"Coffs Harbour - halfway town" Top 5 Page for this destination Coffs Harbour by iandsmith

Coffs Harbour Travel Guide: 253 reviews and 575 photos

An overview

The Pacific Highway is Australia's second busiest highway but, it is Australia's busiest tourist highway.
Let's be honest here, tourists love to come and see beaches and Coffs is conveniently located halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, an area with some of the world's finest sandy places.
Fortunately, tourists don't get to see the really good ones so they don't get crowded (part of the attraction) but there are still plenty of nice ones that will more than satisfy the traveller from overseas.
So it is that many trippers end up in Port Macquarie, Coffs and Byron Bay before reaching the fabled Gold Coast, commercialism's showcase.
Coffs is set in a natural amphitheatre of banana plantations, although they're in decline, and it's said that you can tell when it's going to rain by looking at the hills out the back. If the clouds are above the hills it's not going to rain, if they're touching the hills it's time to get out the umbrella. Coffs is renowned for afternoon storms in summer.
For years, Coffs was known for the "Big Banana" a tourist attraction that featured just that and a few shops but it was a prerequisite, especially if you were travelling with kids, that you stop and take a photograph there. Nothing much has changed today except that Coffs has grown big and ugly in my opinion due to poor development planning. Some of the reason for its attractiveness, the sub tropical rain forest by the beach, has been flattened by developers and no longer exists.
It is a vibrant place however and has over 60 motels along with pubs, backpacker accommodation, caravan parks and camping sites, a legacy of being a halfway point.
There are many small attractions in and around the town and also some significant ones nearby, making a stay of a few days here easy to justify.

A potted history

Coffs Harbour was named Korff's Harbour' by John Korff, a naval architect and shipbuilder who sheltered in the bay during a gale in 1847. The name change happened in 1861 when the town site was reserved.
Although some agriculture developed, cedar getting was the main reason people came in the early years.
The harbour itself was so poor that it led to a boycott in 1865 when the ship "Carrywell" went down. The construction of a lighthouse in 1878 alleviated much of the problem, and, along with a southern breakwall and a marina, has made mooring a lot safer though a swell still gets through when the seas are big.
Around 1880 the area started to expand, having been opened up for selection from 1863, but the high prices asked for the lush river flats slowed development although the land along the flats had all been taken up by the early 1890s.
A town was proclaimed and laid out in 1886, given the official name of Brelsford, one destined not to last. Forays into fruit, dairying, goldmining and sugarcane had been made by that time. Sugar mills developed in the area but assorted difficulties had virtually killed the industry by the end of the century and you now have to travel further north to see the cane.
Transportation also held the timber industry back until 1892 when a jetty was completed and that, coupled with an access road, saw the timber industry expand. At its peak, 4.5 million metres of timber a year were shipped from Coffs Harbour, an unsustainable yield that led to a shortage of resources and its decline in the 1920s.
Gold mining took place between 1881 and 1898 but much of the gold was only on the surface and the hardness of the sandstone created additional difficulties. Though some ventures were prosperous, all were short-lived. However, they did draw prospectors, some of whom settled in the area as farmers. Today, you can still relive some of the experience at George's Gold Mine that is open for tourists.
Dairy farming came into its own in the area. A butter factory opened in 1910 but the degradation of pasturage and the coming of bananas saw the industry shrink after 1950 and get further hit 50 years later with dairy deregulation.
The railway arrived in 1915 and was linked to Sydney in 1923, having a negative effect on the amount of shipping but an increase in tourism that hasn't stopped since.
A side effect of the railway's construction was the expansion of the banana industry. The first bananas were introduced into the area from Fiji in 1881, but it was the hungry mouths of 1500 workers and their families which provided a boost to the industry.
Coffs Harbour became the country's major centre of production following a disease outbreak that wiped out the banana plantations further north in the late 1920s.
The harbour became the base of
an active fishing fleet in the 1970s. In recent years the coastal fringes for thirty kilometres north have been developed at an alarming rate leading to major problems with infrastructure, such as insufficient water reserves, a fact that surfaced during a recent drought.

Day trips

A day trip through Bellingen and up to Dorrigo is a popular excursion.
There are a few loops roads around Dorrigo and they take you past some picturesque rural scenery to say the least. Rolling fertile hills with cows grazing contentedly make for pleasant viewing at the worst of times and here is no exception.
Here is a shot I took on a short loop road, only about 8kms or so.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Plenty of shopping, a couple of good beaches, relaxed atmosphere, plenty of accommodation
  • Cons:Badly planned development
  • In a nutshell:Pretty, friendly but urbanized.
  • Last visit to Coffs Harbour: Jun 2012
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (76)

Comments (13)

  • Ann75's Profile Photo
    Aug 27, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    What a wonderful place, Ian! I loved reading all your tips and enjoyed all the beautiful photos. The beaches look amazing. Great tips! Thanks for sharing all this information.


  • aussirose's Profile Photo
    Aug 4, 2008 at 10:58 PM

    Fabulous pages Ian!! .....and thanks for the memorable trip down 'off the beaten path' lane :o) Sawtell & Arrawarra beaches are my favourite!!...& I love Bellingen! Great read & pix. xx

  • KiKitC's Profile Photo
    Aug 2, 2006 at 3:30 AM

    Are you sure the dog didn't put out that sign? hehehe :-)

  • unravelau's Profile Photo
    Aug 2, 2006 at 3:13 AM

    The updates are fantastic Ian. I liked your write up about flooding...it is far more fun to write than live through it. I am a bit jealous about the whale photos too but never mind I might get one photo here yet. I had a lovely morning thank you Ian.

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Mar 27, 2005 at 6:12 AM

    "Flame of the Forest" is, indeed, stunning! Bellingen sounds wonderful; Woolgoolga=unique. I'm not a curry woman either! Great Intro with tons of info. I admire your honesty.

  • aussiedoug's Profile Photo
    Feb 27, 2005 at 6:51 PM

    Will be in Coffs Fri & Sat March 18 & 19 for a LARK Workshop so it was good to browse through you tips for some ideas. Which of your hotels would you recommend most to me?

  • Goner's Profile Photo
    Dec 19, 2004 at 9:50 PM

    Australia's beauty never ceases to amaze me - that is a great pic you took of the clouds.

  • quartinb's Profile Photo
    Oct 15, 2004 at 4:58 AM

    ,,,my vtfriend 's nettie (tapis_volant) htown, seen from, diferent eyes!,,, enjoyable!

  • Sweetberry1's Profile Photo
    Oct 10, 2004 at 5:09 AM

    This region sounds absolutely beautiful. I have always wanted to visit, but never quite got there. Great page Ian, and thanks for your visit.. ;-)

  • Kristina1701's Profile Photo
    May 27, 2004 at 7:08 AM

    what a beautiful place! great page!

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