A visit to the sleepy, yet stunning coastal town of Yamba is always a good idea. We travelled to the Northern Rivers for 48 hours of sand, sunshine, and a seriously stylish stay.

Words: Charmaine Yabsley

Yamba may be the quiet and peaceful member of the family of beachfront towns strung along the northern NSW coastline, yet there’s nothing unassuming about this small inlet. If Byron Bay is known as the older, flashier, slightly jaded sister, Yamba is the younger, shyer one, consistently treating visitors to its natural beauty in an unassuming way. Despite the extensive promotion of Yamba during recent years, as the “next Byron Bay”, the oceanside jewel on the Northern Rivers continues to remain loyal to its small-town roots, all while delivering world class food, beaches and, with the opening of boutique hotel The Surf Yamba, impressive accommodation. 

The stucco white building that The Surf Yamba calls home could appear imposing, yet its edges are softened into undulating curves, as though the ocean has smoothed out any angles and hardness, leaving a welcoming space as delicious as an ice-cream after a hot summer’s day. 

As we arrive, the blue green of the Pacific Ocean glinting a welcome to our left, the Palm Springs vibe of the hotel promises us two days of relaxation and luxury. And it doesn’t disappoint. Hotelier Gary Snodgrass is friendly, helpful, and rightly proud of his role within this beautiful boutique hotel. His enthusiasm is catching as he shows us to the rooftop terrace, complete with plunge pool and lounges, which give us a wonderfully sheltered view over the Main Beach. Down the corridor is ‘Pippi Terrace’, the hotel’s clubhouse, complete with tea, coffee, choc chip cookies, fruit and, most importantly, a bar fridge for your wine and glasses for the regular cocktail hours he hosts. The focus here is on fun, sun, and making the most of the beautiful hotel and its fortunate surrounds. He is also extremely helpful, offering us surfboards to borrow, electric bikes to ride, umbrellas, beach chairs, and, when our car battery inexplicably died, gave us a jump start – all with a friendly and relaxed smile.

He shows us to our room, the undulating, curved lines leading us to feel as though we’re on an ocean liner. Created by Design King Company, their brief was nautical meets art deco, with the result a charming and timeless space that adds to your overall experience of endless summer days, when the sun always shone, and the water was always the ideal temperature. Our room is a confection of blush pinks and neutrals, with natural timber and Italian terrazzo tiles in the curved, cave-like bathroom, complete with Leif’s botanical inspired toiletries and Bemboka linen bathrobes. The colour palette compliments, not competes, with the breathtaking views we can see from the bedroom and the balcony. The overall effect is tasteful, stylish, and calming with the curated artwork and bespoke furniture all quietly whispering of understated luxury. All rooms have outdoor spaces complete with views too, whether it’s Main Beach, south towards Evans Head or the grey-blue mountains in the west.

Gary has thoughtfully ordered a cheese platter, which groans with goodness. Within five minutes our swimmers are on, wine bottle uncorked, and the local delicacies are enjoyed. We’re officially in holiday mode and it’s time to leave our everyday stresses behind. 

Because it’s difficult to feel stressed when you have the natural relaxant of Mother Nature’s abundance right at your feet. And right at your feet it is. Directly in front of the hotel is Main Beach, perfect for families, with its sheltered, uncrowded beaches, café, patrolled surf and even an ocean pool, now emerged from its renovations. If you do decide you want to explore other swimming options, don’t miss Pippi’s beach. A long, windswept golden arc, it’s the ideal place to settle in under your umbrella for a day of complete relaxation. There’s also Angourie with its picturesque water holes and deserted beaches. Perfect for surfers you’re almost guaranteed a glimpse of dolphins here, so set the alarm and wake up with the sun for the perfect start to your day. The hotel also offers yoga and Pilates classes on its rooftop if you prefer to begin your day with some pure Zen. 

We secured our position on the Main Beach and spent the day reading, relaxing, and watching the waves. While my husband hit the surf, I headed into town for a facial at Melt. Here too the service was five-star but relaxed and comfortable. Afterwards, I looked and felt as though I’d already had a week’s holiday. We joined Gary for a sunset drink on the rooftop and gave our thanks to the setting sun for delivering a day of sublime joy. 

As the sun set, it was time to turn our attention to dinner. Gary recommended several restaurants in town, just a five-minute walk down the hill. We choose to dine at the newest eatery, El Ocaso, with its rooftop location and outdoor balcony promising us a ringside view of the sunset. Gary’s praise of its cocktail menu is all we need to be convinced. Wandering along Coldstream Street, amongst breezy cafes, cute homeware shops, clothing stores and a craft brewery, is the hidden marvel, El Ocaso. Ascending the stairs to sit on El Caso’s rooftop dining space is like stepping from New South Wales into a Roman side street at sunset or stumbling off Barcelona’s La Ramblas. The dishes are predominantly Italian with hints of Spain and other Mediterranean delights. We opened with a cocktail – a raunchy chilli Margueritta each, which wakes us up after our day of lazing in the sun. The centrepiece of our shared plates was the Rotolo – pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta then baked by owner-chef and drizzled with roasted almond flakes and olive oil. Sided with Arancini balls and carpaccio beef – all delicately presented for a discernible essence of the home country. The atmosphere was a perfect blend of lively Mediterranean family get-together and sunglasses-on cool – all curated by the ownermaître d’. The tiramisu we shared was straight out of Tuscany, putting the seal of authenticity on our meal as the sun dipped below the horizon.

As we walked up the hill back to The Surf Yamba the gentle laughter from the beachside apartments and neighbouring restaurants drifted over us, we were convinced: Yamba may no longer be as sleepy and shy as it once was, but it’s still the friendliest town of them all. 

How to get there

The Surf Yama is just two hours south from the Gold Coast. Situated on the Clarence River, there’s plenty for the whole family to do. Rent a boat for a day of fishing, dolphin spotting and island hopping. Pull up next to the riverside pub for lunch, before returning to the water to catch your evening meal. The Yamba Bowls club also offers great family meals and live music. To book a stay at The Surf Yamba visit thesurfyamba.com.au for more details.

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