If you were to drive the coastal road leading from temperate Sydney north to Sub-Tropical Brisbane by car, you would soon start to notice curious giant statues at tourist attractions– everything from a Big Oyster at Taree to The Big Banana just north of Coffs Harbour. (You’ll want to stop at The Big Banana, because you’ll be staying nearby.)
This giant “sculpture”, modeled on an actual prize winning banana, is probably the most photographed object in Australia. 36 feet long (11 metres) and 16 feet high (5 metres), the development around it has somewhat lessened its impact over the years but it is still one BIG banana. And for over 40 years, people have been taking pictures of it at an awesome rate. You can even walk through it to see a photography tour of the growing of a bunch of bananas.
Opened in December, 1964, this was the first among Australia’s giant tourist landmarks. John Landi had seen the famous Big Pineapple which overlooked the Dole Pineapple cannery in Hawaii (“We eat what we can, we can what we can’t” was Dole’s famous company slogan). He decided to use a Big Banana to promote his roadside fruit sales.
By the mid 1960’s John Landi had opened a milk bar and his banana milk shakes made Coffs Harbour famous, a favourite rest stop for travellers on the Pacific Highway. Dreams of a Disney-style theme park never came to pass, but it has developed over the years into a 43-acre site with fun rides, educational tours and exhibitions, recreational activities, a variety of food experiences and several retail outlets.
Coffs Harbour itself is a fishing village that has become a small, booming city– yet it still manages to retain its original charm. Sub-tropical rainforests and the Solitary Islands Marine Reserve attract tourists, while other pleasures include the North Coast Regional Botanic Gardens, museums, galleries and sports from whitewater rafting to para-sailing. According to the CSIRO, Coffs Harbour has the most livable climate in Australia, and it is nestled between a high mountain backdrop and dozens of “unspoiled” beaches. The population is about 70,000, which swells to about 100,000 during high season.
The predominant feature and the raison d’etre of this tourist area is, of course, the pretty beach which lies between Boambee Head and Bonville Head. These two rocky promontories sit adjacent to the estuaries of Boambee Creek and Bonville Creek. The town here, just outside Coffs Harbour, is little Sawtell.
Sawtell has a small shopping center (with a very distinctive and quite luxuriant median strip that causes traffic problems), lookouts from the two headlands, a local cinema, some good walking areas near the river and the beach, a fine picnic area and playground near the mouth of Boambee Creek, good fishing (particularly for blackfish) in the creeks and the ocean, boat ramps at the two RV and camping reserves, surfing, skin diving, attractive walks and drives in the surrounding bush, a good saltwater tidal swimming pool at Bonville Head, safe swimming at Boambee Bay, a BMX track, and the usual amenities for people who want to relax, such as a croquet lawn, bowling greens, squash and tennis courts and a golf club.
There is a childrens’ playground and picnic-barbecue area at Boambee Head (off Sawtell Rd), a fine ocean pool at Bonville Head (via Boronia St) and lifeguards at both. The main boat ramp is off Lyons Rd and it facilitates access into Bonville Creek. Street markets are held in First Avenue on the first Saturday of the month with the Town Fair being held on New Year’s Day.
If you are taking children along, you must absolutely stop at Storyland Gardens, situated in Lyons Rd (the southerly road into Sawtell from the Pacific Highway). It features sculptures of famous characters from childrens’ stories – Snow White, the Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood etc – all within their own storyland settings. The whole is contained within a forested area. The owners actually live in a large shoe (as in the Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe) which has a kiosk in the toe. There are landscaped gardens, a large fish pond full of koi, a playground, a bird aviary, small animals and barbecue facilities, tel: (02) 6653 1400. They are open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Thursday to Sunday except in the NSW school holidays when they are open every day.
But scuba diving is one of the main reasons for staying in this charming and beautiful area. Of all the places on earth to dive, The Solitary Islands just offshore have to be one of the best. Beautiful marine life and many places to explore make the Solitary Islands a wonderful destination for the trip of a lifetime for any diver.
The Solitary Islands Marine Park is located on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales between Coffs Harbour and the Sandon River. It is the first protected area in Australia which combines estuaries, beaches, headlands, islands and offshore waters in a single multi-use management unit. The diversity of marine life found around the islands and rocky outcrops is considered to be among the most outstanding in Australia. The waters around the Solitary Islands are bathed by the warm southward flowing East Australian Current which begins its journey from the equator. Adding complexity to this region, the coastline and nearshore islands are also influenced by cooler currents from the southern latitudes. The result is a fascinating mix of marine life, where species from the Great Barrier Reef can be found together with marine life which occur as far south as Tasmania.
South Solitary Island, situated 8.5 miles northeast of the harbour, is nicknamed “The Light” because of its most prominent feature (a lighthouse). Being further off-shore, the island is more exposed to the magnificent blue water currents. Among the stunning sites available for divers are:
- Grey Nurse Gutters: well known for its abundant fish life and sightings of Grey Nurse Sharks. Schooling King Fish, Golden Trevally, Jewfish, Nannygai and Bannerfish are often found in this area, and there are bushes of black coral;
- Boulder Wall: large boulders litter the top and cascade over the edge of the wall, levelling out to a comfortable 60 feet. This provides a perfect base for Crayfish to hide and corals full of tropical fish like Blue Tangs to thrive. Schools of fish are abundant with Trevally, Mackerel, Bonito and Schnapper and more.
North Solitary Island is considered to have the densest aggregation of anemones and anemone fish in the world.
Tucked in along Boambee Bay next to the Boambee River, just a short stroll to the long white sands of Boambee Beach, is the (what else) Boambee Bay Resort, a dual affiliated II Premier / RCI Gold Crown property.
The resort has 79 two-bedroom units, each offering a full kitchen, two bathrooms, spa, TV, video, telephone, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer. Boambee Bay is a leisurely 15 minute walk to a Centro shopping complex. It provides major department and supermarket stores with many specialty shops, a library, post office and day medical centre. A skateboad park, BMX cycle track and sporting fields are also nearby.
Visitors will enjoy fishing, boating, surfing, bush walking, and sightseeing in the area. The resort offers every imaginable amenity and facility to entertain guests of all ages, including a huge swimming pool with spa and bridge, tennis, squash, lawn bowls, gym, sauna, playground, hair salon, games room, members lounge and mini golf. After a hard day, enjoy a drink at the Brig Bar or dine at Alma Doepel restaurant. (Note that smoking is not permitted in any of the apartments (this includes the enclosed balconies) or common resort areas such as the Pool, Children’s play area, Mini Golf, BBQ’s, Terrace, Pavillion, Club & Family Lounges.)
There is some good antique hunting in surrounding towns, and several interesting tours to take as well.
So this is another place in the world where you have the opportunity to do as much or as little as you like. Take advantage of it, and give Boambee Bay (and The Big Banana!) a try.
Websites with information about the area:
- http://www.coffscoast.com.au/ Really nice site
- http://www.bigbanana.com/ The Big Banana
- http://www.visitcoffsharbour.com/ Guide, photo gallery and more
- http://www.travelaustralia.com.au/ Travel site for all of Australia
- http://www.nnsw.com.au/coffsharbour/ Another Coffs Harbour site
- http://www.mpa.nsw.gov.au/simp.html Solitary Islands Marine Park
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