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Going bananas at Coffs Harbour!
Coffs Harbour (Australia)
Member Name: Wickedinrock
Coffs Harbour (Australia)
Advantages: Relaxing, lots of activities, lovely beaches and scenery, home of the Big Banana!
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. We had no idea about Coffs before we arrived and had no idea what we were going to do there.
~ And so we arrived... ~
We stayed at Barracuda Backpackers who provided 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, the "Big Banana" 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 there are also options to purchase passes which entitle the holder to a certain number of the attractions. 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 an ice rink, trike riding, water slides (these were not open when we were there despite the lovely weather!) and a banana themed café and souvenir shop.
Anyway, after our toboggan rides and theatre show 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, the supplies had all gone! Most people would have left it there and perhaps purchased something else but not these feisty OAPs. 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 teenager boys who worked there eventually came back with a few more of the bananas from the plantation. Then, all hell let loose. The OAPS pounced. There was snatching, scratching, shoving and lots of stern words exchanged! We were actually terrified! We left soon after in fits of laughter!
~ We went shopping at the Park Beach Plaza... ~
Out visit to Park Beach Plaza was the first time we had bought clothes in 3 months since Thailand, where we had bought lots of sun dresses and bikinis from stalls on Khao San Road. 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 (£30ish) later we all had about two new outfits and were delighted. There was also another clothing shop which had reasonable priced, slightly cooler clothes, called Jay Jays. I bought a pair of denim shorts and two plain t-shirts which I'm still wearing a year later and am taking to Kenya next week!
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.
~ Then we went 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. So, we were there in our bikinis while the instructor put on a full wetsuit and covered his face with thick pink sun block. In fact Australians are really conscious of the sun - we couldn't find suntan lotion below SPF 30 (which is probably a very good thing)! 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 so we were much happier when we jumped into them and paddled around for an hour or so, learning lots about Coffs Harbour and spotting turtles in the sea. We caught a few waves but it was very nice and relaxing, especially seeing as our guide was doing most of the work!
After a free breakfast of cereal on the beach (apparently part of the deal!), it was time for 'surf rafting'. This was where the fun really began. 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 myself, Lynsey and Jenny may have taken this to new extremes, occasionally when there were no waves! For novices it was really difficult to keep in time with our rowing, especially when the guide was yapping on about eagles and turtles. Any other time it would have been interesting but I was trying to concentrate on the waves that kept hitting me! 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 we 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. According to the Coffs Harbour visitor website, it is the only place in Australia where the Great Dividing Range meets the vast Pacific Ocean which again makes it a dream for divers.
One of the most popular sites for diving 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, boulders, valleys, kelp forests, and caves. The marine life that can be found at Coffs include manta rays, grey nurse sharks, leopard sharks, white-tip reef sharks, giant cuttlefishes and turtles.
Some of the key diving schools in the area for information:
~ Where to stay ~
We were very much on a budget in Australia, staying at hostels and looking for the best deals; the ones that offered us free breakfasts, meals or drinks! 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, were well equipped and included various freebies. I've listed the current prices for a few hostels in the area per night in GBP below for a rough idea. Barracuda isn't listed on any of the usual hostel sites for some reason - we had to call them the day before to book.
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)
Some of the budget hotels in the area for those who don't want to slum it in the dorms...
Comfort Inn Park Beach £53 for two people (pool)
Best Western Zebra Motel £79 for two people
Comfort Inn Big Windmill £77 for two people (pool, very central)
The much nicer hotels for those not on a budget...
Nautilus Beachfront Villas & Spa £163 (gym, spa, pool)
Pacific Towers Apartments £163 (internet, spa, pool)
Sacred Mountain Retreat Valla £138 (bar, gardens, spa)
~ 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. With hindsight we probably should have done this with all the beautiful scenery along the coast and the flexibility that having a car provides. For the thousands of tourists every year who flock to Australia, most of whom travel the East Coast, Coffs 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 - don't go there unless you're an 18 year old male whose only interests are girls and alcohol).
Coffs Harbour has a train station and its own airport which is apparently served by Qantas, Virgin Blue and Bridabella Airlines.
~ Overall ~
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. We had never heard of it before our trip and it was never on our itinerary but looking back, it was one of my favourite places in Australia. 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 never seemed too busy and I was very chilled out the whole time. It is also worth a visit for anyone like us, doing a travelling trip with a backpack. I felt it was a chance to relax 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!
Summary: A great place to visit!