When it comes to visiting Coffs Harbour (or “Coffs” as it is known), I must confess that we are fairly recent converts.
Coffs was little more than a quick food or petrol stop roughly halfway between A (being Sydney) and B (being Byron Bay), although I did stay there overnight on my epic solo journey up to Queensland. However, I considered Coffs as more of needing a bed to break the journey, not as a destination in itself. You see, when compared to the bright lights of the Gold Coast and the peace and serenity of Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour had a bit of an image problem. Moreover, for me Muriel’s Wedding, an Australian film classic set in the fictional coastal town of Porpoise Pit, didn’t help. Coffs Harbour wasn’t Porpoise Pit and yet…
That has changed. Coffs Harbour has now become a favourite stop-over. If we didn’t have family further up the road, we would definitely stay longer and I have no doubt we’ll be back. There is so much to see and experience.
Although there is so much natural beauty in and around Coffs Harbour, Coffs Harbour is probably best-known for the Big Banana www.bigbanana.com. This is a big, smiling yellow banana perched beside the Pacific Highway.
For some bizarre and unexplained reason, Australian tourist towns have had a passion for big things and seem to compete with each other for the kitchiest objets d’embarrassment. I mean these things have an incredible cringe factor…a bit like having Dame Edna Everage as our national ambassador.
We have stopped off at the Big Banana a few times and the kids both peer out the window looking for it whenever we drive past. Even I feel a bit of childish excitement when I see it. Although these days, there’s also a sense of relief. The Pacific Highway seems to stretch on forever and the Big Banana now means that we’re more than half-way to Byron Bay, our usual holiday destination.
However, we didn’t stop at the Big Banana on this visit.
Probably the next best known tourist spot in Coffs Harbour is the Pet Porpoise Pool www.dolphinmarinemagic.com.au/ It is absolutely fabulous and we went there last January on our first overnight stay in Coffs Harbour. We had such a fabulous time being able to get up close to the dolphins and seals without the huge holiday crows you get at Sea World on the Gold Coast. This was personal, intimate and we weren’t jammed into a sardine tin supposedly “having fun”. I would really recommend going.
But we didn’t go there on this trip either. We wanted to do something different.
We booked into budget accommodation at the Clog Barn. We have been driving past the Clog Barn forever but have never stopped off before.
I was tempted to buy a pair of clogs yet succumbed to the beautiful blue and white Delft China and bought a cow milk jug and an ornament with a boy and girl kissing. It was great to have a genuine piece of Holland from Coffs Harbour. I couldn’t afford or carry around this sort of thing when I was backpacking through Amsterdam over 20 years ago.
The proprietor was very friendly and suggested we go to the Fisherman’s Co-op for dinner (which was excellent by the way).
One thing I really like about travelling is that you find these little spots where you experience something unexpected, breathtaking that may not be completely off the tourist track but is at least a little bit lateral.
That was Mutton bird Island.
Muttonbird Island is attached to the mainland and to get there, you simply go to the Jetty at Coffs Harbour and follow the walk across the breakwall.
From a distance, it’s hard to believe this little patch of ground is the summer host to over 20,000 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, or Mutton Birds. It looked almost uninhabited when we were there aside from a few walkers and joggers. However, a closer inspection of the ground beside the walking track revealed a series of holes or nests and very definite ankle-spraining territory.
What struck me most about Mutton Bird Island, however, was the steep hill. With my muscle disease, I usually can’t manage steep but I was feeling uncharacteristically energetic and took up the challenge.
We started walking up the hill. About halfway up, Mister calls out: “I’ve found a chick”. I was pretty impressed because these chicks live at the back of small burrows and they aren’t the easiest things to find. We even managed a photograph!
We kept walking up the hill. We still hadn’t actually seen a Shearwater at this point or even heard the much anticipated cacophony but the sunset was starting to look absolutely breathtaking.
Being a keen photographer, I have seen and photographed many sunsets, especially as I’m not much of an early bird and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen the sunrise. This sunset was pure orange with undulating volcanic hills in the background. I took so many photos that my trigger finger must have been close to getting RSI (repetitive strain injury). I felt such peace and serenity absorbing this incredibly beautiful sunset that it somehow became a part of me, somehow absorbed into my soul.
Walking back, we couldn’t miss the lights of the Ferris wheel back in town. Even though it was getting quite late, we had to have a turn. My inner child remembered riding the Ferris wheel year after year after year at the Royal Sydney Easter Show and there was this magnetic attraction. It wasn’t cheap and we baulked at the price but relented. I’m so glad we did because there is something so special and timeless about the Ferris wheel that takes you back to your childhood and a sense that you never really want to grow up.
The view across the fairground was dazzling. Our daughter, who has quite a fear of heights, was pleased we’d dragged her along and also loved the view.
After succumbing to the Ferris wheel, the kids also went on a pony ride.
The beaches around Coffs Harbour are very beautiful but we didn’t get there on this trip. Instead, the kids were really looking forward to swimming in the pool back at the Clog Barn. That suited me just fine. The sand could stay at the beach. Swimming in the pool also opened up the opportunity for me to play rough and tumble games with the kids where the water helped to support their weight. Mister is often reluctant to practice his swimming but I challenged him to some races and we both got moving. I benefitted from a few laps myself. Strangely, Miss was feeling quite scared of the water despite years of swimming lessons so it was great to encourage her in and build up some confidence as well.
After a swim, it was time to pack up and leave but we visited the miniature Dutch village before we left. This was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. I flew into Amsterdam back in 1992 on my epic backpacking holiday after I finished university and spent a week there. The village even includes a model of the Anne Frank House. There was also a garden railway. Above all else, I was really struck by the friendly, chatty ambience. It was a lovely place to stop off.
Before we leave Coffs Harbour, I’ll just mention another popular spot we explored on our last visit.
That was Butterfly House www.butterflyhouse.com.au. I’m not quite a butterfly fanatic but I am an enthusiast and it was amazing to experience so many butterflies at close range. I From memory, I had been a bit disappointed with the photos, however, when I finally found them (somehow they had been completely misfiled) I was pleasantly surprised. They were actually very good. I’d definitely recommend a visit and I would like to go back. Being surrounded by so many butterflies, we were in paradise.
From Coffs Harbour, we drove up North to Brisbane.
Our next postcard will come from the Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich.
PS It seems we timed our trip well. We enjoyed bright sunny days in Coffs Harbour well before the floods.