A sub-tropical climate where the mountains of the great dividing range meets the ocean, Coffs Harbour NSW 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.
As budget travellers travelling with our dog we sought to find as many free and dog friendly activities in Coffs Harbour as we could. So how did we go? Is Coffs Harbour worth visiting with your dog? The quick answer to these questions is yes.
Best Free Things To Do In Coffs Harbour
What to do in Coffs Harbour for free? Our top 10 recommendations are listed below and many are dog friendly.
Whale Watching 🐾
Whale sightings in Coffs Harbour is very common with whale number at record highs and the Humpback Whale migration taking place each year from April to November along the Australian east coast. Also the region has a number of great onshore advantage points for watching the whales.
The best land based vantage points for watching whales are the Look at Me Now Headland, the Woolgoolga and Headland Arrawarra Headland as well as the Bonville Headland in Sawtell and the Southern Breakwall. Muttonbird Island is also great however the island doesn’t allow dogs. Our tip is to take binoculars and a picnic with you as it makes the whale watching experience even better.
Big Banana 🐾
No one can claim to have been to Coffs Harbour unless they visit and get the icon photo in front of the Coffs Harbour attraction the Big Banana. The kind folks at the Coffs Harbour 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 the Big Banana cafe with everything banana and more.
Is the Big Banana dog friendly? The actual Big Banana is and your fur kid can be in your iconic photo with you. The Big Banana Cafe provides outdoor dining where dogs are welcome and you are allowed to walk your dog around the general area but dogs are not allowed into the stores or attractions on site.
Marina and Historical Jetty 🐾
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, dogs are permitted on a lead. We enjoyed walking around the area.
Coffs Harbour Jetty is an old timber jetty completed in 1892 and it is a feature of the local 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 Reserve and Lookout
Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve is a national park and for this reason dogs are not permitted. The island is accessed via the Northern Breakwall at the Coffs Harbour Marina. The island has great significance to the local Aboriginal people and we thoroughly enjoyed walking the 500m track to the top and to the far side. The top, up a steep but achievable track has 360 views and the lookout on the far side has views of the Solitary Islands and is a prime location for onshore whale spotting.
Southern Breakwall 🐾
Coffs Harbour 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. The Southern Breakwall allows dogs 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 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! We were however fortunate to watch a whale breaching from the far end of break wall which more than made up for getting wet in the rain.
Forest Sky Pier 🐾
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 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. The Forest Sky Pier is dog friendly as are the walking tracks which start at or near the pier.
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 attractions such as the Big Banana and the 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.
Coffs Creek Walk and Bike Path 🐾
Coffs Creek Walk and Cycleway is a bit under 8 kilometres in length. Of the walk around Coffs Harbour, this has a pathway that leads to many of Coffs Harbours popular attractions and is great way to get out and about. The Creek Walk is dog friendly and a map of the walk can be viewed here.
Dog Friendly Beaches 🐾
Coffs Harbour has many beaches to be enjoyed. Dogs are prohibited on some of the Coffs Harbour beaches however many allow dogs either on a lead and others are off leash. Coffs Harbour City Council has a comprehensive list of which beaches are dog friendly and those that are not. Boambee Beach and North Wall Beach Coffs Harbour were are pick for Chika as they were both close to centre of Coffs Harbour and allow dogs to be off leash.
Bonville Headland and Memorial Rock Pool, Sawtell 🐾
Sawtell is a popular seaside town 10 minutes south of Coffs Harbour. Of the things to do in Sawtell, Coffs Harbour, Bonville Headland also known as Sawtell Headland, located at the southern end of Sawtell Beach was our favourite. It 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.
North Coast Regional Botanical Gardens
Located in middle of Coffs Harbour the North Coast Regional Botanical Gardens offers beautiful scenery with both native Australian and overseas flora. There is approximately 5km of walking tracks, various gardens based around different themes (Japanese Garden, Sensory Garden and so on), a lake as well as a cafe and various events held throughout the year. It is best to check their website for more details. Unfortunately the gardens are not dog friendly.
Recommended Low Cost Attraction
The Bunker and National Cartoon Gallery
The Bunker 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.
There is no cost for having a look at the outside of The Bunker however to really get an understanding of it and its history it is necessary to visit the Bunker Cartoon Gallery. The gallery along with visiting and permanent exhibitions has an informative video to watch which provides some information that is known about the Bunker. We found the video very interesting both about the bunker and how close the war came to Australia.
At a cost of only $6 for an adult and $4 for a child the gallery is well worth a visit.
Low Cost Camping Coffs Harbour 🐾
We were unable to find any free campgrounds in or near to Coffs Harbour. Coffs Harbour Leagues Club provides low cost and dog friendly camping in Coffs Harbour. Maximum stay is 7 days and prices are $10 per night for tents with no power or water, $15 per night for caravans, motor homes and camper trailers with no power or water or $20 per night for caravans, motor homes and camper trailers with power and water (prices correct as of January 2020).
All in all we enjoyed our stay in Coffs Harbour. We had a great time, made some awesome memories but somehow Coffs doesn’t feel like your typical coastal holiday destination. It is in reality a city, an Australia major regional city with lots of people, housing estates, an airport, plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants. In balance we had no difficulties finding plenty to do outdoors, for free or with our dog Chika.