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Murwillumbah, NSW

Important rural service town on the Tweed River.

Murwillumbah is a substantial rural service centre lying on the banks of the Tweed River under the shadow of Mount Warning, an impressive lava plug and part of the Tweed shield volcano caldera. Given its volcanic origins the local soil is particularly rich, the rainfall is substantial and consequently the farming of cattle and sugar cane ensures that the valley is affluent and prosperous.

Location

Murwillumbah is located 807 km north of Sydney via the Pacific Highway, 13 km south of the Queensland border and 130 km south of Brisbane via the Pacific Motorway and Tweed Valley Way.

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Origin of Name

It is widely believed that Joshua Bray, an early selector in the valley, adopted the Bundjalung word "murwillumbah" which is thought to mean either "a good place for camping beside the river" or "a good place to catch possums".

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Things to See and Do

The World Heritage Rainforest Centre and Visitor Information Centre
The World Heritage Rainforest Centre is located in Budd Park, on the eastern bank of the Tweed River, this is an unusual combination of a Rainforest Centre, a significant art work and a place where visitors can get assistance. The Rainforest Centre offers an excellent introduction to the Green Caldera region and the Tweed Valley.

Caldera Art Gallery (connected to the World Heritage Rainforest Centre)
Caldera Art is attached to the World Heritage Rainforest Centre and overseen by artist, Andy Reimanis. The aim of this small gallery is that everything exhibited "must somehow engage with the flora or fauna of the local area". This makes it a useful overview of the local environment.  As well there is a huge mural, Green Cauldron Panorama, which depicts the 360° view from the summit of Mount Warning. The idea of the panorama was dreamed up in 2011 and took a year to execute. A team of artists completed the painting with landmarks labelled and the end result being an advertisement for the idyllic Tweed caldera complete with sheer escarpments and the rich valley edged by the Pacific Ocean.

Murwillumbah Town Centre Heritage Walk
The Visitor Information Centre has a brochure which lists a modest ten places of historic interest in the Murwillumbah town centre. It can be downloaded at http://www.murwillumbahhistoricalsociety.org.au/files/Murwillumbah%20Heritage%20Walk.pdf. Of these the most interesting are on or near Murwillumbah Street, often referred to as Main Street, and include the Tweed Regional Museum which was the local Shire Council building from 1915-1946; the Walter Vernon-designed Federation-style courthouse (1909) and the related police station (c.1905) and outbuildings; and Budd Park which is home to the Caldera Art Gallery and Visitor Information Centre.

Tweed River Regional Museum
Located at the corner of Queensland Road and Bent Street is the old Shire Council building which operated from 1915-1946 and was taken over by the local historical society in 1988.  It was upgraded and reopened in 2004 with exhibits emphasising the patterns of settlement, industry and agriculture in the valley. "The Museum has fascinating sections devoted to the history of local industries such as timber cutting, dairying, banana growing and early life in Murwillumbah. There is a History of Radio room and an extensive rock collection of ‘thunder eggs’. Outside the museum is a large Robey Steam Engine, which was brought to Murwillumbah from England in 1907. It was possibly used for pumping water out of the mines and later drove a saw mill on the western side of Mt Nullum." It is open Tuesday to Friday, and the first Saturday of each month, from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6670 2273. The website contains additional information. Check out http://www.murwillumbahhistoricalsociety.org.au/murwillumbah.htm.

Murwillumbah Murals Guided Walk
Andy Reimanis and David Adams have organised a 105 minute walk which is held on the first Saturday of each month, starts at the Caldera Art Gallery, crosses the Tweed and explores the town including the remarkable 700 metre long Treasures of the Tweed mural which celebrates the Tweed Valley's unique biodiversity. It then passes up Murwillumbah Street to the Tweed Regional Museum on Queensland Road. Bookings are essential, tel: (02) 6672 1340.

Lions Lookout Walk
This relatively short walk (2 km return but defined as "Medium-Hard - steep ascent and descent") starts at Knox Park, goes up Brisbane Street to Main Street where it turns into Queensland Road and then into Bent Street. On top of the hill is the Lion's Lookout by the town reservoir. They provide excellent views over the town, river and surrounding canefields. There is a brochure which can be downloaded at http://www.tweed.nsw.gov.au/HealthyAgeingWalks.

South Bank River Walk
The Visitor Information Centre has a brochure which lists a modest ten places of interest on a walk which starts at the Visitor Centre, crosses the Tweed, does a circuit of the town centre and then heads upstream before cutting back to the Centre. It is an easy, flat walk of 3.2 km return.

Tweed River Art Gallery
This is no ordinary gallery. Established in a beautifully located modern building with superb views over the Tweed Valley and towards Mount Warning, it was built in 2004 and extended in 2006. In 2014 it added the Margaret Olley home studio, a wonderfully chaotic re-creation of the artist's studio, to its already impressive exhibition spaces including the permanent Australian Portrait Collection of both paintings and photography. It is located 2 km south of Murwillumbah via the Tweed Valley Way and Mistral Road (it is clearly signposted) and is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm. Admission is free, tel: (02) 6670 2790. Check out http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/ for more details.

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Other Attractions in the Area

The Road from Murwillumbah to Nerang
Chillingham
Located 15 km on the Nerang-Murwillumbah Road, Chillingham is the small and charming village which has achieved local fame because Gerard "Buck" Buchanan has established an roadside fruit stand which sells such exotica as finger limes, yuzus and "Buddha's hands".

Natural Bridge and Springbrook National Park
Beyond Chillingham the Nerang-Murwillumbah Road continues through the Numinbah Valley. After another 11 km it reaches the New South Wales-Queensland border and another 4 km north there is a road sign to Natural Arch and Springbrook National Park.

Natural Bridge
Located 30 km north-west of Murwillumbah, off the Nerang-Murwillumbah road, is Natural Bridge. It is a particularly beautiful small valley and grotto in which an arch, formed 23 million years ago by lava from Mount Warning, has created a cavern. Erosion from a creek (which runs into the Nerang River) has created a hole in the lava and formed a waterfall through the roof of the cavern which, in muted light, cascades into a pool below. To appreciate the scale of the volcano it is worth noting that, at the time of the eruption, it was 80 km across. An excellent information board on the path to Natural Bridge explains, in words and with diagrams, that "The basalt rock bridge we see today was once the lip of a waterfall. Beneath the hard basalt, a softer rock form called agglomerate was eroded by the waterfall, forming a cave beneath. Upstream from the fall, a deep pool was drilled in the creek bed by the swirling action of rocks. This pool eventually broke through the cave roof, allowing the water to plunge through the hole into the cave below."

The road leads to a shady subtropical rainforest grove full of birdlife (eastern yellow robins, whipbirds, catbirds, logrunners, wompoo pigeons and brush turkeys) and local fauna (pademelons, grey eastern water dragons, green tree frogs, brushtail possums, bent winged bats, sugar gliders, spotted tail quoll, bush rats, glowworms). There is a clearly signposted circuit walk which leads through the rainforest to a lookout overlooking the falls and the hole in the cavern roof. It crosses the creek, passes another elevated viewing area, then moves down to creek level, where it is possible to enter the cavern where forest light shafts down through the opening, illuminating the base of the falls. The path then crosses the creek again and climbs back up to the parking lot. The information board at the start of the walk suggests that the walk is easier if you head in a clockwise direction.

The 'Bridge' is located in Springbrook National Park, in an area once occupied by the Gombemberri Aboriginal people but settled, from the 1870s, by Europeans who came to the area to exploit the rainforest timber. A giant red cedar taken from a spot near the Natural Bridge in 1893 was displayed at the Paris World Fair. The remnant rainforest in the Park, which grew from the rich volcanic soils, gives some idea of the environment which once characterised the entire Numinbah Valley before colonisation. The circumstances were ideal. The annual rainfall is around 2500 mm. The Natural Bridge was first declared a Scenic and Recreation Reserve in 1922, by which time much of the valley had been cleared and dairy farms were being established.

The most distinctive timber in the area are the hoop pines. There are vines and staghorns as well as huge trees rotting on the forest floor. At night the glowworms, which can be seen in their thousands, cover the cavern roof. These insects are the larvae of a fungus fly and they glow to attract insects to their webs. The glowworms are frail and torches must not be used. Candles and other flames, flash photographs, smoking and insect repellant are also forbidden.

Springbrook National Park
Springbrook National Park is part of a 366,455 ha World Heritage area known as the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserve. They contain types of rainforest which are recognised as some of the best examples in the world and which are inhabited by a rich and diverse wildlife. It is remarkable to think they are located only a short distance from one of the most densely populated tourist areas in the country.

Twenty million years of erosion have produced a range of rugged, rocky peaks and deep gorges with the skyline dominated by rhyolite cliffs at both Springbrook and Lamington National Parks. The easiest way to access Springbrook National Park is via winding road. The park is 50 km from Murwillumbah via Robina. There are seven great walking tracks along a route which terminates at the Best of All Lookout on the NSW-Queensland border.

The detailed http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/springbrook/about.html#walking provides clear information on distance and degree of difficulty for three circuits, two tracks and two lookouts. It observes: "Several vantage points on the plateau provide extensive views of the surrounding ranges, foothills and the coastline. Constructed lookouts, providing safe viewing, are easily accessible via a short walk. Be aware that these lookouts are often shrouded by cloud, even when the weather is fine and sunny on the coast. For the best views, visit on clear, smoke-free days."

Wunburra Lookout
This is only 30 metres (it takes about five minutes) but has views over Purling Brook valley, Mount Cougal and Little Nerang Dam. A good place to start and to observe the geological forces which have helped to create this unique area.

Canyon Lookout
This is only 30 metres (it takes about five minutes) and has views over both the Twin and Rainbow Falls as well as the sheer cliffs of The Canyon. On a clear day it is possible to see the Pacific Ocean and the geology of the area - the landslides and erosion - is observable.

Coomoolahra Falls Lookout Track
A short, 200 metre walk offers dramatic views of the 60 m high Goomoolahra Falls and, on a clear day, vista across Moreton Bay to Stradbroke and Moreton Islands.

Best of All Lookout Track
Located on the border between NSW and Queensland this amusingly named lookout (a great example of self publicity) offers a "Walk through ancient Antarctic beech forest to a view of northern New South Wales dominated by Mount Warning, the lava plug at the centre of the erosion caldera of the extinct Tweed shield volcano. The small pocket of Antarctic beech forest Nothofagus moorei is one of our remaining links to the ancient forests of Gondwana that occurred here during a past cooler climate. Nothofagus forests were once widespread across the continent and provided a habitat for many animals that have long since disappeared from our landscape." The walk takes around 30 minutes. The view across to Mount Warning is dramatic and beautiful.

Purling Brook Falls Circuit
This is one of the great walks in the area. It covers a total of 4 km return, takes about two hours and, as the National Parks website explains it passes: "through open eucalypt forest of New England ash Eucalyptus campanulata, where fire-adapted species such as lepidozamias, hakeas and various wildflowers grow, before descending into the gorge to view the falls from below. After crossing the suspension bridge a steady climb through forest brings the walker back to the picnic area. Water flowing over Purling Brook Falls is high quality because its catchment is protected in the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area." The walk to Warringa Pool is an additional two kilometres but well worth the effort - if you are fit enough.

Twin Falls Circuit
This walk is 4 km return and takes around two hours. If you head off on an anti-clockwise direction you will pass behind two waterfalls and discover palms, rock ferns and brush box eucalypts.

Warrie Circuit
This is a serious, full day walk (it is 17 km return and takes between 5-6 hours for experienced bushwalkers) and involves sheer cliffs, waterfalls and creek crossings. As the National Parks website explains it is: "The longest and most interesting track on the plateau follows the base of The Canyon cliffs to Goomoolahra Falls before descending into the mossy green depths of the rainforest. The track (named with the Aboriginal word 'Warrie', meaning 'rushing water') crosses several creeks and gullies. The track reaches the 'Meeting of the Waters', where all watercourses draining The Canyon meet, then climbs up the western side of the gorge. The moist and shady conditions at the base of Goomoolahra Falls provide an ideal habitat for the giant spear lilies Doryanthes palmeri. This succulent herb is one of only two members of the Doryanthiacea plant family, which is endemic to Australia."

There are excellent detailed maps of both the general area of the park and the four specific walking areas in the park. Check out http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/springbrook/pdf/springbrook-map-insets.pdf.

Cudgen Nature Reserve
Cudgen Nature Reserve, located 20 km east of Murwillumbah, is only 671 ha but contains a rich variety of vegetation ranging from "coastal dunes to heath, swamp forests to rainforests, and the beautiful wetlands on Cudgen Lake and surrounding estuaries. Much of the reserve is listed as an Endangered Ecological Community (EEC), including swamp oak, swamp melaleuca forest, littoral and lowland subtropical rainforest, and freshwater wetlands."

The Nature Reserve's main attraction is Cudgen Lake which is noted for its birdlife - black swans, Australian white ibis, white-faced heron, pied oystercatchers, osprey and sea eagles - as well as being ideal for swimming or kayaking, sailing and paddleboarding. An Aboriginal stone quarry has been found on the edge of the lake and there are excellent views of Mt Warning from its eastern shore on a clear day.

The Cudgen Nature Reserve contains a variety of vegetation types which are home to a number of threatened plant and animal species. The reserve also colonies of the last remaining koala on the New South Wales north coast. There are good picnic facilities beside the lake. For more information and a map check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/cudgen-nature-reserve.

Tumbulgum
En route from the Pacific Motorway to Murwillumbah, on the banks of the Tweed River is the tiny township of Tumbulgum where Aboriginal and South Pacific islander activist and writer Faith Bandler was born after her father was brought to Australia from Vanuatu as kanaka (effectively forced or slave) labour by slave traders in 1883 when he was only 13. Early settlers called Tumbulgum Tweed Junction because it was where the Tweed and Rous Rivers met (the Bundjalung word "Tumbulgum" means "place where the waters meet"). An inn was built near the river in 1870 and, in 1872, a school and post office opened. A survivor from those days is the Tumbulgum Hotel which marks the site of an old ferry crossing.

Tyalgum
Located 22 km west of Murwillumbah in the shadow of Mount Warning, Tyalgum calls itself the  "Heart of the Caldera". It is one of those hinterland North Coast towns where the residents come from everywhere and the local shops range from artisan bread, an excellent coffee bar where the barista roasts his own beans, gift shops, a quaint general store, and the old bakery called Flutterbies which offers such exotica as pink lemonade and lavender scones. Three artists - Robert Pope, Irene Brown and Robert Todonai - have built an unusual house  modelled on a 14th-century Italian castle.

Tropical Fruit World
Clearly signposted from the Pacific Highway en route to Murwillumbah, Tropical Fruit World started in 1972 when Bob and Val Brinsmead purchased a rundown small crop farm with a view to specialising in tropical fruit starting with avocados and including custard apples, mangoes, lychees, guavas, macadamia nuts and papaya. By 1983 it was known as Avocadoland and in 1990 the property was taken over by their eldest child, Judith Brinsmead. In 1995 it became Tropical Fruit World and it is now an agri-tourist destination based around a tropical fruit plantation with over 500 varieties of fruit. A visit includes nine specific specialist gardens.

* Chinese Garden - lychees, wampis longans, mulberries
* Inca Garden - champagne fruit, mountain pawpaw
* Sth East Asian Garden - wax jambu, giant pommelo
* Aztec Garden - canistel, chocolate fruit
* Indian Garden - jakfruit, mangos, guavas
* South Pacific Garden - papaya, bananas, passionfruit
* Tropical Berry Garden - jaboticabas, cherry guavas and the amazing miracle fruit
* Experimental Garden - noni, goji
* Bush Tucker Garden - Davidson's plum, lemon myrtle, macadamias

Tours include "Boat and train rides, an animal farmyard, and a recreation area with putt-putt golf, volleyball, flying fox and games equipment". The place is now so comprehensive that visitors can go to the fruit market, enjoy the Plantation Cafe and Juice Bar, go on a Plantation Safari, enjoy fruit tasting, go on a wildlife boat cruise to the fauna park where the animals can be hand-fed, ride on a miniature train. It is located at 29 Duranbah Road, Duranbah and is open daily from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm, tel: (02) 6677 7222. Check out http://www.tropicalfruitworld.com.au for greater detail and entry prices.

Mount Warning, known as Wollumbin National Park
Mount Warning (1157 metres) is famous as the first point on the east coast (and, therefore, the first point on the Australian mainland) to be touched by the sun's morning rays. It is located in a 2379 ha rainforest park which was given a World Heritage listing in 1986. The mountain, with its Dreamtime connections, is significant to the Bundjalung Aboriginal people who know it as 'Wollumbin' probably meaning 'cloud catcher'. Captain Cook named it Mount Warning to indicate the problems he experienced with offshore reefs when he sailed up the coast in May, 1770.

Geologists estimate that Mount Warning was formed around 20-23 million years ago. It was the magma chamber and central vent of a vast super-volcano which covered 4,000 square kilometres from Coraki in the south to Beenleigh in the north, west to Kyogle and east beyond the coast where it formed islands (Cook Island) and dangerous reefs. Originally it was twice its present height. The harder rhyolite from the magma chamber formed a core which has remained while the basalt deposits have eroded away leaving the present basin which forms the largest erosion caldera in the world.

To get there, head south-west along the Kyogle and Uki Roads for 15 km to the Breakfast Creek Picnic Area at the park entrance at the base of the mountain. The Mount Warning Summit Track commences from the parking area. The walk is strenuous, steep and rocky in parts. It is an 8.8 km hike (five hours return) through subtropical and temperate rainforest, wet sclerophyll forest and heath shrubland. There are rest stops along the way and a chain to assist you up the last steep section.

The 360-degree views from the peak are memorable and panoramic. The caldera spreads out around the mountain. A much shorter track, the Lyrebird Track crosses Breakfast Creek and winds for 200 metres through palm forest to a platform in the subtropical rainforest.

The park's fauna includes frogs, marsupial mice, quolls, water rats, bush rats, the platypus, gliders, koalas, possums, bats, water dragons, pythons, tree snakes, skinks and lace monitors. Birdlife includes goshawks, eagles, currawongs, butcher birds, whipbirds, crows, doves, pigeons, the spangled drongo, kookaburras, kingfishers, lyrebirds, monarchs, brush turkeys, honeyeaters, crimson rosellas, king parrots, satin bowerbirds, marbled  frogmouths, catbirds and owls. There are a number of useful websites for people wanting to climb the mountain. Check out http://www.mtwarningrainforestpark.com/the-experience and http://www.mtwarning.net/climb.html and http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkHome.aspx?id=N0183 which offers a downloadable map.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area was occupied by the Bundjalung Aborigines.

* The first European in the area was the explorer and surveyor John Oxley who named the Tweed River in 1823.

* In 1828 Captain Henry Rous followed the river from its mouth to the head of navigation. He named it the Clarence but it soon reverted to the Tweed.

* By the early 1840s cedar cutters were exploring the surrounding forests for suitable trees.

* The first boats on the river began to appear around 1868.

* Sugar cane was first grown in the valley in 1869.

* The town site for Murwillumbah was surveyed in 1872.

* The post office was transferred from Kynnumboon to Murwillumbah in 1877.

* The school was transferred from Tumbulgum in 1878.

* By 1880 the town had a courthouse and its first bank.

* The first sugar mill, at Condong, started operations in 1880.

* A ferry service across the Tweed River replaced the punt in 1888.

* In 1894 the railway arrived from Lismore via Mullumbimby. Murwillumbah became the terminus of the North Coast Line.

* A lift-span bridge was built over the Tweed in 1901.

* The settlement was officially declared a municipality in 1902.

* A hospital was built in 1904.

* Prior to World War I banana plantations also began to appear in the district.

* A major fire severely damaged the town in 1907.

* The Norco butter factory opened in 1911.

* Murwillumbah experienced major flooding in 1954 and 1956.

* In 1955 the town's first Banana Festival was held.

* The town was bypassed by the Pacific Highway in 2002.

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Visitor Information

Murwillumbah Visitor Information Centre, Tweed Valley Way, tel: (02) 6672 1340.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website - http://www.murwillumbah.com.au - and the local tourism office has its own website, with lots of information about accommodation and eating, at http://destinationtweed.com.au.

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