Some time ago, sitting for dinner at a graffitied hostel table, I overheard talk of a town
The chat was that Yamba is what Byron Bay was 20 years back; an “undiscovered treasure” of a town; a little gem, a secret not yet known to the travel masses. Byron was once a beatnik haven, hippy central, home to laidback peacelovers.
To some, it was a kind of heaven. But the secret got out and nowadays Byron is understandably popular. The change represents a common trend that even touches places like old Camden Town back in Blighty. Once a place’s appeal is recognised, an influx of tourists and businesses inevitably follow.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but I was keen for a glimpse of what life in Byron may have been like, way back when… I pondered my theory further as I headed north: destinationYamba. The town, about an hour south of Byron, has just one hostel.
Outside said hostel I was greeted by the family who built, own and run it, with smiles, chat, andYamba-based anecdotes that persisted pleasantly for the duration of my stay. That lovely greeting set the tone for the visit.
As a Londoner, I have an ingrained distrust of humanity, so I was naturally suspicious. Surely people couldn’t be THAT nice, THAT friendly, and THAT enthusiastic about life? But they were. The hostel offers a warmth and charm which pervades the entire town, reminding me of the friendliness of Western Australia and Tasmania.
Even under the grey skies of our first afternoon, Yamba’s attractions were obvious. Six beaches stretch along a coastline that is dotted, inland, with pools that glisten with Aboriginal legend, and are sheltered by cliffs from which you may dive.
We took a town tour spotting “speccy” picnic points, as we embraced the advice offered by the clock in the high street, under which is inscribed the phrase “Yamba Time: Relax and Unwind”.
Doing so, we spoilt ourselves at the hostel café/bar (a far but affordable cry from tuna and noodles!), and feasted at the Pacific Hotel; which provides gourmet pub food alongside live music and ocean views, a winning combo which we enjoyed before a backdrop of an electrical storm, as it terrorised the trawlers below.
Through the Pacific, the town offers the opportunity to “part-ay”, as we passed locals escorting backpackers up the hill on a mission for Jägerbombs. Whilst daytime adventures, (hangover permitting) are also achievable through the apparently endless array of activities available about town.
Yamba is complete with a “surfing reserve”, and thus, inevitably, lessons, with which I got involved, reluctantly at first. Not being a water person by nature (or able to swim!), I am never overly excited about such events. But I was pretty much reformed by this one.
Guided by an instructor who ensured that good times were had, whilst we all achieved something at our own level (I knelt on the board as it moved! Oh yes). I boldly messaged my mate in Sydney that I would meet him at Bondi that weekend, surfboard under arm.
River kayaking followed. I entered with the same trepidation as I had surfing. But as we paddled we chatted, were offered local insights, and even had a bit of a singsong (though this never really progressed beyond my kayak buddy, myself, and “Yellow Submarine”).
After three hours, with home-made cake on an isolated beach and dolphins frolicking around us, I was genuinely disappointed when it came to an end. But I filled the emotional void effectively with a dolphin cruise.
As we drifted in the sunlight the skipper offered us up some options. Bouncing in a boom-net attached to the back of the boat was option A, whilst B revolved mainly around cheese, wine and lazing.
Thus, as I sat back and nibbled on my Brie I began to envisage how I might reorganise my life so that I may never have to leave this lovely little place. Pipe dreams through I had places to be, and people to drink with… but beautiful pipe dreams nonetheless, and ones that are prone to recur.
In my mind, Yamba is pretty much perfect. I know I will be back. This may however have to happen soon, as the local fear is that Yamba is destined to hit the big time and risk becoming overdeveloped.
There is a push for the council to decree that the hostel will remain the only one in town, which it is hoped will prevent this. Here’s hoping that this will be the case! Until then however I intend to get back there pretty swiftly, and recommend that others do the same. Relax and unwind yes, but do so soon!
Damage & the details: Beds at the new Yamba YHA Backpacker Beach Resort (Ph: 02 6646 3997, www.yha.com.au) from $25; info on surf lessons, kayaking and dolphin cruises is available at the hostel. Greyhound has started running two services a day direct to the hostel on a three-month trial basis. YHA member get 10 per cent off Greyhound Australia bookings (book at YHA Travel).