Coffs Harbour is back on the holiday hot list. This stretch of NSW’s north coast has always been famous for show-stopping beaches and the Big Banana Fun Park but an energetic (and kid-friendly) food and brewery scene, new ways to explore a World Heritage-listed rainforest and once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experiences will refresh your sense of adventure.
Fly to: Coffs Harbour
Swim with humpback whales
“There’s a moment when a whale emerges from the deep, a big eye is looking into yours and you’re communicating with this giant, gentle animal,” says Mike Davey of Jetty Dive who takes small boats of snorkellers on tours a short distance off the coast. “It’s exhilarating but what most people say is it’s life-changing.” Whether the whales want to approach the boat and swimmers is all up to them. “When they do come up to us, they might get so close a pectoral fin could touch you.”
Half-day tours go out on weekday mornings and weekend afternoons during August and September. “It’s rare to be able to swim with whales without going into the middle of nowhere,” adds Davey. “Spend a few days holidaying in Coffs and we’ll pick the best conditions to go out.” Whale watching tours also run from June to October.
Go stand-up paddleboarding in the Solitary Islands Marine Park
There’s a particular thrill to locating actual paradise. The feeling builds as you glide along the protected tree-lined creeks of the Solitary Islands Marine Park, leaping overboard from time to time to snorkel with fish in clear, cool turquoise water. This is Gumbaynggirr Country and on a 2.5-hour or full-day excursion with Aboriginal-owned Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours, direct descendents of the world’s first stand-up paddleboarders will also share their culture and seasonal bush snacks as you explore. Their stories will stick with you long after you leave.
Chase waterfalls in Dorrigo National Park
“The new viewing platform at Dangar Falls offers spectacular views,” says Joe Rattray from Waves to Wilderness Experiences, which runs guided walks through World Heritage-listed rainforest an hour’s drive inland from Coffs Harbour. If grabbing lungfuls of fresh rainforest air isn’t enough of a recharge, how about a bracing dip in a wild swimming hole? “There’s a track that takes you from the lookout through ancient Antarctic beech forests down to the natural pool, where you can swim across and sit on the rock behind the beautiful falls.”
Feel far away on epic beaches
Park Beach is only moments from the cafés and shops of town but has enough room to ensure it remains an uncrowded haven for swimming, surfing or fishing. At its north end, do a few stretches before tackling the sometimes steep Macauleys Headland walking track (a short part of the 60-kilometre, multi-day Solitary Islands coastal walk). Spectacular views along the coastline and out to Muttonbird Island are worth the workout.
Jetty Beach, protected from big swells, is one of the best beaches for young families. It’s also the perfect spot to kickstart the morning with batch brew coffee at Old John’s or to feast on local-caught snapper, whiting, flathead, pearl perch or tuna at Coffs Harbour Fishermen’s Co-op come lunchtime.
Indulge in epic eats and drinks by the beach
Right across from the ocean, casual newcomer The Mermaid Beach House serves Italian-inspired salt-baked trout and nine-hour slow-roasted lamb perfect for savouring over a slow sunset dinner. More in the mood for a bao bun and cocktails? Café Ophelia offers quick eats with easy afternoon vibes.
Craft beer aficionados will get their kicks at the buzzing 250-seat brewpub King Tide Brewing, home of the smooth and fruity coast favourite, the Coco Hazy Pale. Come for the brews and stay for the scene: this place hosts comedy nights, paint-and-sip workshops and beginner-friendly yoga sessions that are followed by “levitated lager” – just for balance.
Where to stay
Slow down and kick back at Pool House, tucked away in the lush Bellingen Valley, a 30-minute drive south-west of Coffs and 20 kilometres from the coast. Soak up all the pleasures of a real couples retreat: a cosy bedroom, rustic-luxe interiors and a magnesium plunge pool with serene bushland views all the way to the Great Dividing Range.
Families will find the right mix of peace and play at BreakFree Aanuka Beach Resort, where two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments come equipped with a kitchen, living space and private garden patio. It’s a holiday in a stay: four swimming pools meet a day spa, tennis courts, mini putt putt golf and an indoor/outdoor restaurant overlooking Diggers Beach.
Image credit: Destination NSW, Wajaanayaam Adventure Tours, Steven Woodburn, Pool House Bellingen