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The Big Banana

Coffs Harbour
Large centre on the North Coast famous as the home of 'The Big Banana'.
Coffs Harbour is a major coastal resort town, also noted for its banana plantations and its fishing. It is beautifully located where the mountains tumble down to the sea, 558 km north-east of Sydney and 3 metres above sea-level.

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 by holiday-makers eager to enjoy themselves and spend some money.

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.

It is thought that the Gumbaingirr Aborigines lived in the area prior to 1788. It is said that the first Europeans in the area were convict escapees who took refuge on offshore Muttonbird Island in 1791. Timbergetters began to open up the Bellinger Valley from 1841.

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 modification of the name occurred in 1861 when the town site was reserved.

Cedar-getting was the economic mainstay in the early years, although some agriculture developed with the gradual clearing of the land. The dangers entailed in navigating the natural harbour were evident with the sinking of the Carrywell in 1865, leading to a boycott of the harbour by ships' captains until a lighthouse was built in 1878.

The area was opened up for selection from 1863 although there was little settlement until 1880. As the river flats were very fertile, higher prices were asked for blocks which initially slowed development although the land along the flats had all been taken up by the early 1890s.

The first school opened in 1885 and a town was proclaimed and laid out in 1886. It was given the official name of Brelsford but this title did not take. Tentative forays into fruit, dairying, goldmining and sugarcane had been made by that time. Sugar mills developed in the area but frosts, low prices and transportation difficulties had virtually killed the industry by the end of the century.

Transportation also held the timber industry back until 1892 when a jetty was completed. The construction of an access road had provided employment during the 1880s and the conjunction of these infrasructural advances saw the timber industry begin to thrive. A number of mills opened and, at its peak, 4.5 million metres of timber a year were shipped from Coffs Harbour. Inevitably, such plunder led to a shortage of resources and the decline of the industry in the 1920s.

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. Though some ventures were prosperous, all were short-lived. However, they did draw prospectors, some of whom settled in the area as farmers.

Meanwhile south coast dairy farmers began to settle in the area. 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 arrived in 1915, causing a decline in shipping (the harbour had been an important outlet for local produce) but an increase in tourism which had commenced with the development of the first access road in 1884.

Another side effect of the railway's construction (and simultaneous work on the harbour) was the development of the banana industry. The first bananas were introduced into the area from Fiji in 1881, but it was the hungry mouths of 1500 workers and their families which provided a fillip to the industry. The railway link with Sydney was completed in 1923, adding further stimulus to local farming and, when disease wiped out the banana plantations further north in the late 1920s, Coffs Harbour became the country's major centre of production.

Improved access by road, rail and air in subsequent years saw the expansion of the tourism industry. Today Coffs Harbour is one of the major tourist destinations in the state outside of Sydney. Consequently the population rises dramatically in summer.

The harbour became the base of 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. The two somewhat separate town areas (that along the highway and that by the jetty) have been fused by recent urban growth

Things to see:   [Top of page]

Tourist Information and General Activities
The Coffs Coast Visitor Information Centre is a good place to commence an exploration of the area. It is located at the corner of Pacific Hwy and McLean St, tel: (02) 6652 1522 or, toll-free, 1300 369 070. It can furnish self-guide maps concerning 4WD tours in the area and information regarding surfing, boating, snorkelling, bushwalking, hot-air ballooning, white-water rafting, canoeing, game fishing and horseriding.

The marina in Harbour Drive is a departure point for fishing charters, whale-watching cruises from May to September and scuba-diving cruises to the Solitary Islands Marine Reserve. Summer visitors with children may want to check out the Aquajet Waterslide in Park Beach Rd which runs off the highway at the northern end of town.


The Boat Harbour at Coffs Harbour

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. The next stop is Woolgoolga.

Moonee Beach, 10 km north of the Big Banana, is a large beach with a small settlement and a foreshore lined with pine trees. It has good facilities. Emerald Beach (17 km north of the Big Banana) is also attractive, though Sandy Beach (a further 2 km north, on the other side of Bare Bluff) is quieter and more secluded.


Coffs Harbour Historical Museum
The Coffs Harbour Historical Museum at 191 Harbour Dr, near the Earle St corner (east of the Mall), is open Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday from 1.30 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. It has 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. On the latter date the lighthouse was automated, tel: (02) 6652 5794.


The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden
The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden in Hardacre St (which runs off Harbour Dr) covers 20 ha and displays both native and exotic flora, rainforest areas and prolific birdlife. It is surrounded on three sides by Coffs Creek and covers 19 ha. There are various self-guided walks.


Beacon Hill Lookout
To access Beacon Hill Lookout, turn right off Harbour Dr into Edinburgh St as you head downhill to the harbour.



The jetty and Muttonbird Island

The Old Jetty Area and Muttonbird Island
The old jetty dates from 1892 when it gave a boost to the local timber industry and provided a crucial outlet for other regional produce. This is a very pleasant area for a stroll - along the jetty, Jetty Beach, the Foreshore Park and out to Muttonbird Island (600 m x 200 m) which is adjoined to the mainland by a breakwater that constitutes the northern arm of the harbour. Surrounded by rugged rocks, the island is home to what is thought to be the largest colony of wedge-tailed shearwaters in NSW which breed on the island in the summer. Humpback whales can also be seen from May to September during their annual migration.

Markets are held at the Jetty Village Shopping Centre every Sunday from 8.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. You can paint a plaster figurine or make a simple craft item at Plaster Fun House, tel: (02) 6651 3637.


Pet Porpoise Pool
Not far from the jetty, in Orlando St, is the Pet Porpoise Pool, situated near the entrance to Coffs Harbour Creek. It has performing porpoises, sea lions, live sharks, penguins and other marine animals, a reef tank and a native fauna sanctuary, as well as a cafe and souvenirs. It is open daily with sea circus shows at 10.30 a.m. and 2.15 p.m. daily, tel: (02) 6652 2164.


The Clog Barn
The Clog Barn is a miniature Dutch village complete with miniature historical buildings, waterfalls, canals, windmills and locomotive. It is located on the highway between Harbour Dr and Orlando St and is open from 8.00 a.m. daily with clog-making demonstrations at 11.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m., tel: (02) 6652 4633.


The Big Banana
The Big Banana, famous for its enormous yellow concrete banana, is a combination of the kitsch, the educational and the entertaining. It is located 3 km north of Coffs Harbour on the western side of the Pacific Highway. There is a monorail tour of the complex which incorporates the Aboriginal Dreamtime Cave, featuring the Dreamtime story of the Gumbaingirr tribe, a skywalk to the lookout, toboggan rides, an ice rink, a billabong complete with bunyip, an audio-visual theatrette, historical exhibits, hydroponic glasshouses which feature an array of unusual exotic species, a tissue culture laboratory, a gift shop, a produce centre, a packing shed and a hilltop restaurant with excellent views, tel: (02) 6652 4355.


Bruxner Park Flora Reserve
Less than 2 km north of the Big Banana the Bruxner Park Rd heads north-west off the highway into Orara State Forest. A few kilometres along this road is 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 is bisected by a walking track which takes in a picnic area at Park Creek. A scenic road leads to Sealy Lookout, from whence there are excellent views of the city, coastline and hills.


Coffs Harbour Zoo
The award-winning Coffs Harbour Zoo, 14 km north, has nearly 400 different animals, continual animal presentations, an animal nursery and a rainforest aviary, all set in fine landscaped gardens. Children can hand-feed kangaroos, waterbirds and wallabies. It is open daily from 8.30 a.m., tel: (02) 6656 1330.


George's Gold Mine
Continue west along this road which was once part of the main North Coast Road from Sydney to the Queensland border. 16 km from the highway, at Coranda, turn left off the Grafton Rd and follow the signs (the roads are mostly surfaced) for about another 20 km to George's Gold Mine which offers guided walks of the Bayfield Gold Mine, established in the late 19th century. Displays relate to that era's goldmining technology and methods, including a working stamper battery, steam engines. There is also gold panning, a pioneer house, a picnic area, a lookout and rainforest walks. The mine is open daily, tel: (02) 6654 5355.





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