Tweed Heads, New South Wales: Travel guide and things to do

Although it is in New South Wales Tweed Heads forms a twin town with Coolangatta and together they sprawl across the NSW-Queensland border. Both towns developed independently but by the 1960s, as the Gold Coast began to expand, the line between the two centres began to blur. However, whether visitors realise it or not, they are, in the summer, stepping backwards in time when they pass from Tweed Heads to Coolangatta. This anomaly arises from the fact that NSW adopts daylight savings in summer while Queensland does not.

Located 862 km north of Sydney and 5 metres above sea-level, Tweed Heads denotes the southern end of the Gold Coast proper - an area noted for its surf beaches, night life and leisured lifestyle. The combined population of Tweed Heads, Tweed Heads South and Tweed Heads West was 22730 in 1996.

The Tweed Shire occupies an entire river valley bounded by the ocean to the east, the McPherson Range to the north, the Tweed Range to the west, the Burringbar Range to the south and the Nightcap Range to the south-east. These formations represent the remnant of an extinct shield volcano and its lava flow. The Tweed River meanders through the valley before it winds its way up behind Fingal Head and discharges into the Pacific Ocean at Tweed Heads. On the northern side of the estuary is a high headland known as Point Danger and the southern head is formed by the northern tip of Fingal Head. To complicate the picture Terranora Creek, a wide body of water full of islands, branches off from the river just inside the estuary and winds its way through the settlement, dividing Tweed Heads from Tweed Heads South. In all, the shire incorporates 34 km of coastline featuring wide, sandy beaches punctuated by low headlands. Flagstaff Beach is on the northern side of the river mouth and Fingal Beach on the southern side (click here for more information on Fingal Head). Doppys Beach is just inside the river mouth. To the north is CoolangattaBeach and to the south are Kingscliff, Cabarita, Hastings Point (which has a tidal lagoon for safe swimming), Pottsville and Wooyung. There are plenty of good opportunities for recreational fishing.

Retirement is a considerable source of Tweed Heads' notable population growth while tourism is the primary source of income. There is also much commercial fishing in the estuary and the hinterland produces bananas, sugar, avocados, tomatoes and vegetables.

Tweed Heads can claim to be one of the first resorts on the Gold Coast and consequently its age shows in some of the buildings and amenities. Unlike Surfers Paradise (which also predates the postwar boom) it has not been radically modernised.

The traditional inhabitants of the area were the Minjungbal people who lived a fairly sedentary life owing to the plentiful supply of food and water. They met with other tribes on an annual basis at Bunya Mountain (north of what is now Brisbane) to hold corroborees.

Captain James Cook sailed up the Gold Coast in 1770. He was nearly shipwrecked on Cudgen Headland and thus chose the expressive names of Mount Warning and Point Danger for two local landmarks.

John Oxley encountered the estuary in 1823 while scouting out a suitable spot for a penal colony. His party took shelter during a storm in the lea of the 10-acre islet off Fingal Head. He called it Turtle Island and named the river, in which he rowed, after a waterway in northern England. In 1828 Captain Rous surveyed the river, travelling about 36 km upstream. His charts describe the islet as Cook Island, by which name it is still known.

A military post existed briefly (1828-29) at Point Danger (on the northern side of the Tweed River estuary) to intercept escapees from the new penal settlement at Moreton Bay.

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Timbergetters worked the riverbanks for cedar from about 1844. Logs were floated along the creeks and the river to the estuary although the bar rendered shipping hazardous until a breakwater was built in 1902.

The cedar-cutters initially encountered hostility from the indigenous inhabitants but the gun proved mightier than the spear and by the end of the 19th century the Minjungbal had almost ceased to exist .

25 men and three women were recorded as living on the Tweed in 1846. The first permanent settlement emerged near the estuary in what is now Tweed Heads South. Here the cedar-getters rendezvoused with the schooners that brought supplies and took the logs off to Sydney. The first European birth occurred in 1851. A shipyard was established, a small store and an inn were built and a policeman appointed, although there was very little growth until the 1880s. After much debate the state border was fixed in 1859 with the creation of Queensland.

Shipping activity on the river led to the establishment of a pilot station in 1870, a customs house in 1871, a telegraph station in 1875 and the lighthouse at Fingal Head in 1878. A provisional school, catering for six families, opened in 1876 on the northern side of the estuary. Tweed Heads was originally called 'Cooloon' by European officials but popular usage won out and Tweed Heads was the name by which the settlement was gazetted after an 1886 survey of the townsite. Land sales commenced in 1887 and, by 1892, there were about 100 residents at Tweed Heads.

For many years timbergetting was the only economic activity on the river but by the end of the century much of the cedar was gone and the industry declined. However, agriculture and cattle-raising had begun to develop on the river c.1866 when Michael Guilfoyle took up 600 acres for the cultivation of sugarcane. He was joined in 1869 by an MP from Kiama. A basic sugar mill was built, succeeded by a proper mill in 1874 near Tumbulgum. The arrival of the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. in the 1870s proved a crucial moment. They bought up much land and subdivided it into farms for cultivation of the cane. The industry expanded through the 1880s and 1890s but a drop in the price of sugar, severe winters and competition from larger mills caused a decline.

However, other industries emerged in the valley, including poppy-growing, the manufacture of clothes lines and baskets from lawyer vines and the making of rope from wild kurrajong. More crucially dairying developed in the 1890s and banana cultivation from 1909. By the 1880s the beauty of the area had been recognised and people started moving into holiday cottages. Some, of course, decided to stay. The extension of the railway toMurwillumbah in 1894 confirmed it as the centre of the district although it also provided a fillip to Tweed Heads when it arrived in 1903. However, it was really postwar mobility and the desire of people from New South Wales and Victoria to head to the sun that made both Coolangatta and Tweed Heads popular resorts.

Neville Bonner, the first Aborigine to hold a seat in the Federal parliament, was born on Ukerebagh Island, just inside the mouth of the Tweed River, in 1922. A self-taught individual he worked as a bush labourer, stockman, carpenter and settlement overseer. He joined the Liberal party in 1967, was selected to fill a casual Senate vacancy in 1971, resigned from the party in 1983 and became, for eight years, a director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He died in recent years.

Annual festivals include the Wintersun Festival in June and the Tweed Heads Harbour Town Festival in October. Markets are held on the third Sunday of the month at the Police Citizens Youth Club in Florence St.

Things to see

Tourist Information
The Tweed Heads Visitor Information Centre is located in the Tweed Mall, Wharf Street, at the northern end of Tweed Heads. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and Sundays during School Holidays from 10am to 4pm, tel: 1800 674 414. Gemstones have been found in the river gravels and throughout the valley and the centre can furnish a gem fossicking guide. They can also provide information about cruises along the Tweed River and Terranora Inlet, local fishing and deep-sea fishing charters, boat-hire services and houseboats. Accommodation and tour bookings can be made by calling toll-free on (1800) 674 414.

Foreshore Areas and Boat Ramps
Despite its notoriety as a coastal holiday spot, Tweed Heads' only contact with the ocean occurs along a 1-km stretch of Duranbah Beach, which is popular with surfers. Thankfully, however, state and suburban borders are entirely porous so there are many more coastal recreation areas to the north (see entry on Coolangatta) and south (see entry on Fingal Head).

The area behind the coastline is also full of aquatic recreational potential as it is shot through with serpentine waterways. Just inside the mouth of the Tweed River, on the northern shore, is Jack Evans Boat Harbour which is backed by Chris Cunningham Park.

From here the river swerves southwards between Fingal Head to the east and, to the west, Ukerebagh Island (sandwiched between the river, Terranora Inlet and Ukerebagh Passage), Ukerebagh Nature Reserve and the Coolangatta Tweed Heads Golf Course, with an inlet known as Shallow Bay forming the golf course's southern border. Access to the course is via Soorley Rd, tel: (07) 5524 5545.

Terranora Inlet branches west off the Tweed River about 2 km inside the river mouth and Ukerebagh Passage, in turn, branches off this inlet, wending its way down around Ukerebagh Island to rejoin the Tweed River to the east. There is parkland on the northern shore of Terranora Inlet and the southern shore of the Passage is also lined with a thin strip of greenery.

Terranora Inlet passes under Boyds Bay Bridge into Terranora Creek which flows past a series of islets and under the Pacific Highway bridge before bending south into the capacious borders of Terranora Broadwater. On the western shore of the Broadwater is Bingham Bay which is lined with a walking/cycling track accessible off both Scenic Drive and Peninsula Drive.

Cobaki Creek extends off Terranora Inlet in a northerly direction. It passes under the Kennedy Drive bridge past Lions Pioneer Park to the east and The Boyd Family Park to the west, before continuing north into Cobaki Broadwater.

At the southern edge of Tweed Heads South is an isolated lagoon known as Lake Kimberley, which is surrounded by a cycling track.

There is a boat ramp and a jetty tucked up inside the convoluted northern end of Terranora Inlet (off River Terrace) and a boat ramp at Ray Pascoe Park, on the northern shore of Terranora Creek (adjacent Kennedy Drive), with toilets, picnic and barbecue facilities and a pubic telephone. Terranora Creek also has a ramp on its southern shore (adjacent Dry Dock Rd) and another near the Broadwater (off The Lakes Drive).

Woodlands Lakeside Golf Course is located at 399 Piggabeen Rd, Tweed Heads West, tel: (07) 5590 7194.

Captain Cook Memorial and Lighthouse
The Captain Cook Memorial and Lighthouse are located at Point Danger at the end of Boundary St which denotes the state border. The 18-metre memorial takes the form of a capstan moulded from cast-iron ballast jettisoned from the Endeavour and recovered in the 1960s. There are four supports that lie exactly on the compass points. The lighthouse was the first to experiment with laser technology but the experiment, which was carried out in 1971, was not successful. There are picnic spots and a walk along the cliff-edge. Dolphins can sometimes be seen out to sea. There are views of the coastline from Surfers Paradiseto Byron Bay.

The Minjungbal Aboriginal Cultural Centre
The Minjungbal Aboriginal Cultural Centre is located at the corner of Duffy St and Kirkwood Rd in Tweed Heads South, adjacent Ukerebagh Nature Reserve. The museum, the art gallery, and videos offer an insight into the traditional existence of the area's indigenous occupants. The Minjungbal Dance Troup perform in an amphitheatre for groups by prior arrangement.

A wheelchair-access nature walk passes through sections of mangrove wetland before returning to a well-preserved Aboriginal ceremonial bora ring whch was once used for the ritual initiation of young boys into manhood and which was used ceremonially until 1910. The ring and other localised relics formed the basis for the declaration of Ukerebagh Nature Reserve in 1961, which has allowed the Minjungbal people to rediscover and stay in contact with their traditional culture and to maintain a spiritual link with their lands. The tourist and education centre was established in 1988.

There are also picnic-barbecue facilities, a souvenir shop selling Aboriginal artefacts and a kiosk. The Centre is usually open on a daily basis. Ring for opening hours: tel: (07) 5524 2109.

The Tweed Maritime Museum
The Tweed Maritime Museum and Historical Resource Centre is located in Pioneer Park, on Kennedy Drive, at West Tweed Heads. The complex contains four buildings: the old Tweed Heads Courthouse (containing historical records and a collection of historical photographs); the Old Soldiers Hall (containing local historical and mostly maritime artifacts and dioramas, as well as a tribute to locals who died while fighting in war); the fishing shed of local pioneers the Boyds (containing artifacts and memorabilia relating to the family), and a refurbished deckhouse dating from the 1870s - a portable form of accommodation hoisted upon the decks of ships..

Admission is 50 cents for children and $4 for adults, with special arrangements for groups and schools. There are disabled, picnicking and barbecue facilities, off-street parking, public toilets and swimming in Terranora Inlet. It is open from 11.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (excluding public holidays) and 1.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. on Sundays, tel: (07) 5536 8625.

Pioneer Country
Located on the southern shore of Terranora Creek, Pioneer Country is a 300-acre privately owned beef cattle property that has been in the present family's hands since 1892. It offers horseriding opportunities and lessons, half or full-day farm tours which include a tour through an underground opal mine, the family museum, a mustering demonstration, boomerang-throwing, whip-cracking, a bushwalk, a baby animal farm tour (with opportunities for petting and feeding), an optional Aussie cooking lesson or non-riders, and a meal. Group accommodation is available and the property is available as a venue for weddings. Bookings must be made by 8.00 p.m. on the day prior to any proposed visit, tel: (07) 5524 2632.

Parks
Chris Cunningham Park is located on Wharf St. On its eastern side is Jack Evans Boat Harbour near the river mouth. Ebenezer Park is located on Keith Compton Drive, facing the inlet to Terranora Creek. Both have childrens' play facilities. Ray Pascoe Park is on the northern shore of Terranora Creek opposite Boyds Island (Kennedy Drive). It has barbecue facilities, a playground and a boat ramp. On the southern bank of the creek is Dry Dock Road Park. It too has a boat ramp and playground.

Razorback Lookout
Razorback Lookout is located at the end of Razorback Road at the northern edge of Tweed Heads. It offers excellent views of the entire district, including, to the west, Mt Warning which is the remnant magma chamber of a volcano. There are picnic-barbecue facilities and walks through the gardens and bushland.

Kingscliff
There are several tourist attractions in the area which are located to the south and west ofKingscliff.

Fishing Charters
Tweed River Boat Hire is located on the Pacific Highway at South Tweed Heads, adjacent Boyds Bay Bridge, tel: (07) 5524 3507. Cruises are available from Tweed Endeavour Cruises at River Terrace, tel: (07) 5536 8800. Fishing charter operators are Sea Master Fishing Charters (tel: 07 5536 5891) and Down Under Fishing Charters, tel: (0408) 753 647.

Catch-a-Crab Australia operate half-day tours that include pelican feeding, crab-trapping, yabbie pumping (tides permitting), fishing, morning tea and lunch. They depart daily at 9.00 a.m. from Terranora Wharf on Dry Dock Road. Bookings are essentail, tel: (07) 5524 2422 or (0418) 708 049.

Tourist Information

Tweed Heads Visitors Centre
Tweed Mall, Wharf St
Tweed Heads NSW 2485
Telephone: 1800 674 414
Facsimile: (07) 5536 6151

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