Iconic destinations such as Fraser Island, Uluru and the Cape can leave a remarkable taste for other adventures in anyone’s mind – and often the journey is just as great as the destination. But sometimes there are other choices that are so close, yet we pass them by to search for longer and bigger trips.
Coffs Harbour is one of those hidden destinations that is slowly becoming a 4wd and camping mecca. The Coffs Coast is a regional tourism destination taking in the Coffs Harbour and Bellingen areas on the North Coast of NSW. This is where the Great Dividing Range meets the Pacific Ocean, leaving a small pocket of paradise lodged between the mountains and the sea.
The Coffs Coast’s wide selection of accommodation and various activities include skydiving, snorkelling, bushwalking and fishing as well as a bucket load of 4wding from mild to wild to some great touring tracks. It is claimed that the Coffs Coast has one of Australia’s most liveable environments – a great subtropical climate that averages in the mid-20s during summer with balmy nights, to cool crisp winter days – it’s no wonder that Coffs is a tourist mecca.
Having a vast array of mountainous hinterland areas allows for a selection of different climates around and over the terrain that lies here. From pristine rainforest pockets, lantana infested areas to heavily timbered old growth sections that lay to claim some of the oldest and hardest timber in NSW.
Going off road
30 million years ago an eruption from the Ebor volcano sent a huge upheaval of the Earth’s crust skyward and created the surrounding hills that lie behind Coffs. This creates some of the best 4wding that this country has to offer as it is the closest place on the east coast where the mountains meet the sea.
The terrain here changes constantly from easy plateau sections to extreme 4wding where it can push both driver and 4wd to the limit. Care needs to be taken in the wetter months and when storms are about as track conditions can turn nasty really fast when tackling those harder sections. Track conditions can change at the earshot of a storm where several inches of rain can fall in a matter of hours, thus allowing rain runoff to carve new ruts and create further havoc for us 4wders.
There are several great ridge trails that highlight just how special the Coffs Coast can be, with ocean views below you, you pick your way through huge gums crisscrossing the ridges yet you are so close to the city centre. There is no need to have a fully specced out comp truck to enjoy the Coffs hinterland, as there are enough tracks from easy to mild for those who chose to explore the region in off the shelf 4wds or touring trucks.
Tracks in the hinterland can range from mild to wild, yet others are great for the family to explore pristine creeks, the old mines that litter our hills, maybe go bird watching or for the fitness fanatics, it is a great spot to walk or cycle your time away. Having a wide range of roads that criss-cross each other from park to park and having a vast range of groups with varied interests; it is only a matter of time before you encounter other vehicles exploring. It is best to drive with your lights on, to warn other uses that you may encounter, from bushwalkers, bike riders, other 4wders and even the odd log truck.
The forests surrounding Coffs are a playground for bikes and 4wds and combined with our seasonal yet sometimes monsoonal rainfall, tracks can vary overnight – best to check with local authorities before you set out. Drive to the conditions at a safe speed and enjoy what we have to offer. Better still, travel with others in convoy procedure and by having radio contact not only can you warn them about an obstacle but also you can monitor local channels for other users in the area. Carrying a basic first aid kit will enable you to handle most situations from scratches, bruises through to leeches which can be prolific in some rainforest areas.
John Korff accidentally discovered Coffs Harbour back in 1847 when sheltering from a storm, awaiting better weather to sail up the Bellinger River to load timber destined for Sydney. Over the years, the name Korff’s evolved to Coffs. The hinterland came alive with timber getters looking for red cedar (and some of the world’s best still comes from the Dorrigo area).
Gold was discovered near Mount Coramba, and the rush was on. It is reported that 200 mines were registered and mined from the 1880s till the early 1900s. Some mines have been revisited in such times as the depression years, the 60s and even now prospectors still look for their fortune in them thar hills.
Mind you, not many nuggets were found. This was a hard mining area where the quartz had to be moved over several miles sometimes just to get to a crusher, and then worked with chemicals to find specks. It was a hard life. Gold was found in the hills, on headlands, some beaches were dug up and even out on one of the solitary islands.
Bananas soon became a fruitful industry, when Herman Reick introduced them in 1881. He planted Fijian bananas which were an instant success, and steamrolled when the north-coast railway was constructed, along with tourism, bananas are considered an important part of Coffs lifestyle.
Considering Coffs lies at the intersection of the Tasman Sea and The Great Dividing Range, there are plenty of challenging tracks not far from the hub of town. Prominently the centre of these tracks would be Mount Coramba, in which just 10 mins from town it juts up 700 metres above sea level.
There are plenty of extremely challenging tracks that surround the mountain. Most of these tracks demand respect. The basic requirements here include big tyres, suspension lift, a locker or two – and experience. A full day can be had here cruising up one side and down the other side many times. With serious angles, big ruts and the odd boulder thrown in this mountain demands respect. Track conditions change depending on traffic and weather conditions.
Rover Trail hugs the coast from Coffs north for several kilometres that will give you stunning coastal views towards the Solitary Islands. Morbid Track is a great one to tackle that heads upwards towards Mount Coramba – the highest point on the Coffs Coast, giving you 360′ views across the rugged terrain all around you as well as ocean views.
Or what about heading to Friday Creek where you can spend hours relaxing in crystal clear water that has filtered down from the hinterland where even in summer the water can be very refreshing to say the least. Wilder tracks on the Coffs Coast demand a certain respect. These tracks can break the hardest and meanest 4wds, and with track names like Rocky, Commando, Dump and Spur you can only guess what secrets they have in store for you. Be prepared for some of the toughest tracks you can imagine if you need a hardcore fix. These tracks show no mercy but if you feel uncomfortable with any track- DON’T DRIVE IT.
Nymbodia which lies 60km west of Coffs has some of the best river frontage camping spots that you can find. Several camp locations have pit toilets, grassed areas with picturesque views beside the mighty Nymboida River, where several rafting companies start some amazing trips downstream to tackle grade 4-5 rapids.
To camp out here you need to be self-sufficient as there is no phone reception or shops to duck back to. It is true gorge country, where you may only be some two hours from the coast yet you may not see anyone for days. Keep an eye on weather conditions here as storms in other gorge areas may cause the river to rise.
Yuraygir National Park
For those who love the ocean, it is possible to camp so close to the water you will have salt air in your lungs as you sleep. Located just 40 minutes north of Coffs in the Yuraygir National Park. Pebbly Beach (within the park) has been earmarked as one of the top campsite locations on the eastern seaboard of NSW.
Timing needs to be paramount here as you do cross a tidal creek to access the pristine campgrounds after a magical drive north along the coastline. Pebbly Beach campgrounds hold a special meaning for those who venture there, from stunning sunrises, coastal walks to those special one on one moments with the kids or your partner. Facilities here are the basic pit toilets, so again being self-sufficient is a must for those long stays.
Camping on the Coffs coast is great all year round, yet be prepared for cool nights in winter and warm summer days. Saying this, taking advantage of the conditions is as easy as mustard. Cool nights mean great fires that are possible at all locations, yet the hot summer days mean swimming and relaxing beside crystal clear waterways in pristine locations or riding the waves along the coastline.
For those who need extra camping gear or just plain forgot something there are several large camping and 4WD stores in the Coffs area to cater for all needs, so don’t despair if you need extra gear. A little preparation goes a long way though, as with any camping trip. The great thing with these iconic camping locations is that they are available for those with tents, swags or the larger camper trailer family – it is just that good and that easy. National Parks look after several camping locations here, and with minimal fees that need to be paid, there are benefits like simple pit toilets, good clean sites and even free firewood.
The Coffs Coast has a huge range of activities where you can leave the bush behind for a while to explore the other wonders of the area if the weather turns ugly. Whether it be letting the kids wild with skating, jetty jumping or cycling around town, or even eating out at one of the many first-class restaurants, there are many options.
To slow down it is possible to visit Dorrigo, where there are several walks through World Heritage National Parks that contain stunning scenery and culture, or even spend time fishing in one of the many local rivers for a variety of species of fish.
Coffs Harbour Jetty
The hub of the Coffs Coast is the historic Coffs Harbour Jetty. The jetty juts out several hundred metres past several beaches and the Coffs marina, where an afternoon or evening stroll should definitely be on the list when visiting.
For history buffs, there is a host of places to visit around the Coffs Coast, from the old WW11 gun bunkers, and the old Glenreagh, to Dorrigo railway line – with a handful of sidings still standing and a few old carriages thrown in.
There was an estimated 200 registered gold mines that still can be found today, several old gold mining villages, and don’t forget the old logger’s stumps that still litter the bush, where you can see the old plank cutouts in the stumps where the old-timers stood up to 15 feet above the ground swinging axes and saws.
A visit to the old mill at Cascade in the hinterland is a hit with the kids too – all this and you’re still only a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the resorts. And for those who don’t scare too easy the Coffs Harbour city cemetery is heritage listed.
For the more adventurous, options range from camel rides on the beach, sky diving from 10,000 feet, whitewater rafting on the mighty Nymboida River, chasing marlin off the coast, mountain bike riding in the local forests, scuba diving around the Solitary Islands, whale watching, and even taking a Harley trip around the coast.
Maybe even head to the northern beaches for a sneaky paddle board, eat or do coffee at one of the many boutique destinations. Oh and then there are headland walks where you can see for miles along the stunning coastline or maybe spot some sea life. The list goes on!
The Coffs Coast seems to have it all.
Where to stay
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