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Discover Beaches, Rainforests and Alternative Tunes When You Head to the Northern Rivers for Great Southern Nights

Come for the bleeding-edge music, stay for the sights, sounds and flavours of subtropical NSW.

The Northern Rivers region of New South Wales is nothing short of magical. Picture-perfect white sand beaches along the coast giving way to thick rainforests and verdant farmland along winding rivers… It really is the stuff of poetry.

The region is also home to some of the most popular local travel destinations throughout the state, including, most famously, Byron Bay.

Now, considering the name and geographic location, the Northern Rivers might be an odd destination for a festival series called Great Southern Nights, but said festival is all about bringing life and lineups to regional hubs across New South Wales, and in 2024 it’s bringing the party to Wollongong, Tamworth, Newcastle, Wagga Wagga and of course, the Northern Rivers.

So bust out your calendars, pack the car and prepare to unwind on an adventure of music and merriment in NSW’s own version of tropical paradise.

THE FESTIVAL

Not that you need a reason to visit this gorgeous region but Great Southern Nights is a proper occasion to plan a road trip around.

The festival runs from Friday, March 8 to Sunday, March 24 with artists hitting stages across Lismore, Byron Bay, Kingscliff and everywhere in between.

So, who’s headlining for the Northern Rivers’ leg? Glad you asked.

The big ticket acts include Ball Park Music, Gordi, JK-47, Hermitude, Xavier Rudd and Bliss N Eso (but that’s just the start). And as far as venues go, you’re looking at iconic mainstays like The Beach Hotel in Byron Bay and the Kingscliff Beach Hotel, right down to lesser known local gems like The Burrow (across from Cabarita Beach) or Lismore’s Star Court Theatre.

To help get you in the swing of things, here’s a playlist of jams from the headline acts for you to enjoy on your way to the next show. Then scroll on for our picks of where to eat, drink, stay and play.

Image: Julie Lowe for Destination NSW

WHERE TO STAY

Once you’ve plotted your route and reserved tickets for your chosen gigs, you’ll need somewhere to rest your head.

If you’re travelling on a budget, with kids or a large group of mates, plant your flag between Pottsville and Cabarita at North Star Holiday Resort. It offers everything from powered camping sites to spacious villas. Plus, there’s a water park on-site to keep the kids entertained while you hit up the adults-only day spa.

After something more luxurious? Among the serene rainforests of Byron Bay is Crystalbrook Byron, a resort that prides itself on wellness and sustainability. The three open-air dining spaces and Eléme Day Spa will take care of your needs when you’re not lounging poolside or catching live tunes.

Closer to the northern border of NSW is Mantra on Salt Beach in Kingscliff, a relaxed but luxe resort in the heart of the local village. Perfectly situated near the beach, shops and park, you can book rooms with views of the ocean or pool to unwind after a big day (or night) out.

Images: Mantra on Salt Beach (Roderick Eime via Flickr), North Star Holiday Resort (Jessie Yin via Flickr), Crystalbrook Byron (Crystalbrook Hotels).

Local Food

Flavours of the Northern Rivers means tropical, organic, coastal, small batch — all things we can get behind.

Start with Potager in Carool, a charming produce-focused restaurant located on a 10-acre farm in the foothills of a national park. Here, the menu is seasonal, with ingredients sourced from the kitchen’s own garden or local farms and producers.

In sleepy Pottsville is a true culinary gem: the wonderful Pipit. A modern fine-diner with a menu that champions local, sustainably sourced produce and maximising sustainability. Pipit’s waste and offcuts are repurposed with veggies becoming relish and bones ending up in ceramics. Booking is a must.

In the surf hub of Kingscliff, one of the most beloved local spots is Fins, which has been dishing up fresh seafood for over 30 years. Under the watch of head chef and owner Steven Snow, Fins is regarded as one of the best seafood restaurants in the country.

Head south to Byron Bay and you’ll find the one-of-a-kind dining destination Karkalla Byron Bay. The passion project of Mindy Woods, a Bundjalung woman of the Widjabul Wia-bul clan, Karkalla uses local native ingredients throughout its fresh, seafood-focused menu. Dining at Karkalla means getting the flavours of the Northern Rivers in their truest forms.

Images: Fins, Potager, Pipit, Karkalla Byron Bay (Destination NSW and The Tweed Tourism)

Local Drinks

While in the region you should imbibe the liquid specialties of the locals — a booze scene that has popped off over the past decade. Turn your head to these top-shelf local establishments:

For something fancy, head to Husk Distillery for a tasting. The team there transforms Australian sugar cane into four regular blends of rum (and rarer special bottles).

Similar local flavours can be found at Earth Beer Co, a brewery in the Tweed Valley that pours love and local ingredients into every tin of cold beer. Visit for a tour and get tasting flights of the core range and seasonal releases like the Mango Weisse Bier.

If you’re a beer drinker, you’ll be familiar with Stone & Wood. The brewery is just outside central Byron Bay where the team hosts tours, a tasting room, a canteen and a beer garden to enjoy each and every flavour — from the go-to Pacific Ale to limited releases and experimental brews.

If you’d prefer a more diverse drink menu, ink in a stop at the Eltham Hotel, the best kind of local. Located in Eltham between Lismore and Bangalow, here you can enjoy modern takes on Aussie pub fare with a sense of humour (and bigger sense of flavour). Hit the dining room or pull up a chair beneath the jacarandas and accompany with schooners of cold beer or picks from a rocking wine list. You’ll be tempted to move in.

Images: Stone & Wood dining and brewery tour, Husk Distillery, Eltham Hotel (Destination NSW)

What to see

To really get immersed in the area, go for a wander in Nightcap National Park. Explore these Gondwana-era rainforests to find waterfalls, an extinct volcano and a huge range of wildlife (frog lovers will delight in the populations here).

Once the land has inspired you, taste its bounty at Tropical Fruit World, whether it’s on a river cruise, tractor tour or expert-led tasting experience of local fruits and bush tucker ingredients.

Then step off of the land and explore the beautiful ocean waters of the region with Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay. Tours depart twice daily, either out to sea to spot dolphins and whales or down the Brunswick River for a relaxing inland adventure.

If your sea legs leave something to be desired, fret not, there’s an overland equivalent for that kind of exploration. Better By Bike offers a range of cycling tours to get you up close to rainforests, rail tunnels, ancient volcanos and more. If tours aren’t your thing, hire an e-bike and explore at your own pace.

Images: Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay, Protestors Falls, Tropical Fruit World, Ballina Shared Coastal Pathway (Destination NSW)

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For more information on Great Southern Nights, including the lineup, venues, local areas and to book tickets, visit the website.

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