Bellingen is an easy 30 minute drive from Coffs Harbour so it makes a great day trip for a bit of quiet shopping in a town with an alternative lifestyle background and a definite laid back feeling.
Our first stop on the way into town is an amazing deli and café called Atelier’s on Waterfall Way. It has an awesome selection of deli items, ready made salads, kitchen ware and general gourmet produce. It was a little too early for eating so I purchased some Dariole Moulds for some up coming pudding recipes and some labneh and pancetta for later.
We continued on to the iconic “Old Butter Factory” which has long since been retired, and now houses a multitude of little art and craft shops. It is a quant little place with relics of machinery from days gone by scattered about the grounds. I perused the menu of the café it was fairly simple and I knew there would be more on offer in Bellingen.
The smell of leather beckoned next and we were able to watch as handbags and other items were being made in the workshop attached to the showroom. It was very interesting and the finished products in the store were beautiful, obviously all the bags, belts, shoes in the store were made on site, and in true Bellingen style they were modern and fashionable, I particularly loved a gorgeous lime green handbag…
The art gallery was our next stop. The gallery showcased all different mediums, photography, oil paintings, watercolours, glass fused pendants and charcoal drawings. The exhibition changes regularly and showcases local talent.
We looked in three or four more little stores including a woodworking store which we had a quick look in. Then we arrived at the largest store which was an “antique” shop, this may be of interest to some people but the smell of cat urine in the carpet was too much for me and I was happy to move on.
We drove a little further along Waterfall Way and stopped and the Yellow Shed. It is a well known “tourist attraction” in Bellingen, popular for its arts and crafts. After bit of a poke around we decided it was very predictable, and full of alternative style souvenirs but nothing of real interest.
Driving into the main street of Bellingen the first thing you notices is the big trees lining all the streets and side streets. It is a very picturesque town with restored buildings housing a multitude of independently owned stores and cafes. True to Bellingens alternative ethos there is not a franchise store in sight which means the contents of every store is unique and I am looking forward to seeing what we uncover.
We take a car park in Church Street outside the “Old Church” which now houses three trendy boutique stores. The first is a nursery called Natural by Design, there is a little kitchen and home wares shop, and a café called AVE Bellingen. I am already getting a bit hungry so I check out the menu as we pass. There are a number dishes which start my tummy grumbling, such as the Baked Eggplant Gratin, and the Roasted Pumpkin Fettuccini, but as it is still early we decide to do a bit of shopping and have check out a few more menu’s first.
We head down to the main street hoping to take a look in the Mouza Gallery and Restaurant, but as it was a public holiday it was closed. Mouza Gallery has a range of unique crafts, jewellry, clothing, silks and bags which are sourced from different locations around the world but with a decidedly Middle Eastern feel. The food follows along the same slant and I was looking forward to road testing the menu. So it was a little disappointing, although it does give us a reason to return at a latter date.
We head down Hyde Street and uncover a store called Wunderland which is a quaint little giftware store. Children are well looked after here with hand made rag dolls, little decorator items for children’s rooms, hair clips and a children’s clothing range.
The next shop we visit is called Ships of the Way Gallery, although it has a small entrance and hallway, the gallery opens into three large rooms showcasing works of art in various mediums. There were some great photographic images and abstract oil paintings in the end two rooms which were displayed beautifully with sculptures and period items.
Chic on Hyde was our next stop, this store has a surprising range of clothing brands for women such as Metalicus, Calvin Klein, Jag for women, they also sell beautiful old style toys for children, lovely tin tea sets for little girls and a wooden range of toys for tots. As you wander through you realize there isn’t too much this shop doesn’t have, there are decorator items for the house and some lovely gift ideas, some hand styled jewelry. It is a gorgeous collection, and the shop really sets the scene for what we can expect in our travels.
The emporium is another huge two storey shop which houses everything from fashion, men and women, giftware and Tribal Art! The displays are beautiful and the temptation is to leave with bulging bags.
Driving through the town previously I had fallen into the trap of thinking, old buildings equals old style shops but I have been mistaken. There are more fashion brand names, beautiful giftware and unique home wares here in this one little street than I have seen in most other places we have visited.
We have a quick look in the surf shop and Gecco, and ecologically sustainable gift and children’s shop, but I am hungry by this time and I am more interested in looking at menus.
There are quite a lot of food choices starting with the Bellingen Gelato Bar, The Little Red Kitchen which is a pizza and pasta Takeaway, working our way down the street we pass a bakery and a another café, we reached the restored Federal Hotel and decided to have a look inside at the menu of the “Relish Bar and Grill”
The atmosphere out on the deck of the Federal Hotel was fantastic, with everyone enjoying the public holiday and the sunshine, but there is barely a seat in sight. I had a look at the menu, there was a lot of standard pub fare such as your steak sandwich, chicken wrap ect, which I didn’t really fancy today. I looked down the menu and notice a marinated char grilled octopus on Asian noodles with greens which sounds more like me, but we decide to continue looking, so we keep going down the street.
All the little laneways house little boutique shops and deli’s. One such shops was the “Heathfire Deli”. They have a great selection of gourmet produce and readymade picnic idea’s, I grabbed a few choice selections for another day and then went back to the task at hand.
We walked pass the Bellingen Tuck Shop gourmet takeaway, café and catering but I am looking for something a little more special.
We take a walk down Church Street where there are a number of alfresco style cafes, there are plenty of people enjoying a meal under the fig trees at the Black Bear and the Bakery we have a look in at Ruby 2 Café & Books, Guru Food and little vegetarian alternate café with old style lounges and period pieces.
I guess the truth for me was that I was sold on the idea of the Baked Eggplant Gratin at the AVE Bellingen, in the old Church so we head back to take up a seat at the huge tables in the church.
The church itself is an awesome building with the pitched internal ceilings, wooden floor boards, stained glass windows and arch hallways. The décor has scatterings of little period display, such as the tea cups below, an old piano with enamel pots on top and various antique lounges and cupboards.
We have a leisurely meal and notice how quickly the time has passed. The shops are located in only two streets, but we have wiled the day away shopping and browsing the galleries in a relaxed manner and it is two thirty already!
I am surprised out how many galleries, shops and cafes can be found in this relatively small town. Bellingen also holds a market day every third Saturday of the month.
If you plan to stay a little longer there are a number of beautiful accommodation ideas.
Lily Pily Bed & Breakfast is an award winning B & B with views over the mountains and river. It is located just 3.5km from Bellingen town. Prices start from $180 per night which includes a home baked afternoon tea, and a lavish gourmet breakfast. This is a destination in itself with art lessons available, the option of a 3 course silver service dining experience, packed picnic hampers and Beauty, Remedial Massage and spa treatments in the comfort of your own suite.
The Promised Land Cottages are set on 100 acres which backs onto the Never Never River just 12km outside of Bellingen. These are quiet self contained cottages set in a beautiful tranquil environment. The tariff is $220 per couple per night and mountain bikes are provided for the more energetic guest to explore the area.