Coffs Harbour has always been a popular holiday spot for families and grey nomads but you don’t need kids or a caravan to appreciate this stunning area along the New South Wales coastline. Coffs Harbour offers more than a few surprises, from hip live music venues, boutiques and funky cafes to one of Australia’s most significant wetlands.
Explore Bellingen and beyond
With its emerald green pastures and main street lined with historic buildings, Bellingen is almost impossibly pretty but this rural town 30 minutes drive from Coffs Harbour has stayed true to its roots. Alongside the trendy boutiques you will find second hand stores with hand-knitted tea cosies and 70s frocks brightening the window. Dogs wait patiently for their owners outside the Federal Hotel and the town’s alternative lifestylers continue to add a splash of colour.
No. 5 Church Street serves meals which are “wholesome and artistic, colourful and creative”, something that also describes the clientele who range from Bellingen’s oldest residents to hipsters sporting more facial hair than Ned Kelly. This laidback cafe hosts intimate Live@No.5 sessions featuring big name performers such as The Yearlings and Katie Noonan. Check the gig guide on the website before you arrive.
Go wild at Dorrigo National Park
Just up the road from Bellingen you will discover Dorrigo National Park. This World Heritage listed park is accessed via the Waterfall Way, a stunning drive which passes alongside lush green fields and small waterfalls tumbling down the hills. Even better, this Coffs Harbour attraction is free. Dorrigo is famous for its elevated walkway which ends at a dramatic lookout perched on the edge of an escarpment. This only takes 20 minutes to explore but it is worth allowing a few extra hours to do the Wonga Walk. This picturesque walk includes suspension bridges and a stroll behind a waterfall. Bring bottled water, snacks and a sense of adventure.
Explore the Valley of the Mist
Kakadu is famous for its wildlife but the sleepy town of Macksville located south of Coffs Harbour is also home to one of Australia’s most significant wetlands known as the Valley of the Mist. The water is less than 50cm deep in most sections and supports an incredible array of water birds including jabiru, white-bellied sea eagles and huge black swans. Trips are led by Dennis Ryan, the landowner who instigated the listing of the wetlands, and include a tour around the on-site bush tucker farm followed by morning tea. The pancakes topped with homemade custard, macadamia nuts, finger lime and vanilla ice cream are reason enough to return and do it all again.
Sawtell is technically a suburb of Coffs Harbour but this lively seaside town has more than enough charm to warrant a longer stay. The town’s main street is lined with alfresco cafes and there are plenty of spots nearby to catch a wave. Winter is a popular time to watch whales from the lookouts on Sawtell’s cliff tops. In summer the surrounding waters are popular with divers and snorkelers. Even when Coffs Harbour is filled with holiday makers, Sawtell remains relaxed and laid back.
Disclosure: The writer visited Coffs Harbour as a guest of The Legendary Pacific Coast.