It would be fair to say, that Coffs Harbour is not a place not on everyone’s bucket list.
It’s a bit of a backwater, roughly equidistant from Sydney and Brisbane. However, with pristine beaches and a tropical micro-climate, it is certainly worth a stop if you have a few days on your journey up the east coast. You can take the overnight Greyhound from Sydney (+10 hours) but I decided to fly with Qantas to maximise my time there (1 hr 15 min flight). There is also the option of taking the train (9 hours).
My reason for stopping here was to see my uncle and aunt who have lived in Coffs a few months, but who had been in Australia for a number of years.
By mid – March I was really looking forward to some down time with family. I needed it. After two months and going on five countries…I was exhausted. Here, I got my own room (double bed!) the ability to lie in without feeling any guilt at not being a better tourist, some incredible home cooking and a new dog to play with – their recently rescued greyhound named Buddy.
What started out as a flying visit pencilled in for a few days lasted a whole week. Batteries needed to be charged and the more I stayed, the more comfortable I got! It was nice to explore a small town for a change.
The highlight of my stay was my birthday. I was waking up as a 27-year-old..no job..no friends at hand, no house – you get the picture. It was a little unnerving knowing I was a year older without the milestones a 21-year-old me thought I might have achieved by now!
What to Do in Coffs on Your Birthday
Anyway, to cheer me up and celebrate the momentous day, uncle Colin, auntie Debbie and her two sisters visiting from the UK – Ester and Liz and I, went on a day trip to see the Big Banana – one of the first of the big things Down Under.
The big things are just that – larger than life sculptures of seemingly random objects on motorway roads. What started in 1963 with a Big Scotsman in Adelaide, has grown into the 150 big things there are now, across all the Australian states. Big Prawn, Big Merino, Big Pineapple, and so on. Luckily The Big Banana is the real deal, it was built in 1964 and is listed as one of the five most iconic big things, by National paper the Australian Post.
And it’s fairly big I’ll give it to them! So I saw a cult phenomenon, heritage listed, work of folk art. And it was barely even mid-day.
After stopping for obligatory photographs and a mosey round the gift shop, we then drove up through the hills, driving past the avocado and banana plantations that do so well in Coffs’ tropical climate. The plantations put out some of their produce in makeshift honesty boxes near the road for any passing trade which I particularly liked.
There is a fantastic lookout point at the top of the hill called the Forest Sky Pier. As well as seeing the impressive structure itself, it gives sweeping views of the beaches surrounding Coffs, as well as the town and countryside. The Sky Pier is located in a nature park with gum trees and bush, so naturally, we went for a walk around after we had admired the beautiful view of the harbour.
Our first walk proved unsuccessful: we got a tad lost on a path that only led to someone’s drive. The second proved eventful when we stumbled across something in the bush. A loud squawking and the sound of wings crashing above us against the trees, greeted us as we turned a corner. We think was a baby bird of prey learning to fly. As we made our escape out of the bush wondering at what on earth we had just witnessed, Liz let out a nervy cry;
“What’s on my leg?”
Well, I too quickly jumped in with “Yep, that right there is just a bit of leaf.”
It was in fact, a leech.
As my uncle tried to pull it off (to Liz’s squeals) it tried to bite him back and attached to his finger! Ah, the joys of the Aussie bush!
Skype calls with family and friends back home and a surprise parcel from my parents mixed with birthdays cards from my new Aussie family and a beautiful, locally produced Opal charm from Colin and Debbie, awaited me when we finally arrived back home. A bonza BBQ with locally sourced meat from the butchers and fish from the harbour fishmongers made it a really special one to remember.
Other things to do in Coffs, not in any guide book:
1. Eat a bug – don’t worry, not of the Witchetty variety. These bugs look like prehistoric lobsters – in fact, they are known as Slipper Lobsters in some parts of the world. You can buy them from the fish market by the sea front. They taste sweet, a bit like crab but have the texture of prawn.. really good grilled on a Barbie and nice and local.
2. Catch yabbies – my dad and his brothers loved to go fishing in their youth so I’ve been taken on a few fishing trips in my time. Uncle Colin wasted no time in suggesting another trip…but first we had to get the bait. Yabbies. They are prawn-like but with a big pincer. You catch them by sucking up mud with a pump and throwing the pulled sediment into a bucket. They are usually lurking in the muddy water on the bank-side of a creek. We caught seven in total and caught…zero fish. I was outsmarted at every turn – the fish were too small and too clever; nibbling off the bait but not taking the hook. But it was an entertaining afternoon trying (unsuccessfully in uncle Colin’s case) to avoid the claws of angry yabbies!
3. Walk some deserted beaches – The most pristine beaches I saw in the whole of my time in Australia were in Coffs and they are dotted all the way up the coast. I especially enjoyed Korora and Boambee – they are just huge, but most of the beaches here do not have lifeguards on duty so be careful where you swim!
4. Swim in a creek – I had my reservations too…like, creeks are home to crocs, there is no way I’m getting in there, sort of reservations…but actually the open sea here has very strong currents and large waves, so in a creek, you are protected from that. Its calm conditions make it like a warm baby pool, and it’s usually full of families teaching kids to swim. There are loads of creeks around Coffs and no crocodiles in the area, so have a little dip!