Coffs Harbour is a beautiful coastal city located on the north coast of NSW packed with things to do.
Travel writer William Verity provides this guide to some fun-filled adventures and activities to engage you and the whole family.
1. The Big Banana.
Created in 1964 as an advertisement for banana growers, this was Australia’s first ‘big thing’ and spawned an industry that – some might say – is running out of control. The Big Merino, the Big Crab, the Big Captain Cook, the Big Mango … even the Big Joint. Some tourists base their travel plans around big things, the way others collect temples or Roman ruins. Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it. And the chocolate covered frozen bananas on sticks are pretty tasty too.
2. Rally Australia.
The best rally car drivers in the world will be visiting Coffs for a four-day event starting on Thursday September 12. The flagship event will be the World Rally Championship, taking place over 22 individual stages and 350km of Forestry Corporation bush tracks. The skill of these drivers is simply extraordinary – speeds of up to 200km/h are common and – unlike Formula 1 – there is no prize money. The town will come alive at night with a 1.6km stage around a stadium at night, for those who prefer a party atmosphere. Details: rallyaustralia.com.au.
3. Swimming with dolphins.
Although it’s not cheap – packages cost between $160 and $600 per person – this really is an experience of a lifetime. Dolphin Marine Magic (formerly Pet Porpoise Pool) is like the better-known Seaworld, but smaller and more intimate. You are kitted up with a wetsuit and taken through the paces by a dolpin trainer. You can touch the animals, hug them, play with them – even hang on for dear life as they swim with you on their back across the pool.
Top tip: For those with a more limited budget, there are also two dolphin and seal shows a day. You’re guaranteed to walk out with a smile on your face. Details: dolphinmarinemagic.com.au.
4. Diving with sharks.
The diving and snorkeling around the Solitary Islands Marine Park has to be seen to be believed. This is a place where the famous Eastern Australian Current (as featured in the movie, Finding Nemo) comes in close to the shore. It is also where temperate waters meet the sub-tropical waters of southern Queensland. The result is a profusion of marine life including the rare, reclusive but perfectly harmless grey nurse sharks.
5. Whale watching.
One of the great environmental success stories of recent times has been the return of the whale. Where they were once a rare sight, it now not uncommon to see 60 or 70 whales heading south to their Antarctic feeding grounds at this time of year. It would appear that they often use the coast around Coffs as a resting place, and a teaching place – where the parents teach their calves how to hunt. If you can, try to dive into the water and hear the extraordinary whale song. It’s an experience you won’t forget.
The Bonville Golf Course has been awarded the nation’s best golf resort and its most beautiful. A round is not cheap – around $120 for 18 holes – but you’ll be in good company. Visit the clubhouse and you’ll see dozens of framed portraits of the sporting and entertainment celebrities who have played the par 73 course. While you’re there, don’t miss the restaurant – awarded a chef’s hat in the 2013 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide awards.
7. Scenic helicopter flights
The airport is set right in the middle of town, so a helicopter ride is an easy option. This part of the NSW coast is particularly scenic, backed by rolling green hills and a rich river system. One popular trip would be to South Solitary Island, about a couple of kilometres off-shore, where you can visit the lighthouse and historic keeper’s quarters (built in 1880 and automated in1975). It is only one of two island lighthouses in NSW and the first and last to light using kerosene. This trip is only available out of bird-nesting season.
8. Scenic lookout.
The Forest Sky Pier Scenic Lookout offers a birds-eye view over Coffs and is a great way to orient yourself. Right now, it’s fairly basic though there are plans to build the nation’s longest flying fox ride down the hill at the back. That would be something.
9. Segway golf.
While not of the same elite standard as the Bonville course, the Novotel Pacific Bay Resort has a course that is better suited to novices. Best of all, it’s possible to forget about a golf cart and jump on a Segway instead for your nine-hole game. These intuitive electric platforms on wheels are safe, fun and feel very sci-fi. The inventor may have died on one, but don’t let that put you off. He was pushing it way beyond any limits you’ll meet at Coffs.
10. Museum of Interesting Things
This testament to actor Russell Crowe’s eccentricity (and ego) is an hour’s drive into the Coffs hinterland (or a beautiful 20-minute helicopter trip) and is next to the historic Nymboida Coaching Station – where you can eat and drink in beautiful rural surroundings. The museum is an eclectic mix of ‘Crowe-abilia’ from costumes he wore in movies, to a recreation of the largest stage coach ever built in Australia.
11. Moonlight canoeing
You don’t have to go at night – bookings are possible any time – but messing around on the Bellinger River by the full moon is an experience not be missed. Just up the road from the quaint village of Bellingen (think Byron crossed with Noosa), Bellingen Canoe Adventures. Your guide will be Daniel Freuden also connects with troubled teenagers on these tours and is about as laid-back a character as you’ll ever come across. Some of the simplest experiences can also be some of the most powerful. Details: canoeadventures.com.au.
While you’re around Bellingen, treat yourself to a meal at Mouza. This is a restaurant with soul, that specializes in fresh, local and seasonal produce cooked in style influenced by Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. The restaurant is attached to an organic fruit and veg shop and is decked out in beautiful, hand-carved Indian furniture. Details: mouza.com.au.
There is so much to do around Coffs that it can be tempting to pack your days with events. Research has shown that people see Coffs Harbour as the home of the traditional beach holiday. A place where memories are made. The town is big enough for cafes and shopping, but small enough to be accessible and relaxed. Some of the best times on any holiday are unscripted and – even better – they don’t cost a thing.
By William Verity. The author’s visit was supported by Destination NSW and Coffs Coast Marketing.