Pacific Hotel, Yamba: After 86 years, this is still the pub with the best view in Australia

When the Pacific Hotel in Yamba in northern New South Wales opened in 1934 it was lauded as "the most perfectly appointed place of all seaside resorts north of Sydney". Think Bondi Icebergs with a better outlook (it's possible!) or perhaps St Kilda's Hotel Esplanade or Perth's Cottesloe Beach Hotel, if they were elevated high on a cliff.

Eighty-six years later, the Art Deco pub still stands majestically overlooking her namesake in this town at the mouth of the Clarence River.

A long-time vantage point for surfers to check the swell, the pub overlooks Main Beach fringed by pandanus and Norfolk pines, and New South Wales' northernmost ocean pool. You can see across to neighbouring bays, and the lighthouse, just a seagull's squawk away. The Pacific once earned the nickname "Shark Tower", though you're also likely to spot whales and dolphins while sipping on a cold beer, secure high up on the hill.

Things weren't always so set in stone. Constructed by Grafton hotelier Bill Zeitsch, the pub began sliding down the cliff and by the 1950s, the foundations were collapsing. They subsequently rebuilt, with a redesigned underground drainage scheme to overcome the problem of water seepage.

The view is not the only drawcard here. On a lazy Sunday afternoon visit, I entered through the deco curved part of the building to find a mini-museum of paraphernalia from Australia's surf history. There's twin fin and single fin surfboards on the walls and wood mounted plaques with photos and archived articles from Tracks magazine.

Indeed, it's believed the first photos in Australian surfing history were taken here at Yamba when local photographer Osric Burston Notley snapped surfer Tommy Walker not just standing upright but also doing a headstand on his board at Main Beach in 1911.

In the corner of the main room a musician is playing Neil Young songs. It could be the 1970s. You can almost smell the Coconut Reef Oil and picture rows of Holden Sandman panel vans parked out the front. At the table next to mine is a group of mature surfers, their hair straggly from the salt and bleached by the sun. One stands at the window, silently eyeing off the afternoon sets coming through. There's a good chance if he goes out he'll have the waves to himself. There's 11 beaches to choose from here.

Locals say this is what Byron Bay, 120 kilometres to the north, was like 20 years ago, before the money and crowds came in. In Yamba, there's a definite low-key vibe. Surf shacks remain in their original state and motels haven't yet had the Halcyon House-style makeover (the former motel turned boutique accommodation up the highway at Cabarita Beach).

In Yamba you'll get a decent bed, a shower to get the sand off, a kettle and your requisite two biscuits and powdered coffee satchels. And change from $100.


On the main shopping drag you'll find a bakery selling vanilla slices done the proper way, with passionfruit icing, an old-fashioned fudge shop, and a supermarket which doubles as a superb Indian takeaway.

Along the river you can stop by a number of purveyors to pick up prawns freshly plucked from the Clarence. And back at the Pacific Hotel you can settle back with a decent serving of fish and chips to accompany your schooner and that glorious view.


Rooms from $69.

Pacific Hotel Yamba is a three-hour drive south from Brisbane and a seven-hour drive north from Sydney.

Bunkrooms from $69 a person, Ocean View rooms from $199 for the room. 18 Pilot Street, Yamba, NSW

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