Coffs is one of the original family holiday destinations on the Australian east coast. Today the city attracts parents and grandparents bringing their children to the same destination they visited as a child, as well as many travellers between Sydney and Brisbane, including backpackers staying for a week or so. Less trendy than Byron Bay or Noosa, the town still has great beaches, a huge variety of accommodation, and a well developed tourist industry that has been one of the mainstays of the community since the 1950s.
Coffs Harbour is a 530 km drive north of Sydney and 350 km south of Brisbane on the Pacific Highway. As always on the Pacific Highway, take care. The road quality varies dramatically, and there are normally traffic build-ups during peak holiday periods.
After years of financial neglect, line closures and discount airfares, Coffs Harbour (probably along with Dubbo) remains one of the few places in country New South Wales where the train still offers a reasonable service and a competitive price.
It is a nine-hour train ride on NSW Trainlink (132232) from Sydney, but it is a nice view out of the window as the train travels out of Sydney and up via the Central Coast, Newcastle and Kempsey. There is a choice of trains daily, and the trains even arrive and depart at relatively sociable hours during the day. The train station is in the south of the town near the jetty area and is walking distance to the beach and to some accommodation. There are taxis available to get to resorts or the other accommodation around town. Buses also run close by at the jetty village shopping centre.
Some of the trains continue on to Brisbane, which is 6 hours away by rail.
There is also a railway station in Sawtell that is in the Coffs Harbour vicinity.
All the coaches travelling the route between Sydney and Brisbane make a stop in Coffs.
- 1 Coffs Harbour Airport (CFS IATA is usually referred to by airlines as Coffs Coast) (is about a 5-minute drive outside the town). Qantas and Virgin Australia flies in from Sydney. Fly Coroporate flies from Brisbane.
A bus runs into town from the airport. The service is operated by Sawtell Coaches. Taxis can also be hailed to the city centre.
There is an off-road cycleway that runs outside the airport into town and the riding into town is quite practical.
Busways run regular services around the city to make up a local transit network. Buses also run to Nambucca Bellingen and surrounding areas.
Coffs Harbour has a local taxi network that will run you up and down the Coffs Coast.
- 1 Big Banana, 351 Pacific Hwy (just north of town), ☏ . Daily 9AM-5PM. Yes, it is kitsch. Yes, it is pure tourism. Yes, it has overpriced food and tacky souvenirs. But this is Australia's original "Big Thing", over 40 years old, and you have to get your photo taken in front of it, as generations of Australians have done before you. While you are there, you can eat banana bread, banana cake, and choc-dipped bananas, while sipping on your banana smoothie. Browse what may be Australia's largest range of banana-themed merchandise, including the banana water pistols. If you choose not to indulge yourself in all things banana, the area around has undergone big developments. There is a now a fun park where you can ice skate, play mini-golf and laser tag.
- The Big Banana Complex adjacent to the fruit, there are fun rides, ice skating, and a real snow slope (indoor). Take a tour of the real bananas as well.
- 2 Dolphin Marine Magic - Pet Porpoise Pool, Orlando Street (near the jetty end), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daily 9AM- 4PM. The pet porpoise pool is another Coffs institution, operating on the site for 40 years. The setup here is more informal (and smaller) that the Seaworld type operation further north. You can get close to dolphins and seals. There are a couple of shows a day, so check session times before you go. You can do the dolphin encounter thing if you pay extra. Adults $27, children $14.
- Butterfly House, 5 Strouds Road, Bonville, ☏ . An indoor rainforest with lots of butterflies. It is one of those places where you walk amongst them and they land on you if they feel like it. Good spot to take photos. There is a maze and a cafe here as well. The maze is geared to a family-friendly skill level; a person of normal ability and kids can successfully complete it.
- There is a Creek-side Boardwalk through mangroves near the jetty area and a quite extensive Botanical Garden nearby.
- Shearwater nesting on Muttonbird Island. Muttonbird Island is a peninsula extending out from the marina area. It is completely treeless, but is a nesting site for the migratory birds call wedge-tailed shearwaters, or muttonbirds. Birds complete their courtship in November and the eggs hatch towards the end of summer. On the eastern side of Muttonbird Island, there is a great view out to sea and whales can also be seen at some parts of the year. Walking over Muttonbird Island is a short walk (10-20 minutes), but it's also steep and there is no shade. Wear a hat, cover your shoulders, and take a bottle of water with you.
- Swim at Coffs' beaches.
- Park Beach is the main beach in Coffs, and is just to the north of the mouth of Coffs Creek. It is a surf beach and the swimming can be a little rough.
- Just inside the mouth of Coffs Creek is a small sheltered beach. Families with small children swim here and there are lots of fishermen.
- There is another calm beach between the jetty and the wharf area that is popular with families.
- Scuba dive in the Solitary Islands  marine park off the coast of Coffs.
- Jetty Dive, 398 High Street, ☏ . A day trip to the islands with two dives is $99, gear hire is $30. Full openwater courses start at $195. In non-peak season Jetty Dive conducts some $55 single dive trips, mainly for night dives.
- Go on a dolphin or whale watching cruise. Whale season is June to November each year, and dolphins are seen in the area year round. Spirit Cruises takes a large day boat of whale or dolphin watchers out daily at 9:30AM. On weekends and holidays there is also a luncheon cruise at 1pm. The boat has a bar and, for the more active participants, there is a waterslide and pool set up in the ocean. Cruises are popular so book in advance, phone bookings are preferred.
- Helicopter scenic flights over the stunning beaches and rainforest with Precision Helicopters, 77 Aviation Drive, Coffs Harbour. +61 2 6652 9988. Flights start at $80. Half-hour learn-to-fly lessons over the coast - spectacular!
- Rally Australia is the Australasian leg of the World Rally Championship, held (from 2016) in late November. Moving between the stages isn't overly easy but if you are a petrol-head it is definitely a trip worth taking.
- Jetty Markets, Marina Dr, ☏ . The Jetty Markets are a craft and produce market held under the Jetty Village Shopping Centre every Sunday.
Harbourside Markets are a craft and produce market featuring handmade and local products only, there is also live music. The markets offer a beautiful setting under shaded trees a 5-min walk to the beautiful beaches located at the popular Jetty Foreshores area every Sunday.
- Park Beach Plaza, intersection of Pacific Highway and Park Beach Road. The Park Beach Plaza is a giant shopping centre with the usual assortment of useful shops including a Woolworths supermarket, JB Hi-Fi, Target, Big W, IGA and many other specialty stores.
- Jetty Village Shopping Centre, 361 Harbour Drive. The Jetty Village Shopping Centre is a small shopping centre with a bakery and a small IGA supermarket.
- Coffs Central, in the CBD of Coffs Harbour with more than 60 stores including Big W, fashion and specialty stores. It is undergoing extensive renovation to add new dining facilities and stores.
- Centro Toormina. A shopping centre in the suburb of Toormina that has had extensive renovations and includes a Kmart in the list of new stores.
- Promenade. Combines fine dining with fine shopping boutiques.
There is a group of eateries in the Jetty area, mostly on Harbour Drive. This area is known as having the best eating in Coffs.
- Cafe Aqua, ☏ . 57 Ocean Parade. Cafe Aqua is a small breakfast and brunch cafe behind Park Beach, locally famed for its coffee.
- Foreshores, 394 Harbour Drive, ☏ . Foreshores is a hugely popular breakfast and brunch cafe (it closes at 3pm), with a menu ranging from toast with Vegemite through to a big breakfast with sausages, egg and bacon.
- Jetty Village Cafe & Juice Bar, ☏ . Shop 7, Jetty Village Shopping Centre, 361 Harbour Drive. The Jetty Village Cafe is a counter service sandwich shop with a small amount of hot food. Its main advantage is that it is open in the late afternoons when most of the other eateries in the Jetty area are closed.
- Park Beach Bowling Club Park Beach Road. For great wholesome food home cooked food at cheap prices. Get there early though as it does get quite busy.
- Split Cafe and Espresso Bar - located at First Avenue in Sawtell (south of the Coffs Harbour township), Split Cafe and Espresso Bar offers fresh juices, brilliant coffee and a lunch and breakfast menu that caters to all tastes. Split is open early (about 7:30AM) 7 days a week and is also open Friday and Saturday nights, with reservations being recommended as tables are very popular. Split offers a great small community feel that is complemented by the quiet and relaxed village atmosphere of Sawtell.
- Outback Jacks, Bar and Grill. Largest selection of steaks in the world, Ribs, shanks. Service is fabulous, a wonderful country atmosphere. winner of tourism award for Coffs Harbour. It can be somewhat expensive.
- Scoffs Restaurant, 386 Harbour Drive, ☏ . Scoffs has good grilled seafood and steaks (beef and kangaroo), but is somewhat drastically understaffed, at least in peak times. Mains $20-30. The quality of the food at this restaurant is also questionable, especially in regard to freshness. Instead it would be suggested that you go to another restaurant on the Jetty Strip or visit Sawtell.
- Bangalay Restaurant (Coffs Harbour), 353 Pacific Highway (next to the Big Banana), ☏ . Breakfast 7-9AM, dinner 6:30-8:30PM. This family-friendly restaurant offers a variety of fresh seafood as well as other wonderful à la carte dishes made from the freshest produce, all prepared with the greatest care. Mains $15-36.
- Hogs Breath cafe.
- Mangrove Jacks, The Promenade, 321 Harbour Drive, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Nestled on Coffs Creek near the Jetty Theatre with delightful views out over the water, Mangrove Jacks is a popular cafe choice in the busy Jetty precinct of Coffs Harbour. Relax on the verandah with a bowl of fresh ocean prawns and an ice-cold Coopers 'on tap' as your hosts Phil and Julie Studley and their team prepare you a truly memorable meal.
- The Plantation Hotel (The Planto), 80 Grafton Street, ☏ . Known affectionately by locals as "The Planto". Regularly hosts touring acts. Includes a night club featuring local and touring DJs which is open til late every Friday and Saturday night. The Plantation Hotel also has Backpackers' Accommodation upstairs, with 30 dorm-style rooms.
The high season in Coffs Harbour is the summer school holidays, from late December until the end of January each year. Some accommodation on the spot is likely to be available even at those times.
In addition to the usual hostel/motel/hotel accommodation, Coffs has a large number of motel-like facilities that call themselves 'holiday apartments'. These are typically large motel-like flats with 2 or 3 bedrooms and some cooking facilities. They are designed to be booked on a week-to-week basis but are often available for shorter bookings.
- Plantation Hotel Backpackers, 80 Grafton Street, toll-free: 1800 076 445, ✉ email@example.com. In the centre of Coffs Harbour, close to shopping, cafes, facilities and public transport. Free Wi-Fi and parking. From $27.
- Coffs Harbour YHA Backpackers Resort, 51 Collingwood Street, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The YHA is very close to the Jetty area. Facilities include a swimming pool. Beds from $25 per night in a dorm room, double rooms from $70 per night.
- Aussitel Backpackers, 312 Harbour Drive, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Close to the jetty area and Coffs Creek. It offers free canoes, free bodyboards, free fishing rods. Nice friendly atmosphere with daily activities organised by staff. Beds from $20 per night in a dorm room, double rooms from $50 per night.
- Arosa Motel, ☏ . Fully air-conditioned motel rooms, all equipped with bathroom, kitchen and a carport. Facilities and services are Outdoor in-ground pool, Laundry facilities and Games room with a pool table. From $95.
- Chelsea Motor Inn, 106 Grafton Street, ☏ . In the CBD opposite the Coffs C.ex Club, Close to everything. Has some good deals available.
- Coffs Harbour Sanctuary Resort, 250 Pacific Highway, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Sanctuary Resort has lots to offer, nestled amongst 7 acres of bushland, 2 km from the City, and close to the airport. Play tennis, squash, or relax in the sauna or have a great time in the pool with the slippery slide. Various motel rooms and apartments with fully equipped kitchens. Excellent rates, licensed "Treehouse" Restaurant (open to the public) some great discounts are available for multiple night stays.
- Matador Motor Inn, Corner of Pacific Highway and Albany St, ☏ . At the top of the basic motels good for a nights stay. Friendly owners.
- Dolphin Sands Holiday Villas, 16 Prince Street, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Dolphin Sands has seven freestanding cabins one block back from Park Beach. The cabins are 2 bedroom and sleep up to five people. The cabins share a pool, spa and barbecue area. The standard rate is $150 per night per cabin, some discounts might be available if booking in advance.
- Country Comfort Coffs Harbour, 353 Pacific Highway (close to the Big Banana and Digger’s Beach), ☏ . 3.5-star hotel with large hotel rooms and apartments.
Coffs also has some of the best beachside resorts in New South Wales. Pacific Bay, Opal Cove and Nautilus are all resort style accommodation near the beach in the Coffs area.
Coffs Harbour is reasonably safe but the main thing is to keep vigilant at night in the CBD. Also it is unadvisable to walk the park beach area at night near the Hoey Moey Hotel. Toormina is not a safe place to be during the night. Be particularly vigilant to avoid making eye contact, or attempting to interact with KOB Gangs (kids on bikes) at all times, especially in the popular scenic day trip village towns of the Orara Valley region such as Coramba and Nana Glen.
Some Coffs hotels and resorts advertise and are proud of their beachfront settings. However, not all Coffs beaches are patrolled, and paying for accommodation near to the beach, and then finding it may not be one that is safe to swim at can be frustrating if that was your plan.
The scenic village towns of Coramba and Nana Glen are a scenic 30 minute drive North-East of the main center of Coffs Harbour. Check out Mountain Ash pottery and gallery in Coramba and the local bakery for the valley's best pies and desserts. Visit the local winery in Nana Glen as well as the Kookaburra Cafe for lunch with its unique tram carriage dining area. Along your drive, be sure to purchase some local produce sold at roadside stalls!