One of the prettiest towns of New South Wales is also one of its most creative. Get in touch with your artistic side in the historic rainforest town of Bellingen.
By Lee Atkinson
Famous for its eclectic mix of boutique shops, string of good cafés and creative arts festivals, Bellingen – "Bello" to locals – was once the busy centre of a prosperous dairy-farming industry. Retaining its country charm, the historic town is now home to a vibrant community of artists, creators, performers and alternative lifestylers. Spend a few days here and you’ll be bewitched by this bohemian town in the middle of the rainforest.
- Stroll down the historic main street
- Enjoy the buzz of the local markets
- Explore the rainforest on a scenic drive
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Top things to do in Bellingen
Breakfast in a butter factory
In the 1920s the butter factory at Bellingen was the "finest in the state", and while it hasn’t processed the district’s creamy milk since 1963, the creamy ricotta pancakes served at The Old Butter Factory Café are one of the finest possible ways to start your day – although the house made labneh and traditional eggs Benedict with sweet pork and ham, grown up the road in Bangalow, is pretty good, too. Grab a coffee to go and indulge in some postprandial shopping – the old factory is now the creative heart of the town and home to almost a dozen studios where artisans produce jewellery, leather goods, woodcraft and art.
Bag a bargain in the market
The Bellingen Community Market – held on the third Saturday of every month – is one of the most vibrant on the New South Wales mid north coast. You can buy just about anything at the 250 or so stalls, including handmade arts and crafts, clothes, shoes, fresh fruit, just-picked flowers, gourmet tea and coffee, handmade soaps and toys. The focus is green and organic. Kids love the pony rides and jumping castle and the live music and roaming performers make it feel more like a festival than a market. You’ll find the fun at Bellingen Park in the centre of town.
Get lost in a retail wonderland
Don’t be too disappointed if you miss the markets, because one of the coast's best shopping experiences is open every day. The Hammond and Wheatley emporium has been supplying shoppers with the very best in clothes, drapery, hats, groceries, produce and ironmongery since 1900 when the doors to the department store first opened. It’s still packed to the rafters with beautiful fashion and homewares, and it’s worth a peek inside the magnificent two-storey building with its beautiful timber staircase and mezzanine balustrade, even if you’re not in the mood to shop.
Eat your way down the main street
With so much fresh and organic produce grown in the district there’s no shortage of great places to eat and drink in Bellingen – the main street is lined with cafés and eateries and there’s often a queue to buy a loaf of macadamia and fruit bread at Hearthfire Bakery. If it’s hot you can’t go past Bellingen Gelato’s gingerbread ice cream and for good coffee head to roaster Amelia Franklin’s People of Coffee in Hyde Street. For fine dining book a table at Oak Street Food and Wine or for something more casual, head to 5 Church Street for good value food with live music on weekends.
Sleep on the edge of the rainforest
Gaze out across a landscape of lush green hills and verdant rainforest from your own country cabin and wake up to a chorus of birdsong. Spend a night or two in an old dairy in the middle of the rainforest that has been converted into the beautiful Afterglow Cottages – the sunken bathtub on the deck is the perfect spot to watch the sun set. Cottonwood Farm also has a charming cottage ideal for a romantic retreat.
Find the Promised Land
Drive through the rainforest to the Promised Land. It’s a real place, just north of Bellingen, and getting there is a delight, following the course of Never Never Creek, through lush rainforest and bucolic green valleys. From the centre of Bellingen cross the Bellinger River and follow the signs to Gleniffer, where you’ll see the sign pointing the way to the Promised Land – how can you resist?
Connect with your creative soul
With a swag of festivals, events and shows on throughout the year there’s always something happening in Bellingen. Calendar highlights include Camp Creative in January with workshops in everything from writing to singing, photography to tango, the Readers & Writers Festival in June and the Winter Music Festival in July and the Bellingen Music Festival in September.
How to get there
Bellingen is 532 kilometres (331 miles) north of Sydney via the M1 and Pacific Highway, or around a six hour drive. Alternatively, fly to Coffs Harbour airport from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. The airport is 41 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Bellingen.