Boambee Creek Reserve in Sawtell (just a 10-minute drive from Coffs Harbour), is a picture-perfect bay with calm, clear water, pretty beaches, a gorgeous deep-green backdrop of trees and plenty of fish. It’s the ideal Coffs Coast spot to go swimming, fishing, kayaking or canoeing.
Going kayaking on this beautiful creek has been high on my list of things I want to do in Coffs Harbour, yet for some reason I’d never got around to doing it until now.
To be fair, kayaking in Sawtell wasn’t that easy to organise until 2012, when Matthew Sparrius set up his C-Change Adventures kayak hire & tours business at Boambee Creek Reserve.
Now it’s easy to drive down, hire a single or double kayak, step in and paddle away. Within minutes you’re surrounded by nothing but nature. And there’s a lot to explore: the creek is very wide and goes several kilometres inland.
Stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP, is a reasonably new activity (or sport, if you’re really into it) that has quickly become very popular around Australia. It’s really catching on here on the Coffs Coast, too.
I remember the first time I saw people standing up on a board with a long paddle in their hands – and that was only a few years ago. At that time, you couldn’t hire SUPs anywhere in Coffs Harbour.
How things have changed. At the time I’m writing this (January 2014) there are at least 3 SUP hire businesses in and around Coffs Harbour.
I’ve been very keen to give SUP a try, and I’m glad I finally did. I loved it!
Because I’m not that confident in the ocean, and wasn’t sure how difficult stand-up paddleboarding would be, I decided to start my adventure in easy conditions close to my home: on Coffs Creek.
A visit to the lush rainforest at Dorrigo National Park should be on everyone’s itinerary when they’re staying in Coffs Harbour.
Dorrigo National Park is only 65km (1 hour by car) from the heart of Coffs via the scenic Waterfall Way, which starts to climb up Dorrigo Mountain after you’ve passed through Bellingen (very much worth a visit in its own right).
Amazing twisted tree branches (or are they aerial roots?) at Dorrigo National Park
I always take visitors on a day trip to this national park, as it’s sure to make an impression on both Australian and overseas visitors. The scenery at Dorrigo National Park is stunning and there are some very accessible walks that I recommend doing.
The Bellingen Community Markets, held monthly (on the third Saturday of each month), are the biggest and the best markets in the Coffs Harbour region, probably in Northern NSW as well, and perhaps even in Australia.
With around 250 stalls set up all around leafy Bellingen Park, you can spend hours at the market, which has such a good atmosphere and live music and performances that it feels less like a normal market but more like a festival that you get to enjoy every month.
The Bellingen Markets: 250 stalls under the trees in the park
Of course, Bellingen is known for its laid-back character, interesting locals and alternative lifestyles. This adds to the lovely, casual ambience you’ll find anywhere around the town and at the markets as well (cue massage tents and tarot reading stalls).
For a great walk in the rainforest only 5km from Coffs Harbour, you have to visit Bruxner Park Flora Reserve. In addition to several signposted walking trails, there is also a fantastic lookout point over all of Coffs Harbour – Sealy Lookout – at 310 metres above sea level.
The walking tracks at Bruxner Park are only a 10-minute drive from the CBD, which make them the closest rainforest walks to the Coffs Harbour city centre.
Immerse yourself in a rainforest experience just 10mins from Coffs Harbour
These bushwalks are so near and so easily accessible that you’ll have no excuse not to go there at least once. It’s amazing how many Coffs Harbour residents have never actually walked along these forest trails.
One of the most popular ‘eat streets’ in Coffs Harbour is what the locals call the ‘Jetty Strip’. What makes it so popular is the wide variety of restaurants and cafés to choose from and the laid-back vibe due to its proximity to the beach and harbour. There are so many choices that you can just go there and make a last-minute decision what and where you want to eat.
Below is a complete list of all the eateries along and close to the Coffs Harbour Jetty Strip of restaurants. I’ve listed each of their specialties, their phone numbers and a link to their website, if they have one, or Facebook page. There are more than 20 cafés and restaurants all together in the one area.
I love whale-watching season in Coffs Harbour! It makes all those walks over Muttonbird Island and any other headland and coastal lookout point that much more exciting!
Will we see whales today? If so, how many? And will they merely spout some spray into the air to alert us to their presence, will we see their backs glide gently out of and back into the water, will there be some tails up in the air or are they putting on a full-on breaching and tail-flapping show for us?
Watching mighty humpback whales in the ocean off Coffs Harbour
No matter how many times you’ve seen whales, because they’re so mighty and so unpredictable, every time you see one it’s exciting again. And it unites people, pointing them out to those who haven’t spotted them yet and going “oh” and “ah” and “wow” in unison.
Cycling is becoming increasingly popular in and around Coffs Harbour. There are at least four bicycle shops in Coffs Harbour alone, various cycle groups and clubs and regular community rides and events.
One popular cycle route is the cycle path along Hogbin Drive between Coffs Harbour and the neighbouring village of Sawtell. The cycleway is separated from the road by a nature strip so it’s a safe and relaxing ride. And Sawtell makes a fun destination.
Just the stretch along Hogbin Drive is 6km, but if you go from the centre of Coffs Harbour to the centre of Sawtell it’s 10km. That’s a distance you can easily do in one hour (i.e. going a very leisurely 10km/hr).
A tree-lined section of the Hogbin Drive cycleway, Coffs Harbour - Sawtell
We enjoy meeting up with friends early on Sunday morning at the start of Hogbin Drive and riding to Sawtell to have breakfast before making our way back.
A drive through Coffs Harbour’s countryside will soon make you realise this is ‘horse country’. If you would like to explore Coffs Harbour’s beautiful forests on horseback, you can. There are a number of places around Coffs where you can join a guided horse ride, even if you’re a beginner.
I rode a horse for the very first time in my life a few years ago with Valery Trails at Bongil Bongil National Park, south of Coffs Harbour. Their gentle, well-behaved horses and friendly guides made this a very enjoyable experience.
Guided trail rides through Bongil Bongil National Park on horseback
You can choose from a variety of different rides of various lengths and at different times of the day.
Coffs Harbour is so much more than beaches. Our hinterland is incredibly beautiful, tranquil and close by. I love driving through the Orara Valley and stopping the car wherever I want to enjoy the view and listen to the birds.
A Saturday or Sunday morning or afternoon is ideal to head out west to Coramba, Upper Orara and Nana Glen. On Monday and Tuesday, you may find some shops or cafés closed, but the views will be equally beautiful.
Find scenic views like this one at Upper Orara all around the Orara Valley
From the centre of Coffs Harbour, follow the signs to Coramba via West High Street and Coramba Road. The scenery becomes rural in just a few minutes, with banana plantations, avocado and fruit trees, wide open fields with cows and horses, and hills and valleys everywhere you look.
One of the best kept secrets of the Coffs Coast is Red Rock – a tiny but beautiful village half an hour north of Coffs Harbour. It is situated by the beach and along Red Rock/Corindi River, and borders Yuraygir National Park.
If the weather is good, Red Rock is the perfect destination for a relaxing day out with your special someone or the whole family.
The picturesque park by Red Rock River invites a rest, a picnic and a swim
Here is a list of suggestions for things to do in Red Rock:
Coffs Harbour and surrounding towns have lots of great regular markets, but my favourite one, and the one I would recommend to anyone visiting Coffs Harbour, is the weekly outdoor market held on the foreshores between the Coffs Harbour Yacht Club and the Jetty every Sunday morning.
They’re called the Harbourside Markets. Not to be confused with the Jetty Markets, which are held indoors underneath the Jetty Village Shopping Centre.
The Harbourside market stalls are set up underneath the trees and the atmosphere is really laid-back. It’s the perfect way to start your Sunday.
There's a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere at the Harbourside Markets
Sometimes you feel like a walk on the beach, but other times you like to go somewhere where there are more trees, more birds and there’s more shade. But you don’t always want to make a daytrip out of it by driving to a National Park somewhere. At those times, the Coffs Creek Walk is ideal!
The Coffs Creek Walk is right in town but nicely hidden away between the trees, and I can guarantee you’ll feel far away from it all. It’s a real bushwalk through the forested fringes of Coffs Creek, with several boardwalk sections across wetland areas and mangroves.
The Coffs Creek Walk is a real bush walk right in the middle of Coffs
Reasons to do the Coffs Creek Walk – or sections of it:
There’s always something happening in and around Coffs Harbour, but I thought it would be good to give an overview of just the biggest Coffs Harbour events and festivals – the most popular ones that are held every year.
For more information on any of these, click on the link to go to the relevant website.
Overview of the main annual Coffs Harbour events and Coffs Harbour festivals:
Coffs Harbour’s historic Jetty (1892) is a great destination any time of day or year, but the atmosphere can be especially magical around sunset. Not to mention when there’s a full moon as well, rising from behind Muttonbird Island.
I dare say that the Jetty at sunset is the top choice for local couples to have their bridal pictures taken, and you’ll see at least one bride and groom there most Saturday afternoons or early evening.
The Coffs Harbour Jetty and Muttonbird Island at dusk and with a full moon
The Coffs Harbour Jetty (which is heritage protected) juts out into the harbour and you’ll get a good look, from many angles depending on where you stop to enjoy the view, at:
About 15km north of Coffs Harbour is a village called Emerald Beach. It’s in a very pretty location and worth a visit even just to respond to the southern headland’s ‘call’… “Look At Me Now” is its name. And go and look at it you should, in my opinion.
To get there, drive north from Coffs Harbour, take the Emerald Beach turnoff from the Highway onto Fiddaman Road and turn right at Dammerel Crescent to the carpark at the foot of the headland.
Look At Me Now Headland is part of Moonee Beach Nature Reserve. There’s a short walking trail that takes you up and around the headland, which is a significant Aboriginal site.
Start of short walking track at Look At Me Now Headland
I love spending a few hours in the seaside town of Sawtell. It’s a popular holiday spot, especially in summer, and it’s easy to see why. It’s got:
great natural beauty,
an attractive main beach (Sawtell Beach) tucked in between Boambee and Bonville headlands,
picturesque Boambee and Bonville Creeks to swim, fish or paddle a canoe in, and
a charming main street (First Ave) lined with great old fig trees, boutique shops and galleries and lots of al fresco cafés.
A great way to really enjoy all this beauty, if the weather is nice (which it can be year round), is to go for a stroll around Bonville Headland (also referred to as Sawtell Headland), look at the waves and the surfers, and to take a dip in the ocean, creek or rock pool.
One activity that is a typical Coffs Harbour thing to do, doesn’t cost any money and NEVER gets boring, is to go for a walk along the North Wall (the northern breakwall along the Coffs Harbour International Marina) and up onto and over Muttonbird Island (and back, of course).
View from the top of Muttonbird Island over Coffs Harbour
Muttonbird Island is unique because:
although it’s an island, you can walk to it because it’s attached to the mainland via the northern breakwall, so it’s very accessible;
it’s a seabird rookery and is home to thousands of muttonbirds (wedge-tailed shearwaters, is what they’re called officially) between August and April;
there’s a paved path over the top to the other side (1km return), giving you unsurpassed 360-degree views from the top back over Coffs Harbour, along the coast, the beaches and the ocean;
there’s a viewing platform at the end from where you can watch for passing humpback whales between May and November;
it’s a Nature Reserve and the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service has put up interpretive signs with interesting information about the shearwaters/muttonbirds and marine life such as the whales.