This historic fruit-growing centre on the North Coast of New South Wales has also been a cherished holiday getaway for generations.
Coffs Harbour has sublime sandy beaches, fun family attractions and nature in abundance thanks in part to the Solitary Islands Marine Park just offshore.
Ecotourists will be wowed by the plant and animal life at the place where tropical and temperate currents meet, and from May to November humpback whales take a breather just offshore on their long migrations down the east coast of Australia.
Attached to the historic harbour is an island inhabited by thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters every summer, while every Sunday on the foreshore is a farmers’ market brimming with creative and eco-friendly traders.
1. Forest Sky Pier
The Coffs Coast is the only region in New South Wales where the mountains of the Great Dividing Range meet the Pacific Ocean.
This makes for some unforgettable scenery, as you’ll discover at the Sealy Lookout, a short drive up from Coffs Harbour through banana plantations.
Here in the Orara East State Forest the Sky Pier is set atop an escarpment, 310 metres above the coast and projecting more than 20 metres over the edge of the lookout.
Needless to say, the views are sensational, rolling out over the city, the Solitary Islands Marine Park and the entirety of the Coffs Coast.
Visit on a clear day and the view south extends for no fewer than 100 kilometres.
You can also spend some time exploring the rainforest on a choice of tracks, while there’s a cafe, picnic tables and a shelter by the lookout.
2. The Big Banana Fun Park
The largest amusement park between Sydney and the Gold Coast is right here in Coffs Harbour.
The Big Banana Fun Park has been in business since 1964, taking shape on a banana plantation.
The landmark, walk-through Big Banana may have been the first of the monumental “Big Things” that are dotted around Australia.
Naturally there’s much more to the fun park, like the incredible 82-metre Racer water slide, a skating rink, toboggan ride, 4D simulator, mini-golf, a fun zone amusement arcade, a reptile attraction, kids’ aqua play area, laser tag, the list goes on.
Call in at the cafe for a chocolate-coated banana, or discover more than 200 different cheeses at the Cheesemaking Workshop & Deli, which also offers courses and tasting sessions.
3. North Coast Regional Botanic Garden
Coffs Harbour’s subtropical botanic garden is bordered on three sides by the waters of Coffs Creek, and takes its place as the most beautiful in northern New South Wales.
Covering more than 20 hectares you can step into rainforest, a Japanese garden, a sensory garden, natural forest and mangroves, an exotic collection of tropical plants and a prime display area condensing all of the garden into a one-hectare space.
There are also five distinct glasshouses, for orchids, ferns, bromeliads and plants from arid climate zones.
You can get to the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden within a few minutes on foot from the CBD, and there’s a busy events calendar culminating with the multicultural Harmony Day in March.
4. Muttonbird Island
The causeway that serves as Coffs Harbour’s northern breakwater will lead you to this steep green island at the southernmost end of the Solitary Islands Marine Park.
First up, Muttonbird Island is a great vantage point, where you can look out to the Solitary Islands on the east side or turn back and survey the Coffs Coast and hilly hinterland.
Watch the ocean and you may see a stingray, sea turtle or dolphin popping up.
But there’s much more going on here: The island gets its name from its thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters, or muttonbirds, which migrate each year to feeding grounds in the Philippines, but breed on the island in summer.
The Outdoor Learning Space tells you about the role of the island and its winged residents in Aboriginal culture.
5. Butterfly House
A year round attraction, the Butterfly House is aflutter with more than 400 Australian butterflies at any one time.
This is an indoor subtropical rainforest environment, rich with palms and ferns, and with the chance to see butterflies flying, courting, mating, sipping nectar or landing on your hand.
The best time to come to see these many-coloured insects is between 10:00 and 14:00 when they are most active.
Complementing the butterfly house there’s a live bug exhibit, and outside families can try to solve the walled maze.
6. Park Beach
Coffs Harbour’s favourite beach is north of Coffs Creek and the Dolphin Marine Conservation Park.
Patrolled almost year round, this is a big, open beach with typical white sand and a wall of dunes tracking the gentle curve of the shore.
Being open to the Pacific, Park Beach is loved by surfers who know how to handle themselves, although you’ll still need to look out for the strong rips near the creek mouth.
Lining the banks of Coffs Creeks is the Park Beach Reserve, blessed with lots of natural shade, barbecue areas, picnic tables, children’s playgrounds and grassy spaces.
7. Harbourside Market
On the historic jetty and foreshore at Coffs Harbour there’s a thriving weekly shopping event every Sunday, 08:00 till 13:00. This is a chance to support local growers, farmers and crafters at dozens of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, olive oil, macadamia nuts, cut flowers, fresh bread, handmade cosmetics, pottery, jewellery and a whole lot more.
There’s fresh food to take away, whether you’re up for hamburgers, sweet treats, Thai or creative vegan cuisine, and every week you can check out live music, one-off activities and street performers.
8. Diggers Beach
Walking distance from the Big Banana, this sandy beach is in a bay shielded from the open ocean by Diggers Head to the north and Macauleys Headland on the south side.
Those headlands leave Diggers Beach with only gentle ocean breezes and moderate waves that will suit newbie surfers.
The beach is also shallow and those waves break a long way out, which is good news for littler swimmers.
On land you can enjoy the parkland on the foreshore, where there’s a barbecue and elevated pavilion for bird-watching or just soaking up the scenery.
9. The Clog Barn
There’s a piece of the Netherlands at Coffs Harbour, in the form of this Dutch-themed attraction opened to accompany a caravan park in 1984. Under the watch of the Hartsuyker family and its patriarch, Tom, The Clog Barn has grown a lot since that time.
Clogs are cut and painted in the traditional way, and you can watch a free demonstration to see how it’s done.
Tom is also responsible for the canals, working windmills and gabled houses of the model Dutch village, which he has hand-built over the last 35+ years.
Afterwards, head to Big Oma’s Coffee House for “Dutchstralian” comfort food from pancakes to Dutch-style ham and eggs.
10. Coffs Harbour Jetty
The old timber jetty at the marina will take you back to Coffs Harbour’s earliest days, when ships would dock here in the late-19th century to be loaded with timber from the town’s hinterland.
This is now a place to take it easy, take in Coffs Harbour’s natural splendour, go pier fishing or set off on a whale watching cruise.
There’s a fishing fleet in the marina, so be sure to drop by the Fishermen’s Co-operative for ultra-fresh fish and seafood, or fish and chips fried on the spot.
At the base of the jetty you’ll be in elevated parkland with supreme coastal views, multiuse paths and a cluster of cafes, while directly south is the sheltered Jetty Beach.
11. Solitary Islands Aquarium
This animal attraction is at the National Marine Science Centre, part of Southern Cross University.
You can visit on weekends and school holidays to discover just what makes the Solitary Islands Marine Park so important for ocean wildlife, without getting wet! In large, perfectly presented saltwater tanks you can peer into these ecosystems, viewing more than 60 fish species and 20 different kinds of invertebrates.
Some of the stars are the anemonefish, blue tangs and super-smart octopuses, while at the touch pool you find out what sea cucumbers, sea urchins and sea stars feel like.
All these species are accompanied by interpretive info and interactive displays.
12. Coffs Creek Walk and Cycleway
Something special about Coffs Harbour is the bushland tracing the creek, which will make you feel like you’re in the wilderness just a few steps from the CBD.
You can wander or ride through this environment on the 8.6-kilometre Coffs Creek Walk and Cycleway, which loops through the gum trees and palms by the water and has a section along a boardwalk.
The track is also a useful way to travel between Coffs Harbour’s attractions, like the Botanic Garden, Park Beach, the Historic Jetty and the Dolphin Marine Conservation Park.
13. Solitary Islands Coastal Walk
From Red Rock in the north to Sawtell in the south, the Solitary Islands Coastal Walk is a 60-kilometre track that lets you experience the full wonder of the Coffs Coast.
The trail is considered among the most scenic in New South Wales, beckoning you through rainforest, around dramatic rocky headlands and along dreamlike sandy beaches.
You’ll never have to walk far before you get to the next friendly beachside village, and in any season you’re likely to see dolphins surfing at the beaches.
14. National Cartoon Gallery
A genuine underground bunker from World War II has been converted into Australia’s only gallery dedicated solely cartoons.
In an awesome, fully accessible space, this gallery has assembled a collection numbering more than 23,000 Australian cartoons.
Some of the standouts include original illustrations or lithographs by the likes of Stan Cross, Percy Lindsay, Jim Russell, Monty Wedd, Mark Lynch and Emile Mercier.
There are ever-changing exhibitions, movie nights, workshops, live performances and lots more on the timetable for people of all ages.
You’ll also find out about the history of this unique building and its conversion into a gallery.
15. Whale Watching
May to November tens of thousands of humpback whales migrate along the New South Wales coast on their way to and from Antarctica.
As a resting spot for its calm waters, the Solitary Islands Marine Park is somewhere you can glimpse these beautiful giants and their calves.
With any luck you’ll see one breaching, while a pod of bottlenose dolphins will always be around at any time of year.
Now, if you’re patient you could stay on land, pack a pair of binoculars and head for lookouts like Muttonbird Island , Look at Me Now Headland, Arrawarra Headland and Woolgoolga Headland.
But for an up-close view you could also use one of the many cruise operators based in Coffs Harbour, like Pacific Explorer, Jetty Dive or Cougar Cat 12 Charters.