I found myself in Coffs Harbour completely by accident! Well, sort of. After spending four weeks in Narrabeen (one of the northern beaches suburbs of Sydney) and succumbing to a dose of gastro, I missed my flight to Cairns and had to quickly come up with a ‘Plan B’. I’m finding that happens quite a lot when you’re traveling, especially traveling with gut health issues and anxiety – you need to be able to think quickly and come up with a new plan when things go a bit squee-wiff.
So after applying for a few different HelpX Homestays, I was invited to stay with Anna & Kayne and their two young kids in a northern suburb of Coffs Harbour, on the New South Wales Mid North Coast. I’ll post more on my actual HelpX experience in another separate blog. I arrived just over two weeks ago. I’ve had such an incredible time exploring Coffs Harbour and the Coffs Coast that I felt I absolutely must write a full blog about it. So here goes!
Coffs Harbour is a small town in regional mid north New South Wales and although you might have heard of it, it’s not somewhere that most people stop off on the East Coast travels of Australia, especially if your time is limited. I’m hoping I might change your mind or change your East Coast plans by writing this blog about the Coffs Coast.
Moonee Beach / Emerald Beach / Sapphire Beach
These little village suburbs with their beaches and reserves are definitely worth a visit, even if you just drive from one to the next to have a look. Or take a picnic and enjoy one of the many shaded picnic areas and BBQs, park up for the day with your family and enjoy the nice shallow water, no surf and perfect for the kids to paddle in.
Look At Me Now Headland
Take a short and easy stroll from the car park and you will be rewarded with spectacular 360-degree views of the coast from this beautiful headland. There is no shade here at all, so be careful if it’s a very hot day – make sure you wear a hat if you are intending to stay here and take in the views for a bit longer.
Take a short drive from Coffs and spend an hour or two at Sealy’s Lookout. You will be able to take in yet another stunning view from the Skywalk platform, which extends out over the canopy of the forest below. There are a couple of short-medium rainforest walks that you can do from here too.
The Big Banana
Probably the most famous of Australia’s large fibreglass structures, the Big Banana is just a short drive North of town, sitting on the edge of the Pacific Highway you can’t miss it! The complex is really geared towards kids but we just popped in to have our photograph taken in front of the banana! We may have bought some sweeties from the sweet shop there – lots of hard candies made on the premises. They’re so bad for you, but also so good for the soul. Treat yourself to some Coffs Harbour rock. If you have children and are traveling as a family, then I reckon this is a must visit!
Coffs Jetty and Harbour-side
I would suggest that you head down to the Jetty and Harbour area on the weekend when it is a little bit busier – the atmosphere is just lovely. When I say busy, I don’t mean crawling with people. Busy for Coffs, which is still fairly quiet in comparison to somewhere like Circular Quay in Sydney!
The Harbourside markets are on every Sunday morning and I had a great morning browsing the stalls. There are lots of local creatives here selling everything from clothing they have designed and made themselves, to local photographers selling stunning photographs. Of course there are the usual food stalls too – not much for the Coeliacs amongst us though, so beware of that!
When you’ve finished browsing the markets, take a walk along the Jetty and then a little bit further to South Coffs Island. I stumbled upon this little walk by accident and I highly recommend you do it! Park your car in the car park and take the gravel path (it’s very narrow) around the edge of the island. You’ll see a less worn path, take that one and continue up and around the edge. Note: you will need sturdy footwear here as it is an uneven surface with sheer drop to one side – don’t attempt this in flip flops! The views from here are well worth the short hike.
Refuel with some delicious healthy food from The Happy Frog who serve up the best selection of healthy salads and hot food all from locally sourced and organic ingredients. The coffee is amazing, and don’t miss out on a slice of their chocolate macadamia brownies – the best I’ve ever tasted! This cafe is very Coeliac friendly and great for those with sensitive tummies, offering a small range of clearly labeled low-FODMAP options too.
Red Rock Reserve
Turquoise lagoon waters that sparkle in the hot sun are what you will find when you arrive at Red Rock. The landscape here took my breath away, it is mesmerising. I will copy a little exert from my handwritten journal here that I wrote when I was there:
“I’m sitting at a place called Red Rock Reserve right now, looking out at a beautiful turquoise lagoon. The water is sparking in the sun, there are people out fishing in their kayaks but I am alone – not another soul on the shore. I can hear the water hitting off the rocks – it sounds like someone is paddling but there is no one there. There are lots of tiny little fish darting around in the water at my feet.”
Again, there are lots of areas to picnic here if you wanted to make a day or even an afternoon of it. There is also a short boardwalk that I suggest you walk along, off of which there are lots of little secluded spots to park your butt and read your book if you are alone and enjoy peace and quiet. I was hard pushed to find anywhere on the Coffs Coast that was even remotely busy, so you’ll be able to enjoy a relaxed, calm and quiet atmosphere in most places, even at weekends!
Plan to spend a whole morning or afternoon here (or an entire day). If you can’t afford the time, please just make sure you don’t miss it. An hour or two will suffice if you’re really pushed for time. The Urunga Boardwalk is a must – take your time and meander along this incredible structure whilst enjoying the spectacular views. First of all, you will pass the banks of the Kalang River which joins with the Bellingen River further along, leading right out to the ocean. From certain points on the boardwalk you will be able to see ‘Picket Hill’ in the background (which has one of the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories attached to it – you can read about it on one of the information boards along the way). Gawp at the Great Dividing Range sitting majestically in the backdrop and marvel at the jaw dropping views until you reach the end of the boardwalk – but don’t stop here! At the end of the boardwalk you’ll have the opportunity to walk down onto the beach – if you have time, get those shoes off and dip your toes in water.
I’ll be honest, I probably didn’t see as much of Woolgoolga as I’d have liked to – but there were two highlights here for me. The first was finding a lovely CrossFit family at King Tide CrossFit . It’s really important to me to find places to train alongside traveling because my mental health really suffers if I don’t, and I’m so glad I found this place! The workouts were challenging and fun but most of all the people were friendly, welcoming and made my time here really enjoyable. If you’re on the coast and want to keep CrossFitting – then check these guys out!
The second was a buzzing little cafe called Bluebottles – a super relaxing little bistro style cafe right around the corner from the reserve. Any time I’ve been or walked past, it has been absolutely buzzing. Serving up specials and a full menu that is packed full of fresh produce – don’t miss the seafood! They also do takeaway which is nice if you just want to grab some food and go sit by the beach. A lovely atmosphere and again, very friendly for those of us with sensitive guts.
Dorrigo, Bellingen and Promised Lands
I’m wondering if perhaps I need to write a completely separate blog for this section – there is so much to see and do. Let’s start with how to get there. My friend Jane and I booked an airbnb at Promised Lands in Gleniffer for the weekend and drove The Waterfall Way from Coffs to Bellingen and then on to Promised Lands Road to our accommodation. Our airbnb host Nigel gave us a few tips on what to do – it’s always good to get tips from the locals and that’s what I love about booking airbnb accommodation as opposed to hotels.
Bellingen is a small regional town boasting original buildings that will take you back in time; it has a very ‘alternative’ vibe. We spent some time in the Bellingen Brewery and ate lunch there. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was too. Gluten-free friendly options are available. If I didn’t need to eat gluten-free then I would most certainly have tried one of their home made wood-fired pizzas, so make sure you don’t miss out on these if you’re in Bellingen! The Brewery is tucked behind the main street so make sure you don’t blink and miss it.
We had breakfast at The Old Butter Factory and spent some time there looking around their shopping outlets. This place has a really modern menu with specials on offer and the food looked really great! Unfortunately their only gluten-free option was sold out and I ended up with bacon & eggs that I didn’t really enjoy (it was soggy) so I’m not sure I can fully recommend this place for my GF friends!
Have a browse of The Yellow Shed while you’re in town – you might just find a little hidden treasure to take home with you. There are hundreds of books, lots of jewellery and what must be thousands of other things. Impossible to explain, just go and have a quick (or not so quick) look. If you’re looking for gifts to take home, then you might find something here.
If you enjoy hiking and would like to see some of the beautiful waterfalls in the area, then head to Dorrigo National Park and do The Wonga Walk (or part of it). We did the full circuit (6.6km) and it took us 2 hours 15 minutes in total, and that was stopping to take photos and breathe in everything that the beautiful rainforest has to offer. You will encounter two waterfalls on this walk – the Tristania Falls and the Crystal Shower Falls, both of which are incredible. I think we were lucky to have visited whilst the area was having a lot of rain because the falls were flowing full force! When you get to Crystal Shower Falls, you can actually go behind the waterfall and into the small cave – incredible!
A little tip from our airbnb host that I want to pass on – take a dip in the Never Never Creek (quite famous in these areas!) by driving on Promised Lands Road and parking up next to one of the bridges. A quaint and quiet little spot where you can enjoy a refreshing swim in the freshwater creek. It’s freezing cold, but we enjoyed cooling down here after a day in the rainforest!
So there you have it! I spent just over two weeks on the Coffs Coast but you could easily do all of this in one week or less. I promise you – if you enjoy nature, rainforest hikes, beaches, beautiful scenery, quiet and calm atmopheres, good food and coffee then Coffs Coast is an absolute must on your East Coast journey. If partying, nightlife, drinking and sleeping all day is your thing – then probably best avoid! Haha.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my ‘Things To Do in Coffs Harbour’ blog – I would love if you could share it!