For some people, Coffs Harbour is just a quick stop along the drive between Sydney and Brisbane. But others realise that the coastal resort town is a destination all of its own.
Located on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales (which, in part, is also often referred to as the Coffs Coast), Coffs Harbour certainly has plenty to offer. It doesn’t matter if you are looking to break up a longer road trip or for somewhere to spend a more relaxing week or two.
Coffs Habour sits nestled in between lush green mountains and golden sand beaches, with the subtropical making the area famous for its banana plantations. I mean the iconic Big Banana does draw a lot of attention to it too.
The Best Things To Do In Coffs Harbour?
The Clog Barn
This one might appear on my list be due to my Dutch heritage, but I can’t drive past Coffs Harbour without stopping into The Clog Barn.
This little piece of The Netherlands in regional NSW offers a variety of Dutch experiences I haven’t been able to find outside of Europe. Making it very different from your usual road trip stops.
If you’ve ever heard of the famous Dutch wooden shoes, Clogs, that’s what The Clog Barn is named after. And it’s a great little place to see what this unique footwear is all about.
You can even witness how Clogs are made if you happen to drop in at the right time, while if they’ve really grabbed your interest, you can buy a pair for yourself.
The Clog Barn is also a great place to delve a little more into the Dutch culture, with some fine examples of the unique pottery and you can also sample some Dutch foods in the cafe. I recommend trying the croquettes.
They also have a miniature Dutch village with a model railway that is free to visit. Great to keep the kids distracted for a couple of minutes.
It’s worth noting that The Clog Barn should not be confused with the giant Windmill which is actually a hotel in Coffs Harbour.
Dolphin Marine Conservation Park
Being a coastal town, Coffs Harbour is famous for its sea life. In fact, seasonal whale and dolphin boat tours are extremely popular.
However, if you would like to guarantee to see a dolphin year-round while you are in Coffs Habour then you need to head to Dolphin Marine Conservation Park.
The park has rebranded a few times over the years (it was also known as Pet Porpoise Pool and Dolphin Marine Magic), but its current name brings more emphasis to the parks conservation efforts. Something all these wildlife parks have made a more conscious effort to promote in recent years.
Dolphin Marine Conservation Park offers a great opportunity to discover much more about the local sea life of the Coffs Coast. In particular, the Dolphins, Seals and Penguins native to the area. Occasionally the park, through its conservation efforts, may also have other rare animals like sea turtles.
If you would like to know more about the local dolphins and seals, the park also offers opportunities to get in the water with some of its local residents for a truly unique experience.
Coffs Harbour Marina and Jetty
Did you know that fishing is one of Coffs Harbour’s major industries? It’s not just all bananas and beaches.
To that end, one of the key attractions that the tourist town has to offer is the Coffs Harbour Marina and Jetty. It does have harbour in the name after all.
The marina and jetty is all part of the foreshore precinct that continues to grow to this day and is a popular spot to visit for most visitors to the area.
Jetty Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Coffs Harbour and a great little place to relax and swim in the sheltered waters protected by two break walls that shield the harbour.
The beach was named after the jetty that was built on it in 1892, as one of the first key pieces of infrastructure built to service the harbour and helped grow the commercial fishing industry of the region.
While the jetty no longer serves that purpose, it was refurbished by the NSW Government in the late 1990s and is now a permanent feature for locals and tourists to visit.
These days the Coffs Harbour Marina is home to the local fishing boats and tourist charters. Especially the seasonal whale watching tours. All of which can be found within the northern break wall of the harbour.
If going inro or out on the water isn’t on your to-do list while you are in Coffs Harbour, the marina is still a popular spot to visit as it is home to a mix of food outlets, from simple takeaways to much more fancy sitdown seafood restaurants.
The foreshore is also connected to the nature reserve of Mutton Bird Island by the northern break wall.
No matter if you are just looking to stretch your legs or work off some of that food you just ate, the break wall and island walking trail makes a great little stroll with stunning views back towards the city and the harbour.
Being a coastal town, Coffs Harbour has a number of stunning beaches.
Obviously, I’ve just mentioned Jetty Beach, but the Coffs Coast has a couple of other noteworthy beaches worth visiting if you are planning an extended stay in the region.
Shelly Beach and the surrounding Look At Me Know Headland is particularly popular for the native kangaroo population that calls the area home. You can often see these native animals in their natural habitat bouncing around on the beach.
Emerald Beach and Park Beach are also popular options for just relaxing by the water as you head north, while Sawtell Beach is a good option in the south.
Dorrigo National Park
Dorrigo National Park is just a short drive to the west of Coffs Harbour, and it’s famous for its amazing waterfalls.
In fact, the road out to Dorrigo is called Waterfall Way which should give you all the indication you need of what to expect along the drive.
Not only is the drive stunning and enjoyable along the winding road, but it also offers a stark contrast to the beaches that are the typical attraction along this part of the east coast of Australia.
Dorrigo National Park is home to a number of magnificent waterfalls and bushwalks, and that really appeals to you you will want to make a couple of trips as it will take several days to explore them all.
However, if you are short on time or just want to see one waterfall to mix up your time from relaxing on the beach, then I would strongly recommend heading out to my personal pick for the best waterfall – Crystal Shower Falls.
Crystal Shower Falls is located at the bottom of a stunning walking trail that combines great views of the rainforest while also getting in some exercise.
The trail to Crystal Shower Falls takes you along an interesting suspension bridge that gives you an amazing view of the front of the falls. But the real drawcard is the walking trail underneath the falls, which is not something I’ve seen at too many other waterfalls.
The Big Banana
You know I couldn’t write a guide for Coffs Harbour without mentioning the iconic Big Banana.
What started out as a gimmick to draw tourist attention to the banana plantation, the Big Banana was Australia’s first “Big Thing” when it was built in 1964, leading the way in what has become a staple of road trips all over Australia.
No matter if you are just stopping in to Coffs Harbour for a couple of hours or for much longer, the Big Banana has grown into a tourist destination in its own right and is well worth a visit.
While the park still has a banana plantation, it has also diversified into a theme park with a number of action attractions to keep you entertained. These include an ice skating rink, water park, mini-golf, tobogganing, just to name a few.
Some of the original staples of the Big Banana still exists too, with plantation tours and a theatre showcasing a documentary on the history of bananas still operating as well.
If that all sounds a bit too much, then you can still drop into the Big Banana and check out the gift shop filled with banana themed novelties, or the Big Banana Cafe which serves a great selection of both banana themed and non-banana themed meal choices. All of which you can enjoy before or after getting your iconic photo in front of the Big Banana.
While you are in the complex, be sure to check out some of the small shops around the complex car park, the hand-made candy store is a personal favourite of mine.
Where is Coffs Harbour
Coffs Harbour is located in the Mid North Coast region of New South Wales.
The region city also conveniently marks roughly the halfway point between Sydney and Brisbane along the Pacific Highway route.
To drive to Coffs Harbour, it’s about a 6 hour (500 kilometres) drive north from Sydney or about 4 and half hours (400 kilometres) drive south from Brisbane.
Best Places To Stay In Coffs Harbour
As I just mentioned, being halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, it’s an ideal spot to stop overnight on the road trip between the two cities.
As such there are plenty of hotels in and around the city of Coffs Harbour ideal for a quick overnight stay before getting back onto the Pacific Highway to continue your journey.
For this style of stay, I would recommend either the Aquajet Motel or the Bentleigh Motor Inn both of which are comfortable options for the night while still allowing you to get back on the road quickly in the morning.
They are also conveniently located so you can park the car and walk to get a meal or some supplies to give you a bit of a break from the driver’s seat for a bit.
If you are planning on staying in Coffs Harbour a bit longer you’ve got a few more options.
For those of your travelling as a family with a few kids, either the BIG4 Park Beach Holiday Park or the Sapphire Beach Holiday Park is probably will be your best bet in terms of value and convenience. Both are ideal if you have your own caravan or if you are looking to rent a cabin for a few nights.
However, if you are looking for something a bit more upmarket. There are plenty of resorts in and around Coffs Harbour to choose from.
Both Ramada Resort by Wyndham Coffs Harbour and BreakFree Aanuka Beach Resort offers an unrivalled luxury experience to really make the most of your time in Coffs Harbour with either modern suite or apartment-style accommodation with an onsite spa and other resort-style facilities.
Best Time Of Year To Visit Coffs Harbour
Coffs Harbour is certainly most popular during the summer, but it is a year-round destination.
The subtropical climate makes Coffs Harbour an ideal spot to soak up some sun all throughout the year.
Getting To and From Coffs Harbour
For most people, the best way to get to Coffs Harbour is to simply drive there it is an ideal road trip destination.
But then again for most people, Coffs Harbour is just a short stop on a much longer road trip up or down the Pacific Highway.
Having said that, it’s not the only way to get to Coffs Harbour. The city is serviced by a variety of other transport options.
A number of airlines (including Qantas and Virgin Australia) offer direct flights to Coffs Harbour which is serviced by its regional airport just to the south of the city. While the majority of flights are from Sydney, there are also some direct services from Brisbane and Melbourne.
You can also get to Coffs Harbour by train. The city is also conveniently located on the train line that operates between Sydney and Brisbane.
There are a few daily XPT rail services operated by NSW TrainLink (former CountryLink) that will get you to Coffs Harbour, but it’ll take you about 9 hours from Sydney to do the trip (3 hours longer than doing the same trip by car).
Alternatively, coach services operating between Sydney and Brisbane like Greyhound or Premier will also stop in Coffs Harbour. But again it’ll take you significantly longer than if you were driving yourself.
At the end of the day, driving to Coffs Harbour is your best option, it’ll also open up more opportunities for things to do once you get there. But there are several ways, get there, especially if you are travelling from further afield than either Sydney or Brisbane.
How To Get Around Coffs Harbour
As a small regional city, Coffs Harbour is both relatively compact and very spaced out.
Let me explain… The main part of the city along the Pacific Highway and Harbour Drive is really easy to walk around with all the key services and attractions within a couple of hundred meters of each other. Especially if you choose to stay in one of the hotels right on the highway.
However, a lot of the attractions that the Coffs Coast has to offer, and most of the nicer resorts, are spread out far and wide across the region. And that’s where having your own transport, in particular, a car will make your life much easier.
That said there is a public bus service that operates around Coffs Harbour. Primarily interlinking the nearby towns.
If you do need to use the local Busways bus service then the main route to keep in mind is the #365. This service operates between the middle of town, the jetty and the major shopping centre over near Parks Beach.
Where To Find Food In Coffs Harbour/What To Do In The Evenings?
Coffs Harbour has a few options if you looking for somewhere to eat or even a proper night out.
Within the centre of the city along the Pacific Highway, you’ll find all the typical selection that you have come from expect from the main road of a regional city. Including a variety of cafes, bars and restaurants that cater to most tastes and budgets.
For something on the nicer end of the spectrum with views over the water, etc… You will find a good selection of restaurants along the foreshore area. Especially if you are a fan of seafood, the local produce is well represented at the eastern end of Harbour Drive right alongside the harbour.
If you’d like more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.