In picture-perfect rural scenery about 20 minutes in from the coast, Lismore is a town feted for its culture.
A big contingent of artists and musicians call this place home, and there’s a surfeit of cafes and pop-up galleries.
The cornerstone of the local arts scene is the Lismore Regional Gallery, staging must-see exhibitions and fronting The Quad, Lismore’s creative playground.
Not far north of Lismore proper is the progressive village of Nimbin, with counter culture roots that go back to the early-1970s.
You can thank the hippies for their anti-logging protests back then, helping to preserve gorgeous local beauty spots like Protestors Falls.
1. Lismore Regional Gallery
Lismore lays claim to the oldest cultural institution in the Northern Rivers in the form of a regional gallery founded in 1953. This is a modern mainstay for the city, facing the grassy gathering space of The Quad.
The gallery is adapted from a 1960s brick structure previously belonging to Lismore High School, enhanced by a bright and modern extension from the 2010s.
In recent years the gallery has curated some major solo exhibitions for the likes of Tracey Moffatt, Sam Jinks, Julie Rrap and Roger Ballen, often in collaboration with the artist.
The permanent collection has pieces by luminaries like Lloyd Rees, Kevin Connor and Albert Namatijra, as well as artists from around the Northern Rivers including Bronwyn Bancroft, Digby Moran and Jan Davis.
Check the gallery’s calendar for a dynamic program of talks, music performances and workshops for a range of media.
2. Lismore Quadrangle (The Quad)
It’s not a stretch to say that the space in front of the Lismore Regional Gallery is the soul of the city.
Made up of repurposed Lismore High School buildings, this is dubbed Lismore’s creative playground, linking the gallery and Slate Gallery Cafe with the Lismore City Library, the Northern Rivers Conservatorium and the Social Futures Clubhouses.
These institutions cooperate to produce a whole program of cooperative events, and when you come there’s a good chance something exciting will be going on, whether it’s an art installation or concert.
The Quad is also the destination for Lismore’s much anticipated Lantern Parade in late-June.
This mountain village rests on the edge of an extinct volcano by the UNESCO-listed Nightcap National Park, about half an hour north of Lismore.
Nimbin is a former dairy settlement that since the 1970s has become a hippie enclave, as you’ll tell from the psychedelic murals on the frontier-style facades along Cullen Street.
This all began with the Aquarius Festival in 1973, important for being the first event that asked permission to use the land from the Traditional Owners.
After the festival hundreds of participants stayed behind in Nimbin, and the village flourished as a honeypot for environmentalists, musicians, actors, writers and artists.
You can guess that cannabis culture is at the forefront here, and there’s a number of shops selling accessories and hemp products.
The Nimbin Mardigrass Festival in early May is geared towards cannabis policy reform and has been going since 1993.
4. Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens
First planted in 2002, this botanical attraction in the south of Lismore presents the rainforest species native to within a 200-kilometre radius of Lismore.
The idea is to recreate as closely as possible the biome of the Big Scrub, an immense spread of subtropical and dry rainforest that reached from just south of Lismore all the way to Queensland some 90 kilometres to the north.
The Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens are broken down into four “rooms”, with dry rainforest species in 1 and 4, subtropical plants in 2 and species from the myrtle family in the 3. The gardens have a loose informal style woven with footpaths for gentle walks, bird-watching and picnics.
5. Friends of the Koala
This non-profit community group is dedicated to conserving koalas primarily in and around the Northern Rivers region.
Based at their centre in East Lismore, Friends of the Koala rescues and rehabilitates koalas, educates the community about this lovable marsupial, conducts research and works to protect and improve the koalas’ habitat.
To find out more you can visit the centre for a tour at 10:00 and 14:00 Monday to Friday and at 10:00 on Saturdays.
The centre’s devoted and experienced volunteers will give a talk about koalas and the organisation’s efforts to protect them.
You’ll also get to see any koalas in care at the centre at the time, and possibly one or two in the wild in the koala food trees surrounding the centre.
6. Heritage Park Railway
A treat for smaller members of the family, there’s a miniature railway curling through Heritage Park, close to City Hall.
This is on a 7 1/4″ (184mm), with a station a few steps from Lismore’s Visitor Information Centre.
The railway was built in 1995 and has two main locomotives, Toby and Katie, showing little ones the sights around this sweet little park.
As well as a station, the railway has a level crossing lined with a picket fence and a miniature signal box.
There are trains on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, as well as all week except Mondays on school holidays.
7. Lennox Head Beach
The Pacific Ocean is only half an hour east of Lismore, and the north-eastern corner of NSW is lined with awesome beaches if you want to feel the sand between your toes.
These are punctuated by rugged headlands, affording panoramic views but also breaks for surfers.
For bathing Broken Head Beach and Byron Bay are the go-tos.
Further south and easier to get to from Lismore is the magnificent sweep of Lennox Head Beach (aka Seven Mile Beach), where you can escape the crowds and wander off to find a patch of sand to yourself.
At the southern end is Lennox Head, with scrub-covered cliffs 65-metres over the ocean.
This is the scene of a famous right-hand break that draws talented surfers from far and wide.
8. Rocky Creek Dam
Upstream of Lismore Rocky Creek the river was dammed in the late-1940s to create the Rocky Lake reservoir, which covers just over 200 hectares on the edge of Nightcap National Park.
The reservoir supplies potable water to a slew of Northern Rivers towns, Lismore among them, so swimming and water-based activities are off the agenda.
But you have to make trip up here to savour the hilly scenery, and see if you can spot a platypus in the water.
A special platypus viewing platform has been set up at the dam, and there’s also a boardwalk and pontoon bridge.
There are four walking tracks, between 1.5 and 6 kilometres long, taking you around the dam and along boardwalks into the dense vegetation of the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve.
9. Lismore Visitor Information Centre
It’s a given that Lismore’s Visitor Information Centre will point you in the right direction for attractions, tours, accommodation and events in the Northern River region.
But this building by Lismore City Hall is more than an information point.
For starters it includes detailed interpretive panels detailing the region’s natural environment and Aboriginal culture.
There’s also a transformative gallery space providing a platform for important Bundjalung Aboriginal artists, and a shop brimming with handmade souvenirs from the area.
This also stocks the best locally produced goodies like tea, coffee, pecans, macadamias, olives, muesli, sauces and jams made with rainforest fruits.
10. Kadina Park
If you’re in town with energetic children there’s an excellent playground at this urban park in the eastern Goonellabah suburb.
Kadina Park is just off the Bruxner Highway, and in the last couple of years has been furnished with hundreds of thousands of dollars of upgrades.
There are distinct play spaces for toddlers and bigger children, and a couple of the new arrivals are a “mouse house”, essentially a human-sized hamster wheel, a new carousel and a flying fox.
For grown-ups the park has also been equipped with ten new fitness stations.
11. Protesters Falls
In the UNESCO-listed rainforest of the Nightcap National Park you can make the short but rugged hike to a marvellous waterfall.
The trail to Protesters Falls is only a 1.4-kilometre loop but will show you why the rainforest in this park is so prized.
Subtropical tamarind and bangalow palms yield to giant strangler figs and yellow carabeen, and the air is filled with the calls of barred cuckoo-shrikes and rose-crowned fruit doves.
Protesters Falls is named for the anti-logging Terrania Creek protests of the late-1970s that preserved this sublime rainforest for future generations.
The falls are a gossamer ribbon dropping from the top of a sheer cliff, and the undergrowth at the foot of the falls is inhabited by the rare Fleay’s barred frog.
12. Summerland Farm
On the Alstonville plateau east of Lismore is a 90-hectate avocado and macadamia farm that opens up to visitors.
In lush tropical countryside, there’s plenty for families to get up to at Summerland Farm.
Wee ones can make the most of a newly renovated playground and water park.
You can also climb aboard a tractor for a tour of avocado and macadamia orchards, learning about the farm’s agricultural practices.
This produce, as well as locally sourced oils, jams and vegetables, is sold at the farm shop, the Grocer.
Summerland Farm also has a nursery and a fully-licensed restaurant, and hosts a variety of public events and private functions all year round.
13. Lismore Car Boot Market
This twice-monthly rummage sale in Lismore has been going for more than three decades, and has a regional reputation on the Far North Coast.
The market takes place in the undercover car park at Lismore Shopping Square on the first and third Sundays of the month.
On an average day there will be upwards of 200 stalls trading everything from clothing to jewellery, antiques, collectibles, candles, plants, books and homewares.
You’ll also come across plenty of stalls for fresh produce like fruit and vegetables and tempting baked goods, and lots of hot food to go.
14. Lismore Farmers’ Market
When it comes to ultra-fresh ingredients or handmade produce, the Lismore Region has much to offer as you’ll learn at this market every Saturday morning at the Lismore Showground.
This market has been trading since 1997 and for a taste of what to expect there’s fresh and seasonal vegetables, fruit, garlic and herbs, as well as eggs, olives, flowers, coffee, chocolate, sauces and all manner of baked goods, from muffins to homemade cakes.
You can also pick up breakfast if all these goodies make you peckish and there’s live music every week while you shop.
15. Lismore Lantern Parade
Tens of thousands of people come to Lismore on a Saturday around the winter solstice for the city’s signature event.
The Lismore Lantern Parade is a real community effort, and the fruit of months of planning and building at school and community workshops.
The workmanship on the lanterns is incredible, and the parade, joined by musicians and street performers, is one spectacular photo opportunity.
There’s a different theme each year, and the lanterns wind their way through the city centre to The Quad, which becomes a wonderful outdoor arena for fireworks and sideshows.
Arrive early in the day, as the CBD comes alive with market stalls, live music, arts and crafts lantern-making workshops.