The National Parks and bush reserves around the far northern NSW town of Lismore offer some lush beauty and tranquil breathing space away from the crowded coast. Robyn Holland checks out an alternative summer destination.
Summer doesn't have to be all about the beach. Limit yourself to the coast, and pretty soon the sand in your swimmers will start to annoy you, along with the hordes of other people sharing your small patch of sand.
When you're craving some cool, shaded isolation away from the crowded beaches, you'll definitely find it at the National Parks and reserves around Lismore. This incredibly lush region actually boasts nearly a third of NSW's forest reserves.
Lismore is much closer to the coast than you might assume. From Byron Bay, its 30 minutes drive inland and from the Gold Coast it's around 90 minutes.
To explore the parks around Lismore, you can either stay in the city itself or pick one of the rural villages such as The Channon, Rosebank or Clunes. There's B and B's, farm stays and country retreats scattered all over the place.
World Heritage-listed Nightcap National Park is situated at the southern rim of the 20 million year old Mt Warning volcano. This is one of the best developed subtropical rainforests in the state and is part of the CERRA group - Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia.
Located 35 kilometres north of Lismore, there are five different roads into Nightcap. One of the most popular routes would have to be from The Channon, where it's a 14kms dirt road drive into the secluded Terania Creek Picnic Area. The goannas are more than happy to share your lunch with you here, but try not to encourage them.
The must-do is the easy 700 metre trek upstream through the lush, palm-laden track to the base of Protester Falls, named after the brave fighters who in the 1970s saved Terania Creek from further logging. There's some history on this famous protest in the Lismore Visitor Information Centre.
At the southern end of Nightcap is spectacular Minyon Falls, where you can gaze down at the palm filled gorge from the picnic area at the top, or choose from two different walks to the base of the falls. The harder is the 7.5kms round trip which will take around four and a half hours, while the other is a 4kms walk, completed in two hours.
Another section of this park, the Mt Nardi picnic area, is just 12kms from Nimbin (which is 30kms from Lismore). Again there are different walks of varying levels to choose from here. The most adventurous is the Historic Nightcap Track, a 16kms trail that covers some of the routes used by postal workers between Lismore and Murwillumbah in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Just 6kms north east of Lismore is the Boatharbour Nature Reserve, which was once a base camp for the Big Scrub timber getters. Now it's a lovely picnic ground between rainforest and river.
The paved, wheelchair-accessible walking track leads to a viewing platform over the junction of Wilson River and Coopers Creek.
Another nature reserve even closer to town is the Wilson Nature Reserve, a remnant of the Big Scrub. The one kilometre walking trail here will work up a sweat but the scenery's great. Keep an eye out for koalas and the threatened bird, the marbled frogmouth.