Ideally situated half-way between Sydney and Brisbane, Coffs Harbour is a popular stop along the Legendary Pacific Highway. But it’s more than just a town, and the real beauty of the destination lies within the surrounding Coffs Coast region with fantastic beaches, small towns, and National Parks all within a short drive.
Travel expert, Craig, gives you 10 things to do for those looking to spend a few days, or even a week, in the region.
1. Muttonbird Island
One of my favourite things to do in Coffs Harbour is the walk up to the top of Muttonbird Island. You could be forgiven for thinking you’re actually in Ireland, not Coffs Harbour, as the green landscape and rugged cliff face draws up memories of our time spent in the Emerald Isle.
At the top you get incredible views up and down the coast and over the mountains, and it’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the sun go down over the Marina. Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve is also great for bird lovers as it’s one of the only easily-accessible places in NSW where the migratory wedge-tailed shearwater nests.
2. Coffs Harbour Marina and Jetty
If you’re into boats or simply enjoy towns with a marina and jetty, Coffs won’t disappoint. At the entrance to the jetty precinct there’s a collection of cafes and restaurants and on Sunday’s is the jetty markets. The Marina Village also has cafes, restaurants a fish co-op and an ice creamery. The Sailing Club is a good spot to have a drink and watch the surfers and sun go down. And the marina is where the whale watching boats depart from in season (June to November).
3. Diggers Beach
Talk to the locals and they will undoubtedly suggest Diggers Beach, especially if you have kids, as it’s sheltered and wide making it a nice place for your kids to swim and play on the sand. It’s also a popular surfing spot for the locals or for a wind-free beach walk.
4. Macauleys Headland Walk
Whilst in the Diggers Beach area, check out the Macauleys Headland walk which runs between Diggers and Park Beach. You can start at either end and you’re rewarded with spectacular views of the ocean and of both beaches. Suitable to all fitness levels with plenty of spots to take a rest and watch the surfers doing their thing.
5. Butterfly House
Our kids are mad on butterflies and loved The Butterfly House in Bonville. Here you can get amongst 400 butterflies in an indoor subtropical rainforest setting as they fly around with many of them even landing on you making it one of the easiest places to photograph a butterfly. Once you’re done chasing butterflies, there’s a maze to explore in the side garden.
6. The Big Banana
Easily the most touristy place in Coffs Harbour is the Big Banana, it’s one of those famous Big Things we have going on here in Australia and you don’t need much time here, but it’s worth a short stop to learn about the history and for a family photo. You can’t miss it as you head north out of town, although the older I get the less impressive it becomes in size. For me (and possibly our kids) the best thing about the Big Banana is the banana split sundae from the cafe.
7. Visit Sawtell
Sawtell is a lovely little town 15 minutes south of Coffs Harbour. The picturesque main street is divided by impressive fig trees and lined with plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops serving up good coffee and food. Seasalt is popular with the locals for takeaway fish & chips, and the Surf Club Cafe on the beach is great for a meal with uninterrupted beach views.
The beach here is family friendly, especially toward the southern end which has a nice tidal rock pool area and Sailors Bay, an area sheltered by a small island which can be reached at low tide.
Laid-back Bellingen is a must-visit in the valley and only a 30 minute drive on the Waterfall Way from Coffs. Bellingen has an artistic feel and lively cafe scene (I recommend Black Bear Cafe) and a pleasant tree lined street with a river running through town. If you time your visit right, don’t miss the Bellingen Markets which are one of the biggest and best regional markets in Australia - held every third Saturday of the month!
9. Dorrigo National Park
Dorrigo makes for a great day trip from Coffs Harbour. Continue on past Bellingen and up the Waterfall Way, 65km (1 hour by car). Drop in at Dorrigo town for a coffee and then visit nearby Dangar Falls. Dorrigo is the gateway to Dorrigo National Park where you can enjoy waterfalls and rainforest walks – including an elevated Tree Top walk starting at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre.
Also recommended is the walk to Crystal Shower Falls (you can walk behind the falls) and the Glade Picnic area is a nice spot for lunch.
10. Red Rock Beach
One of the best local tips I received was to visit Red Rock Beach, a tiny but beautiful village an easy half an hour drive (40km) north of Coffs. The beach is absolutely stunning - make sure you climb up the cliff on the northern end for a top view! Your kids will love playing in the gentle water and collecting shells on the beach, and if you’ve got time explore the many beaches, lagoons, and swamps in the area.