It’s no secret, Aussies love a good beach, and we have more than our fair share of charming seaside towns. But here in the Northern Rivers, the meandering creeks and rivers add a whole new dimension to the coastal experience, and Kingscliff’s sparkling, aqua hued Cudgen Creek is certainly one of the most picturesque. Throw in surf breaks, leafy cycle tracks, and a flourishing food scene – not to mention proximity to the Gold Coast and lush Tweed hinterland, and Kingscliff is a great place to be this summer.
Written by Alison Bone
Drawn to the abundant sea life, vibrant creek, and verdant volcanic earth of Cudgen (which means red), the Coodjingburra clan arrived in the region more than 10,000 years ago. Cultivating a deep connection to the land and sea, the community thrived, and Cudgen Headland – which straddles the creek and the sea – became an important meeting place, with numerous middens providing testament to fine fishing grounds and frequent corroborees.
By the 1800s, the fertile soil had drawn colonial settlers, and was colourfully described in an article in the Brisbane Courier in 1882, as resembling “well roasted and ground coffee, in which almost all semi tropical vegetation may be seen luxuriating.” Cane sugar was the crop of choice, but it was the 20th century discovery of rutile and zircon in the fine white sand and the advent of sand mining that changed the face of Cudgen Headland (renamed Kingscliff in 1927) forever. By the 1950s the foundations of the modern-day town had been laid, catering to both mine workers and to the increasing numbers of holiday makers who set up camp along the foreshore. Building restrictions kept things low key and low rise, and to this day Marine Parade flanked in pandanus and coastal banksia maintains its independent spirit and provides a laidback alternative to the hustle and bustle of the Gold Coast, for visitors and inhabitants alike.
At high tide on a sunny day the shimmering, crystal clear water of Cudgen Creek is a veritable paradise - described as ‘the lifeblood of Kingscliff,’ by long-time local, Tim Jack Adams, founder of Watersports Guru. “I would say that many in our community will rotate their working day or days off around getting a high tide swim or paddle in the creek. If you’re a water person, you can paddle up the nine-kilometre creek, go for a surf and then free dive all in one day. To me that’s phenomenal,” he adds. For a memorable morning on the water, sign up for Tim’s much-loved ‘Snorkel with the Turtles’ tour to nearby Cook Island. Traditionally named Jungarra Ngarrian, which translates as ceremonial place of pelicans/birds, the rocky island is popular with nesting birds; while the nutrient-dense water that laps its craggy shore is a marine reserve, home to a permanent colony of Green, Hawksbill & Loggerhead Turtles. Besides getting up close and personal with curious turtles, you will also spot wobbegongs, the occasional leopard shark, playful dolphins, and if you are lucky, migrating whales from June to October.
Prefer to keep your feet on terra firma? Take a stroll northward to Dreamtime Beach, then follow the track through the pandanus groves to the historic lighthouse and spectacular volcanic headland with its distinctive hexagonal basalt columns. Or wander south to Salt Village with its collection of relaxed cafés, outdoor restaurants, and day spas. Cruising along the extensive cycle tracks is another fabulous way to explore and you can hire bicycles (including beach cruisers) from Kingscliff Cycle Centre.
Eat and Drink
A focal part of the community, Cudgen Headland SLSC was established in 1922. Right on the beach, and surrounded by leafy recreation and picnic areas, Zinc Café is a great spot to grab a coffee and a fresh baked muffin after a morning swim. Or head upstairs to the restaurant for a more substantial meal and live music on Sundays. Café culture is flourishing in Kingscliff. Get your refreshing iced brews and a gourmet toastie or house made treat from the friendly team at The Brew & Bake Co. (they even have doggie treats for your pooch while you’re waiting), or head to Choux Box for beautifully decorated cakes, friands and decadent caramel slices, with mini versions available, so you don’t feel too naughty. Mockingbird Café, with its sunny garden fringed in marigolds is a long-time fave with the locals, perfect for a casual breakfast or lunch. There’s also plenty of international flavours to discover, from Zanzibar’s Moroccan fare served in atmospheric surrounds, to spicy Indian curries at Kahani Indian Restaurant, fragrant Nepalese dishes at Kathmandu Kitchen, and great veggie fare at Govindas.
New to town this year, Worst Burgers was an instant hit from the day it opened, with a huge range of fully loaded burgers with all the trimmings. While long standing Finns at Salt Village, is the best bet for delicious local seafood. For live music and a drink, head to the Kingscliff Tavern or Kingscliff Beach Bowls Club. But for something more intimate, try Pot and Pint, or stock up on fine wines and gourmet deli-style treats at Emmanuel’s Wineshop.
Kingscliff Lions Club Beach Market (second and fourth Saturday each month) is a much-loved community event with a buzzing vibe, fresh local produce, silver and gemstone jewellery, clothing and arts and crafts. Marine Parade is also home to interesting independent retailers and boutiques. Check out Paradise Living Co., Shambhala and Oxley and Moss – for unique homeware and gifts. And get your summer beachwear essentials at Kingscliff Surf Shop or Breathe.