Coming up Coffs
Rebecca Lawson rediscovers the magic that has made Coffs Harbour one of NSW’s most enduring and iconic family beach breaks.
Coffs Harbour is one of those iconic east-coast towns that Aussie families used to flock to every summer back in the days before international travel became so much more accessible. But far from bowing out gracefully, Coffs is fighting back with a gorgeous facelift of the town centre, perfectly positioned deluxe accommodation at incredibly reasonable prices, beautiful beaches, world-class food, and of course that Big Banana. With all that, and Tiger Airways’ new super-cheap Sydney-to-Coffs route, it seems this sunny coastal town can offer every essential ingredient for the perfect Aussie getaway.
I’m first struck by the beauty of Coffs Harbour before the plane has even touched ground. It is definitely worth checking in early to secure a window seat so you can soak up the amazing view that the Aussie coastline does so well; the deep azure waters just begging to be dive-bombed, the thick bottle-green of the landscape broken only by the winding Bellinger River, and the horseshoe harbour pierced by that long, thin jetty. The air is warmer than any March day deserves to be as we cross the airport tarmac and the locals as friendly as you expect from a beachside town – and why wouldn’t they be? They live in paradise.
Home away from home
I’m lucky to be staying at BreakFree’s Aanuka Beach Resort, nestled on the edge of Digger’s Beach. My first impression is that the huge resort must be empty, but I soon discover the opposite is true. It is fully booked, but its landscaped grounds and separate pool areas create secluded spaces for everyone from kids to couples to retirees. Not even a huge wedding party disturbs the restful atmosphere.
I am staying in a two-bedroom spa villa which feels more like a new-build at Homeworld. The villa can easily sleep six in the entrance-way alone. Three bathrooms, a spa built for four, a laundry the size of a large kitchen, a kitchen the size of a large lounge, a breakfast bar, six-seater dining table, and a yard the size of a small park ensures visiting families have more space than they need to be self-sufficient – and probably more than they have at home. Another great place to stay is Park Beach Holiday Park with drive-through sites, modern villas and a fantastic pool sure to entertain kids for hours.
That evening, we dine at the resort’s newly renovated Finz on the Beach. Huge windows frame a stunning view across the grounds to Digger’s Beach that, needless to say, creates the perfect backdrop. There is no denying that a meal in Finz is something special – the impeccable service and varied menu wouldn’t be out of place at the Ritz Carlton – but it somehow retains that welcoming, laidback atmosphere essential to family dining.
If you do feel like leaving the resort, a short drive into town and you’ll be able to check out the clean, fresh atmosphere of the newly renovated Coffs Central. Several new restaurants with street seating, live music and that glorious Aussie warmth in the evening air make for a festive atmosphere. On our second night we’ve been invited to dine at CreAsian, where Chef Owen Young’s creative approach to Asian food (hence the name, CreAsian) results in a surprisingly original take on traditional Chinese dishes. The duck pancakes will change your life, and after the pork belly you’ll never look at a pig the same way again. Oink.
Diving with dolphins
One of Coffs’ biggest drawcards is undeniably Dolphin Marine Magic, and magic it certainly is. Formerly called the Pet Porpoise Pool, this is the only place in NSW where you can cross off the activity that is sure to be at the top of everyone’s bucket list – swimming with dolphins. There are several different dolphin experiences you can sign up for, starting from a simple dolphin or wet whiskery seal smooch that can be done from any age including babies and trust me, that makes for a cute picture.
For those aged six to 11, or visitors who are not great in the water there is the Shallow Dolphin Experience where you get a pat and some great info, but the Ultimate Dolphin Experience is where it’s really at for good swimmers over 12. You get a belly ride, a foot push which involves Flipper pushing you along as you scrabble to hang on to a boogie board, and as much patting as you can do in 20 minutes. Starting at $350, the experience will definitely tick all the bucket list requirements. Oh, and the kiss is free.