Between two humble beachside hamlets on NSW’s Mid North Coast – Red Rock in the north and Urunga in the south – lies 70 kilometres of coastline that was once little more than a thoroughfare between Sydney and Brisbane, with a giant roadside banana its most famous attraction.
Fast-forward to 2020 and the Coffs Coast is much more than that, laying claim to Wotif’s Aussie Town of the Year (Coffs Harbour) and some incredible nature-based experiences that you can’t have anywhere else in NSW.
1. Fly to one of the state’s most remote lighthouses
The ultra-exclusive South Solitary Island Lighthouse Tour is only on offer for a few weekends each year. Eighteen kilometres off the coast of Coffs Harbour, South Solitary Island is home to one of the state’s most isolated lighthouses, which is rarely open to the public. Enjoy a scenic helicopter flight to the island and take a walking guided tour of the historic lighthouse and keepers’ quarters, which were built in 1880.
The lighthouse has been automated since 1975. The tour operates in winter, so you may also spot humpback whales as well as dolphins, turtles and birdlife. Join the waiting list for priority booking when tours dates are finalised and get in touch to enquire about bespoke tours.
2. Take a four-day trek along the coast
The Coffs Coast is home to an epic 60-kilometre coastal walking track that traces the coast from Red Rock to Sawtell. Taking around four days, it’s considered one of the state’s most scenic walking tracks with sandy beaches, rainforests, hulking headlands and crystal-clear creeks providing a diverse backdrop. Shipwrecks and Aboriginal sites, quaint villages and cosmopolitan towns, historic landmarks and local wildlife add to the adventure. There are about 200 markers to lead the way, with ample accommodation options if you’re tackling the entire track.
3. Swim with humpback whales
Spotting whales from a boat is a thrilling experience in itself, but swimming with them? Out of this world. This unforgettable tour operates from Coffs Harbour in August and September and, when whales are spotted, which is highly likely, participants are invited to swim with these graceful giants at a distance – if whales seem curious and conditions are right, that is. An experience very few can say they’ve had in their lifetime.
4. Walk among 600-year-old-trees
Just an hour’s drive from Coffs Harbour, the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforest is part of the world’s largest area of subtropical rainforest. Visitors to Dorrigo National Park can join a number of walking tracks from the Rainforest Centre. One of the best is the 6.6-kilometre Wonga Walk, which takes you through lush rainforest, among 600-year-old trees, to cascading waterfalls, and – with more than 128 species of birds – twitchers will love it. Also don’t miss the 70-metre skywalk, which is suspended 21 metres above the rainforest.
5. Learn about local indigenous culture
Connect to land and sea and listen to traditional stories from local Indigenous guides, all while gliding along a picturesque estuary onboard a stand-up paddleboard. Wajaana Yaam Adventure Tours offers this totally unique 2.5-hour SUP tour that teaches about the local Gumbaynggirr culture and includes a taste of native bush tucker in the beautiful Solitary Islands Marine Park.
While over in the Orana State Forest, the Giingan Cultural Experience takes place at Niigi Niigi (Sealy Lookout) and immerses you in local Indigenous culture through song, stories, language and a demonstration of native plant use with panoramic views of the Coffs Coast from the mountains to the sea. Both these experiences contribute directly to the local Indigenous community.
6. Brave NSW’s highest beach-landing skydive
One for the adrenaline junkies! Not only does Coffs Skydivers fly over 300 kilometres of breathtaking coastline with the Great Dividing Range in the background, its skydives are also the highest free-fall possible in NSW and end with a beach landing in the pristine Solitary Islands Marine Park. The scenic flight climbs up to 4.57 kilometres above the beautiful coastline before divers take the 70-second plunge back down to Earth, landing at beautiful Park Beach in Coffs Harbour. Talk about a trifecta.
A Traveller’s checklist
Situated in the vibrant jetty area, The Observatory Holiday Apartments comprise one- to three-bedroom modern self-contained apartments, with views of the foreshore or the ocean.
With sweeping ocean views of Solitary Islands Marine Park, Barellen Beach House is an exquisite five-bedroom holiday home that offers a beachside
luxury experience for groups and large families.
The recently refurbished Diggers Beach Cottage is a bright and airy three-bedroom stay located in the quiet suburb of Diggers Beach, just minutes from Coffs Harbour.
A coastal getaway calls for fish and chips by the sea and Coffs Harbour Fisherman’s Co-op makes one of the best versions on the coast.
Coffee and creativity go hand-in-hand at Old Johns Cafe in Coffs Harbour, which hosts regular exhibitions and events alongside its casual but tasty brunch menu.
Located on the Jetty Strip, buzzy Element Bar is the place to go for a drink and to enjoy some live music, with a great range of craft beer and wine, as well as pub-style food.