Where to live: Bellingen?

We’re planning on leaving Sydney in the next year or so, due to starting a family and needing a 4-bedroom house. But where to move to? The choice is overwhelming. In this series of posts, I explore a plethora of possible places – many of which we’ve visited – in an attempt to reach some sort of conclusion. First up – Bellingen.

Bellingen is a vibrant country town nestled in the middle of the Bellinger Valley, south-west of Coffs Harbour, NSW. We first heard of it through some friends of ours; their son lives in an intentional community just outside Bellingen proper.

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For such a small town – population: 3,000 – Bellingen is a truly happening place. It has a famous jazz festival; lots of great cafes and restaurants; two good pubs; a very strong community feel; and a bit of an “alternative” culture (think Glastonbury in the UK, or Sydney’s Newtown). It also has a bit of history, with some lovely heritage buildings in the town, and the scenery is simply stunning. Just the kind of place we’re after, in fact.

Cafe dining, Bellingen

It’s also nice and close to Coffs Harbour, which – while nothing special – does at least have decent-size shops and facilities, and is a pleasant enough seaside town. Some of the other smaller seaside places near Bellingen are lovely too.

The good, the bad, and the floodly

So what’s not to like? Well, for one thing, Bellingen is 5 hours’ drive away from Brisbane and a whopping 7 hours’ drive away from Sydney. That’s a long, long way from our friends and my work contacts in Sydney. It also means that Cat would be far from a big city for her Bowen therapy work – although, as Bellingen is into alternative therapies and the like, this might not be such a big deal.

Also – Bellingen gets floods. Now this is by no means a unique phenomenon; most of the northern NSW coast gets flooded on a regular basis. However, Bellingen seems to get it pretty bad. I recently downloaded the State Emergency Service’s FloodSafe Guide to Bellingen and, frankly, it gives me the willies. For example, quoting from the leaflet:

“The flood of record was in November 1870 when the Bellingen River peaked at 11.55m resulting in severe flooding in Bellingen. Floods exceeding this height should be viewed as inevitable and would rise more rapidly and have faster flowing floodwaters.” (Emphasis mine.)

It then goes on to list the streets – practically half of Bellingen by the looks of it – that would be inundated in a severe flood. Not that Bellingen even needs a severe flood; a moderate flood is enough to split the town in half and isolate it from the rest of the country. Not good. (And building towns next to rivers seemed like such a good idea a hundred years ago…)

It’s mainly these two factors – miles from anywhere, and somewhat flood-prone – that put me off Bellingen somewhat (though it’s still in our top ten). If it wasn’t for these things, I’d move there like a shot. Can we move Bellingen to a hill just outside Sydney please? 😉

12 Responses to “Where to live: Bellingen?”

  1. jordan Says:

    hello, i’m 14 and i’ve been living in urunga for approx. 11 years.
    urunga is the on the coast directly east of bellingen.
    i go 2 bellingen high which is an ok school, but there are a few christian/private schools in coffs.
    i would agree when it floods it can get pretty bad, but we dont get them that often, and unless you live pretty close to town, you should be alright.

    If your kids are serious about sport i wouldn’t suggest bellingen, or really any of the north coast. there isnt really any good sporting facilities around.
    im a sprinter and the closest tartan track is at newcastle!!

    well the good points about bellingen i believe for a kid would be:
    good environment (beach close, river, swimming holes, trail riding etc)
    more freedom
    good community
    lots of music/festivals
    no school when it floods lol

    bad points:
    need better sporting facilities
    lots of raves/parties
    drugs easily accessible
    merv the ranger(cranky guy)

  2. Matt Says:

    Thanks for your comment Jordan. It’s great to hear about a place from someone who’s grown up in the area. Thanks for the useful info about the flooding too. I guess the floods do have their good points!

    We did really love Bellingen and the general area when we visited. Perhaps one day, when we’re not so reliant on a nearby big city, we’ll end up moving there. (And we’ll keep an eye out for Merv, too! lol)

  3. Josh Says:

    I lived in Bellingen for most of my high school years (1999 – 2002).
    While it’s a very beautiful place,like most small towns there’s not a lot of job opportunities and most people end up moving away.

    For a retiree or someone who doesn’t have to worry about establishing a career, you can’t go past Bellingen. Properties in Gleniffer and other surrounding areas are awesome.
    Yes, it does flood once a year but it’s more of an inconvenience than a safety and/or property damage issue.

    Drugs would have to be your main concern as just about everyone grows or smokes weed and also magic mushrooms are in abundance in many of the paddocks down by the river.

    Putting those things aside, there is no other place like Bellingen; it’s an experience that I will always remember.

    Ahh Merv… still the bane of Bellingen’s youth.

  4. Matt Says:

    Very interesting Josh. Thanks for adding your comments! It’s wonderful to get all these first-hand points of view on Bellingen.

  5. Mel Says:


    We left Sydney 18 months ago and came to Bellingen. It had been a 5 year project to get up here. My partner and i have two young kids and we shuddered to even consider bringing them up in Sydney. Sydney’s great when your in your 20s and focused on going out, but it would hellish at any other stage of life, in my opinion – hence we hit our 30s and left.

    Bellingen has been fantastic. As long as you can find a place to live that isn’t damp, (or flood affected) its heaven on earth. We have made lots of friends, the kids love it here and every morning i look out my window and thank the universe for being so blessed.

    Sure, when the kids get older, we’ll have to encourage them to spread their wings and try living in a new place, becuase as someone said earlier, employment is an issue, but it’s the sort of place that a kid could always call home no matter how far their wings took them. A safe haven to come home to.

    As for the floods, i think they’re exciting. The BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) website is my home page now days. Since moving here, it’s the first time i’ve ever really cared about the weather. The floods bring a sense of excitement to town and remind you of how cool nature is.

    I’d love to know what other places are on the top ten. I lived for a couple of years in the Eurobodalla Shire on the south coast, and if i wasn’t here, that’s where i’d be. Heaven on the south coast.

    And by the way, Merv has just retired.

  6. Carla Says:

    My husband and I moved to Sydney from NZ nearly a year ago and we too are investigating a move away from the city and burbs. Trouble is hubby still works in Crows Nest, at least a few days a week, so need to consider doable commutes. We’ve got 3 little tots, so bringing up kids is an issue. Trying to pick a spot is overwhelming when you don’t know the country.
    We loved the Blue mountains and thought we might look into Glenbrook. Anyone else with more thougts on the mountains? Its been so interesting reading everyone’s comments so far!

  7. Matt Says:

    @Mel: Good on you for the Bellingen move – sounds like it’s working out great for you! The Eurobodalla area is lovely, though I think it would be too far away from a big city for us.

    @Carla: It is hard to pick an area when you’re new to the country isn’t it. And the rest of Australia is so different to Sydney – almost like the two are in separate countries! The Blue Mountains are beautiful, but I’m not sure they’re the right place for us (too far from the beach for one thing). I’d imagine Glenbrook to Crows Nest could be a bit of a slog – test it out in peak traffic time! Also I think the lower mountains are of a very different character to the upper mountains (eg Leura) – much hotter in summer for example.

    Anyway, the big news for us is that we’re finally moving – to Robertson in the Southern Highlands! More info here:


    Only 6 weeks to go – can’t wait!!

  8. Mark Opie Says:

    I agree; we`ve recently moved to `Bello` from the UK and I would actively like to discourage anyone else from moving here.

    Apart from being in the Middle of Nowhere in the 8 weeks we`ve been resident we`ve already been subjected to HUGE floods of biblical proportions.

    Not only that but when you`re not being half drowned to death by apocalyptic weather you`re having to dodge your way round swaths of `obviously deviant`new age bohemians,most of whom would probably
    benefit from a prolonged spell in her majesty’s armed forces.

    No; You`re quite right STAY AWAY I`m sure there`s are much nicer places
    to live in Sydneys crowded suburbs!

    Cheers Mark

    PS. I`ll be staying on for awhile (probably 20 to 30 years) just to see if there`s anything I can do to put things right.

  9. Margaret Says:

    I would love to hear your continued updates on Bellingen. Having lived in Sydney, Blue Mountains, Adelaide, Mount Compass (half way to Victor Harbour), Coonabarabran, Inverell and at the moment, Canberra, we are in the preliminary stages of where to go for retirement.

    Bellingen pops up as one of the desirable places. (I was born in Derby and came out in 1973). We have a few places on our list and nothing is set in concrete, but the idea of somewhere green is definitely on our list. Next is a reasonable proximity to the coast but checking the heights above sea level on Google Earth is something we have been looking at.

    Keep us up to date on what you are doing.

    Bye Marg

  10. Leah Says:

    Hi there,

    thanks for writing this, it is really great to read the comments and get some personal insights about the Bellingen area. And Mark, how great that you and your family found somewhere you love!

    My partner and I are about to pack all our things into a shipping container to store while we spend up to 6 months on and near the East Coast to try and find somewhere to settle and start a family. The areas surrounding Bellingen are ear-marked as definite possibilities. We began looking on the South Coast of NSW as a compromise as my partner is originally from Sydney and I am a Melbournite. But I have agreed to explore further North, because it really does look like heaven!

    I am wondering if anyone can give any insights into these areas around Bellingen… Bowraville and Missabotti? As we are looking at buying acreage, we are happy to be out of town a bit (sounds wise seeing as everyone is commenting on the raving hippies 😉 ) and these pockets look beautiful to me. As far as floods go, I understand that it is mainly the towns themselves that flood, being in the low-lying areas, so we would make sure the property itself was flood free.

    any comments much appreciated, I can’t wait to have a look!


  11. Denise Says:

    I have lived in Bellingen for the past 21 years, coming from Wollongong with my husband and two young boys. Our boys have since grown and yes, they have moved away, but they love to come home to the community that welcomed us back them. They often comment on their idealic childhood in this wonderful town, which I’m sure contributed to their creative talents and ‘realness’ as human beings. We have lived out of town and in town at various times, and have not ever been bothered by the floods – actually it’s a very social time and a time where we think of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful environment where water is plentiful. I’m sure that no matter where you live in this point in time there will be drug issues. I am a local teacher, and I am so proud to say I have taught countless intelligent, loving and talented children in our town. We are privileged to live in such a supportive and vibrant community. You’ll love it – hope it doesn’t grow too big though!

  12. Matt Says:

    @Leah: Sounds like quite an adventure! I hope you find somewhere suitable. There are lots of beautiful spots up and down the east coast. Do let me know how you got on with your trip.

    @Denise: Thanks for relating your Bellingen experience. It’s great to hear from someone who moved there and stuck around. Funnily enough we moved to somewhere not far away from Wollongong in the end! (https://tgo.elated.com/2008/07/16/were-moving-to-robertson/) But maybe one day we’ll move to Bello. It’s so beautiful up there.

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