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North Coast, New South Wales, NSW, Australia
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Going bananas at Coffs Harbour!
London, England, United Kingdom
January 24, 2011
Best of IgoUgo
I visited Coffs Harbour by accident if I’m honest. Two friends and I were travelling up the East Coast of Australia from Sydney to Cairns, visiting places along the way and making up the route as we went along. After Sydney and Newcastle we randomly ...
I visited Coffs Harbour by accident if I’m honest. Two friends and I were travelling up the East Coast of Australia from Sydney to Cairns, visiting places along the way and making up the route as we went along. After Sydney and Newcastle we randomly chose Coffs Harbour on the map and jumped on the next Greyhound bus.
According to the Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, Coffs Harbour has the most livable climate in Australia. Well I couldn’t be sure about that but I can honestly say I would love to live here! Coffs is on the coast with beautiful beaches and a stunning mountain backdrop which must be the reason that the population is increasing significantly year on year. Coffs Harbour's economy is based mainly on banana farming and the tourism industry. Well, to us, it was just a place to stay for a few days on our way to somewhere else and a chance to relax.
And so we arrived…
We stayed at Barracuda Backpackers which gave us a free breakfast and supplied us with lots of information about the area and what we could do in our three days. From talking to other people staying in the hostel and all the posters and information pinned up on the notice boards, the two things we kept hearing about were the ‘Big Banana’ and ‘surf rafting’! It also became evident that a lot of these other backpackers had arrived like us, thinking they would stay a few days, but had ended up staying for much longer (must be this desirable living climate!)
We went to the Big Banana…
Coffs Harbour is well known for its banana industry. So much so that the main tourist attraction is a 'theme park', of sorts, devoted to bananas. There are banana shaped toboggans, a banana sky walk, and a huge banana systematically placed out front with the name "The Big Banana" aptly scrawled across it (one of Australia’s famous ‘Big Things’. Google it if you’re interested!). If this isn't evidence enough that Australians love their bananas then keep reading!
Admission to the Big Banana is free which is great for anyone who just wants to wander in and around. However, we decided on the Blockbuster Pass which entitled us to the banana plantation tour, ‘World of Bananas’ theatre show and 2 toboggan rides! This pass was $16AUS which is approximately £9. Other attractions at the Big Banana are a large ice rink, trike riding, water slides and a banana themed café and souvenir shop.
Anyway… we were sat in the banana themed café tucking into our banana muffins and banana choc chip ice cream, when out of nowhere a coach load of senior citizens piled into the cafe, demanding bananas. Much to their dismay, there were none left in the cafe! They stood around the banana stand, hands on hips, muttering and making snide remarks under their breath. They waited and waited until one of the staff eventually came back with a few more of the bananas from the plantation. Then, all hell let loose. The OAPS pounced. There was snatching and shoving galore!
We went shopping at the Park Beach Plaza…
This was the first shopping centre we had seen in 3 months since Thailand. Having travelled with a rucksack for months we were in desperate need of some new clothing and when we saw Target there were several squeals of excitement! Target is a cheap clothes and homeware superstore that I know of from American movies. It’s where the poor kids shop and buy ‘off the rack’ according to the teeny bopper movies I occasionally enjoy! Anyway, $50AUS (was £20ish, now £30ish) later we all had new outfits and were delighted.
Where next? The hairdressers! After 4 months of sunshine my highlighted hair wasn’t actually bad but a hair cut was long overdue for my split ends! For just $20AUS (was £8ish, now £12ish) at Just Cuts I didn’t care what they did with it and how bad it looked, as long as it would feel nicer! And it did! The Park Beach Plaza was also home to a food court, shoe shops, bookstores – basically everything you would want in a shopping centre.
Surf rafting AND sea kayaking…
I had never heard of such obscure water sports before but apparently surf rafting and sea kayaking are very popular in Coffs Harbour, so we decided to give it a go! We were picked up at the hostel by our personal guide for the day, driven down to the beach and given a quick talk about safety in the sea. Sea kayaking is exactly what it says on the can - kayaking in the sea. The kayaks were very heavy and it was really difficult to get them into the sea but we were perfectly happy to paddle around for an hour or so, learning lots about Coffs Harbour and spotting turtles in the sea.
After some free cereal on the beach it was time for 'surf rafting'. It's like white water rafting but you ride the waves instead of the current. It is normal to fall out of the raft but my friends and I may have taken this to new extremes, occasionally when there were no waves! For novices it was really difficult to time the rowing, especially when the guide was yapping on about eagles and turtles. All in all, it was a great experience, and well worth the $40AUS (£25 today)....we even got to ride some waves backwards. Well, for about 3 seconds until I fell out!
We didn’t go diving…but you can…!
Watersports are very popular at Coffs Harbour, however one thing that I didn’t get involved with was the scuba diving. I’m perfectly content to swim around with a big inflatable and a snorkel and the thought of going underwater with an air tank and a buddy just doesn’t do it for me. However with its location and temperatures, Coffs attracts a diverse marine life which is why it appeals to divers.
One of the best diving sites from Coffs is the Solitary Islands, just south of the Great Barrier Reef. The Solitary Islands comprise of five islands, three pinnacles, and several shallow-water reefs with terrain made up of gutters, valleys, kelp forests, and caves. Just some of the marine life that can be found at Coffs are manta rays, giant cuttlefishes, Leopard sharks, White-tip Reef sharks, turtles and boxer crabs.
Where to stay
We were very much on a budget in Australia, staying at hostels looking for the best deals! We ended up the Barracuda Backpackers which according to Lonely Planet was among the best of the budgets, although it looks like prices have gone up considerably in the past year. The hostels in the area all seemed quite good and were well equipped and include various freebies. I’ve listed a few current prices per night in GBP below for a rough idea.
Coffs Harbour YHA £18.59 (pool, use of bbq, movies)
Hoey Moey Backpackers £17.35 (free pick up, fishing rods, use of bbq)
Aussitel Backpackers £16.11 (heated pool, movies, free use of boogie boards, canoes etc)
Getting there and away
As I said earlier, Coffs Harbour is on the East Coast of Australia, around half way between Sydney and Brisbane. It is easily accessible on the Pacific Highway, a major road along the coast which links the two cities. We took the Greyhound bus but most of the people we met in our hostel accommodation had rented a car to drive up. For the thousands of tourists every year who flock to Australia, most of whom travel the East Coast, Coffs Harbour is an ideal place to stop location-wise. It was a nice break in the journey for us and it was easy to get from there to Byron Bay (go here, it’s lovely) and Surfer’s Paradise (we called it Surfer’s Parasite).
I would recommend Coffs Harbour to anyone. It might not have the nightlife of Surfer’s, the excitement of Sydney or as many things to do as Cairns or Brisbane, but it was a great place to chill out for a few days. It would be perfect as a holiday resort for anyone who enjoys a relaxing holiday with lots of sun and sand but it also has lots of fun things to do. It is also worth a visit for anyone like us, doing a travelling trip with a backpack. I felt it was a chance to chill out after the hustle and bustle of some bigger cities and to get back to normality – picking up some clothes and finally having a hair cut! I would absolutely love to go back but I think I’ll wait for the exchange rate to pick up a bit first! 5/5 from me!