Local’s guide: Coffs Harbour

coffs harbour

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.

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

Perfectly positioned halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, Coffs Harbour 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.

The Coffs Harbour and NSW North Coast community has been impacted by bushfires, floods and COVID-19 – please check the places you plan to visit before setting off. Please also be a responsible traveller: if you feel unwell, stay home and do not visit these communities and businesses.

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. Also check out Shearwater for some top notch modern Australian food, where NRMA Members get 20% off the bill.

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.

If breathtaking waterfall walks, picnic spots and excellent birdwatching are your cup of tea, make sure to spend a day at Dorrigo National Park. The Waterfall Way is renowned as one of NSW's most beautiful scenic drives and it reaches its highest point at Dorrigo Mountain. The area is packed with beautiful stopovers, like tranquil Dangar Falls, the world heritage Gondwana Rainforest and Australia's most easterly vineyard, Raleigh Winery. It's a lovely area to self-drive and soak in all the local culture but if you fancy a more relaxing journey with a tour guide, you could join the Dorrigo Scenic Tour From Coffs Harbour.

Or if you feel like something a little more active, get outdoors and blast through the treetops in the Australian bush at the Coffs Harbour TreeTop Adventure Park! Test your physical and mental strength while having a giggle with friends tackling the rope ladders, cargo nets, walk the wobbly bridges and zoom around on the zip lines.

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.

For bushwalkers, Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve is a must see with spectacular views in every direction and an abundance of wildlife. From Coffs Harbour, follow Harbour Drive, then take Marina Drive to the waterfront and marina. Long before the island was connected to the shore, certain Gumbaynggirr people were the only ones permitted to venture here. They came to collect muttonbirds for food, protected for their survival by a giant moon-man guardian. This fascinating Dreaming story and many others are explained in detail at the award-winning Muttonbird Island outdoor learning space.

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. NRMA Members can take advantage of stay 4, pay 3, or those hitting the road for a shorter stay can still save 10%.

Image credit: Olga Kashubin

Stay 4 nights, only pay for 3

or save 10% on shorter stays at NRMA holiday parks and resorts.