This historic fruit-growing centre on NSW’s north coast is also a holiday destination for generations.
Coffs Harbour has magnificent sandy beaches, fun family attractions and abundant nature, thanks in part to the offshore Lonely Islands Marine Park.
Ecotourists will marvel at the plant and animal life at the intersection of tropical and temperate ocean currents, and from May to November, humpback whales take a short break offshore on their long migrations off Australia’s east coast.
Connected to the historic harbour is an island home to thousands of wedge-tailed gulls every summer, and every Sunday on the waterfront is a farmers’ market filled with creative and eco-friendly businessmen.
1. Forest Sky Pier
The Coffs Coast is the only area in NSW where the Great Dividing Range meets the Pacific Ocean.
You’ll find some unforgettable scenery at Sealy Lookout, just a short drive from Coffs Harbour past banana plantations.
In Orara East State Forest, the Sky Pier is located on a cliff, 310 meters from the coast, and juts out more than 20 meters from the edge of the lookout.
Needless to say, the views are breathtaking and span the city, the Lonely Island Marine Park and the entire Coffs Coast.
Visit on a clear day and extend no less than 100 km to the south.
You can also spend some time exploring the rainforest on a track of your choice, complete with cafes, picnic tables and shelters by the lookout.
2. Big Banana Paradise
The largest amusement park between Sydney and the Gold Coast is in Coffs Harbour.
Big Banana Fun Park has been in business since 1964, taking shape among banana plantations.
The landmark walking giant banana could be the first monumental “event” scattered across Australia.
Fun park nature and many more, such as the incredible 82m Racer water slide, ice rink, toboggan run, 4D simulator, mini golf, play area playground, reptile attractions, children’s water play area, Laser tag, the list goes on.
Call in for a chocolate banana at the café, or discover over 200 different cheeses at the Cheesemaking Workshop & Deli, which also offers classes and tasting sessions.
3. North Shore Regional Botanical Gardens
Bordered on three sides by the waters of Coffs Creek, the Subtropical Botanic Gardens in Coffs Harbour is the most beautiful botanical garden in northern New South Wales.
Covering more than 20 hectares, you can walk into the rainforest, Japanese garden, sensory garden, natural forest and mangroves, exotic tropical plant collection and the main display area condensing the entire garden into one hectare space.
There are also five different greenhouses for growing orchids, ferns, bromeliads and plants from dry climate zones.
You can reach the North Shore Regional Botanic Gardens within a few minutes’ walk of the CBD, which has a busy calendar of events culminating in the Multicultural Harmony Day in March.
4. Lamb Bird Island
The causeway, which acts as a breakwater north of Coffs Harbour, will take you to this steep green island at the southernmost tip of Lonely Island Marine Park.
First and foremost, Muttonbird Island is a great vantage point where you can look out over the isolated island on the east side, and back to the Coffs coast and hilly hinterland.
Watch the ocean and you might see stingrays, turtles or dolphins popping up.
But there’s more to do here: The island gets its name from its thousands of wedge-tailed gulls or lamb birds that migrate each year to feeding grounds in the Philippines but breed on the island in summer.
Outdoor learning spaces introduce you to the role of the island and its winged inhabitants in Aboriginal culture.
5. Butterfly House
The Butterfly Pavilion is open year-round and sees more than 400 Australian butterflies at any time.
This is an indoor subtropical rainforest setting, rich in palm trees and ferns, with the chance to see butterflies in flight, courtship, mating, sipping nectar or landing on your hands.
The best time to see these colorful insects is from 10:00 to 14:00, when they are most active.
In addition to the Butterfly House, there is a live insect exhibit where families outside can try to solve the walled maze.
6. Park Beach
Coffs Harbour’s most popular beaches are north of Coffs Creek and Dolphin Marine Conservation Park.
Patroled almost all year round, this is a large open beach with typical white sand and dune walls that line the gentle curve of the coast.
Open to the Pacific Ocean, Park Beach is popular with surfers who know how to handle themselves, although you still need to watch out for a strong rip near the mouth of the creek.
On the banks of Coffs Creek is the Park Beach Reserve, which has plenty of natural shade, BBQ areas, picnic tables, children’s playgrounds and grassy areas.
7. Seaport Market
There is a lively weekly shopping event every Sunday from 08:00 to 13:00 at Coffs Harbour’s historic pier and foreshore. This is an opportunity to support local growers, farmers and artisans who sell fruit and vegetables, olive oil, macadamia nuts, cut flowers, fresh bread, handmade cosmetics, pottery, jewellery and more at dozens of stalls.
Whether you like hamburgers, desserts, Thai food or creative vegan food, there’s fresh food to take away and you can watch live music, one-off events and street performances every week.
8. Diggs Beach
Walking distance from the Big Banana, this sandy beach is located in a bay, isolated from the open sea, with Diggers Head to the north and Macauleys Headland to the south.
Those headlands leave Diggers Beach with only mild winds and gentle waves, suitable for novice surfers.
The beach is also shallow and those waves are far away, which is great news for swimmers.
On land, you can enjoy the parkland of the foreshore, which has barbecues and an elevated gazebo for bird watching or views.
9. Clog Barn
There’s a slice of Holland in Coffs Harbour, and this Holland-themed attraction opened in 1984 with a caravan park. Overseen by the Hartsuyker family and their patriarch Tom, The Clog Barn has grown over time since then.
The clogs are cut and painted the traditional way, and you can watch a free demo to see how it’s done.
Tom is also responsible for the canals, working windmills and gabled houses of a model Dutch village that have been hand built over the past 35+ years.
Afterwards, head to Big Oma’s café for “Dutch” comfort food ranging from pancakes to Dutch ham and eggs.
10. Coffs Harbour Marina
The old timber pier on the pier will take you back to the early days of Coffs Harbour, where ships would dock in the late 19th century to load timber from the town’s hinterland.
Now it’s a place to relax, take in the natural beauty of Coffs Harbour, go fishing from the pier or go whale watching by boat.
The marina has a fleet of fishing boats, so be sure to drop by the Fishermen’s Co-op for super fresh fish and seafood, or fish and chips on the spot.
At the bottom of the pier you’ll find yourself in an elevated park with great coastal views, multi-use trails and numerous cafes, and just south of the sheltered pier beach.
11. Lonely Island Aquarium
This animal attraction is located at the National Marine Science Center at Southern Cross University.
You can visit on weekends and school holidays to find out what makes Lonely Island Marine Park so important to marine wildlife, without getting wet! In a large, beautifully rendered saltwater tank, you can peer into these ecosystems and observe over 60 species of fish and 20 different species of invertebrates.
Some of the stars are anemone fish, blue tangs and super smart octopuses, while in the touch pool you’ll find sea cucumbers, sea urchins and starfish sensations.
All of these species are accompanied by explanatory information and interactive displays.
12. Coffs Creek Trail and Bike Trail
What makes Coffs Harbour special is the bushland that runs along the creek, which will make you feel like you are in the wilderness just a short walk from the CBD.
You can stroll or bike through the environment on the 8.6-kilometer Coffs Creek Trail and Bike Trail, which runs through gum and palm trees at the water’s edge and has a section along the boardwalk.
The track is also a useful way to travel between attractions in Coffs Harbour, such as the Botanic Gardens, Park Beach, Historic Pier and Dolphin Marine Conservation Park.
13. Lonely Island Coastal Walk
From Red Rocks in the north to Salter in the south, the 60km Lonely Island Coastal Walk allows you to experience all the wonders of the Coffs Coast.
Considered one of the most scenic trails in NSW, this trail beckons you through rainforest, wraps around spectacular rocky headlands and dreamy sandy beaches.
You never have to go too far until you reach your next friendly seaside village, and in any season you may see dolphins surfing the beach.
14. National Cartoon Gallery
An authentic WWII-era underground bunker has been converted into Australia’s only gallery dedicated to comics.
In an awe-inspiring, fully accessible space, this gallery houses a collection of over 23,000 Australian comics.
Some of these outstanding works include original illustrations or lithographs by Stan Cross, Percy Lindsay, Jim Russell, Monty Wedd, Mark Lynch and Emile Mercier, among others.
The schedule features ever-changing exhibitions, movie nights, workshops, live performances and more for all ages.
You will also learn about the history of this unique building and its conversion into a gallery.
15. Whale Watching
From May to November, tens of thousands of humpback whales migrate along the coast of New South Wales on their way to and from Antarctica.
A retreat in calm waters, Lonely Island Marine Park is where you can catch a glimpse of these beautiful giants and their calves.
With any luck, you’ll see one burst out, and a pod of bottlenose dolphins will show up any time of year.
Now, if you’re patient, you can stay on land, pack a pair of binoculars and head to lookouts like Muttonbird Island, Look at Me Now Headland, Arrwarra Headland and Woolgoolga Headland.
But to get a closer look, you can also use one of the many cruise operators in Coffs Harbour, such as Pacific Explorer, Jetty Dive or Cougar Cat 12 Charters.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Coffs Harbour, Australia
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