Ten of the best things to do in Coffs Harbour, NSW
Renowned for its near perfect weather, Coffs Harbour has been the destination of choice for generations of Aussie holidaymakers — and it’s not hard to work out why. In this relaxed coastal retreat, sun, surf and sand meld with myriad attractions and sublime scenery. Tick off these ten must-dos during your stay.
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 tranquil beaches or a drive in the lush hinterland. You can make your own decision — and it won’t be easy!
Here are ten of the best things to do in Coffs Harbour.
1. Park yourself at the beach
With a sub-tropical year-round climate, any time is a good time to visit Coffs Harbour and enjoy its relaxed coastal lifestyle. Temperatures in summer sometimes reach the low 30s and it can be a little humid at times, but throughout the rest of the year you’ll enjoy mild days with temperatures in the low to mid 20s. In other words, perfect beach weather! So grab a towel and head for one of the Coffs Coast’s beautiful stretches of sand. Popular Park Beach is patrolled, and sheltered Jetty Beach is a favourite with local families. Board riders will enjoy Gallows Beach and the northern ends of Boambee Beach and Park Beach.
2. Visit the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery
As one of the largest regional cities on the NSW North Coast, Coffs Harbour has a vibrant arts and cultural scene. The Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery houses a contemporary art collection with an emphasis on the work of local creatives. Also pay a visit to The National Cartoon Gallery, which occupies a heritage-listed RAAF WWII bunker. Here you’ll find what is said to be the largest private collection of original cartoons (21,000 of them!) in the Southern Hemisphere. New exhibitions open every two to three months.
The region’s performing arts hub is the Jetty Memorial Theatre — a refurbished heritage-listed building located in the historic Jetty precinct. The theatre hosts an array of live performances throughout the year, so check their website to find out what’s on during your stay.
Prior to European settlement, the Coffs Coast was home to the Gumbaynggirr people. Learn about their heritage at the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre, which is located about 40 minutes’ drive north of Coffs. It’s 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 November you may also spot migrating humpback whales. The views from the easy walking track over the headland are spectacular.
5. Time travel at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum
Coffs Harbour was originally named ‘Korff’s Harbour’ by John Korff, who sheltered his ship here in 1847. The settlement was renamed in 1861. The growth of the local timber industry saw Coffs Harbour transformed into a busy port, and 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 another opportunity to connect 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 (make sure you watch the short documentary presented by Tony Hart — one of the area’s finest Indigenous artists).
6. Explore sunny Sawtell
Located just a 15-minute drive south of Coffs Harbour, the picturesque seaside village of Sawtell is a delightful spot to while away a day. 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. Catch some rays on the pristine beach or take in a movie at the historic Sawtell cinema.
7. Bend it at The Big Banana
The Coffs Coast is well known for its banana industry, which began back in 1891 when Herman Reich introduced Fijian bananas to the region. The granddaddy of Australia’s ‘big things’ — The Big Banana — opened in late 1964, and visitors have been snapping pics in front of the prodigious piece of fruit ever since. Today the iconic attraction boasts a variety of rides and activities, along with the biggest water park to be found between Sydney and the Gold Coast.
8. Shop at the markets
The Coffs region boasts a number of weekly markets. Every Sunday in town you can pick up fresh, locally grown produce at the Harbourside Markets (held on the Jetty foreshore). You’ll also find an array of handmade artistic creations. Fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, and homemade pastries and cakes are all on offer at the Coffs Coast Growers Market — held each Thursday in the city centre at the end of Harbour Drive. The towns of Sawtell, Coramba, Woolgoolga and Glenreagh also host regular markets.
9. Make the most of your time on the coast
Coffs Harbour offers access to an array of relaxing coastal activities and here are a few of the highlights to add to your holiday to-do list. Make sure you do the walk to the top of Muttonbird Island, which is home to thousands of migratory wedge-tailed shearwaters. The island is a designated nature reserve and is connected to the mainland by the northern breakwall of the Coffs Harbour International Marina.
The region’s rivers and estuaries are ideal for exploration on a stand up paddleboard or kayak. Offshore, whale watching is a must-do if you happen to be visiting during the migration season. Book a whale watching tour with Jetty Dive and watch these magnificent creatures passing through the warm coastal waters.
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 who 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 suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Coffs Harbour? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image courtesy of Destination NSW. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Dixie Lamers is a freelance writer and travel blogger based in Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales. When she is not writing about travel, you will find Dixie and her partner enjoying an Aussie caravanning lifestyle.