Located between Byron Bay and the glitzy Gold Coast, the Tweed ticks all the right boxes for families, says Sheriden Rhodes.
Byron Bay is considered the ultimate beach break for many Australian families but nabbing a slice of holiday nirvana is proving harder to come by as the town’s popularity pushes prices through the roof. To the north, the Gold Coast is competitive but if high rises, theme parks and the glitzy style of Australia’s famous surf coast isn’t your scene, then the Tweed Coast, positioned midway between the two, could be your place in the sun. It offers relaxed beaches, a laid-back vibe, lush rainforest, beautiful rivers and fabulous casual dining with a tropical twist – you can be strolling an almost deserted Tweed beach within half an hour of landing at Coolangatta Airport. And with many sprawling tropical-inspired resorts you can almost feel like you’re in Bali – minus the jetlag and travel-weary children!
The Tweed Coast doesn’t typically spring to mind when you think of snorkelling or diving, however, it’s here you’ll find one of the east coast’s best-kept secrets. Kids will love a marine adventure out to the unspoilt Cook Island Aquatic Reserve to snorkel with turtles. Snorkel Safari Gold Coast runs this excellent tour, just 600 metres offshore from Fingal Head. Home to a large permanent colony of green and loggerhead turtles and the beautiful (and harmless) leopard sharks who visit in summer, the whole family will revel in the abundance of marine life, which also includes bull rays, spotted eagle rays, giant gropers, wobbegongs, clownfish and the occasional grey nurse shark, with rock caves and coral gardens adding to the area’s rich underwater charms.
Cycle the Coast
A fun way to explore the Tweed Coast is by bicycle – and the extended cycleway running almost the entire length of Tweed Coast beaches from Kingscliff to Pottsville makes it easy and safe to do just that. For good old-fashioned family fun, hire a four or six-seater Croc Bike from Peppers and Mantra resorts in the Salt Village Kingscliff or Tweed Heads Visitor Information Centre or Jack Evans Boat Hire at Tweed Heads. Start with breakfast at Choux Box, an award-winning cafe lining Kingscliff’s Esplanade ‘eat street’; let the kids cool off in the safe, shallow waters of the estuary at Kingscliff and finish with a coffee stop at the sleepy seaside village of Cabarita where Kartel Espresso Bar serves up city quality coffee and fun starfish biscuits on a stick for the nippers.
Take a break from the beaches and explore the rural villages and communities of the Tweed Valley with lush green farmland, sugar cane fields and beautiful Mt Warning as a backdrop.
Village Day Drive (self drive)
Take a break from the beaches and explore the rural villages and communities of the Tweed Valley with lush green farmland, sugar cane fields and beautiful Mt Warning as a backdrop. Take the turn-off from the Pacific Motorway at Murwillumbah to pick up maps at the World Heritage Rainforest Centre and coffee at Sugar Beat. From there head out on a loop circuit to: Crystal Creek (Crystal Creek Miniatures and the Rainforest Café runs a tour where you can meet adorable mini animals), Chillingham (Buck Buchanan’s bush tucker garden tour or the Chillingham Farmer’s Market on the second Sunday of each month). From there head to Flutterbies in the historic bakery at Tyalgum for their signature Flutterbie cake, Mt Warning National Park (Lyrebird Track through the rainforest), and back through Murwillumbah to Tumbulgum to finish with a cool drink and river views at the Tumby Pub.
The newly rebranded Grand Mercure Casuarinas Beach (formerly The Santai) is a short distance from the better-known Salt Village at Kingscliff and great for a laid-back coastal getaway. The resort is Asian-inspired, with a stunning lagoon swimming pool, Asian restaurant Bamboo and is a short walk to Casuarina’s long stretch of surf beach where it’s not uncommon to see wildlife including wallabies and large lizards in the dune vegetation. The two-bedroom apartments are spacious, come with all mod cons and kitchen and laundry so you can self-cater and keep costs down. The only downside is not being able to walk to a shop and the limited hours of operation of the restaurant, so make sure you bring everything you need with you or book ahead to ensure you at least get to try Bamboo once. We loved kicking back in the sun lounges by the pool and hearing the ocean at night. Heaven Sent Babysitters come highly recommended for a night out.
Pot for mud crabs, pump for yabbies, feed wild pelicans and throw out a fishing line – they’re all typical Tweed River experiences that the family can try on a leisurely cruise along this magnificent waterway and through the Terranora wetlands. Two operators offer regular crab catching cruises: Tweed Endeavour Cruises and Catch-a-Crab Cruises.
Seasons Restaurant at Peppers Kingscliff (formerly Roughies) is a welcome addition to a growing stable of excellent eateries at Salt Village, which include Fins and the fabulous Mahsuri Thai. The chic, new-look restaurant offers a fresh, seasonally inspired menu sourced from local and organic ingredients from the Gold Coast Hinterland and Northern Rivers produce-belt. Seasons encourages you to eat the way nature intended it with hormone and antibiotic-free meat, and cheeses delivered from nearby Tamborine Mountain. Take your pick of marinated cuttlefish, dukkah crusted ricotta, Tweed Coast tiger prawns, or crisp wonton salad, washed down with one of Season’s fabulous local wines.
Peter Clarke and Charlie Ebell, the dynamic duo who elevated Harley Street Brasserie to award-winning status in Labrador, Queensland, have relocated their gorgeous old Queenslander to a stunning 10ha property at the base of Mt Warning in the Tweed Valley. For the family this is so much more than a pit stop. Mavis’s Kitchen features creative and healthy kids’ meals, a wonderful Slow Food-style menu built around fresh, seasonal, locally grown produce and an excellent wine list keeps the whole brood happy. Beyond that, families can explore the wonderful herb and vegetable garden, meet the chooks or watch the kids play on the rolling green lawns while the grownups kick back on the wide breezy verandah. If you simply can’t prise yourself away, check into the Old Farm House, one of four self-contained accommodation options on the property.
Tropical Fruit World and Research Park has to be the world’s healthiest theme park - with the largest range of rare and tropical fruit in the world. More than 500 varieties are grown on the 65-hectare plantation, with some of the more quirky varieties including chocolate pudding fruit, lemon meringue pie fruit, chewing gum fruit, champagne fruit and ice-cream bean. It’s a great place to introduce kids to tasty exotics such as jak fruit, babacos, papayas, longans and giant avocadoes. You can also see and feed native Australian and farm animals.
Kayaking Cudgen Creek
Spot local river dolphins on a kayak tour through Cudgen Creek, the Tweed Coast’s wonderful wetlands with the Watersports Guru.
Drop in to Piccolo for a delicious post swim gelato at the Salt Village at Kingscliff.
The Tweed Coast is 15 minutes south of Coolangatta (Gold Coast) Airport and just over an hour north of Ballina (Byron Bay) Airport. Buses and airport transfer shuttles operate from both airports, or you can hire a car.
For more information on Tweed Coast visit www.tweedtourism.com.au.
Sheriden Rhodes is a travel writer and photographer who travels the globe with her ‘frequent small flyer’, Ella. You can follow their adventures and pick up family travel tips on the Frequent Small Flyer Facebook page.