When it comes to travel, we often think we need to head off to far-flung foreign lands to experience untouched rainforests and pristine beaches. But just a short flight away in the land down under, Coffs Harbour on the eastern seaboard offers all of this and more, giving it the leading edge as a travel destination.
For many years, Coffs Harbour (or Coffs as the locals call it) played second fiddle to popular Byron Bay. But that is rapidly changing as this amazing destination offers a number of qualities that give it the leading edge as a nature lovers travel destination.
About a three-hour drive south of Coolangatta or a five-hour drive north from Sydney, the first thing that strikes you about Coffs is its location. The city of 75,000 residents sits on a coastal strip of land where the Great Dividing Range meets the sea giving it one of the most liveable sub-tropical climates in Australia. The region boasts more than 90km of golden beaches, most within a 10-minute drive of unspoilt rainforests and national parks—the area’s other great attraction.
Whether you are looking to check into one of the beautiful beachfront resorts or an Airbnb in the country, you will want to start exploring this remarkable area as soon as you arrive. From local cultural tours offered by the traditional elders of the land, the Gumbaynggir Nation, to checking out events such as World Rally Championships, you will be spoilt for choice.
Day One. First stop should be the Moonee Beach Nature Reserve and the famous “Look at me now Headland” an important local Aboriginal site affording amazing views of the Solitary Islands. You will often encounter large mobs of eastern grey kangaroos lazing in the sun wondering what all the fuss is about.
Palm-fringed rainforests are a defining feature of the area making it a nature lover’s paradise and to experience this in all its glory, check out Forest Sky Pier at Sealy Lookout a short drive west off the main highway. The suspended pier stands 15m above the Orara East State Forest floor and offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the coastline. Look down and you will see first-hand the lush sub-tropical vegetation which supports a significant native bird population and wildlife including koalas. Check out Treetops Nature Adventure experience—an adrenalin rush that is a favourite with both locals and visitors.
The Coffs Harbour CBD offers great shopping, in particular Harbour Drive and Coffs Central. Thursdays are particularly vibrant as locals flock to the growers’ market in City Square. Just a short drive away you will come across gorgeous coastal villages such as Woolgoolga, a coastal spot popular with surfers and which offers a great café scene. Moonee Beach, voted in the top 10 beaches in Australia and immensely popular with families, has a great local shopping plaza which includes a heated indoor pool and kids’ activity centre Lalaland. And don’t miss Sawtell—a beautiful tree lined cosy enclave—which offers an amazing café lifestyle and a string of upmarket boutiques.
When it comes to night dining options look no further than Coffs Jetty with its serious strip of eating and drinking establishments. You will no doubt see a range of local seafood on the menu as the waters off the Coffs Coast are renowned for their abundant supply and diversity of fresh fish. The local Fisherman’s Co-Op supplies the region’s top restaurants.
Day Two. Take the opportunity to drive up Waterfall Way to Dorrigo located on a plateau overlooking the region. A few minutes from the village is Dangar Falls a beautiful 30-metre waterfall set amidst scenic farmland. On your way back, don’t miss visiting the Rainforest Centre and enjoy a walk out on the Skywalk platform to experience spectacular 360-degree views of the verdant World Heritage Gondwana Rainforest.
Halfway down Waterfall Way, you will take immense delight in exploring Bellingen – a hip and trendy haven for artists and creatives that offers an incredible range of boutique shops and eateries. Worth a visit is The Bellingen Butter Factory—a cooperative for local artisans offering quality art, clothing and homewares. Or if you are in the area on the third Saturday of the month, a must-do visit is the Bellingen Community Market renowned across Australia for its array of local craft.
Day Three. You might wish to take in the beauty of country areas such as Coramba or Nana Glen and enjoy a food and wine tasting experience at Two Tails Winery or head south and explore beautiful Urunga with its spectacular one-kilometre boardwalk and wetlands. A little further south, Nambucca Heads beckons, and Shelly Beach—another popular destination named in the top 10 beaches in Australia. Head up to the lookout and you will experience views to die for as the Nambucca River estuary meets the Pacific Ocean.
Whether you are after natural scenic adventures, walks, surfing, swimming or shopping, trust me, the Coffs Coast is an amazing destination and will leave you wanting more.
Words: Robyn Simon Check out Qantas Link, Tigerair and Virgin for flights from Sydney to Coffs Harbour visit nswnationalparks.com.au