VIDEO: Slow down at seaside locale
BALLINA'S vibe harks back to an innocent time in domestic family holidays when balmy days were spent lazing about by the sea.
This neat town 100km south of the Queensland-New South Wales border has the closest airport to Byron Bay and plenty of its own spoils.
A Ramada Hotel waterfront suite soaking in the sea breeze is one of the best vantage points in town.
The resort is not far from miles of pristine surf and flanked by the Richmond River.
Fun as it once was to bunk down in a family share room, an extra touch of amenities is now expected, which the Ramada - with its spa rooms, two pools and restaurant - provides.
During the day, holidaymakers can cast a line off the boardwalk or jetty, but it is at night when seafaring activities really heat up.
As the sun goes down, Ballina Fishermen's Co-Op members send out their trawlers for the famous local prawn.
More than a tonne of one haul left for Sydney Fish Markets the morning I met manager Phil Hilliard near the fabulously kitsch and Instagrammable Big Prawn in River St.
"Our prawn is coming out of the Richmond or Clarence River systems and because they've taken three weeks to get there - it's a decent size and it has a distinctly different flavour,” he said.
"It's sweeter and its texture is softer.”
On November 11 the annual Ballina Prawn Festival at Messingham Park will start.
The event marks the town's fishing history, which dates back to the 1960s and is showcased at the Ballina Maritime Museum in River St.
Next door to the museum, the information centre offers an exhaustive guide on activities in the region.
Driving is ideal between Northern Rivers' surf breaks, national parks and hinterland villages.
Tourist Drive 28 takes a winding road through Wardell, Alstonville and the hipster hamlet of Newrybar.
Newrybar packs into its tiny street a sophisticated award-winning restaurant, Australia's oldest bakery and an artisan co-op.
Tourist Drive 30 stops at Byron Bay and the low-key surf towns of Suffolk Park, Broken Head and Lennox Head.
For an elegant beachside lunch, Shelter, at Lennox Head has views of Seven Mile Beach and plates up the best of local produce.
The dishes are colourful and crisp, including the fish of the day with pickled green tea salad, lime dressing, avo puree and lightly spiced Asian herbs. A stylish drinks menu complements the cafe's panoramic views.
There is no shortage of eateries on the Northern Rivers. Try an old-fashioned hearty dinner at the 12-suite heritage-listed Ballina Manor Boutique Hotel in a former girls' boarding house.
An attentive butler service adds to the hotel's warmth, and a candle-lit dinner can be savoured in a cosy dinner hall fashioned with antiques.
Crispy pork belly, lamb rump and the manor's signature eye fillet were only outdone by Ballina's local produce and fresh seafood platter for two.
To really enjoy Ballina's great outdoors, try kayaking, walking along the river or beach, or swimming and stand-up paddleboarding.
Or hire a bike at the Bike Emporium for a ride on one of the town's many scenic cycle paths.
For an extra hit of adrenaline, Air T and G Scenic helicopter flights are unbeatable.
Sitting in a tiny glass cabin a few thousand metres above the cliff faces and estuaries, it was a wholly different perspective of the seaside town.
The writer was a guest of the Ramada Hotel and Suites, Ballina and the operators.