Guide at a glance: Alstonville

Lush and green ... the macadamia orchards of Alstonville.
Lush and green ... the macadamia orchards of Alstonville. 

Lee Atkinson goes nuts over this charming hamlet, tucked in between the sea and the rainforest.

Why go?

A cute town full of historic buildings halfway between Lismore and Ballina on the NSW far north coast, Alstonville offers the best of both the coast and the hinterland. It's less than 20 kilometres from the beach, only half an hour from Byron Bay, and makes a great base for exploring the charming villages and scenic drives of the Northern Rivers region.

What it's known for

Alstonville's a fairly sleepy kind of place, overshadowed by the more popular holiday destinations of Ballina and Byron Bay, but among garden lovers it's famous for its annual autumn purple haze when the Tibouchina trees that line the town's streets burst into bloom with big purple and mauve flowers.

What you didn't know ...

Local legend has it that the soil of the Alstonville Plateau is 12 metres deep, but even if that's not true, the rich volcanic dirt certainly supports a wide variety of crops and tropical fruits. The world's first commercial orchard of macadamia trees was planted near Alstonville in the early 1880s and it's now one of the region's largest industries. Take a drive around the area and you'll pass dozens of farm-gate stalls that sell buckets of nuts for just a few dollars. BYO nutcrackers.

What's new

Summerland House Farm is a working avocado and macadamia farm on the outskirts of Alstonville. It's run by the House with No Steps, which supports people with disabilities throughout NSW, and its 7000 trees produce close to 100 tonnes of macadamias each year, and about the same volume again of avocados. Brand new are the tractor tours through the farm's orchards and to the packing and dehusking facilities. Other attractions include a cafe, local produce store, monthly "Make it Bake it Grow it" markets on the first Sunday of each month and a nursery. Kids love the waterpark and mini-golf. Open daily 9am-4pm, Tractor Tours, which cost $5 a person, 11am and 2pm. 253 Wardell Road, Alstonville.

Don't miss

150 years ago, before the cedar cutters arrived, most of the area around Alstonville was smothered in rainforest. Known as "The Big Scrub", it was one of the largest areas of subtropical rainforest in eastern Australia, although sadly, most of it had been cleared by the turn of the 20th century, beyond a few patches here and there. One of those remnants is now part of Victoria Park Nature Reserve, a 17.5-hectare area of rainforest that contains a staggering 152 different species of trees. It's just eight kilometres from town (via Wardell Road), and features a wheelchair and stroller-friendly boardwalk that winds through the rainforest.

Where to eat

Alstonville's old post office has been transformed into a sleek combination of bar, cafe and restaurant called Il Postino, with a cosy drinking corner, sensational Italian food and a fantastic selection of thin-crust gourmet pizzas cooked in an old-fashioned wood-fired oven. Lunch daily except Monday, dinner Wednesday-Saturday. 86 Main Street, Alstonville, (02) 6628 3333. Further afield, the Harvest Cafe is worth seeking out (in the tiny hamlet of Newrybar, about 22 kilometres to the north). It's a popular spot for breakfast - who can resist a glass of breakfast bubbly when on holiday, followed, perhaps, by asparagus and crispy prosciutto on sourdough with organic poached eggs and blue cheese sauce - but it's also open for lunch every day and dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. 18 Old Pacific Highway, Newrybar, (02) 6687 2644.

Where to stay

Tallaringa Views has two self-contained cottages set high on a hill about 15 minutes from Alstonville. Each cottage features a wood fire, outdoor spa bath, kitchen and laundry and private deck with gorgeous views. Much of the 26-hectare property has been reforested, and if you're lucky you may even spot one of the resident platypus in the creek. Rates start at $225 a cottage (two people), a night.

How to get there

Alstonville is 733 kilometres north of Sydney, 18 kilometres west of Ballina. Virgin Australia, Regional Express and Jetstar all have daily flights from Sydney to Ballina.

More information

Alstonville Information Centre, 253 Wardell Road, Alstonville, NSW. (02) 6628 0610, alstonvillensw.com.au, discoverballina.com.au.

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