Local’s guide: Coffs Harbour

muttonbird
muttonbird

Coffs Harbour is a booming coastal capital that hasn’t forgotten its surfer roots. Then there’s the divine hinterland, whales and a rather large banana.

Highlights
  • Woolgoolga Lake
  • The Big Banana
  • Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve
  • Dorrigo Rainforest Centre

Perfectly positioned halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, Coffs offers an ideal blend of New South Wales country charm and laidback Queensland lifestyle. The surrounding Coffs Coast remains blissfully undeveloped and you can find endless hidden beaches or sleepy country villages entirely devoid of tourists. At the same time, there’s a buzzing dining scene, watersports galore and even a classic family holiday throwback that is sure to make you smile.

Where to eat

When the grungily Gothic Dark Arts Coffee Academy opened in late 2016, locals were quick to brand it a little piece of Melbourne in Coffs Harbour. Even celebrity local Russell Crowe tweeted about its charms. They take their espresso seriously, using premium, high altitude beans from around the world and roasting them in house to create signature blends. The kitchen turns out Mediterranean and Asian inspired dishes with a focus on vegetarian and vegan options.

South of Coffs in the tiny village of Valla, The Beach House Providore is a classic beach kiosk with a modern twist. The healthy and wholesome fare is made on the premises using fresh local ingredients. On sunny weekends, crowds spill out onto the footpath.

The Coffs Harbour Fishermen’s Co-op has been on the foreshore since the 1950s and still serves the best seafood in town. There’s a full menu or pick out anything you like from the huge display and have them cook it for you.

Coffs Harbour is decidedly a pub town, but there is one lively small bar down at the jetty. Element Bar serves up craft beer, colourful cocktails and American style bar food alongside live music.

Where to play

There are almost 100km of golden beaches running the length of the Coffs Coast, but the locals know that the best swimming is to be found inland. The Coffs hinterland is dotted with sparkling freshwater swimming holes and waterfalls, perfect for a secluded dip. Try Never Never Creek running through Glennifer, near Bellingen, or Scouts Falls in the Sherwood Nature Reserve close to Woolgoolga (although be prepared for a 15 minute climb through the riverbed). The Magic Pools on Friday Creek are a closely guarded secret and you’ll have to ask around for directions.

Coffs Harbour is one of the few places in Australia where you have the chance to swim with whales. Jetty Dive has been operating whale watching tours in the Solitary Islands Marine Park just off the coast for many years and recently introduced swimming with the whales. The boat heads out from the marina and once a suitable pod of humpbacks is spotted you can snorkel with these majestic creatures.

You can’t go to Coffs without paying a visit to the Big Banana, Australia’s original “big thing”. Although it’s undeniably a tourist trap, there’s actually a lot of fun to be had with a water park, giant slide, ice skating rink, laser tag and more. And, of course, there’s still the big banana itself, a classic photo op for every traveller.

What to learn

A holiday is the perfect time to pick up a new skill. The Cheesemaking Workshop is part of the Big Banana complex and runs interactive classes that will teach you how to create camembert, feta, ricotta, Greek yoghurt and more. The workshops are both fun and practical, and you’ll be able to transfer your new techniques back to your own kitchen.

If craft is more your thing, head to arts and craft shop Weave in the bohemian village of Bellingen. Run by creative locals Anna and Tiff, Weave offers regular adult classes in knitting, crochet, sewing and doll making. They also often have special kids’ classes during school holidays.

Where to stay

The stylish four star NRMA Darlington Beach Holiday Resort, 25 minutes north of Coffs Harbour, has a huge range of facilities: two swimming pools, a spa, two giant jumping pillows, BMX bike track, two tennis courts, a nine hole golf course, slides, games area and more. The fully licensed Ponds Cafe is open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or you can grab a quick snack from the kiosk. Choose from camping and caravan sites (some with private ensuites), safari tents and spacious villas.

Image credit: Olga Kashubin

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