Ask the locals what they love best about Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales and you’re bound to get a wide variety of answers.
It could be the thriving arts and cultural scene, the many fresh produce markets or perhaps the variety of cafés and restaurants. It might even be something as simple as taking an evening stroll on one of the region’s beautiful beaches or a drive in the lush hinterland. You can make your own decision — and it won’t be easy!
Enjoy this Coffs Harbour travel guide.
Need to know
Base yourself: City centre, Jetty precinct
Average hotel price per room/per night: $146
Great breakfasts: Shearwater, Supply, Urban
Awesome coffee: Palate and Ply, Old Johns, Urban, Supply
Top spots for a beverage: Element Bar, Coffs Harbour Yacht Club, Pier Hotel
Must-dos: All-terrain Segway tour, whale-watching cruise, tandem skydive
Best times to visit
With its sub-tropical year round climate, any time is a wonderful time to visit Coffs Harbour. Temperatures in summer sometimes reach the low 30s and it can be a little humid at times. Throughout the rest of the year you’ll enjoy mild days with temperatures in the low to mid 20s.
As one of the largest urban centres on the NSW North Coast, Coffs Harbour has a cultural vibe that combines traditional arts activities with a laid-back coastal lifestyle.
From surfing to scuba diving, you can indulge in just about any type of water activity. Or if museums, live theatre, local artisan and farmers markets, or visits to wineries are more your style, then you’re also spoilt for choice.
The region’s cultural hub is the Jetty Memorial Theatre, a refurbished heritage-listed building located in the historic Jetty precinct. Here you can enjoy a broad range of performing arts throughout the year. Check the website for what’s on during your stay.
The Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery offers a contemporary art collection, with many works by local artists. Also pay a visit to the Bunker Cartoon Gallery, which is housed in a heritage-listed RAAF WWII Bunker. As the name suggests, the gallery houses a collection of cartoons and is said to be the largest private collection of original cartoons (21,000) in the southern hemisphere. New exhibitions open every two to three months.
There always seems to be a festival or event happening in and around Coffs! Choose from the Sawtell Chilli Festival, Woolgoolga Curryfest, International Buskers and Comedy Festival, and the Australian Surf Festival. Some of the fastest drivers in the world descend on Coffs for the closing round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) in November. The WRC is often described as ‘Formula 1 on gravel’!
Prior to European settlement, the Coffs Coast was home to the Gumbaynggir people.
The Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre is a great place to explore Gumbaynggirr culture; it’s located about 40 minutes’ drive north of Coffs Harbour and well worth the trip. An Aboriginal site of deep significance is Look at Me Now Headland at Emerald Beach. Just 15 kilometres north of the city, it’s a fabulous place to get up close (but not too personal!) with the resident eastern grey Kangaroos. From June to October you may also spot migrating humpback whales. The views from the easy walking track over the headland are spectacular.
Coffs Harbour was originally named ‘Korff’s Harbour’ by John Korff, who sheltered his ship there in 1847. The settlement was renamed in 1861. With the growth of the local timber industry, Coffs Harbour became a busy port. The wreck of the Carry Well in 1865 and congestion in the harbour led to the construction of the lighthouse on South Solitary Island in 1878. The timber industry continued to flourish with the completion of the now iconic Coffs Jetty in 1892. Make sure you take a stroll along the jetty at sunset. It’s a great spot to watch the many prawn trawlers leaving the harbour each evening.
For more things to do in Coffs Harbour that will connect you with yesteryear, visit the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum in the Old Courthouse. It’s recently been updated and houses exhibitions covering maritime history and local Aboriginal culture. Watch a short documentary presented by Tony Hart — one of the area’s finest indigenous artists and craftsmen.
From award-winning fine dining to casual eats, Coffs Harbour offers an array of cafes and restaurants.
If you’re taking a stroll around the Coffs Harbour International Marina, make sure you drop in to the Fishermen’s Co-Op for the freshest fish and prawns. Get there early enough and you’ll see the trawlers unloading their catch. Catch the seafood cooking demonstration (with free samples to try!) on Saturday mornings between 10:30 and 12noon. Opposite the Co-Op, The Galley offers a great range of healthy burgers and wraps, along with great coffee.
For breakfast or lunch with waterfront views, the Surf Club at Park Beach is open seven days a week. If you’re looking for a sweet treat, check out the display of mouth-watering cakes baked on the premises.
Yknot Bistro at the Yacht Club offers an all-day menu of Modern Oz. Here you can chill out on the deck, with its spectacular ocean views. Alternatively, walk along the Marina’s northern breakwall to Latitude 30, which is open for lunch and dinner. It’s a great place for a drink and some tapas, or perhaps a romantic oceanfront meal.
Housed in an old butter factory, Shearwater Restaurant overlooks the Coffs Creek. It’s a unique place to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Coffs Harbour has a lively pub scene, and you can’t go past Hoey Moey for great pub grub. They offer great value daily specials.
Waves Bistro at the Pier Hotel on the Jetty Strip offers a $10 lunch special and a great kids’ menu. The Strip is also home to a wide range of cafes and restaurants offering a host of different cuisines — Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Italian and Modern Australian. The atmosphere is casual, with alfresco seating available at most venues.
There are plenty of opportunities to shop ‘til you drop in Coffs Harbour.
The picturesque village of Sawtell offers great shopping. Stroll down First Avenue under the shade of the huge Moreton Bay Fig trees and explore the specialty stores, surf shops, fashion boutiques and cafés. While you’re there, take in a movie at the historic Sawtell cinema.
Coffs Harbour boasts a multitude of markets. Every Sunday you can pick up fresh locally grown produce at the Harbourside Markets (situated on the Jetty foreshore). These markets also have stallholders selling an array of handmade artistic creations.
You can also pick up fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers and homemade cakes at the Growers’ Markets — held each Thursday in the city centre at the end of Harbour Drive.
Make sure you take a relaxing walk to the top of Mutton Bird Island during your stay in Coffs Harbour.
The island is connected to the mainland via the northern breakwall of the Coffs Harbour International Marina.
For more things to do in Coffs Harbour that will leave you feeling revitalised, head for one of the region’s great beaches. Park Beach is patrolled, and sheltered Jetty Beach is popular with locals. Board riders will enjoy Gallows Beach, and the northern end of Boambee Beach and Park Beach.
Coffs Harbour’s rivers and creeks are ideal for exploration on a stand up paddleboard or by kayak. You can also enjoy the rich marine life that lives beneath, by snorkeling through the warm waters.
Whale watching is a must-do if you happen to be visiting during the humpback migration season. Book a whale watching tour with Jetty Dive and watch these magnificent creatures passing through the shallow coastal waters.
For walkers and cyclists, the Coffs Creek Walk and Cycleway is the perfect way to explore this beautiful part of the world. It’s an easy walk or cycle — and why not take in some major tourist attractions along the way: North Coast Regional Botanic Gardens, Dolphin Marine Magic (swim with dolphins!), the Jetty and Park Beach.
The Coffs Coast is well known for its banana industry. In 1891 Herman Reich introduced Fijian bananas to the area, starting plantations in Coffs Harbour and surrounding areas. For decades visitors have been going bananas at The Big Banana. This iconic themed attraction boasts the biggest water park to be found between Sydney and the Gold Coast.
If you have a car and you want to explore further afield, take a short drive up into the hills behind Coffs Harbour to beautiful Bruxner Park Flora Reserve. A little further on is Sealy Lookout Forest Sky Pier, which is 310 metres above sea level. The viewing platform offers expansive views of the coast. Not far off the Pacific Highway, the Butterfly House is a nature lover’s delight. Wander through an enclosed subtropical rainforest, in the company of hundreds of colourful Australian butterflies.
For those that prefer to sit back, relax and let someone else do the driving, Coffs Harbour Trike Tours is a great option. Cruise through the Dorrigo National Park rainforest, which is a must-see for any visitor to the Coffs Coast. Tours can be customised to suit your interests.
Do you have any tips to add to our Coffs Harbour travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Cover image courtesy of Destination NSW. Additional images: Bigstock
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