A view of Dorrigo National Park, above, from Precision Choppers in Coffs Harbour.
A view of Dorrigo National Park, above, from Precision Choppers in Coffs Harbour.

Travel beyond the Big Banana and explore Coffs Coast

I'D NEVER showered in front of a wallaby before. That's the macropod variety, not the Mortlock, for the record.

It was resting in the shade on a grassy decline that ran down to a creek.

The trees flanking its banks gave the beast some relief from the afternoon heat, which was tickling 40 degrees.

I was trying to do the same under a generous shower head next to a huge pane of floor-to-ceiling glass offering uninterrupted views of the countryside while you lather up.

After the initial "what if (insert dodgy human element here) is out there with a camera" passes, you remember you aren't Miranda Kerr and enjoy the liberating experience.

If you are going to bare all to nature, the laid-back Bellingen Valley is the place to do it.

Putting the hip into hippy, the hinterland township of Bellingen and its surrounding hills are at the heart of the Coffs Coast region, an area that offers natural diversity on a small scale as far as distance is concerned.

One moment you can be standing atop Muttonbird Island among the burrows of the island's namesake, and half an hour later be bathing with Skippy and his mates in secret valley.

From there, another short trip north-west and the winding range road leads to a World Heritage national park 730m above sea level. And all accessible by the family car.

During our two-night stay, we were based just outside Bellingen, a central location for exploring the Coffs Coast.

While a motor vehicle will easily get you around, if you want to take your sightseeing up a notch, or a couple of hundred metres in this case, a chopper ride is a memorable way to soak up the contrasting landscapes from the sapphire coastline to the lush hinterland.

You can whiz over the Solitary Islands Marine Park, spot pods of dolphins fossicking for food and if you head out over the hills to Nana Glen, you can play paparazzi as you glide above Russell Crowe's expansive cattle property.

South of Coffs Harbour city, the small but vibrant seaside town of Sawtell is a family-friendly destination with a visitor-geared package of great eateries, boutique shopping and unspoilt beaches.

Inland Bellingen offers similar treats, the beaches replaced with a winding river and lush undulating countryside.

In "Bello's" town centre ,the historic Hammond and Wheatley Emporium takes centre stage, while around the corner the laid-back vibes of former Austen garage-come-eatery No.5 Church Street welcomes visitors like long-lost friends.

It's a favourite with the locals and on this occasion, 21-year-old guitar prodigy Joe Robinson, who was born in nearby Bowraville, kept the party going into the hot December night.

Teamed with a wholesome menu of organic and bio-dynamic ingredients and freshly made margaritas, you can see why this place is a Saturday evening hot spot.

The former dairy property where we were based is a short drive from the town centre into those rolling hills.

The Afterglow cottages are stylishly appointed and host Agnes made sure we were not left wanting a thing.

Afterglow cottages near Bellingen.
Afterglow cottages near Bellingen.

Her breakfast packed full of local produce gets your day off to good start.

After a big day out exploring, you can slip into the sunken spa bath on the cottage's timber deck and watch the stars, or in this case, the distant storm flicker, periodically illuminating the surrounding foliage.

After a good night's sleep, we packed our walking shoes and plenty of water and headed up the range to Dorrigo and its World Heritage national park.

The skywalk is a high point, providing expansive views of this protected ancient site and giving an indication of the sheer size of the 120sq km rainforest with its mix of subtropical, dry and temperate sub-forms.

There are walks for all fitness levels and as the whole track is sealed with bitumen there is no fear of slipping.

Being able to encounter the variety of rainforest levels from the skywalk's platform to the bird's-eye boardwalk and the cooler, damper ground cover where you can see the forest floor in action is a delight, as is being able to traverse behind a cascading curtain of water for a microbat's-eye view of the park's most popular pausing spots, the waterfalls.

After burning off your breakfast with Mother Nature, stop into the rainforest centre's Canopy Cafe and experience local cuisine that is as highly regarded as the park itself.

Forget the burger and fries. This place is all about fresh produce and quality ingredients that result in dishes like the slow-roasted Bangalow pork belly with rhubarb sauce and Dorrigo Plateau free-range scrambled eggs with sourdough.

The rainforest birds also seem to sing this place's praises, given the recital to which we were privy.

Seems all Coffs Coast inhabitants know how to turn on a show.



Flying there

Coffs Harbour Regional Airport is serviced by three carriers with flights from Brisbane: QantasLink, Virgin Australia and Brindabella Airlines.

Note: Some flights are via Sydney.

Driving there

Brisbane to Coffs Harbour is about a five-hour drive or 427km.

For more information, visit coffscoast.com.au.


>> To read more travel stories