Yuraygir Coastal Walk

Getting There

The Princes Highway follows the north coast of New South Wales down from the Queensland border to Sydney. Near Yamba it turns more inland to pass though the town of Grafton and does not rejoin the coast until just before Coffs Harbour. This has left a 60km stretch of coastline that, apart from a few isolated coastal villages and a long-terminated sand-mining venture, remains much as it did before Europeans arrived. It is part of the traditional home of the Yaegl and Gumbaynggirr peoples. Since 1980, its forests, heathland and coastline have been protected by the Yuraygir National Park. The best way of exploring this coastline is by walking the 65km Yuraygir Coastal Track from Angourie to Red Rock.

Hence, the fair Nello and I left our car in Coffs Harbour and caught the early morning bus to Grafton. It also happened to be the local school bus, which meant a slow and (lets say) educational trip, as it made numerous pick-ups and then drop-offs at a number of private and public schools in and around Grafton. However, we arrived in time to catch the somewhat more speedy bus from Grafton, following the Clarence River to its mouth and the tourist town and prime surfing spot of Yamba. All this for $5 - sometimes it pays to be over 60.

Clarence River at Yamba

Yamba beach and lighthouse

We arrived in Yamba late morning and checked in to the local YHA backpackers, which seemed to be full of Irish surfers. We had decided not to head straight off on the walk, but to spend a relaxing afternoon checking out our walking gear and seeing what Yamba had to offer - and it was a pleasant afternoon.

Angourie to Broom Head (17.5 km - 130m ascent - 140m descent)

The forecast for the week ahead was very consistent - low 20s and chance of some showers for every day bar one. Thus, when we heard the rain around 3am, we hoped that this would count for all of the "some showers" for today. A short bus trip took us from Yamba to the start of the Yuraygir Coastal Walk - the famous Angourie Surfing Reserve. From the wooden platform on a low cliff, we could see the surfers already out and catching the odd well-formed waves that came their way.

Angourie Surf Reserve

Setting out on the Yuraygir Coastal Walk

Out to sea, the horizon darkened with a passing shower. there was no point hanging around - we set off under a distinctly grey and cloudy sky, taking the path down to the long and pristine sands of Angourie Back Beach. The tide was well out and the firm sand provided a quick road southwards, leaving behind the low sculpted cliffs, lined with pandanus, to cross the trickling outflow of Mara Creek.

Low cliffs on Angourie Back Beach

The outflow of Mara Creek

The long sandy stretch of Angourie Back Beach

Across the big seas

Where once were stairs

Beneath a big pandanus

To wander along a beach to the sound of the surf and the salty tang of the air quickly takes the mind to higher places - and so it was here. We came back to earth as we reached the end of the long stretch of sand, where the walk guide had promised us a set of steps to take us up the low cliff to the track that passed over Angourie Headland. Unfortunately, it was no more - removed due to continuous landslips - which meant a bit of a clamber up the steep muddy slope.

Grey sky over Angourie Back Beach

Pandanus and cliff-side ferns

We were now on the Angourie Walk, which led us along a well-formed path around the heath-covered headland, with its rich display of wildflowers and fruity scent of fermenting pandanus nuts.

A short climb took us onto the grassy top of Dirrangan Lookout, from where we could gaze out across the landscape to the south - inland the cone of Clarence Peak dominated the heathlands, while ahead the indentations of the coast culminated in the distant outline of Broom Head, our destination. It did seem a long way away.

View towards Shelley Headland from Dirrangan Lookout

The Yuraygir hinterland

Looking south over the heath and distant Lake Arragan

The cliffs below Dirrangan Lookout

We descended through thicker heathland to reach the firm sand of Shelley Beach, following its curving shape around to the bush campsite on Shelley Headland. It was a peaceful place to stop for a bite to eat, as lorikeets and wattlebirds squabbled for nectar in the banksias.

Silvery sea below Angourie Headland

Shelley Beach

The peaceful campground at Shelley Headland

Leaving the campsite, we continued across the headland on a grassy track that brought us out to the cliff edge. Here a sign told of sea-caves beneath that were accessible at high tide - it seemed a good idea and we dropped our packs to go and explore. It was a bad idea - not only did we head in the wrong direction, but I managed to slip on a wet rock and dislocated my ring finger. I'm sure fingers aren't meant to point 45° upwards - Ouch!

The sea cliffs of Shelley Headland

Looking south from the rocks below Shelley Headland

Rest stop and first aid station

After excellent treatment from Nurse Nello, we pushed on, leaving the unseen sea-caves to cross the northern end of Caves Beach, a long white strip heading south into the distance beneath a wall of dunes. The track, however, did not go down to the beach, but headed behind the dunes to meander amongst the gnarly paperbarks and banksias of inter-dune valleys. It was a strangely silent place after the constant roar of the surf.

Behind the coastal dunes

Looking down the length of Caves Beach

Paperbark swamplands

For a period the track regained the lightly vegetated fore-dunes, and we began to notice something odd ahead of us - our shadows. The sun was rapidly regaining the sky as the cloud band retreated to the west. There would be no more rain today. Passing Plumbago Head, we found ourselves on a wide sandy track that headed through more the banksia woodlands behind the dunes. It was the old sand-mining route and brought us out to the beach at the entrance to Lake Arragan.

View over the dunes towards distant Broom Head

On Plumbago Beach

The tranquil waters of Lake Arragan

The pier at Lake Arragan

We climbed the dunes to reach the campsite there and enjoy our lunch in the sunshine on the shore of the lake. Then it was on again, passing through the campsite to reach the grassy tops of Grey Cliff, with its superb views down the length of Plumbago Beach to the north and mob of grazing kangaroos. They eyed us nonchalantly as we wandered past, across a field dotted with yellow everlastings, towards the spectacular Red Cliff.

Kangaroos grazing on the grassy top of Grey Cliff

Grey Cliff merging into Red Cliff

Not only were the views south towards Broom Head and back north towards Angourie spectacular, but the contrast of the red cliff and blue sea was almost unnatural. This spot is a photographer's delight.

View north across the bare gravel top of Red Cliff

Seascape in blue and red

Looking along the length of Grey Cliff

Crossing Red Cliff

Looking toward Broom Head from Red Cliff

View along the length of Broom Head Beach

On the far side of Red Cliff, we descended through the green of the heathland to reach the white of Broom Head Beach, where a long 4 km walk on the sand led us into the village itself. The tide was on the turn, but we would easily beat it into Broom Head. It was another lovely beach stroll, admiring the artwork of the sand crabs as we passed and the elegance of the young brahminy kite as it soared above.

The shady side of Red Cliff

Red-capped plover (without cap)

"Tulip" by sand crab

Approaching the Norfolk Island pines of Broom Head

Evening light over Broom Head


Reaching the caravan park, we left the beach to follow the main road and find the little apartment that we had rented behind the general store - everything we needed to pass a pleasant evening was on hand and we still had a couple of hours left to enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

Our walk along the Yuraygir Coast had indeed started well.

Broom Head to Minnie Water
(22 km - 110m ascent - 90m descent)

The morning was off to a perfect start - clear blue skies and just the slightest breath of wind as we left the general store and followed the footpath along the edge of the beach towards the point of Broom Head. The surf seemed to have calmed down a bit overnight, but the waves still foamed white as they crashed into the row of jagged black rocks that ran out into the ocean from the point. Around the corner the cliffs of the head rose steeply out of the ocean - we climbed the steps up to it and gazed out to sea, ever hopeful of spotting a passing whale - today they were not obliging.

The headland at Broom Head

View south from Broom Headland

Looking south, however, our eyes were drawn to the 7 km long stretch of sand gently curving around to the distant houses of Sandon village perched on the next headland. It was our route for the morning - we sent off a quick SMS "leaving Broom Head at 9am - see you soon" and, under the watchful gaze of a brahminy kite high in the branches of a dune-side casuarina, we followed the path down through the low heath on the south side of the headland to step on to the beach.

Sandon Beach - seven kilometres of wide pale sand

Different perspective - looking across a backlit surf to Broom Head

Honey-coloured rocks and pandanus

On the receding tide, the beach was a broad flat bed of firm wet tan sand that made for quick and easy walking to the regular rhythm of the surf. The sky was blue and the breeze was gentle - it couldn't have been a better morning.

Apart from those left by a pair of pied oystercatchers probing for pippis, ours were the only footprints on this pristine tide-washed sand. That is, until we passed a group of surf fishermen who had driven up from the far end of the beach in their 4WDs - from then on the tyre tracks of the vehicles remained a blot of civilisation on an otherwise perfect setting.

The almost island at the mouth of Sandon River

The almost-island at the mouth of the Sandon River grew closer and closer, until we finally rounded the point and walked the short distance up the river to the boat landing. Sandon River is more tidal inlet than river - a broad lagoon connected to the ocean by a narrow channel, and a very rapidly flowing channel at that as the receding tide sucked the water out of the lagoon. There would be no wading or swimming here - hence our earlier SMS message. John the boatman was waiting for us and before we could say "lovely day, isn't it", he had rowed us across to the southern bank (he does this for Yuraygir Coast walkers for $10 per person).

One of several similar artworks at Sandon

Our dinghy comes to collect us to cross the river

View of the Sandon River mouth

View south from Sandon Headland

We were on the road again, passing through the isolated village of Sandon and out to the edge of the Sandon Headland to take in its views out to sea (still no whales) and south over Pebbly Beach to the rock platform and cliffs beyond. Pebbly Beach seemed such a peaceful spot, with its quiet rock pool, that the fair Nello and I stopped for a while beneath the shade of a pandanus to relax and enjoy it.

Time for a break on Pebbly Beach

We were in a bit of a quandary as, chatting to some of the locals, we had received two contrary bits of advice -one suggesting that it would be possible to walk around the rock platform and the other suggesting that the platform was a risky and difficult passage and that it would be better to cross the headland. I looked at my finger, now swollen and bruised from my fall on the slippery rock platform yesterday - we headed off towards the track over the top.

The sandy road down to Sandon Back Beach

This brought us to a sandy 4WD track through the coastal scrub that by-passed the rocks and led us down to the beach on the far side. We suddenly had a feeling of deja vu, as ahead of us lay a long stretch of sand, gently curving around to distant houses on a distant headland - only Sandon Back Beach was 9 km long (2 km longer than Sandon Beach) and the village ahead was Minnie Water.

Sandon Back Beach - nine kilometres long

We stepped out onto the beach for two more hours of quasi-solitude. I say "quasi" because at low tide the beach is also a "road" - the only means of access for the residents of Sandon village. That said the beach was large enough to swallow the occasional 4WD that drove past, or the ones that we walked past as their owners dug up pippis for bait or stood quietly in the surf, beach rods in hand. It was Sunday and everyone was out enjoying themselves in their own way.

Reflections of Rocky Point

Track through the heath near Illaroo

Minnie Waters Main Beach

We finally reached the end of the beach at Rocky Point, just past the Illaroo Camping Area. We found ourselves walking beneath the shade of the coastal forest, a pleasant change from the open sandy shore. However, one more short section of beach-walking remained, as we crossed Main Beach to reach the village of Minnie Water, where our accommodation at the local Holiday Park awaited just a few hundred metres up the road.

It had been a long day in glorious weather, easy walking but hard on the feet. To put them up on the deck of our cabin, cold beer in hand, was the icing at the end of another great day.

Minnie Water to Wooli
(14.5 km - 50m ascent - 70 m descent)

The updated forecast for today was showers developing in the afternoon, so we decided to leave a bit earlier and take advantage of the morning sunshine. We retraced our steps briefly before cutting back into the holiday homes of upper Minnie Water to reach the edge of the headland at the Tree of Knowledge Lookout. Out to sea, the sun glistened on the blue ruffled surface, when suddenly I saw a distant splash of white foam, then another and another - a pod of humpback whales was heading north and a few of them were breaching. We stopped to sit and watch - at last we had spotted a whale and we were going to enjoy it (it is strange the attraction that these giant creatures have for us humans).

Back to the south, a second pod was rounding the point much closer in, not breaching but surfacing briefly to blow as they swam slowly by - magnificent.

Humpback whale heading north

Thar she blows!

Mother and calf - synchronised blow

Melaleuca Park

They passed and we headed on, entering the shady grove of Melaleuca Park at the end of the headland. Here a winding grassy track led us through this pleasant banksia, paperbark and casuarina woodland out past One Tree Point, past gaps that looked down onto lovely little coves and out to the deep blue beyond. Another whale breached in the distant sea - we were on a roll.

The bushland of Minnie Waters

Looking south from Melaleuca Park

As a bonus, a pair of sea-eagles (aka white-bellied fishing eagle for the BCNPs of the world = bird common name pedants) hung almost motionless on the air currents above our heads. Ever since our long walk down the south coast of New South Wales over ten years ago, we have looked on these magnificent birds as our totem.

On the headland at Minnie Waters

About to step down on to the Back Beach

The track left the woodlands to continue across more open heath and finally descend onto the Back Beach via a set of wooden steps. Ahead lay yet another long stretch of north coast beach. What made this a bit different to the last two days was that quite a strong southerly had sprung up and white caps were forming out on the ocean. Today's beach walking would have not only the sound of the surf, but the sound of the wind in our ears and the negative ion-enriched air that we breathed.

Back on the sandy highway

Low cliffs along the Back Beach

The beach was steeper than the more northerly beaches that we had traversed, which made it narrower and the sand a little softer. However, it was also shorter and we soon found ourselves at the far end, working our way across the rock platform below Diggers Camp. Diggers Camp is a small isolated collection of holiday homes, with neither reticulated water nor grid electricity. As we wandered through, it was clear that solar panels were providing a solution to one of the problems while rain and spring water provided the other.

Reaching the point before Diggers Camp

The houses of Diggers Camp

Rock platform at Diggers Camp

Paperbarks o the edge of a coastal swamp

A home-made rest stop

In the tall heath of Wilsons Headland

The rocky coastline at Wilsons Headland

From the village, we followed a short stretch of dirt road past a flower-speckled swampland to the Boorkoom campground. This marked the start of the Wilson's Headland Walk, another lovely stroll on wide grassy or sandy tracks beneath coastal woodland and flowering heath, as honeyeaters twittered and flittered from branch to branch.

Nello meets a couple out for a morning hop

Sandy footpath through the heath

Again, the track lead past viewpoints over secluded coves and rocky cliffs to the white-capped blue of the Pacific Ocean. Far out to sea lay the faded silhouette of North Solitary Island, a lonely bump on the horizon.

A secluded cove near Wilsons Point

"Le grande bleu"

Heading south in the coastal heath

Reaching the end of the headland at Wilsons Point, a glorious panorama opened up to the south down the gently curving length of dune-backed Wooli Beach - its colours a palette of different shades of tan and cream, once again a steeper and more textured beach where slight hollows and rises directed the incoming waves. It was probably not a place to swim, but was the prettiest beach we had walked down.

Panorama of Wooli Beach

A long windswept stroll along Wooli Beach

Ahead we could see the distant house of Wooli and, with the wind now blowing across our path rather than in our face, the walking was easier. Seeing a foot-track that led across the dune, we followed it into the village, only to be greeted by the rabid barking of a pair of Staffordshire terriers - it sounded like "welcome to Wooli". We hurried on by to reach the main street and follow it down along the mangrove-lined shore of the Wooli River to our cabin at the local caravan park / campground.

Wooli River

The pier at Wooli River

We had arrived in time for a late lunch and the sun was still shining. There was even time to do a spot of washing before whiling away the rest of the afternoon on the deck of our cabin, watching the tide roll up the river to slowly cover the mangrove roots, as small flocks of pelicans and spoonbills spent their time grooming themselves in the shallows.

Wooli sunset

Tide's out in the mangroves

Wooli was a very peaceful spot with an ambience of times gone by - a little bit quieter, a little less rushed. The only downside was the grey band of cloud that slowly invaded the sky from the south. Perhaps we may have been spared the showers forecast for today, but tomorrow was looking a little less promising.

Wooli to Red Rock
(17 km - 80m ascent - 80m descent)

The weather seemed to be ignoring the forecasts - we woke to sunshine and a few clouds, although a strong cold southerly was blowing down the Wooli River, now swollen with the high tide. We headed down to the boat ramp opposite the campground and waited - a few minutes later, an oyster punt, piloted by Bruce the local oyster-grower, pulled in. It was our transport across the Wooli and we climbed aboard for the short and pleasant trip down towards the river mouth. The south bank was lined with tall steep dunes terminating in a low chunky cliff line. Just past the cliffs, Bruce nosed the boat into a flat grassy area and we jumped out - the Yuraygir track restarted from here.

The steep-walled dunes .....

... and sandstone cliffs of the Wooli River

Farewell to the oyster punt - our lift across the river

It was a lovely setting, protected from the southerly winds, and we crossed over on to a sandy beach. The tide had begun to ebb, but, with the 3m swell that had developed overnight, there was not a lot of beach to walk on. We quickly reached a point where the surf was surging in over a low rock platform.

The tranquil waters of the Wooli River mouth ....

....a contrast to the big surf outside the bar

Rounding the point, we were again in the face of the southerly and, ahead, the waves were crashing directly against the black rock cliff face. We had three options - wading in the foaming surf, waiting an hour for the tide to ebb further or scrambling up the steep slope to bypass the cliff. We started climbing to reach the ridge and pick our way through dense bracken and fallen timber until we could work our way down the next gully and regain the seashore - now a gravelly cove.

This is where the route around the rocks stops ...

.... making a detour over the scrubby cliff top the only option

Big sea at Wooli

The first hurdle was overcome and we pushed on, clambering our way around the sharp and sharply tilted rocks, layered red, black and grey. It was a great change from wide flat beaches, as the big swell crashed into the rocks close below us, sending the odd showers of spray to keep us on our toes.

View back over a dark rock platform

A bit of careful rock scrambling required

The route ahead along the rocky coast

A rocky path alongside the big surf

Reaching a deep channel that cut into the rocks, we climbed higher onto the steep grassy slope above it, only to discover a faint foot track - now how long had that been there? It saved us a lot of time as it led us around the back of the rocks to drop down onto a lovely pandanus and casuarina fringed cove, a good place for a rest and to enjoy the sun and surf.

Time to head up above the rocks

A peaceful cove at the end of the rock platform

Freshwater Beach

The pattern of coves and rocks continued, with the rocks gradually becoming flatter and easier to cross, until we rounded the next point and found ourselves back on sand again. The long stretch of forest-fringed Freshwater Beach lay ahead and our brief but enjoyable foray on the rocks was over. The tide was now receding quickly and we were soon at the far end of the beach, rounding a rocky point to climb up into the forest for a short section beneath the trees and out of the wind.

Climbing up beneath the pandanus

Rock platform at the southern end of Freshwater Beach

A typical Yuraygir coastscape

This path took us around to Pebbly Beach campsite, set amongst the drooping grey-needled casuarinas in a beautiful bay. We passed through it to follow the dirt access road southwards to Station Creek, a tidal river with a wide vehicle ford. The tide still had a way to go and the crossing looked a bit too deep to wade. Not wishing to drop our pants or walk in wet undies, we headed down towards the mouth where it was wider and shallower with a couple of sandbars in between.

View of Pebbly Beach (looks fairly sandy to me)

Crossing Station Creek

Looking down the length of Station Creek Beach

The knee-deep wade was our first unaided river crossing and we kept on walking barefoot across the dunes to reach Station Creek Beach. It was our last section of beach walking - long, wide, flat and exposed to the hat-blowing-off southerly wind. There was nary another soul on this long stretch of sand - one last chance for a bit of Pacific Ocean zen.

Rain out to sea

Approaching Red Rock

Ahead, the maroon-tinted bluff of Red Rock guided us in, while out to sea the big billowing clouds that hovered over the Solitary Islands, plump with the imminence of rain, hurried us along. We soon reached the mouth of the Corindi River just in front of the Red Rock Bluff. The low tide was sucking the water out to sea through a deep channel lined by shifting quicksand - this was not a place to cross on foot. Luckily we had made other arrangements and phoned Tony the boatman to let him know we had arrived.

Why Red Rock is so named

Waiting for the ferryman

The "tinnie" arrives to take us across the Corindi River

While we waited on the large sand flat on the northern bank of the river, the fair Nello tied her walking boots to the branch of a pandanus overlooking the ocean - they had finally died and, following tradition, we left them in a nice spot with a view. Tony arrived and we climbed on board for a short trip in his "tinnie" back up the river to the ramp on the village side.

Clouds in the Corindi

The Corindi River from our safari tent

Sunlight on the Corindi sand flats

Our Yuraygir Coastal Walk was technically over and it was but a short stroll to the caravan park and our safari tent, and a celebratory "burger with the lot" for a late lunch. We had finished the walk without having to put on our wet weather gear and considered ourselves lucky, given the forecasts, especially so when that evening we listened to the heavy drops pattering down on the roof as the long-promised rain finally arrived.

Red rocks at Red Rock - the Corindi River mouth

The colours of Red Rock

View back north from whence we came

View south to where we were headed ... beach, beach, beach

Top end of Corindi Beach

Our original plan had been to continue on and follow the Solitary Islands Walk from Red Rock to Coffs Harbour. However, on looking at the map, we noticed that 40 of the 48km were on the beach. Now we like beach-walking, but that is a bit too much especially after just completing the Yuraygir Coastal Walk. We had greatly enjoyed these last four days, but another three days on the beach might spoil that, especially with the strong southerly airstream forecast to continue. Thus, we pulled the plug and, with the overnight rain clearing to sunshine, spent an extra day in the lovely setting of Red Rock. It was a good decision - the memory of Yuraygir will stay as a diverse and scenic part of Australia's east coast, a track well worth the walk.