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Tweed Heads, NSW

Twin town with Coolangatta on the southern side of the New South Wales-Queensland border

In the complex tapestry of suburbs and towns that is the City of the Gold Coast, Tweed Heads is an anomaly. It is in New South Wales and although Tweed Heads and its twin town Coolangatta sprawl across the New South Wales-Queensland border there is one amusing difference. Step across the border in summertime and you will go back an hour in Queensland where they have never embraced daylight saving. Other than that idiosyncracy, both towns blend together to a point where the traveller will have difficulty telling when they are in one and when they have travelled through to the other.

The Tweed Shire is huge. It occupies the entire Tweed River valley which is bounded by the ocean to the east, the McPherson Range to the north, the Tweed Range to the west, the Burringbar Range to the south and the Nightcap Range to the south-east. In reality it is centred on the remnant of an 80 km wide extinct shield volcano and its lava flows which spreads around Mount Warning at Murwillumbah. It has become known as "Australia's Green Cauldron". The Tweed River slowly meanders through the valley before discharging into the Pacific Ocean at Tweed Heads. On the northern side of the river's estuary is a high remnant volcanic headland known as Point Danger and the southern headland is the northern tip of Fingal Head.

Apart from the Tweed River, there is also the Terranora Creek, a wide body of water with a number of small islands, which branches off the river just inside the estuary and winds its way through the urban sprawl. The Tweed Shire stretches along 37 km of coastline which is characterised by wide, sandy beaches and low headlands. While tourism is the dominant industry the area is also home to a commercial fishing fleet and the hinterland produces bananas, sugar, avocados, tomatoes and fresh vegetables for the Brisbane market.


Tweed Heads is located 822 km north of Sydney via the Pacific Highway and 104 km south of Brisbane via the Pacific Motorway. It is 5 metres above sea-level and is recognised as the southern extremity of the Gold Coast.


Origin of Name

The explorer and surveyor John Oxley reached the estuary in 1823. His exploration party took shelter during a storm in the lee of a small island off Fingal Head which Oxley named Turtle Island and which is now known as Cook Island. He named the river after the Tweed River which separates northern England from Scotland. Self-evidently it was named Tweed Heads because it is at the entrance to the Tweed River.


Things to See and Do

Walking from Boat Harbour around the Headland
There is a useful brochure (available at the Tweed Visitor Information Centre) titled Boat Harbour to Point Danger-Rainbow Bay which lists a total of 18 places of interest in a 3.8 km circuit which starts and ends at Chris Cunningham Park on the shores of Boat Harbour. It includes the Breakwater Walls which were constructed in 1891; the excellent views from Point Danger; the Captain Cook Memorial Lighthouse - built in 1970 to celebrate the bicentenary of Cook's journey up the coast and costing $180,000; the Walk of Remembrance; the site of the Snapper Rocks Sea Baths built in 1956; and the historically significant Greenmount Surf Life Saving Club at Coolangatta which was formed in 1908 with the Club House being built in 1911.

Captain Cook Memorial Lighthouse
Although technically in Coolangatta, both the Centaur Memorial and the Captain Cook Memorial Lighthouse are an integral part of the walk from Boat Harbour and, therefore, part of the experience of Tweed Heads. By any conventional measure the Captain Cook Memorial Lighthouse, which dates from 1971, looks nothing like a lighthouse. Constructed as four concrete columns - each marked with the major points of the compass - and a bronze sculpture, it looks more like a monument although it is operated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, is elevated 45 metres above sea level (20 metres above ground), and can be seen 18 nautical miles out to sea. When it was first constructed it experimented with a laser beam but this proved unsatisfactory and by around 1975 it had returned to electric lamps, mirrors and magnifying glass. There are picnic spots and a walk along the cliff-edge. Dolphins can sometimes be seen out to sea. There are views of the coastline from Surfers Paradise to Byron Bay. North of the headland the beach is continuous to the small mouth of Flat Rock Creek. It is edged by Marine Parade and there is a narrow foreshore.

Coolangatta Centaur Memorial and Walk of Remembrance
It is a little known fact that the Japanese Navy, in the shape of submarines, were very active off the Queensland and the Australian coasts. A total of forty-one Allied and Australian Naval and Merchant ships were sunk off the coast during World War II. This memorial remembers them with a combination of the Centaur Memorial (a memory of a hospital ship sunk off Stradbroke Island) and a Walk of Remembrance which has separate plaques for each of the sunk vessels. The Centaur Memorial is a small "steel pyramid on top of a 15 tonne pink granite stone from Turallin near Millmerran on the Darling Downs. The boulder symbolises the ecology, the pyramid represents the spirit of those who died in the Centaur sinking. The tip of the pyramid can be removed to expose an oil fuelled lamp which burns on the night of the anniversary of the sinking. Scrolls containing the names of those on board are also contained in the pyramid. A Walk of Remembrance leads from the memorial to the cliff top." Check out http://www.qldwarmemorials.com.au/memorial/?id=441 for more details.

Tweed River and Terranora Creek
The Tweed River's relatively narrow contact with the Pacific Ocean occurs between the breakwaters, known as North and South Head, which lie to the south of Duranbah Beach, one of the iconic destinations for surfers. The area behind the coast is a complex of serpentine, meandering waterways with small harbours and inlets, islands, marinas and boat ramps. Just inside the mouth of the Tweed River, edged by the northern shore of the river, is Jack Evans Boat Harbour which can be accessed from the Chris Cunningham Park. Beyond the Jack Evans Boat Harbour the river runs south between Fingal Head and Ukerebagh Island. To the west of Ukerebagh Island, Terranora Creek branches west off the Tweed River. This section of the river is littered with small islands until it opens out into Terranora Broadwater. On the western shore of the Broadwater is Bingham Bay which is edged by a walking/cycling track accessible off both Scenic Drive and Peninsula Drive. Cobaki Creek extends north from Terranora Creek, passes under the Kennedy Drive bridge past Lions Pioneer Park, and opens out into the Cobaki Broadwater. All these waterways are ideal for river cruises, boat hire, kayaking and creek fishing. Advice is available from Tweed Heads Visitor Information Centre, cnr Wharf Street and Bay Street, Tweed Heads, tel: 1800 674 414 and there are a range of cruises and boat hires available from Tweed Endeavour Cruises - check out http://www.goldcoastcruising.com. They offer cruises up the river as well as Tweed River Crab Catching cruises twice daily.

Minjungbal Aboriginal Cultural Centre
The Minjungbal Aboriginal Cultural Centre is located at the corner of Kirkwood Road East and Duffy Street near the Coolangatta Tweed Heads Golf Course and adjacent to the Ukerebagh Nature Reserve. The museum and the art gallery offer an insight into the traditional life of the Minjungbal people. A wheelchair-access 30-45 minute nature walk  - the Walk on Water Nature Walk - passes through sections of mangrove wetland and edges the Tweed River on a boardwalk before reaching a well-preserved Aboriginal ceremonial and sacred initiation bora ring which was once used for the ritual initiation of adolescent boys into manhood. As a sign explains: "No one today knows for sure when the clapping of boomerangs, the dull thud of possum skin drums or the women's chanting last echoed through this peaceful woodland." It is believed it was used ceremonially until either 1875 or 1910. There is interesting signage along the Nature Walk which explains the fauna, flora, bush tucker and culture of the Minjungbal people. The bora ring and other historic relics formed the basis for the declaration of Ukerebagh Nature Reserve in 1961, which has allowed the Minjungbal people to stay in contact with their traditional culture and to maintain a spiritual link with their lands. The tourist and education centre was established in 1988. It is open from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm Monday to Wednesday. There is an entry fee but the bushwalk and boardwalk are free, tel: (07) 5524 2109. It is possible to book a guide. There is a useful Minjungbal Aboriginal Walk on Water Nature Walk brochure available at the Tweed Heads Visitor Information Centre.

Tweed Heads Historical Society Museum
The Tweed Heads Historical Society Museum is located in Pioneer Park at 230 Kennedy Drive, West Tweed Heads. The complex contains four buildings: the old Tweed Heads Courthouse (1927) which was moved to the site and which contains historical records and a collection of historical photographs; the Old Soldiers Hall (1940) which contains local historical and maritime artefacts; the fishing shed of local pioneers the Boyds (1907) containing memorabilia relating to the family; and a refurbished deckhouse dating from the 1870s - a portable form of accommodation hoisted upon the decks of ships, tel: (07) 5536 8625. The Museum is open 11.00 am - 4.00 pm Tuesday to Friday and 1.00 pm - 4.00 pm Sunday and admission is free. Check out http://tweedhistory.org.au for more information. There is a detailed description of the museum at http://www.weekendnotes.com/tweed-maritime-museum.

Razorback Lookout
Razorback Lookout is located at the end of Razorback Road and overlooks Terranova Creek and has views to the south of the entire district, including, to the west, Mount Warning, a remnant magma chamber of a volcano near Murwillumbah. There are picnic-barbecue facilities and walks through the gardens and bushland. There is a good description of the views from the lookout, also known as Tom Beatson Outlook, at http://walkingthegoldcoast.com/gold-coast-walks/razorback-outlook.



* The traditional inhabitants of the area were the Minjungbal people, part of the larger Bundjalung people, who lived around the Tweed estuary surviving on the plentiful supply of food and fresh water. Each year there was an annual migration to the Bunya Mountain behind the Sunshine Coast where bunya nuts were gorged and important corroborees were held.

* Captain James Cook sailed up the coast in 1770. He was nearly shipwrecked on Cudgen Headland and chose the names of Mount Warning and Point Danger for two local landmarks.

* The explorer and surveyor, John Oxley, reached the Tweed River estuary in 1823 while scouting out a suitable spot for a penal colony.

* In 1828 Captain Rous surveyed the river, travelling about 36 km upstream. His charts describe Cook Island, previously known as Turtle Island, off the coast from Fingal Head.

* Between 1828-1829 a military post existed at Point Danger to intercept escapees heading south from the penal colony at Moreton Bay.

* Cedar cutters moved into the district from 1844. They floated logs down the river to the estuary.

* In 1844 the Commissioner for Crown Lands estimated there were 5,000 Aborigines living between Tweed Heads and Moreton Bay.

* In 1846 there were 25 men and three women living on the Tweed.

* The first European birth in the district occurred in 1851.

* By the mid-1850s a shipyard, small store and an inn had been built and a policeman appointed to the district.

* The state border was finalised in 1859 and Queensland was established as a state.

* Around 1866 Michael Guilfoyle took up 600 acres and started growing sugar cane.

* A pilot station at the mouth of the Tweed River was established in 1870.

* A customs house between New South Wales and Queensland was built in 1871.

* The area's first sugar mill was operating in 1874 near Tumbulgum.

*  The Colonial Sugar Refining Co. established itself in the district in the 1870s. It bought and subdivided farms for cultivation of the cane.

* A telegraph station was established at Tweed Heads in 1875.

* A provisional school, catering for six families, opened in 1876 on the northern side of the river estuary.

* The lighthouse at Fingal Head began operating in 1878.

* By the 1880s holiday cottages were being built and people were coming to relax and enjoy their leisure time.

* The sugar industry expanded in the 1880s and 1890s but a drop in the price, relatively harsh winters and competition caused a decline in the industry.

* In 1886 the town of Tweed Heads was surveyed and gazetted.

* Land sales commenced in 1887.

* By 1892, there were about 100 residents in the town.

* In the 1890s dairying became important.

* In 1902 a breakwater was built to stabilise the sand bar at the mouth of the river.

* The railway reached the town in 1903.

* By 1909 bananas were being grown in the district.

* A local surf club was built in 1911.

* After World War II the twin towns of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads became popular holiday resorts for people from further south.

* Neville Bonner, the first Aborigine to hold a seat in the Federal parliament, was born on Ukerebagh Island in 1922.

* The Tweed Shire was declared in 1947.


Useful Websites

The official local website, which has lots of information about accommodation and eating, is http://destinationtweed.com.au.

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