Pretty things, and indeed life, flourish around water and Bellingen is a water town. Lying on Waterfall Way, an area flush with cascades that journey from highland plateaus to the sea, Bellingen, NSW, is home to riotous gardens, hills and tunnels of green. It also feels more alive than many other Australian towns, having a colourful community of permanent residents that thrive off its beautiful, sodden valley.
When I think of the novel The Secret Garden, I think of Bellingen. Lying roughly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, about 20 kilometres from the coast, Bellingen is like a big pretty garden that bleeps dimly on the tourist radar. Even still, all manner of folk – including the affluent, artistic, eco-conscious and budget backpacker – can be found mooching among the town’s antique and art stores, heritage buildings, pubs and quaint cafes.
Winding just behind the heart of town, like a thick artery, is the Bellinger River, which often bursts and turns the place into a quagmire. The floods, however, don’t seem to dampen the mood, as the town throws numerous festivals every year. These include the Bellingen Readers & Writers Festival, the Bellingen Jazz and Blues Festival, the Bellingen Music Festival, Bellingen Arts Week, and the recently defunct Bellingen Global Carnival, which I’ve been to several times.
The Things I Love About Bellingen
Sloshing about the mud at festivals, chatting with the interesting people the town attracts, savouring gourmet goodies on Victorian terraces and soaking up town life over a coffee. I also love exploring the backstreets, spying the community of bats at sunset and marvelling at the different shades of green – all while feeling like I’m strolling through a stupendously large funky garden.
Despite the town’s relatively low-key status, many know of its treasures, as it’s been the scene for a few films, most notably the Australian film Danny Deckchair (which is well worth a watch). Several celebrities also choose to call Bellingen home more permanently, such as journalist George Negus and Australian pianist David Helfgott, who was portrayed in the film Shine by Geoffrey Rush.
Things to do in and around Bellingen, NSW
- Paddle up river in a canoe
- Visit the town’s Old Butter Factory
- Head to one of Bellingen’s many festivals
- Walk through the ‘Promised Land’ in the Bellinger Valley, which rivals Ireland for greenery
- Cycle about town
- Visit the many waterfalls along Waterfall Way
- Have a beer/meal at the town pub
- Lie prostrate in a green meadow and inhale the wondrous air