15 Best things to do in Ballina (Australia)

In the mid-19th century, this coastal town at the mouth of the Richmond River was a center of shipbuilding and served whaling ships up and down the East Coast.

Whaling is long gone, but humpbacks and southern right whales still bring people to Ballina, and you can watch these fantastic animal migrations from shore between May and October.

Ballina has excellent sandy beaches, washed by thunderous waves and dotted with headlands, giving you far-reaching views of the Pacific Ocean and the northern river coastline.

1. Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum

Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum

Fit for a town with a historic shipping and shipbuilding heritage, Ballina has a fascinating maritime museum on the Richmond River in the town centre.

In 1973, Spanish explorer Vital Aslar embarked on an incredible trans-Pacific expedition on a raft. He arrived in Ballina after six months at sea.

One of the three rafts is on display and you can watch a documentary documenting the voyage.

The museum also houses Australia’s largest collection of models of naval and merchant ships, and incorporates information about the historic Port of Ballina and a tribute to the women of the RAN.

As for the heavy duty display, there is a British Mark 9 21″ torpedo and a working triple expansion steam engine.

2. Lighthouse Beach

Lighthouse Beach

Booked by the north wall of the Richmond Estuary and Ballina Point to the north is the classic River North Beach.

Lighthouse Beach is about half a kilometer long and 50 meters wide.

Surfers come to ride the waves and drift along the north wall.

You can also walk to the end of the seawall to line up for snapper, blackfish, tailor, and occasionally snapper, mackerel and tuna.

One of the extraordinary attractions associated with Ballina is the trawler at the estuary competing with the tough Ballina bar surf.

Lighthouse Beach is patrolled during school holidays and is a little safer for swimmers in the central and northern ends.

3. Whale watching

whale watching

Each winter around June, humpback and southern right whales leave their Antarctic feeding grounds before migrating to Australia’s east coast to calve in tropical waters before returning in November.

Typically, humpback whales tend to stay away from shore on their northward journey, but swim closer to shore on the way back.

Southern right whales tend to be more curious and less wary of shallow waters and boats.

From June to November, you can go on a whale-watching trip accompanied by a marine biologist to gain a unique perspective and insight into the behavior of these magnificent animals.

A more affordable option is to bring just a pair of binoculars and park yourself at a lookout like the North Wall or Ballina Point.

4. Prawns


For the uninitiated, every state and territory in Australia is full of ‘big things’, with huge novelty buildings all vying to be the biggest of their kind.

The first of these appeared in the 1960s and many are now heritage listed to prevent their removal.

Ballina’s own Big Thing is a Big Prawn, located at the west entrance to the small town of River Street.

It is made of concrete and fiberglass and was built in 1989. Standing 9 meters tall and weighing 40 tons, this gigantic crustacean is the largest of its kind in the world.

When the prawn was in danger of being demolished in 2009, residents of West Ballina launched a fierce campaign to save it.

A few years later, the structure was repaired and a tail was obtained for the first time.

5. Ballina Historic Waterfront Walk

Ballina Historic Waterfront Walk

Like a picturesque outdoor museum, this walk takes you from Fawcett Park next to the Richmond River in the CBD all the way to the North Wall in the estuary.

Along the way, you’ll see 19 interpretive plaques about the role of navigation and rivers in early European settlements in the area.

Cross the bridge to the north wall and you’ll have a good chance of seeing Ballina’s dolphins, while the eastern end of the wall is a great place to watch whales swimming by in winter and spring.

6. Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR)

Australian Seabird Rescue

Seabird Rescue Australia is one organisation doing valuable work on the east coast, with branches off the NSW coast and links with sister groups across the country.

This grassroots community group rescues and restores seabirds, shorebirds and other coastal animals, especially sea turtles.

ASR is headquartered in Ballina, where you can visit their center for a guided tour.

When you get to know all the efforts of the group, you will see any birds or turtles they take care of.

You’ll learn how they save injured birds, learn about the nesting behavior of sea turtles, and what it takes to track and identify this sensitive species.

The tour takes about an hour and the $8 fee is returned to the organization.

7. Crawford House Museum

Crawford House Museum

Taking a break from the roaring Pacific Ocean, you can take a short trip to visit the exquisite historic museum on the Alstonville Plateau.

Built in 1910, this Federal-style hotel with elegant balconies is home to the local historical society and is filled with charming home furnishings from the early 1900s to the 1960s.

The museum has a busy exhibition programme that gives the feel of rural family life in the first half of the 20th century and houses a research room which is a great place for those who want to investigate their relationship to Alstonville resource.

8. Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach, Ballina

Ballina’s best family beaches are located between two 40-meter capes, Cape Noire to the north and Cape Ballina to the south.

Shelly Beach is currently safer than most places in Ballina, with lifeguards patrolling during school holidays.

You will need to swim between the flags as the surf will be affected by the cracks.

At low tide, there is a clear artificial wading pool on the south side of the beach that children will love.

Families who are out for a walk can join the paved path that stretches along the sand.

9. Ballina Head Lookout

Ballina Head Lookout

Lighthouse Top Point between Shelly and Lighthouse Beach is where you can enjoy the scenery in multiple directions at once.

In the ocean, you may see humpback whales out to sea between June and November, while dolphins can be seen year-round near the coast.

The waves look great at this height and you can see the north wall of the Richmond Estuary along Lighthouse Beach.

Further up the slope behind you are the active Richmond River Lights, standing in some form since 1866, with a range of 26 kilometers.

10. Missingham Park

missingham park

This waterfront park is located where the North Creek meets the Richmond River, just before the latter flows into the Pacific Ocean.

It’s a very popular place to relax, on the waterside walking and biking trails, or on the tree-lined BBQ.

There is an amphitheater for community concerts and events, and a large covered playground with free swings designed for children with disabilities.

For teens, the skate park next to the amphitheater offers great views of the river, as does the small beach on the south side, a designated place for people to exercise their dogs.

11. North River Community Gallery (NRCG)

art gallery

You can see the work of some of the finest artists in the Northern Rivers region in the galleries in this beautifully restored heritage building dating back to 1927. There’s exciting new and established talent here, and with the quick turnaround of the show, there’s something new to peruse every month or so.

Everything you see is available for purchase, and the gallery’s shop offers locally made gifts and jewelry.

Such is the success of the NCRG, which expanded into another heritage building in 2018, the Old Ballina Fire Station.

Here, Ignite Studios @ NRCG has multidisciplinary workspaces and a rich community of activities.

12. Kayaking


Thanks to the Richmond River and North Creek, Ballina has many safe waterways to explore on a kayak or canoe tour.

A local company, Kayak Ballina, has enough funds to conduct guided tours with certified Australian canoe instructors.

You will travel in a high-end tandem kayak with rudder and life jackets for a safe and comfortable sailing.

If you’re lucky, you might join a local dolphin cabin in Ballina.

13. Thursday Plantation Visitor Center

Thursday Plantation Visitor Center

The well-known tea tree and essential oil brand Thursday Plantation is located in the heart of Ballina, just minutes away.

Literally, the unique name comes from the day in 1976 when the Crown Lease was awarded to Eric White, the founder who wanted to harvest the tea plant.

The visitor center is dedicated to the benefits of naturopathy, you can learn about naturopaths in the Rainforest Botanical Garden, and smaller clan members will love the maze.

There’s a cafe inside, and a shop selling the brand’s line of essential oils, balms and creams.

You can also watch a short film about the company’s origins inside.

14. Ballina Food and Wine Festival

Ballina Food and Wine Festival

The Northern Rivers region has some amazing produce from many specialist farms in the Pacific and the hinterland.

To celebrate this, for over a decade, the local Rotary Club has organized a gala, usually held on a weekend in mid-to-late October.

The main holiday day is Sunday, with live entertainment and a tour of over 70 exhibitors.

You can sample fine wines, beers, ciders and delicacies, watch cooking demonstrations, take part in wine appreciation workshops and browse stalls from a range of industry brands.

15. Ballina Visitor Information Centre

Visitor Information

Local tourists are now the go-to place for detailed information about the area to help you book tours and accommodation.

But more importantly, Ballina has one of the most enticing visitor center stores you’ll ever come across.

This is the pantry for delicious specialties from the region.

We’re talking macadamia nuts, coffee, honey, fancy teas, chocolate, oils, preserves, granola, cereal, oils, jams, preserves and many other condiments and spreads.

There’s also a huge selection of local handcrafted crafts in stock, so you might be hard-pressed to leave without some sort of souvenir.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Ballina, Australia
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