Coffs Harbour is a beautiful coastal town, a 5.5 hours drive north of its capital, Sydney. Being relatively close to the NSW and Queensland border, Coffs Harbour is, in fact, closer to Brisbane and Gold Coast than Sydney. This makes Coffs Harbour an excellent place to check out when visiting NSW and Queensland.
Coffs Harbour is well-known to many Australians for its expansive banana plantations and The Big Banana Fun Park. However, Coffs Harbour is more than just a ‘banana town‘. It offers a beautiful stretch of pristine coastline with abundant wildlife, which can take you days to explore. It is also in close proximity to the impressive Waterfall Way, the picturesque Port Macquarie, and the famous Byron Bay, making Coffs Harbour a great base for discovering this beautiful region.
Although it can take you days to explore all the fantastic attractions Coffs Harbour offers, one day is generally sufficient for visiting all the highlights of Coffs Harbour.
To help you navigate around Coffs Harbour, I have compiled this 1-day itinerary for visiting Coffs Harbour, based on my recent road trip along Australia’s East Coast. I hope you find this article helpful.
Where to Stay in Coffs Harbour
Coffs Harbour is a popular holiday destination that has a decent selection of holiday resorts to choose from. Most of these resorts are located around the northern end of Coffs Harbour (outside of the city centre) and are priced mostly around AUD 200-300 per night for a standard room.
Regular motels, hotels, and holiday homes are also available all around Coffs Harbour. Depending on the location and condition, a standard double room in a regular motel/hotel usually cost around AUD 100-300 per night.
I personally prefer to stay around Coffs Harbour’s waterfront area, so I can easily stroll along the beautiful Coffs Harbour Marina and Muttonbird Island from the hotel & still have the convenience of Coffs Harbour city centre. To me, this is more important than what a holiday resort can offer.
I believe many visitors have the same thought process, which makes accommodations around Coffs Harbour’s waterfront area usually in high demand. So, if you are thinking of staying around Coffs Harbour’s waterfront, you may wish to book in advance whenever possible.
Coffs Harbour Marina Walkway
Coffs Harbour Marina Walkway is a scenic walk built atop Coffs Harbour’s North Breakwater. In addition to providing a peaceful marina for the ships coming in and out of Coffs Harbour, it also provides visitors access to the beautiful Muttonbird Island.
A one-way walk along Coffs Harbour Marina Walkway, between Coffs Harbour and Muttonbird Island, takes about 10 minutes.
Along the walk, you can admire the wild swells of the Pacific Ocean north of the breakwater while appreciating the contrasting tranquil marina view on its south. If desired, there is also a well-maintained boardwalk along the marina, parallel to the breakwater, for a more peaceful stroll.
Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve
Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve covers the entire Muttonbird Island, where wedge-tailed shearwaters (muttonbirds) nest between August and April each year. It is linked to the mainland by the beautiful Coffs Harbour Marina Walkway.
Countless shearwater burrows can be spotted all over Muttonbird Island. To protect these fragile burrows and the nesting shearwaters, a well-maintained walking path is built on Muttonbird Island, connecting its western entrance to its eastern end. Along the walk, visitors can also find numerous posters explaining Muttonbird Island’s beautiful yet fragile ecosystem.
The walk along Muttonbird Island also cuts through the highest point of this pristine island, giving it a spectacular and unobstructed view of Coffs Harbour and the wild Pacific Ocean. During May and November each year, migrating Humpback Whales are also regularly spotted off the coast from Muttonbird Island, giving visitors another reason to check out this beautiful island.
When you are here at Muttonbird Island, make sure you walk all the way to its eastern end, where you will be rewarded with a wild display of the Pacific Ocean from its Eastern Side Lookout. It is so fascinating that I can guarantee you will spend a long time here amazed by these fierce ocean swells.
Although visitors can bring their beloved pooch for a walk along Coffs Harbour Marina Walkway, dogs are not permitted in Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve. Visitors visiting Muttonbird Island are also prohibited from exploring beyond the marked walkway. These measures are all in place to protect the shearwater burrows on Muttonbird Island, which have significantly been endangered since the opening of Coffs Harbour Marina Walkway.
After a morning stroll along Coffs Harbour Marina Walkway and Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve, you can check out the beautiful Jetty Beach between the peaceful Coffs Harbour Marina and South Breakwall.
Protected from the wild ocean swells by the breakwaters on both sides, Jetty Beach is much calmer than other beaches along the east coast. With its soft sandy beach, Jetty Beach is undoubtedly an excellent spot to swim and learn how to surf. The wooden jetty along Jetty Beach is also a popular place for a leisure stroll for locals and visitors alike.
With well-maintained picnic facilities, showers, public toilets, and various cafes along Jetty Beach, the area along Jetty Beach has also become a hub for various activities throughout the year.
Among them, the most popular event is the weekly Harbourside Markets, which is hosted near the marina end of Jetty Beach. It is hosted every Sunday morning and offers a good mix of local produce and handcrafts.
Gallows Beach is another popular beach along Coffs Harbour.
Unlike Jetty Beach, Gallows Beach is surrounded by sharp coffee rocks and only has a small sandy foreshore area. Being outside the breakwaters, Gallows Beach offers nice big surf breaks, making it a popular spot for surfers.
Being right next to South Coffs Island, you can also take a leisure stroll from Gallows Beach to South Coffs Island to view this beautiful beach from a different perspective. When I visited, I also noted many people fishing along the rocky cliffs around South Coffs Island. So I presume it is a good spot for fishing as well.
Since the area around Gallows Beach is quite exposed and on elevated ground, it can get really windy. With that said, the car park along Gallows Beach is so perfectly positioned that you can pull over and take in all these stunning ocean views directly from your car window.
For this reason, Gallows Beach is hands-down my favourite spot for watching the sunset in Coffs Harbour!
Beacon Hill Lookout
After visiting the waterfront area of Coffs Harbour, make sure you check out the impressive Beacon Hill Lookout before heading off to explore other regions of Coffs Harbour.
Beacon Hill Lookout is located on the highest point of a small hilltop, just behind Coffs Harbour’s waterfront area. It offers a magnificent bird’s eye view of Coffs Harbour Marina, the breakwaters, Muttonbird Island, Coffs Harbour Jetty, and South Coffs Island. You can also overlook Coffs Harbour Airport from Beacon Hill Lookout.
It is a great spot to get your bearing on where everything is and how beautiful Coffs Harbour is.
Since you can drive directly to this well-maintained lookout, Beacon Hills Lookout is also an excellent sightseeing spot for people with mobility issues.
North Coast Regional Botanic Garden
After spending the morning along Coffs Harbour’s stunning waterfront area, we will now head over to North Coast Regional Botanic Garden for a change of scenery.
North Coast Regional Botanic Garden is a massive botanic garden in the heart of Coffs Harbour. It is home to a wide variety of native and international plantations. From its mangrove forests along the creek to its dense rainforests and tranquil Japanese garden, there is something for everyone to enjoy within this beautiful botanic garden. Various flowers are scattered around the garden, giving a lovely touch from every corner you turn.
Bird life is also plenty within North Coast Regional Botanic Garden. This makes it an excellent spot for bird watching in Coffs Harbour.
In addition to the beautiful nature, you can find picnic facilities, public toilets, and a small gift shop within North Coast Regional Botanic Garden. Water stations are also available to fill up the water bottle if needed.
A volunteer-run cafe is located near the garden entrance as well. However, it does not open every day, so you will be better off calling them ahead of time if you plan to have lunch there. Alternatively, with the beautiful sceneries and convenient facilities, picnics can be a perfect option when visiting North Coast Regional Botanic Garden.
After visiting the botanic garden, you can also purchase some plantations from the botanic garden via the little shop near the gate. They can make great souvenirs and gifts from your visit to Coffs Harbour.
Depending on how thoroughly you want to explore the Coffs Harbour Regional Botanic Garden, one hour is the bare minimum for a quick walk around this vast botanic garden. As the garden is massive and the collection is extensive, I suggest planning at least 2 hours here so that you can take in its beauty at a more enjoyable pace.
The Big Banana Fun Park
Australia is obsessed with its ‘Big Things’, with many of them easily found along its picturesque east coast. The Big Banana is one of Australia’s oldest and longest-standing ‘Big Things‘, where many people first heard of Coffs Harbour.
After standing strong for almost 60 years, along the Pacific Highway in Coffs Harbour, The Big Banana has already transformed into the biggest water park in this region, with a range of waterslides, rides, ice skating, mini golf, and laser tag activities on offer. This also makes The Big Banana more than just a beloved spot for that Instagrammable photos.
Even if the water park does not interest you, make sure you still check out the Banana Cafe on-site for the best banana split and frozen choc bananas you would ever have!
Forest Sky Pier
After visiting The Big Banana Fun Park, you can take a 15-minute scenic drive up the hills to check out the Forest Sky Pier.
This drive to the Forest Sky Pier is very scenic, along which you will be driving through lush green mountain ranges with clusters of banana farms. There is also an intriguing waterfall along the drive, which flows beside a residential building. As the road approaches the Forest Sky Pier, it gets narrow with some potholes around, so be careful when driving there.
With that said, once you are at the car park, Forest Sky Pier will be right next to it. This makes the sky pier an excellent spot to visit for people with mobility issues as well.
Forest Sky Pier is a wooden boardwalk extending 21 metres above the rainforest beneath. It provides an unparalleled panoramic view of the Coffs Coast and the beautiful rainforest it is sitting above. It is a not-to-miss lookout when visiting Coffs Harbour, so make sure you check it out too!
Right next to the car park, you can find a small cafe, sheltered picnic facilities, and public toilets. Short walks around the Orara East State Forest are also available from the car park. So you can spend a few hours exploring this forest’s wildness and stunning views if desired.
If you are after some adrenaline kicks, Tree Climbing and zip-lining are also available near Forest Sky Pier. If interested, you can check out Treetops Adventure for more details.
On your way back to Coffs Harbour, watch out for the banana stalls along the roadside on Bruxner Park Road. There are usually bananas for sale from the farms along this road. These are all honesty stalls & receive cash only, so make sure you have a few gold coins ready.
If you still have some daylight left after visiting Forest Sky Pier and Orara East State Forest, you can head back to the coast to check out the breathtaking views at Sawtell Beach.
Sawtell Beach is a 30-minute drive from Forest Sky Pier and a less than 15-minute drive from Coffs Harbour city centre. It is a long stretch of soft sandy beach along the southern end of Coffs Coast. Its southern end is protected by various rock formations, which creates a much calmer water environment than its northern ends. You can also find many beautiful natural rock pools among these rock formations, making it an excellent spot for families with kids to explore.
Picnic facilities and public toilets are available around Sawtell Beach. With nearby streets lined with shops and restaurants, you can spend an entire day at Sawtell Beach if desired.
When visiting Sawtell Beach, make sure you also take a short stroll up the headland on its southern end. This walk will provide a spectacular view of the impressive Coffs Coast and the wild Pacific Ocean. Towards the end of this coastal walk, you will arrive at the amazing Bonville Head Lookout, where you can also obtain a stunning bird’s eye view of the pristine Bonville Beach.
Just past Bonville Head Lookout, you can also find an ocean pool. It is a great spot for a cool swim, especially when the water gets too rough on the beach.