Woolgoolga Curry Festival Whether you approach the town from the North or South the diverse nature of Woolgoolga is immediately obvious. The town is adorned at one entrance, by the iconic white temple of the Sikh community and at the other entrance, you will be greeted by two large, ageing elephants. For a town of 4,500, Woolgoolga is quite multicultural, being home to the largest Sikh community in Australia. It should come as no surprise that the little town hosts an annual curry festival.
The Curry Festival is a big day in the seaside village’s calendar. The Sikh and Punjabi community get the opportunity to showcase their cuisine and culture to the community.
It is pleasing to note that in some little towns things don’t change. Woolgoolga must be one of the last remaining places you will still be required to greet every person you pass in the street, if only with a friendly nod, or a comment on the weather.
Today we are here for the Woolgoolga for the Curry Festival. The fragrant heady smell of spices wafts through the air as we walk towards the sound of the beating drums on the beach reserve. I can’t help but notice the Indian-influenced shops selling Sari’s, jewellery, and other speciality ingredients for cooking.
The town has come alive today, and we arrive as a throng of people surround a brightly coloured drum procession. It proceeds down the main street amidst dancing and clapping. We make our way to one of two main stages and enjoy the Punjabi Groove Master’s as they blend the cultural Punjabi music with an electrified Western-influenced set, the dancing has started and the spirit of the town is apparent.
The festival has all the glitz of Bollywood itself. The local community is dressed in gorgeous Sari’s and traditional jewellery, the men have chosen boldly coloured turbans and traditional dress. We are surrounded by the rich sights, smells and sounds of the Indian community.
When the Punjabi music finishes my attention turns to satisfying my craving for the delicious curries on offer. It is impossible to decide where to start. I notice that all the local Indian takeaways and restaurants are represented by make shift stands to serve their thick, creamy curries, but there is so much more.
Local Indian families are also serving their own home cooked curries. A large percentage of Indians are vegetarians so there is an interesting choice of homestyle Vegetarian Curries, Dahl, Roti, Samosa and traditional desserts such as Gulab Jamun, and of course the popular Butter Chicken and Lamb Korma are present in a multitude of stands. My aim is to try as many food choices a possible but unfortunately, my stomach is full all too soon. I take my groaning belly and retire defeated to the grassed reserve.
I have timed my sojourn to perfection as “Jade Mirage” appears on stage to treat the audience to an amazing Belly Dancing performance. The two dancers are mesmerising, and I watch in awe as a sword is balanced on the dancers head throughout the act. I am secretly pleased there is no audience participation required as I am content to allow my own stomach the opportunity to relax.
Once the performance concluded we did another tour of the stands, the kids enjoyed and ice-cream and a play on the jumping castle and we wander back to the car. It has been a full day, the town has turned on a great show!
Whilst the town is decidedly busier than usual, there are so many other reasons to visit the area. The best activities revolve around the beautiful beaches, which are of course completely safe and unspoilt.
For swimming Woolgoolga Main beach is ideal, it is patrolled by surf lifesavers so naturally swim between the flags. Arrawarra Beach to the North of Woolgoolga and Emerald Beach to the South also make great beaches for a quick dip. They are situated in semi-protected bays which makes them ideal for little ones.
For a bit of surfing the local favourites are Woolgoolga Back Beach, which can be viewed from the headland, above the town and Arrawarra Headland Beach, which is also affectionately known as “spot X”.
Between the months of May and November Whale watching is a pastime enjoyed by the locals on a daily basis. There is no need for a boat here just take a picnic up on the headland and enjoy the 250 degrees seascape views as the whales swim in close to the point.
If fishing interests you then perhaps try your hand at a little Jew fishing off the beach.
For a change of pace, Lake Russell Gallery is a quiet little oasis just off the highway to the South of Emerald Beach. The gallery showcases both visiting and local artist exhibitions. Wander and admire the unique arts and crafts the gallery has to offer, perhaps make a purchase for a more lasting memory of your visit to the area. Make sure you take the time to enjoy a tranquil coffee in the garden café. Perhaps the kids could take a canoe out on the lake while you enjoy a leisurely lunch or morning tea.
Booking accommodation close to the beach means you can enjoy a romantic evening stroll along the water’s edge, or a glass of wine on the deck as you listen to the waves breaking. Lake Russell Gallery also has three luxury cabins available by the lake. Unfortunately, the Lake Russell Gallery has since closed its doors, there are plenty of great accommodation options around Woolgoolga, like these Beach Bungalows, or book a night in one of these Executive Apartments.
Today we have had our fill of authentic curry from the festival stands, but a great choice for breakfast is Bluebottles Brasserie. The breakfast menu is exceptional with my favourite dishes being the Banana Pancake with Honeycomb and the Corn Fritter Stack with Bacon, Avocado and Chive Cream Dressing. Restaurants and cafes in Woolgoolga are a relaxed affair and all are within walking distance from the beach and accommodation.
If a romantic evening meal is the order of the day then take a short drive to Emerald Beach where you will find Saltwater. The restaurant overlooks Emerald Beach and also has beautiful accommodation upstairs. If you’re lucky you may even witness a local pod of dolphins playing in the waves.
We have barely scratched the surface of this pristine area. Woolgoolga and the surrounding beaches are the ultimate recharge destination when you only have a weekend to free yourself from the stresses of everyday life. Life is just slower here, take the time, and enjoy the difference.