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Iluka, NSW

Quiet holiday and retirement town at the mouth of Clarence River.

Iluka is a sleepy and charming fishing village and "get away from it all" holiday destination at the mouth of the Clarence River. It is wonderfully untouched and unpretentious with the Bowling Club and Pub offering the most reliable evening meals and a small number of cafes catering for daytime needs. Here is a town whose economy is driven by oysters, prawning, commercial fishing and holiday makers. And those holiday makers are interested in relaxing, exploring Bundjalung National Park, taking the ferry across the river to Yamba, swimming and fishing, and generally enjoying a very low key break from the bustle and urgency of more popular holiday destinations.


Iluka is located 683 km north of Sydney via the Pacific Highway and Iluka Road. It is 18 km south-east of the Pacific Highway turnoff.


Origin of Name

It is accepted that "iluka" is a Yaygir or Bundjalang Aboriginal word meaning "near the sea".


Things to See and Do

Iluka Nature Reserve and Iluka Bluff
Located at the northern end of Crown Street , at the end of Long Street, is a 2.5-km walking track through the Iluka Nature Reserve which connects to Iluka Bluff Picnic Area. It takes around 90 minutes. The Nature Reserve of 136 hectares was established in 1976 and has over 160 shrub and tree species and 140 varieties of birds. The area is the largest area of sub-tropical littoral (next to the ocean) rainforest in New South Wales and has been included on the World Heritage Listings. In terms of flora the visitor can expect to see Tuckeroo and Banksia, Riberry and Lily Pilly trees. The National Parks brochure advises: "If you walk quietly you may hear the sharp crack of a whip bird or see the brightly coloured noisy pitta foraging in the leaf litter for snails. The reserve is particularly noted for two species, the white-eared monarch for which Iluka is the southernmost occurrence and the barred cuckoo shrike, a rare species for northern New South Wales." At the end of the walk (you can drive there if you don't want to walk) is the Iluka Bluff Picnic Area which offers excellent views south across Iluka Beach to the breakwaters and Yamba. Below is a rock platform. In the spring it is an excellent vantage point for whale watching.

Iluka-Yamba Ferry
There is a regular daily ferry service across to Yamba which also includes cruises up the Clarence River. There are also river cruises to Harwood Island on Wednesdays and Fridays. Contact Clarence River Ferries on (02) 6646 6423 or 0408 664 556 for details of departure times or check out http://www.clarenceriverferries.com. The ferry wharf, boat shed and marina are at the end of River Street.

Iluka History Museum
Located in the Memorial Hall in Charles Street, the Iluka History Museum has extensive collections of photographs, newspaper clippings and historical material as well as an old cedar skiff which has been restored by the Iluka Men’s Shed. The museum is open each Wednesday and Friday from 9 .00 am to 1.00 pm or by appointment.

The free Yamba & Iluka Town Guide has a very detailed fishing supplement which details the habitat and likely spots to fish for bream, drummer (rock blackfish), luderick (blackfish), flathead, groper, mulloway (jewfish), sand whiting, snapper and tailor. Iluka Beach, which extends northwards from the breakwall, is known for bream, jewfish, tailor and flathead. To the north of Iluka Beach are Iluka Bluff, Bluff Beach, the headland known as Frazer Reef, Middle Bluff, Woody Head and Shark Bay where tailor, jewfish, bream, mackerel and blackfish can be caught. There are fishing charters from Yamba. Check out http://www.smarterfishingcharters.com.au/charters/details/105 for details of Reel Time Charters which offer both deep sea and Clarence River fishing charters.


Other Attractions in the Area

Bundjalung National Park
The Bundjalung National Park stretches along the coast from Iluka to Evans Head. It covers 18,000 hectares, 38 km of beaches and ranges from rainforest through heathland, coastal cypress stands, lagoons and wetlands to coastal plains. The park is home to 205 bird, 30 mammal, 38 reptile and 13 amphibian species. For more detailed information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/Bundjalung-National-Park. It lists six activities in the park: canoeing on Evans River; canoeing and birdwatching on the Esk River; walking the Gummigurrah walking track along the Evans River (it is a 1.75 km loop and usually takes around 2 hours - medium difficulty); admiring the view and looking from whales from the Iluka Bluff lookout; canoeing and kayaking on Jerusalem Creek and walking along the banks and across the wetlands at Jerusalem Creek (it is an 8 km loop of medium difficulty and takes around 3 hours - there is a shorter Black Rocks walk from the Black Rocks campground).



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Yaygir/Yaegl group of the Bundjalung Aborigines. European observers spoke highly of their crafts, skills, material culture and intelligence.

* Matthew Flinders investigated the river mouth in 1799. He landed on the northern headland, near present-day Iluka, but found the waters shallow and dismissed the whole area as "deserving of no more than a superficial examination". Flinders did not realise the bay was actually the mouth of the Clarence River.

* During the 1820s and 1830s convicts escaping from the penal colony at  Moreton Bay passed through the area.

* One convict, Richard Craig, reported on a big river when he reached at Port Macquarie in 1832.

* Thomas Small of Sydney, inspired by Craig's reports, sent his brother and two dozen sawyers on board the schooner, the Susan, to the 'Big River'. It was the first European vessel to enter the river.

* Thomas Small took up a large parcel of land on Woodford Island in the 1830s.

* Governor Gipps named the river the Clarence in 1839.

* By 1862 the present site of Iluka was being described as "a large sandy flat covered with ferns, bloodwood, brush box, gum trees and brush with patches of brushwood on the land behind, low stunted scrub with wild vines towards Iluka Bluff and salt water marshes flooded at high tide to the south on the inner shore of the North Spit. The water on the shore of the town site was deep but further south, out from the North Spit it was shallow with sandbanks, covered at high tide, surrounding Rabbit and Pelican islands." That same year the breakwater at the mouth of the Clarence was built.

* Settlement and the construction of a harbour at the river mouth started in 1862.

* A government wharf was completed in 1875. A tramway had been constructed out to Iluka Bluff to obtain stone for the breakwater.

* A post office opened in 1876.

* By 1878 there were about 100 or 150 people living there - apart from two hoteliers and a storekeeper all were employed on the harbour works.

* By 1890 the town was in decline. A small number stayed and became professional fishermen.

* By 1887 supplies were being shipped to Sydney.

* A cannery opened in 1899.

* Today it remains a small, thriving fishing port and a quiet holiday destination.


Visitor Information

Iluka has three visitor information boards but no office. The closest is the Clarence Coast Visitor Information Centre, Ferry Park, Pacific Highway, Maclean, tel: (02) 6645 4121. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm daily.


Useful Websites

The Iluka Chamber of Commerce have created a useful website. Check out http://www.ilukansw.com.au for details.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

6 suggestions
  • Why not visit the Iluka Museum in Charles Street, Iluka. Open Wednesday & Friday from 9am till 1pm.

    Janet Hauser
  • Collective artists studio, “the emporium” in the main street showcases local artists and is a collective venture for all different mediums from hand made clothes and jewellery, unique wood work to up-cycled collectables. Monthly exhibitions from different local artists.

    sarah moerman
  • In 2001, we visited Oz and fell in love with Iluka. The great harbour where the skipper of a prawn boat gave us a very generous helping of his catch, a day on the fabulous beach with only a pair of sea eagles for company, the hundreds ( literally!) of parakeets greeting us in the garden of our B&B and the super pub where we sat outside to watch the “sundown” and the pelicans nesting with a delicious pie and the only pint of Guinness for miles around. We phoned home to our daughter in U.K. to say “Maria, we want to live here!” She replied ” Oh, Dad, everyone says that about Oz” We said, “No, we want to live here in a little paradise named Iluka!” That memory is safely tucked away for the rest of our lives. We hope development hasn’t spoilt our idyll.
    Tom & Shirley Mahoney, Bexleyheath, Kent

    Tom &Shirley Mahoney
  • Great place to see the tuna boats come in and unload. I stayed with a couple in the club on the beach that had a tab. Great time watching the mullet came down the river in there thousands. Tony Bailey Jersey uk

    Tony Bailey
    • Ok no problem the couple were Alan and joy they moved to a pub across in a small town where the small ferry was on the river

      Tony Bailey
  • Went to school in Iluka in 1954. Did the BEST and WORST (3rd & Last) in class in the same exam. Yes only 3 in the class in a one room / one teacher school.
    After yr 6 it was on the 7:00am and only bus to Maclean for High School and home at 5:00pm across 4 ferries in each direction.
    Loved it then and Love it now.

    Doug UTTING