A sub-tropical climate where the mountains of the great dividing range meets the ocean, Coffs Harbour is a place of great natural beauty. Located mid way between Sydney and Brisbane, with a domestic airport and international marina, Coffs Harbour is also a bustling major regional centre with restaurants, cafes, galleries, shopping centres and lots of tourist attractions.
It was some months ago that we stayed in Coffs for three nights and staying with friends. It was also not our first time visiting the area but had been a long time since either of us had been or really played tourist so we got out, seeing and doing as much as we could.
What We Did – 3 Days in Coffs Harbour:
Our time in Coffs Harbour was during the big Humpback Whale migration north which happens each year from April to November along the Australian east coast. This, along with whale numbers at record highs and the Coffs Harbour region having a number of advantage points for spotting the whales from land, which as someone who gets HIDEOUSLY seasick this is a huge advantage, we took all opportunities we could to see them. We were able to enjoy watching whales putting on displays – breaching and tail splashes – at Bonville Headland, Sawtell and the Southern Breakwall.
The Big Banana
No one can claim to have been to Coffs Harbour unless they visit and get the icon photo in front of the Big Banana. The kind folks at the Big Banana help you out by providing specially positioned stands to place your camera for the perfect photo using your camera’s timer. Of course we got ours.
This isn’t all there is to do at The Big Banana. The Big Banana Funpark is a hub of activities and things to do. There is a water park, a giant slide, a toboggan, mini golf, a cheese factory, a lolly shop where twice daily lolly making demonstrations are held, as well as a cafe with everything banana and more.
Marina and Jetty Area
Coffs Harbour Marina is an international marina and the precinct surrounding it boasts park lands, cafes, restaurants, speciality stores and more. Hundreds of sail and other boats moored at marina, it is a sight to see and we found it to be an interesting place to meander. Also if you have a dog like us, they are permitted on a lead. We enjoyed meandering about the area.
The old timber Jetty completed in 1892 is a highlight of the Coffs Harbour landscape. In the water around and under the jetty we saw a lone dolphin swimming, a lovely way to end that particular day.
Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve is national park and is accessed via the Northern Breakwall at the marina. The island has great significance to the local Aboriginal people and we thoroughly enjoyed walking the track to the top and to the far side. The top, up a steep but doable track has 360 view and the lookout on the far side has views of the Solitary Islands and is a prime location for onshore whale spotting. Sadly for us there were no whales to be spotted on the day we visited the island, still it was well worth it. The views were amazing.
The Southern Breakwall was raised in recent years using 12 tonne concrete blocks to help protect the harbour from big seas. The breakwall has a concrete path wide enough for walkers and bike riders, again dogs are allowed on lead. Despite the breakwall being raised it is still advised not to use the walkway during high seas as waves have been known to come over the top and and could potentially sweep someone away. The seas were relatively calm for us but it rained heavily and in the moment the skies opened we realised there was no shelter from the rain. Oh well, at the end of the breakwall we got to watch a whale breaching before it continue swimming north.
Forest Sky Pier is located at Sealy Lookout within the Bruxner Park Flora Reserve in the Oranan East State Forest, a 20 minute drive from the centre of Coffs Harbour. Forest Sky Pier is a viewing platform 310m above sea level with spectacular far reaching views of the Coffs Harbour region and out to the ocean. There surrounding area has a number of walking tracks also to be enjoyed as well as picnic tables and toilets. It is all free.
The day we went the view was clear. We were able to see far out into the ocean and able to spot some of Coffs Harbour’s key features such as the Big Banana and the International Marina. The drive to the lookout was along a mountain road through banana plantations and avocado farms. We recommend taking some coin and buying yourself some bananas and or avocados from the one of the roadside stalls.
Bunker Cartoon Gallery is in a restored authentic World War 2 bunker and is one of a series of bunkers built in the Coffs Harbour area. The full history and purpose of the bunkers is not known as much of the information about them has been lost. At the Bunker Cartoon Gallery there is a video to watch which provides some information that is known. We found the video very interesting both about the bunker and how close the war came to Australia.
The Bunker Cartoon Gallery has both visiting and permanent exhibitions and events from time to time. We enjoyed a series of political cartoons expanding a number of decades during our visit.
At a cost of only $5 for an adult and $3 for a child the gallery is well worth a visit.
Bonville Headland and Memorial Rock Pool, Sawtell
Sawtell is a popular seaside town 10 minutes south of Coffs Harbour. Bonville Headland also known as Sawtell Headland is located at the southern end of Sawtell Beach and is a brilliant spot for whale watching. We made ourselves comfortable on the grassy hill side on the headland and with our binoculars (although many could be seen with the naked eye) we were fortunate to see numerous whales passing by, and many who put on displays of breaching and tail slapping. One of the best days on our travels so far!
The Memorial Rock Pool, a war memorial, is located at the south end of the headland. It is a lovely example of an ocean pool with great views of the sea.
All in all we enjoyed our stay in Coffs. The friends who kindly gave us room to stay in their house were incredibly gracious. Still as a holiday destination Coffs was just okay. We had a great time, made some awesome memories but somehow Coffs doesn’t feel like a real holiday destination; we didn’t get that true holiday vibe. It is a city, with everything a city has – too many people, lots of housing estates, traffic (but way less than Sydney), noise and so on. It also has places of beauty, housing is affordable (especially when compared to Sydney), transport is good, there is an airport, plenty of shops and services, there are beaches and much more. So if you were looking for somewhere to live with everything you’d ever need, that isn’t Sydney or Brisbane, Coffs could be a high contender in our opinion.