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Brunswick Heads is the classic Australian beach town: retro cafes, surf shops, a marina full of fishing boats, and water so blue it fades into the sky. Life in this sleepy hamlet in northern New South Wales revolves around water, whether it’s the Brunswick River, at whose mouth it sits, or the long coastline, which stretches south toward bohemian Byron Bay. It’s easy to spend salty days eating seaside fish and chips here, but where the water ends, national parkland begins. Brunswick Heads is backdropped by Mount Chincogan and extinct volcano Mount Warning, swathed in ancient Gondwana Rainforest. Charming towns dot ferny landscapes, from Mullumbimby and Newrybar to coastal Ballina and Byron Bay.
Brunswick Heads is easily accessible from two airports. Flights from Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra reach Ballina Byron Gateway Airport (BNK), 23 miles south of town. From here, you can catch a bus or, better yet, rent a car to visit the region’s more remote attractions, including Byron Bay’s dreamy beaches. If you’re coming from Queensland, Brunswick Heads lies 93 miles south of the state capital, Brisbane — a 1.5-hour drive, or 3.5-hour coach ride. Domestic and international flights also land at the Gold Coast Airport (OOL), with regular shuttles taking you to Brunswick Heads in just 45 minutes.
If you love the journey as much as the destination, the 477-mile route north from Sydney takes in New South Wales’ coastline and laid-back villages. Plan on eight hours of non-stop driving, longer if you break up your road-trip beach hopping.
There is no wrong time to visit this pocket of the state, with temperatures dipping below 68 degrees Fahrenheit only two months of the year: June and July. The end of winter and start of spring (July to September) are peak season, with plenty of sunshine and water temperatures that are often warmer than the surrounding air. January and February are the hottest and most humid months, with average highs of 82 degrees. This time of year is also the wettest — admittedly a bonus for those chasing hinterland waterfalls.
Because life here revolves around the outdoors, a hat, swimsuit, and high SPF sunscreen are all essentials, regardless of season — and choose a reef-friendly sunscreen to help prevent coral bleaching when you’re in the water.
Every year, around 25,000 humpback whales migrate to and from Antarctica up the eastern Australia coast. The waters of Cape Byron Marine Park near Brunswick Heads provide a warm playground for these gentle giants, with visible breaching and blowing here from mid-June through early November. Get a closer look on a whale watching tour from the harbor.
The Brunswick Heads hinterland delivers a vast expanse of ancient World Heritage-listed jungle, part of the largest subtropical rainforest in the world. In Nightcap National Park you’ll discover an enormous variety of animals and birds, including regent bowerbirds and masked owls, which often roost in the branches of 130-foot nightcap oaks. There are walking trails aplenty, including one leading to Minyon Falls, which cascades 328 feet to the forest floor.
When not hiking, explore other quaint towns such as Nimbin (heart of Australia’s counterculture movement), Bangalow (with galleries and antique stores in historic buildings), and Newrybar, where contemporary galleries accompany equally alluring restaurants. Nearby Mullumbimby hosts a legendary Australian farmers’ market on Friday mornings, packed with local produce, arts, and crafts.