Enjoy the subtropical climate, tranquil rainforests and clean uncrowded beaches of Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales north coast.
By Stephanie Williams & Georgia Rickard
Located halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, the subtropical climate, tranquil rainforests and clean uncrowded beaches of Coffs Harbour ("Coffs" to locals) make it one of the most popular family holiday destinations on the New South Wales north coast. With natural attractions, adventure activities and cultural pursuits in equal measure, Coffs Harbour works well for singles, couples and families. It’s also a good halfway point between Sydney and Brisbane if you’re road tripping along the Pacific Coast.
- Snap a selfie with the Big Banana
- Dive or snorkel the Solitary Islands Marine Park
- Follow the Arts & Culture Trail
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Top things to do in Coffs Harbour
See the sights of Coffs
Coffs Harbour is edged by forest covered hills and leafy banana plantations on one side, and golden coloured beaches on the other, and the best way to take it all in is at Sealy Lookout, a 10 minute drive from the city centre. Here you'll find the aptly-named Forest Sky Pier, a purpose-built "pier" that juts out 21 metres (68 feet) from the lookout and hovers 15 metres (49 feet) above the forest floor. It offers superb views of the city, beaches and coastline and is a great way to orient yourself with the landscape.
Follow the Arts & Culture Trail
Originally a thriving timber production town, Coffs Harbour has become known for its banana plantations, that thrive in the warm, sub-tropical weather. Follow the Arts & Culture Trail to learn more about the history of Coffs Harbour and see some of its beautiful gardens, architecture and art. The majority of the trail can be explored over several days on foot, but neighbouring towns such as Bellingen and Urunga are also itinerary options.
Eat at the Fishermen's Co-op
Stroll along the foreshore promenade of popular local spot Jetty Beach and you'll see an old timber jetty worth exploring. The Fishermen's Co-op shop, located on the jetty, has been owned and run by 45 local fishermen since 1950 and sells freshly caught seafood at very affordable prices. Order its wildly popular fish and chips and watch the fishing boats unload fresh catches, then stroll to the very end of the jetty, which connects the mainland to Muttonbird Island. Here you can learn about the area's local history on a free guided tour with an Aboriginal ranger, or simply admire the spectacular 360 degree views of the Pacific Ocean, islands, marina and mountains.
See the Big Banana
You can't miss the The Big Banana when you're here. Adjacent to the highway, this enormous replica of the yellow fruit was Australia's first "big thing", kick-starting a playful national trend for building various enormous replicas. (Australia now has more than 150 such monuments: The Big Pineapple, The Big Golden Guitar and The Big Mango). The Big Banana Fun Park is home to a water park with four large thrill slides, a toboggan ride, mini golf and a café (try its chocolate-covered frozen banana).
Enjoy the many family-friendly activities
Coffs Harbour is an excellent destination for families. Take time out at Butterfly House and stroll among hundreds of live Australian butterflies in a beautiful indoor rainforest. Kids aged six and older can swim with dolphins and seals at Dolphin Marine Magic, while younger kids, or those who prefer not to swim, can still get up close to a seal and dolphin with a Meet the Stars experience. If you're seeking action and adventure, learn to surf with Lee Winkler's Surf School. Winkler is a legendary local surfer who spent 15 years as a pro on the world tour. There is also white water rafting adventures to be had on the nearby Nymboida River with Wildwater Adventure. You can also take a 4WD tour along forest tracks or explore the countryside on horseback or mountain bike, soar over the beaches and mountains of the Great Dividing Range on a scenic helicopter flight, or try the thrill of tandem skydiving over the beach with Coffs Sky Divers.
Get in and on the water
Warm waters and a rich variety of marine life make Coffs Harbour a delight for scuba divers, snorkellers and fishermen. The Solitary Islands Marine Park is the third largest marine protected area in New South Wales, extending 75 kilometres (46 miles) along the coast. It's an excellent spot for both beginners and experienced divers to explore. Between May and November watch humpback whales from a headland or lookout, or join a whale-watching cruise for a closer look. Jetty Dive will take you out to see the whales, and they can also help you with dive courses and charters. You can see dolphins surfing the waves all year round. The Coffs Coast is also renowned for its excellent fishing. Cast a line from the beach or jetty, or join a fishing charter with Cougar Cat 12 or Coffs Coast Sport Fishing for a deep-sea fishing adventure or eco estuary tour.
Enjoy a little luxury
Check in to the luxurious Liapari Beach House with direct access to beautiful Sapphire Beach, or try the Novotel Pacific Bay Resort just outside the city centre. Nautilus Resort is about 10 minutes north of Coffs Harbour and has a range of delicious dining options such as Latitude 30 for modern Australian dining with a view and Saltwater Cafe, a favourite with locals. Back in town, Fiasco Ristorante does a great woodfired pizza and has an award-winning wine list.
Take a day trip
Coffs Harbour is a great base for setting out on day trips. Dorrigo National Park, part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area has stunning scenery millions of years in the making. You can also easily explore the pretty riverside town of Bellingen. One of the highlights here is the Old Butter Factory, where you'll find a great café open for breakfast and lunch, as well as shops and independent galleries. At Macksville enjoy top-notch fishing and boating. The nearby town of Urunga has two interesting galleries to visit: Sharkey Fibre Art and Island Art Shop and Studio.
How to get there
Coffs Harbour is 540 kilometres (335 miles) north of Sydney and 400 kilometres (248 miles) south of Brisbane, and a popular place to stop when driving between the two cities. Trains operate daily from Sydney and Brisbane; several domestic airlines connect Coffs Harbour with Sydney and other Australian cities.