A break from routine with a day trip out of home territory is good for the soul. It is a solid three hour drive one way, but every so often we get the urge to explore the colourful and somewhat magical world that is the Northern Rivers hinterland (NSW).
During our campervan adventure days in 2012, the two of us spent a whole winter immersing ourselves in the Northern Rivers market circuit. We loved it and have developed a strong affinity to the region. I love the lush fertile rolling hills, vibrant arts community and alternative culture. There is something enchanting about the tangled rainforests, bubbling creeks, honesty boxes, the villages and telecommunication black holes. When we need a good dose of hippie love – this is where we go.
The whole area is a smorgasbord for the senses – every visit we find fascinating places and new haunts. But we love our trodden path – a concise circuit of our favourite spots.
These spots are not any great secret – heck the place is teaming with self exploring bohemians, but it makes for a good day trip. Here is a snapshot of our recent visit.
Leave Before Dawn
It started around 4am at our place in The Summit (Qld). Driving into the breaking day is exhilarating. Our adorable twin two year olds happily slept for most of the drive. A buzz with caffeine and early morning cheer, the two of us chat away the long stretches of highway.
First Stop- Breakfast @ Sphinx Cafe, Mt Burrell
This place never disappoints. The homemade baked beans are a stand out and we never leave feeling bloated, just warm, content and full. Wholesome, homegrown, home made rustic meals. Set on rambling grounds adjacent to a creek, there is a sandpit for the girls and a lovely alfresco dining area. The cafe is avid supporters of local musicians and artists so there is always a cool mix of pieces for sale in the cafe.
2nd Stop: The Old Nimbin Butter Factory
This space has really changed over the years and now hosts Nimbin Candles, Phoenix Rising Cafe, Bringabong and an entertainment venue.
The earthy, grungy rawness of the place is inviting and the simplicity relaxing. Removed from the main town centre you immediately fall into a different rhythm. While the girls explore the garden, stage and courtyard, we enjoy a cup of Australian grown Arabica coffee. Phoenix Rising Cafe serves up sustainable nourishing food. I watched the Chef pop out to the vegetable patch that sprawls down the banks to the Mulgum Creek, to collect a fresh harvest for the cafe.
For our road trip hamper basket we bought locally grown plunger coffee (Australian Bundja Mountain Top Estate in Nimbin) and organic chai tea (Chaipotion Gypsy Tea Alchemy).
We went to Nimbin Candles. The place is an enduring local icon, albiet a bit random and dripping with wax. We stocked up on tall taper candles. These give off a superior light in black-outs during storm season back home.
3rd Stop: Nimbin Main Street
Once the day is well underway, Nimbin township is always pumping. In days gone by we have thoroughly explored this eccentric town. These days a short stroll down the main drag is enough to soak up the pumping sounds, crazy outfits and over saturated hippie culture. Nimbin is a very interesting place, filled with even more interesting people. We hit our usual spots:-
- OzCat Clothing – A fair trade Byron Bay/Kathmandu partnership. I rarely buy new clothes but I bought a poncho, tie-dyed dress and long cotton socks – all of which I LOVE.
- Nimbin Emporium – To grab picnic supplies and locally grown produce.
- Nimbin Environmental Centre – A small shop that is packed with tag lines and protesting paraphernalia. I admire the passion of the place. Political things aside it has lots of little gems like locally dried lemon myrtle leaves or hand-rolled Australian incense.
- Nimbin Apothecary – I could spend ages in this tiny single door shop. I love the plain bottled essential oils and vast collections of aromatherapy and natural herbal products. Last time I bought a jar of hemp healing lip balm which is excellent! I leave this shop wanting to wear a daisy chain in my hair and inspired to grow more herbs in my garden at home.
- Nimbin Street Stalls – most days you will find a few random vendors setting up a table of wares out the front of the other shops. Perhaps a backpacker selling handcrafted macrame jewellery to help their camper van fuel fund, or local honey and pottery.
4th Stop: Koonorigan Road
Not a stop as such, but a great drive with superb views. A few kilometres past Coffee Camp we cut along Koonorigan Road to get to The Channon. It is a narrow road that winds up the mountain and runs along the ridge. Busting out of the valley often shrouded in mist and low cloud, you are greeted with rich green views across rolling hills of rainforest, macadamia farms and coffee plantations.
We pass farms with giant rooted fig trees and dodge pot holes thankfully artistically marked by local graffiti vigilante ” RoadArt.”
5th Stop: The Channon Showgrounds
This place is a winner. Good clean toilets, drinking water on tap, kids playground, picnic areas, fireplaces and the most beautiful trees that show off the splendours of the season (be it spring blooms or autumn colour). The park is well used and loved by visitors and locals alike. This is the location for the monthly local craft market that we attended as stallholders a number of times.
We love this park. It is special to us. It was our home and hang out when we first set out on our own business venture. Many great ideas started here.
6th Stop: The Channon Honesty Box
Years ago we discovered this honesty box stall on The Channon Road, approximately 200 metres down from the intersection with Dunoon Road. I have written about it here before. Standing the test of time, this stall is still going strong. You can get preserves, fruit, vegetables, herbs and plants. All grown spray-free on the property. Grab the chilli jam if it is there (yum!) and toot your horn as you leave so the lady knows you left money. This stall is the highlight of our visit, you never know what will be in stock.
Final Stop: Casino Op-Shops
We hit this point mid afternoon. I could easily spend the rest of the day in the op-shops of Lismore and Casino. However, the girls still take an afternoon nap, so for our sanity, this is the best time to drive home.
I can’t leave without visiting at least one op-shop, so we stopped at an very inconspicuous op-shop in Casino, down a side alley street. Everything was super cheap , yes you can still buy things here for 20 cents. The op-shop is run by the loveliest ladies. With one daughter asleep and the other running around finding toys in the op-shop, I ended the trip with a great haul of fabric, blankets, pottery and clothes. After a quick nappy change on the side of the road we headed home.
We detoured past Lismore on this trip. Lismore needs a half day to itself. The city is laden with awesome food, artful eye candy and an extensive op-shop trail. Next time!
We got home as the sun was setting across the vineyards. It is a long day of driving. Once the girls were in bed, we unpacked the days bounty and spread a bit of the hippie love around our home. Little token memories of the day, sweet reminders of a different way of living.