Park is located south of Ballina and offers some of Australia’s most breathtaking coastlines, merging subtropical rainforest and river systems with the South Pacific Ocean © Trip Bucket

No weekend is complete in Ballina without a photo with the town’s ‘biggest’ attraction. The prawn sits proudly near the bunnings and alongside a wide range of food outlets, with fresh seafood being an obvious choice.

For those who like to get high, and mo we don’t look at you Byron people, helicopter city ​​tours will take you around Lennox Head and the hinterland. If you are more adventurous, join Classic aero for a flight over Ballina in a single-engine PAC CT/4 Airtrainer.

Now that you’re thirsty, it’s time to get your electrolytes to Seven Mile Brewery, a Ballina-based father-son waterer. Serving American Pale Ale, Cali Cream, and West Coast IPA, you can find their David Hasselfroths at most bottles, bars, and restaurants in the area.

Ballina's prawn
Ballina’s prawn is a ‘must-see’ on any trip to the coastal town © Daily Telegraph

For the gourmands, go to the famous Newrybar To harvest restaurant. Located halfway between Ballina and Byron, this nationally acclaimed restaurant has an edible garden and a sustainably prepared menu using local ingredients. The Harvest is also home to a 120 year old wood burning oven.

La Niña, floods and tourist drought

As beautiful as Ballina and the northern rivers catchment area is, the area has been ravaged by floods and torrential rains all year round. The community has been hit hard, with tourism numbers almost worse than during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has decimated travel to Australia for nearly two years, forcing small towns that rely on visitors into a desperate financial struggle. Unfortunately, the forecast doesn’t look too favorable for the region, as the Bureau of Meteorology predicts a third consecutive La Niña event this summer. The coastal region saw some of the worst rains on record in 2022, although it escaped much of the flooding. However, the city’s inner neighbor has unfortunately made headlines more than once for deadly floods, which reached 14.4 meters at its peak. In comparison, Ballina’s maximum flood water height reached 2.95 meters.

Liberty Foodmart in Lismore, on Ballina Road during the devastating February floods which lost lives and homes
Liberty Foodmart in Lismore, on Ballina Road, pictured completely shrouded in floodwaters during the devastating February floods that lost lives and homes © ABC

Despite the threat of further flooding this summer, the region still hopes for a tourism boom. The message sent by members of the city invites tourists from everywhere to come and discover the magnificent rivers of the North. As with any adverse weather event, it is important to keep up to date with local news and State Emergency Service (His advices.

Even in the rain, the area sparkles, so be sure to plan an affordable weekend in Ballina this summer and support the local Northern Rivers community!

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