Coffs Harbour

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I’m afraid no self-respecting grey nomad can miss out on Coffs Harbour … even if they want to. What would the friends and rellies say if you got back home and couldn’t show them a pic of you next to the Big Banana? Nah, love it or loathe it, that giant, curvy, yellow structure is so integral to a trip around Australia that it’s probably what put the Big in the Big Lap.

Coffs Harbour’s other claim to fame, of course, is its legendary sub-tropical climate, reputedly the most perfect in Australia. Beautiful in winter, not too hot in summer. Be warned though, that Coffs Harbour is a high-rainfall area and sometimes when it rains … it really rains. If you are unlucky, you might cop for a good drenching over a good couple of days. Don’t let it put you off, though, because Coffs Harbour is a magical place. It’s where the mountains meet the sea and, despite its beach paradise reputation, it has a lot more to offer than sun, surf and sand.

Nonetheless, the beaches are magnificent … and numerous. Both to the north and south, glorious stretches of uncrowded golden sand make it easy to just sit and stare. If you’re into fishing, then you’re also in the right place. This is a top spot whether you’re ready to go out on a game fishing boat or simply wanting to dangle a line off the wooden jetty with the locals.

Coffs has grown a lot in recent years and, with the population, have come improved facilities. There’s great shopping, great restaurants and, it has to be said, great caravan parks to suit all budgets. There is also some excellent national park camping at Station Creek and Minnie Water in Yuraygir National Park to the north.

Some wonderful seaside villages nearby provide a nice alternative if you’re looking for a quieter place to park up or just take a stroll. To the south, Sawtell and its historic First Avenue, and Urunga and its spectacular river estuary location spring immediately to mind. Both offer superbly located waterfront van parks. The same can also be said of Red Rock and the underrated township of Woolgoolga to the north. They are stunning.

Yet it is in the hinterland that the Coffs Harbour area surprises most. The country around Bellingen is green and beautiful and, if you’ve got a DVD player in the van you might want to watch Danny Deckchair while you’re in the region. The movie (which incidentally isn’t bad at all) was filmed in the township. Bellingen is set on the magnificent Bellinger River and it boasts a lovely ‘oldy worldy’ feel. It hosts the highly-rated and always-entertaining community markets on the third Saturday of every month. It’s worth trying to make your visit coincide with this event.

A little further inland is the mountain-top settlement of Dorrigo. It’s home to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre where you can enjoy a skywalk above the world heritage listed rainforest. Bring a jumper though, you might notice a bit of a temperature drop from sunny Coffs Harbour. The drive from Coffs to Dorrigo is really the start of the much vaunted Waterfall Way, a drive some claim (probably a little ambitiously) nearly rivals the Great Ocean Road in its beauty. Even if you don’t keep pressing on along the Waterfall Way, if you get as far as Dorrigo make sure you visit Dangar Falls just outside town.

The Coffs Harbour region then, for all its fame, is still full of surprises. Nomads who grab a quick Big Banana pic and then keep on rolling up or down the Pacific Highway are missing out on something just a little bit special.

MAKE SURE YOU  ….  get your picture taken at the Big Banana; stroll down main street at ‘Sunny Sawtell’; visit the ‘Jetty’; consider climbing Muttonbird Island; visit  Dorrigo to check out the rainforest skywalk and spectacular Dangar Falls; head out to the newly renovated Sealy Lookout to enjoy spectacular views over Coffs Harbour and south along the coastline; try to get along to the community markets at Bellingen, west of Coffs.  .

WHERE TO CAMP … numerous excellent caravan parks in Coffs Harbour and surrounding towns; great coastal camping at Station Creek and Minnie Water in Yuraygir National Park to the north; Platypus Flats camping area in the Nymboi-Binderay National Park to the west of Coffs is an idyllic riverside spot for those happy to get off  the bitumen.

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