There are more than a dozen national parks and reserves in the Coffs Coast region, encompassing everything from UNESCO World Heritage-listed rainforests to dazzling beaches and protected islands. Here are six ways to enjoy the natural beauty of this spectacular corner of the New South Wales mid-North Coast.
Between September and April, thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters nest at the Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve, spending their days at sea and returning to their burrows in the evening, a fascinating sight at sundown. A bridge connects Muttonbird Island (known as Giidany Miirlarl in the local Aboriginal language) with the marina at Coffs Harbour.
During the whale watching season between June and November, the 10m-long Pacific Explorer catamaran makes daily whale-watching trips to the nearby Solitary Islands Marine Park, the third largest marine park in NSW. Here humpback whales converge during their annual migration to and from Antarctic waters. Rocky headlands along the Coffs Coast also provide excellent vantage points for whale watching on shore. Take your pick from Sawtell, Emerald Beach and Woolgoolga Beach or head to the viewing platforms overlooking the ocean on Muttonbird Island.
The scenic Solitary Islands Coastal Walk in Moonee Beach Nature Reserve is a 60km walking trail linking beaches and rainforests, and is great for whale watching, bird-watching, swimming and simply being immersed in nature. Running from Sawtell in the south to Red Rock, the four-to-five-day walk can also be broken into shorter strolls of just a couple of hours if you’re not up to a multi-day hiking and camping adventure.
Cultural paddle boarding
See the local environment through Aboriginal eyes on a stand-up paddle boarding tour with Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours. Tours operate on Coffs Creek, Moonee Creek and Red Rock Creek and offer a unique insight into the local Gumbaynggirr peoples’ connection with Country (the land, sea and sky), with bush tucker tasting along the way.
Linking Coffs Harbour with Armidale in the west, the Waterfall Way is a 210km scenic drive weaving through lush rainforest and past cascading waterfalls. Along the route, just an hour inland from Coffs Harbour, Dorrigo National Park is laced with trails; don’t miss the 3.5km-return Crystal Shower Falls Walk, which takes you right behind the falls.
Diving and snorkelling
The Solitary Islands Marine Park is also a paradise for scuba divers and snorkellers. More than 500 fish species have been recorded here, many of them tropical, along with turtles, manta rays and corals. Dive operators in Coffs Harbour offer boat trips to the islands, and snorkellers can also have an experience every bit as thrilling — all that’s required is basic swimming ability.