By Sarah Hort
If you’re in the area for a music festival or beach holiday in Byron, consider a day trip to this regional centre.
Lismore is a town of about 45,000 people on the NSW North Coast. About 45 minutes inland from Byron Bay, it is not a famed tourist destination, but is close to Nimbin and other places of interest. Lismore has an eclectic mix of people; from farmers whose families have been in the area for generations, to hippies who still can’t let go of the 1960s and 70s, to young families and students of the town’s university (Southern Cross University). The public transport system in Lismore is abysmal; buses are scarce and most people drive, so having a car with you is best. The traditional owners of the land are the Bundjalung people – there are some sacred sites around Nimbin which you should be respectful of.
Where to stay
There are a variety of options to suit all kinds of budgets. The town has several caravan parks with cabins or powered sites if camping is more your style. There are a few ageing motels in the city centre, or consider a cute bed and breakfast stay at Elindale House or Melville House (note that both of these are in residential areas, not in the CBD).
Breakfast: Flock Espresso and Eats – 4/39 Woodlark Street
This little gem is tucked away in an old arcade – blink and you will miss it! Somewhat of a new kid on the block, Flock has quickly earned a loyal following. Flock has a wide array of breakfast options, but the real star of the show is the cake cabinet at the counter. Stocked with loaded muffins (think salted caramel injections), raw vegan cakes and freshly made wraps and sandwiches, the cake cabinet is a real thing of beauty. Mmm, cake…
Lunch: The Bank Café – 67 Molesworth Street
This café is in a grand old bank building, brimming with art deco finishes and prints and artworks reminiscent of the era. A favourite of nearby business workers, the Bank focuses on using local produce, with some supplies coming from the local community garden. I can personally vouch for the falafel plate, but the menu has a variety of lunch options so there is something for everyone.
Dinner: 20 000 Cows – 58 Bridge Street
This Ashram is over on the rustic and more industrial north side of town, but is only a short walk over the river from CBD. You might want to call before you go in case they’re closed to go travelling (which the owner does each year for a few months). This is not your average restaurant – while the menu has suggested prices, what diners pay is up to them. Takeaway is available but they don’t do disposable containers, so you need to bring your own plates or containers.
Everything on the menu is vegan, and super delicious. They take veganism pretty seriously here – I’ve seen people disallowed from bringing birthday cakes onto the premises because they contain animal products. Don’t be put off by this – 20 000 Cows is a Lismore institution, and for good reason. A must try is the kugelis (Lithuanian potato fingers) and the nut cheese pasta.
What to do
Check out the town art gallery (which is soon to be replaced by a larger gallery) in the centre of town, and then take a stroll through the rose garden next door. Nearby is the town’s croquet club, but if the indoors is more your thing, right next door is the regional museum and historical centre.
A walk down by the river can be lovely in good weather – check out the giant butter churn, now used for ornamental purposes as a nod to the town’s dairy industry roots (there is still a milk factory on the other side of the river, if you’re super keen).
If you have little ones with you, the Heritage Park is just behind the river, boasting a huge array of swing sets, slippery dips and other play equipment (bonus: it’s free!). For a few dollars, ride the miniature train around the perimeter of the park.
Lismore has a few great arcades in the CBD; the Star Court Arcade is a personal favourite, known for its vintage clothing boutiques and the Star Court theatre (which often hosts theatre productions and Sunday movies). Be sure to explore these and the back lanes, which feature graffiti art.
If you’re looking to get an idea of Lismore’s rainforest history, check out Rotary Park (a short drive from the CBD). It’s a small remnant of the forests that used to dominate the area. If you don’t like bats, it’s probably best to avoid this area…
The Lismore Tourist Caravan Park is centrally located and was the last place German backpacker Simone Strobel stayed in 2005 before being murdered. Her badly decomposed body was located nearby about a week later. Despite a coronial inquest taking place, no one has ever been prosecuted for the crime. For more on this, have a read of “Have You Seen Simone?” by Virginia Peters.
About an 800km drive north from Sydney, or 130km south from the Gold Coast
12 hour train + bus journey from Sydney (This is hell – I do not recommend)
Regional Express flies daily to Lismore from Sydney (for a price) or for cheaper fares, fly Virgin or Jetstar to Ballina (all the locals do this), which is a 30 minute drive from Lismore.