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Coffs Harbour, NSW

Major holiday and service centre famous for the 'Big Banana'.

Coffs Harbour is a major coastal resort town noted for its banana plantations, its resorts, its mild climate and its fishing. It is beautifully located where the mountains tumble down to the seal. Although bigger than most NSW coastal towns (its population is now over 65 000), it is typically occupied by retirees seeking the warm north of the state and visited by holiday-makers. The appearance of Coffs Harbour has not been enhanced by the emergence of high-rise units which remind one of suburban Sydney rather than a holiday resort. Nonetheless, it has a kind of glorious subtropical laziness attached to it while at the same time wanting to be considered a thriving city. Consequently the population rises dramatically in summer. The harbour became an important base for a large fishing fleet in the 1970s which is still very active. Tourism, bananas, fishing, timber and engineering now constitute the mainstays of the local economy. In recent years, seaside estates have been developed along 30 km of local coastline.

Location

Coffs Harbour is located 532 km north-east of Sydney via the Pacific Highway. It is 3 metres above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

Coffs Harbour was informally named Korff's Harbour by John Korff, a naval architect and shipbuilder who took shelter in the bay during a gale in 1847. The name was changed from Korff to Coff in 1861 when the town site was reserved.

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Things to See and Do

Beaches
Coffs Harbour is a family holiday destination and, as such, the town's beaches are popular and safe. The town beaches, south to north, are Boambee Beach (which extends south to Sawtell), Jetty Beach and Park Beach. Further north are Diggers Beach, Campbells Beach, Mid Sapphire Beach, Moonee Beach, Shelly Beach, Emerald Beach, Fiddamans Beach and Sandys Beach.

Coffs Harbour Historical Museum
Located in the town's old Court House, the Coffs Harbour Historical Museum at 215a Harbour Drive has, as its website explains, "been divided into exhibition spaces with different themes that take the visitor on a journey from the area’s earliest days, right up to the present. Coffs Harbour’s maritime history will literally wash over visitors through the coastal soundscape that will greet them as they learn about life as a Solitary Island lighthouse keeper and enjoy a huge range of exhibits that show how our early city forebears lived.
Local Indigenous culture also takes pride of place in the new Museum with important objects from the museum collections and a new short documentary on Tony Hart, who is considered to be one of the area’s finest Indigenous artists and craftspeople.
There is also a ‘Communications Room’ that houses a Morse code machine, phonograph rolls and a phonogram, a stereoscope and the magnificent ,and quite enormous, projector from the famous TASMA cinema – to show the way we’ve listened, watched and learned has changed over time. Also on display are many of the unique and beautiful clothes collections from the nineteenth century onwards that local families have donated and, of course, our important archive of objects related to the city’s ‘founder’ Captain John Korff."
It is open Tuesday to Saturday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6648 4847 or check out the excellent website at http://mgnsw.org.au/organisations/coffs-harbour-regional-museum.
Some of the exhibits of particular interest include Aboriginal artefacts (mostly large and carefully-crafted pebble tools), cedar-getters' implements, mining and farming relics and the lantern from the South Solitary Island Lighthouse, made of brass and hand-cut prism glass, which was in use from 1880 to 1975 when the lighthouse was automated.

North Coast Regional Botanic Garden
The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden in Hardacre Street covers 20 ha and is edged on three sides by Coffs Creek. Officially opened in 1988 it now has five kilometres of paths and boardwalks and, while it has an excellent Japanese garden (with a lake and a tea house) it is primarily devoted to displays of both native and exotic flora, rainforest areas and prolific birdlife. There are various self-guided walks. For more information check out http://www.ncrbg.com.au or tel (02) 6648 4188. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm every day of the week and entry is free. The website has comprehensive information about the birds that inhabit the gardens; the ten garden walks (complete with maps); the sensory garden and mangrove boardwalk which extends out into Coffs Harbour Creek and has a bird hide and two viewing platforms over the water; and information about the plants.

Beacon Hill Lookout
There was a time when Beacon Hill Lookout (turn right off Harbour Drive into Edinburgh Street) was considered one of Coffs Harbour's premier tourist attractions. It afforded a superb view across to Muttonbird Island, over the harbour and down the coast towards Sawtell. In recent times trees grew up and obscured the 180° view. There were plans to remove the trees and reinstate the view.

Dolphin Marine Magic
Located near the jetty at 65 Orlando Street this long-term (it was opened in 1970) Coffs Harbour attraction is open from 9.00 am - 3.00 pm daily.  It has performing porpoises, sea lions, live sharks, penguins and other marine animals, a reef tank and a native fauna sanctuary, as well as the Creekside cafe and souvenirs. It is open daily with two shows twice daily. The Marine Discovery Presentation occurs at 10.00 am,  and 1.00 pm and Penguin Feeding at 11.30 am and 2.10 pm. It is recommended that you arrive at least 15 minutes before a show. Everyone has a chance to kiss a seal and kiss a dolphin, tel: 1300 KISSES (1300 547 737). Check out http://www.dolphinmarinemagic.com.au for more details.

The Clog Barn
Tourist areas throw up unusual attractions and "The Clog Barn" at 215 Pacific Highway has to be as strange as any. It has a miniature Dutch village complete with miniature historical buildings, waterfalls, canals, windmills and a toy railway line. There is also a Dutch cafe serving traditional Dutch food, a shop where visitors can buy clogs and dutch biscuits and accommodation. It is free and open from 8.00 am daily with clog-making demonstrations at 11.00 am, 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6652 4633. Check http://clogbarn.com.au for more details.

Bunker Cartoon Gallery
Located on John Champion Way and housed in a World War II bunker, this is reputedly Australia's first and only gallery dedicated to black and white cartoon art. It now has a collection of over 18,000 cartoons with the most significant being a Jim Russell cartoon of Uncle Dick dating from 1950, two lithograph cartoons by Stan Cross and a Percy Lindsay watermarked cartoon dating from 1930. The gallery is open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm Monday to Saturday, tel: (02) 6651 7343. Check out http://mgnsw.org.au/organisations/bunker-cartoon-gallery for more details.

The Big Banana Fun Park
The Big Banana at Coffs Harbour is recognised as Australia’s first “Big” tourist attraction. Today it is a theme park with a "banana" theme when it comes to eating because the shops offer a banana milkshake, a banana smoothie, a banana crunch blizzard shake, a banana crepe, banana split, banana crunch megasundae, choc coated banana , banana fritter, banana bread, banana cake, banana muffins and banana & choc muffins, banana scones and, if that is not enough, the visitor can buy a bunches of “sweet big bananas”. And there is more: banana jam, banana mango chutney, banana rum butter, and banana sauce, banana cream and a banana toothpick holder, a banana key ring, a banana water pistol, a couple of banana stubbie holders, a banana tea towel, a banana-shaped pen and a banana holder.
In 1995 the Big Banana was voted “the most bizarre and grotesque tourist attraction in the world” in a survey of young Australian travellers. Opened in 1964 it still attracts over 900,000 visitors each year. And, most significantly, it is recognised as Australia’s first “Big” tourist attraction and therefore can be fairly seen as the precursor to every “Big” thing in the country.
The idea for the Big Banana was dreamed up by an expatriate Californian, John Landi, who in 1962 bought a 5-acre (2 ha) banana plantation north of Coffs Harbour and two years later set up a roadside stall to sell bananas. Inspired by the success of the Big Pineapple in Hawaii, Landi decided that a Big Banana would attract customers and boost sales. He commissioned local engineer Alan Chapman and builder Alan Harvey to create a 12 metre banana which, when launched on 22 December 1964, was touted as ‘The Biggest Banana in the World’. It was an immediate success.
Over the years the Big Banana has had a chequered career. Landi sold out in 1968. The Enevoldsons ran it for the next twenty years before selling to local businessman, Bob Johnson, who spent $30 million on a major redevelopment only to see the upgraded property go into provisional liquidation in 1989. It was purchased by Kevin Rubie in 1993 and since then it has gone through a slow process of turning into a Gold Coast-style theme park.
Today a visitor to the Big Banana could quite easily spend a day at the attraction. Modelling themselves on the hugely successful South Coast attraction, the Jamberoo Action Park, the management has expanded the property (there are now 13 hectares of banana plantation) and included an excellent downhill toboggan run and a huge water park. There is also an ice skating rink, huge bunjee trampolines and trike rides around the property. One of the theme park’s most unlikely attractions is the World of Bananas which is presented in the main theatre and is genuinely fascinating. Did you know, for example, that Alexander the Great introduced bananas to Europe when he brought them back from India in the fourth century BC? And did you know that Fijian bananas were introduced to the Coffs Harbour region in 1881 and that by the 1930s workers were being imported to pick the bananas? Firstly there were Italian migrant workers and later Punjabi Sikhs.
The second theatre offers a short program on “the use and value of bananas”. Not something to get excited about, you might think, but this is a display where the characters appear as holograms and the illusion is so convincingly three dimensional that when one the characters, or more correctly one of the holograms, slips on a banana skin the audience spontaneously laughs.
The Big Banana is now so large and so productive that all the products offered for sale in the restaurant are made from bananas sourced from the plantation.
Although it may seem to have changed over the past 46 years the actual Big Banana, which stands out the front of the complex and above the Pacific Highway, is the one originally built by Alan Chapman and Alan Harvey in 1964. It probably deserves to be included on the list of National Treasures.
The Big Banana is located at 351 Pacific Highway, 3 km north of Coffs Harbour city centre. It is open daily from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. Entry is free but the attractions are subject to a range of ticket options. Tel: (02) 6652 4355, check out http://www.bigbanana.com.

 

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Other Attractions in the Area

Orara East State Forest
1. Bruxner Park Flora Reserve
Less than 2 km north of the Big Banana the Bruxner Park Road heads north-west off the highway into Orara State Forest. The Bruxner Park Flora Reserve (407 ha), named after Lieutenant-Colonel Bruxner, a committed conservationist and advocate of creating nature reserves. Its dense rainforest growth of vines, orchids and ferns has a walking track which takes in a picnic area at Park Creek. There is also a Rainforest Walk; the attraction of the Vincent Tree (a 65 metre flooded gum which, unfortunately, was damaged in a wind storm in 2013) which is estimated to be 400-500 years old; and both a Creek Trail and a Scenic Rim Trail. There is a good, detailed map which can be downloaded at http://www.forestrycorporation.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/440177/orara-east-sf-map.pdf.

2. Forest Sky Pier and Sealy Lookout
Located at the southern end of the Bruxner Park Flora Reserve, the Forest Sky Pier is a spectacular viewing point which on the escarpment 310 metres above Coffs Harbour and 9 km from the city centre. It projects 21.6 metres out from the escarpment and offers panoramic views of Coffs Harbour city, its foreshore and marina, Solitary Islands Marine Park, surrounding mountain ranges and the coastline far into the distance. On a clear day you can see 100 km to the south. From Coffs Harbour, head north on the Pacific Highway for 5 minutes, then take the Sealy Lookout turn-off and follow the sealed road through hillside banana plantations and avocado groves to the lookout turn-off. The Forest Sky Pier is open daily for visitors, includes parking and toilets, is wheel-chair accessible and is free.

The Old Jetty
The old jetty dates from 1892 when its construction gave a boost to the local timber industry and provided an important loading facility for other regional produce. The whole area is ideal for a stroll and for exploration. There is the jetty, Jetty Beach which lies to the south, the Foreshore Park and Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve which is joined to the mainland by a breakwater that constitutes the northern arm of the harbour and marina.

Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve
Located across the causeway which is one side of the harbour at Coffs Harbour, Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve is a delightful way to spend a few hours. The views are impressive and the experience of the shearwaters is unforgettable. Much of the path around the island is either paved or is a boardwalk. There is an excellent lookout on the eastern side of the island which is ideal for whalewatching in October and November. The island is the breeding ground for over 5,000 breeding pairs of wedge-tailed shearwaters who migrate to the island from the Philippines; and located on the western side of the island is the Muttonbird Island Outdoor Learning Space which the National Parks website (see http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Education-centres/Muttonbird-Island-Outdoor-learning-space) explains: "Long before the island was connected to the shore, certain Gumbaynggirr peple were the only ones permitted to venture here. They came to collect muttonbirds for food, protected for their survival by a giant moon-man guardian. This fascinating Dreaming story and many others are explained in detail at the award-winning Muttonbird Island outdoor learning space ... Aboriginal Discovery Rangers conduct tours of the island, explaining its flora and fauna and narrating their Dreaming stories."

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History

* Prior to European settlement, the Gumbayngirr Aborigines lived in the area.

* In 1770 Captain James Cook sailed up the coast and passed the present site of Coffs Harbour.

* It has been claimed that the first Europeans in the area were convict escapees who took refuge on offshore Muttonbird Island in 1791.

* By the 1840s timbergetters had moved into the area.

* Coffs Harbour was named Korff's Harbour' by John Korff, a naval architect and shipbuilder who took shelter in the bay during a gale in 1847.

* The name was changed in 1861 when the town site was reserved.

* The area was opened up for selection from 1863 although there was little settlement until 1880.

* The dangers involved in navigating the harbour resulted in the sinking of the Carrywell in 1865. The harbour was boycotted by ships' captains.

* A lighthouse was built in 1878.

* Gold mining took place between 1881 and 1898 but much of the gold was only on the surface and the hardness of the sandstone created additional difficulties.

* The first bananas were introduced into the area from Fiji in 1881.

* The first access road to Coffs Harbour was completed in 1884.

* The first school opened in 1885.

* A town was proclaimed and laid out in 1886. It was given the official name of Brelsford but this was not embraced by the locals.

* The land along the river flats had been taken up by the early 1890s.

* In 1892 a jetty was completed.

* Sugar mills developed in the area in the 1880s but frosts, low prices and transportation difficulties had virtually killed the industry by 1900.

* A butter factory opened in 1910, although the degradation of pasturage and a switch to bananas saw the industry shrink after World War II.

* The railway reached the town in 1915, causing a decline in shipping but an increase in tourism.

* The railway link with Sydney was completed in 1923, adding further stimulus to local farming.

* Today Coffs Harbour is one of the major tourist destinations in the state outside of Sydney.

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Visitor Information

Coffs Coast Visitor Information Centre, the Big Banana, 351 Pacific Highway, Coffs Harbour, tel: (02) 6648 4990.

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Useful Websites

The local website can be found at http://www.coffscoast.com.au.

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