Our next stop along the east coast ended up being the port town of Coffs Harbour. It was a decent 6 hour bus ride from Byron Bay without much to see along the way. Our bus pulled in and our hostels minibus picked us up and gave us a quick tour of the town before we made it to our accommodation. Checked in we met our roommates, one of whom was a Dutch giant named Roell who had been travelling longer than us. Even after over a year, it’s still great to hear other people’s travel stories as they seldom seem to be told in Australia as a huge proportion of the backpackers are working holiday makers.
The next day we set off exploring towards the harbour. Coffs is a town split into two parts, the touristy harbour and the locals town. We were in luck as the weekly market was on in the park near the harbour. It was a more useful market than the one in Byron Bay and we found ourselves some nice salami and sourdough bread. The crafty stalls had some lovely things but there were no fortune tellers or hippie health products anywhere. We did however spot an Ethiopian stall selling curries and Ethiopian bread.
Sunset over the creek
We bizarrely discovered Ethiopian cuisine in Cambodia and loved it, so we earmarked the stall for a lunch stop. Walking on, we found a pretty harbour filled with yachts and fishing trawlers and then some more pretty sandy beaches. We walked along the breakwall and onto Muttonbird island. The island is now connected to the mainland and is a designated nature reserve. In summer rusty shearwaters breed in burrows on the grassy hill that is Muttonbird island. It was a nice steep short walk to the view point, where we watched humpbacks swimming and gannets diving. Having worked up an appetite we were ready for a tasty beef curry and Injera; delicious.
After lunch we walked along the creek to the botanic gardens. They are supposedly the second best in Australia and we could see why. They have a little bit of everything: mangrove walks, rainforest, English country garden and a Japanese garden. It was lovely to walk around and learn a little about the native plants and animals. The platypus that are rumoured to live in the creek didn’t come and see us, but we still had a nice afternoon.
The next day we joined in the morning activity and went kayaking on the creek. The creek is lined by mangroves and home to lots of different creatures. We were a little faster than the rest of the group and lost sight of them on the first bend. We were happy the paddling was a little easier than the last time we had been in a kayak in Laos. The creek was more like a flat lake so we managed to go around 4 km upstream before it got too narrow thanks to fallen trees. We were lucky enough to spot two rays and an azure kingfisher who was fishing quite successfully. We made it back in time for a yummy lunch and then headed to the beach to relax. We probably picked the perfect beach, as while we sat there all the dogs came to say hello and have a cuddle. The evenings in Coffs were not up to too much but netflix in the hostel made up for it and we got to watch some good tv.
Since we had given our arms a work out already the next day it was our legs’ turn. We rented bikes from the hostel and went for a short 26 km loop ride. Sadly our legs protested quite a bit about our chosen course. Coffs Harbour is the place where the mountains meet the ocean and we can definitely agree with that. Most of our ride was undulating but there were a few punishingly steep sections to make us feel the burn. The scenery along the way was beautiful and very much like cycling in Scotland; only less windy. There were a lot of angus cows looking at us like we were crazy but we enjoyed being back on bikes. Back in town we had some shopping to do and ended up with a huge boerewors for dinner.
On our final day in Coffs Harbour we had just enough time to fit in a whale watching trip. We just managed to get places on the catamaran and despite our disappointment in Byron bay, we actually saved money by going in Coffs Harbour. The boat was great, but the sea was still choppy and at times the people sitting at the front got a lot of spray. After around 30 minutes out on the water everyone was wondering where the whales were and if we would even see any. Our guide mentioned that the first group of juveniles is done and now there are seeing the females who are more concerned with getting to their breeding grounds than playing with boats and breaching.
We continued to scan the horizon and eventually a group of three whales came up for air. The boat engine was set to quiet mode and we accompanied them at a distance for a little while. It was great to see the spout of spray followed by a sleek arching whale and stubby little fin before the tail flipped out of the water and dived back in. These whales were on a mission and had no interest in our boat, they were just on their way north. Despite the lack of show such as breaching, tail slapping or fin slapping, it was great to see them a little closer and really appreciate their size and speed.
Happy to have seen the whales we returned to shore and our hostel before we caught the bus further south. We liked Coffs Harbour and are glad we didn’t skip it. The mixture of beach, botanics and biking was good, but the whales stole the show. We can definitely say there is more to Coffs than a giant banana statue and it is worth a few days ime.