The best things in life used to be free and so was South Ballina Beach. But unfortunately it's closed to vehicle access now due to ongoing concerns about public safety and impacts to the environment and Aboriginal heritage values.
Recreational four-wheel driving below the high tide mark will still be allowed on regulated beaches north of the Richmond River at Ballina. Four-wheel drives can access Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head via Camp Drewe Road, but you will need a permit for that.
Alternatively you can access a 4.6 km stretch of Air Force Beach below the high tide mark north to the coffee rocks with your 4x4 for free. The only access allowed to the beach areas is via a constructed access point at Terrace Street, Evans Head and you're permitted to drive from Airforce Beach north to a point approximately 100m from the commencement of the coffee rocks.
You don't need a permit or to take a barge, so the Motorama 4X4XMORE team traveled down to New South Wales to check out this free beach drive.
Ballina is a coastal town around 20 minutes drive south of Byron Bay, about 90 minutes south of the Gold Coast and just over a 2-hour drive from Brisbane.
South Ballina Beach stretches on the NSW north coast down from South Ballina – across the Richmond River from the main town of Ballina – becoming Patchs Beach and ending at Evans Head about 30kms away.
The quickest way from the north is via the Pacific Highway straight down to Ballina, then driving onto the ferry from Burns Point in West Ballina across the Richmond River to Keith Hall on the South Ballina peninsula.
Because it’s so close to Ballina, you don’t really have to bring anything of convenience, but take note of public holidays and opening hours (especially during Daylight Savings) that may be different in New South Wales, compared to Queensland.
South Ballina, Patchs Beach and Evans Head aren’t particularly difficult to drive on, but it is important to bring basic recovery gear just in case – even if it’s to help other drivers stranded and help clear the track for others. We'd suggest MaxTrax, or similar recovery tracks if you get stuck, snatch straps for towing, and a long handled shovel to use if your really stuck.
Also throw in a tyre pressure gauge, and an air compressor to help reinflate your tyres after getting off the beach.
Entry directly onto the beach, either at South Ballina or down further at Wardell and Evans Head is via well formed, well maintained all-weather tracks that provide easy access for 4WDs.
Speed limits apply to the entire stretch of the beach and don't forget to dip down to at least 15km/h when you’re within 50m of any other beach user – although the conditions may require a lower speed than this, so just keep your eye out for any other beach goers when you’re cruising down the beach.
The drive on the beach between Evans Heads & South Ballina is spectacular. The scenery varies considerably - from wide expanses of beach, to tight sections with large area's of exposed coffee rock (depending on the swell and tides prior to your visit). There is plenty of wildlife to observe and respect, so make sure you watch your speed and avoid driving anywhere near the dunes. It is imperative to time your trip to be around 2 hours either side of low tide, to both reduce your impact on the local wildlife, and to ensure you give yourself the best chance of making it all the way to the other access point to exit the beach.
If you’re planning on setting up for lunch on the beach, you can set up a day camp back away from the surf. Patchs Beach is even dog friendly, however be sure to check with the local council website on the latest regarding dog access. Be mindful that this area is home to critically endangered Pied Oyster Catchers, so it is recommended to keep your dog on a leash at all times.
Swimming is recommended between the flags at South Ballina or Evans Head, as these beaches are patrolled during summer holidays. The waters in between are open beaches and tend to have strong rips and currents, so it’s best not to venture in for a swim – besides, it’s more suited to casting a line for whiting, than doing the butterfly.
If you don’t have any luck fishing, you can go for a hike in nearby Broadwater National Park, and picnic on the beach, where, in spring and winter, you should be able to spot whales or dolphins frolicking off the shoreline.
And to see the shoreline from a different perspective than the drivers seat, tour operators offer horseback riding along South Ballina Beach, as well as other beaches around Ballina.
Evans Heads, about 30 km to the south of South Ballina Beach, is a great spot for lunch or an extended stay. There is a patrolled beach and access to even more beach driving options on other beaches from here. Just be careful of the tides, as depending on the day, there can be coffee rock exposed on the beach, making the beach trip to Evans Head impossible.
Lennox Head, just north of Ballina, is a surfers dream, and you can also take your 4WD straight onto a section of Seven Mile Beach – although you do have to purchase a permit, unlike the beaches in South Ballina.
And once done with all the beach driving, don't be in a hurry to get home. We can highly recommend the accomodation at the Ballina Beach Village located a stones throw from the access point at South Ballina.
Any 4x4 purchased comes with complimentary membership to join the Motorama 4X4XMORE Club, which includes invites to tag-along tours to explore some of Queensland's most iconic 4x4 locations.
Loyal Motorama 4X4XMORE club member Hayley Wilson joins the team on a weekend trip to South Ballina and experiences the excitement of driving the beach.