Paddling out the back of the surf as the sun hits the East Coast of Australia, it’s easy to think you’ve entered nirvana. The waves curl in perfect sets to the shore, there’s an offshore wind steadying the swell, a pod of dolphins flipping around in the surf and barely anyone else competing for the waves. For surfers, it’s bliss.


Hidden off the Pacific Highway and tucked behind cane fields, Yamba sits on the mouth of the East Coast's largest river system. By some magic touch, the town has managed to escape the overexposure and large scale developments that scar glossier resorts like Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour, the two tourist Mecca's that bookend its location on the North Coast. Instead, Yamba has an organic feel, retaining an old town sleepiness that other beach breaks have lost.


While there are five or six beaches you can easily walk to from the centre of town, Yamba's most famous beach break is undoubtedly Angourie. Immortalised in the seventies cult surf film Morning of the Earth, the right hand wave attracts surfers from around the world. Angourie has also been made one of Australia's first Surf Reserves- a Department of Lands Initiative that recognises the history, culture and natural splendour of the break, ensuring it is preserved for generations of surfers to come. Sadly, the day we visit Angourie, the waves are closing out. Only one desperado on a short board braves the unfavourable conditions. At least he can say he had the break all to himself. Given the surf isn't working, we settle for a dip in Angourie's lesser-known swimming holes instead. Simply known as Blue and Green pools, both are located in bushland down a short goat track. They were originally deep rock quarries, until workers ruptured an underground spring.


When we arrive, a group of teenagers are performing acrobatic flips from the side of the quarry, about 12 metres up. They earnestly assure me that it is safe to jump, pointing out the best ways to clamber up the sheer rock face (Later, I'm told by a bemused local it isn't safe at all: the local ambulance does weekly trips out the spot to collect the injured). I find out the hard way that it is easy to clamber up the face of the quarry, but it is very hard to work up the courage to jump. Eventually, screaming, I hit the water with so much force my costume is knocked off, rising up out of the cold depths to the laughter of the kids as they scamper off on their BMX bikes. Apart from surfing, there is fantastic whale watching in the winter months, kayaking and a surf school. And then there are the Dolphins- and they are very cheeky.


Three times now I've dived into the icy Clarence River in an attempt to get up close to them, and twice they've disappeared. I'm treading water a little further off the beach than I want to be. My head twists from side to side, trying to work out where they're going to surface next. I hear the others yelling "Right! Right!" from the riverbank, and I turn just in time to see dorsal fins loping casually back into the water just a few metres away. The dolphins have circled behind me, sized me up and snuck off.


The local pod of eight are a common sight around Yamba's waterways, distinguished by the matriarch's split dorsal fin. At dawn and dusk they surf the waves with the surfers at Pippi's Beach, but they feed with the tide in the Clarence. A wall of fish simply washes toward them with the outgoing tide. It’s a lazy dinner that is far more interesting than me. It's this sort of unexpected, natural experience you can find in Yamba, a town well off the beaten track that is definitely worth a look.


The author travelled courtesy of YHA Australia (yha.com.au)


By Shaney Hudson