There’s something about Coffs Harbour that stirs emotions and brings back childhood memories of the family road-trip.
In those days its most exciting feature was the Big Banana – and I must say – that Banana has staying power. Our kids are as excited about being the first to spot it as we were (all those years ago).
The Banana hoves into view on our arrival, the kids cheer and we turn into our chosen accommodation a few hundred metres on the right: The Novotel Pacific Bay.
The family suite here is incredibly roomy – there’s enough space for a family of seven to sleep comfortably (and with some degree of privacy), a well-equipped kitchen and a magnificent view of Charlesworth Bay.
Because we’ve just driven solidly for six hours we ignore the kitchen and head for Charlies Restaurant which provides a great kids’ menu and activity packs for the hordes and a lovely house red for me.
Our first activity the following morning is a Segway tour with the Novotel’s Timeout Experiences. These odd-looking devices are becoming all the rage and the kids have an absolute ball whizzing around the resort on them.
There are several tours available and while younger kids are limited to the training course, older kids can join the longer guided off-road tours in the beautiful surrounding bushland.
Our next activity is also at The Novotel at the Zip Circus Flying Trapeze School where we all have a go at throwing ourselves of a high perch and swinging into the arms of an awaiting instructor.
The Flying Trapeze has classes catering for everyone from three-years old and up. For those of us who suffer a fear of heights, the professionally trained instructors really do put you at ease – plus there’s a big net beneath us and we’re harnessed in.
Next on the agenda is possibly the most memorable experience the kids have ever had (seriously). The Dolphin Family Swim at The Pet Porpoise Pool is an incredible experience (too much hyperbole? I don’t care – it really is).
We hop in the pool with our charming, knowledgeable trainer and Calamity the dolphin. We get to stroke her, throw balls for her, cuddle her and even “dance” with her. She’s beautiful.
You could not swipe the smiles of the kids’ faces with a sledgehammer – even the sarcastic, super-cool teenagers.
Calamity was brought here in 1994 having been found in the Tweed River in an emaciated state after becoming entangled in fishing line. At death’s door when she was rescued, she needed a full 12 months to recover – and she still bears the scars.
We’re also joined in the pool briefly by one of the 15 seals that live here, a playful critter that swims up and sniffs us all like an eager puppy.
During the school holidays The Pet Porpoise Pool is also home to Steve McEwen’s Reptile World – an extra free activity which gives the kids another opportunity to get up close and personal with some more cold-blooded creatures.
And then of course, the heavens opened which effectively rules out our planned visit to nearby Park Beach. Instead we head back to the Novotel, arm the kids with tokens for the games room and book in for a couples massage.
Tranquility day spa’s signature treatment is the Pohaku Hot Stone Therapy. Imagine a warm room, dimly lit with candles and soothing music. While we lie there being massaged with heated, oiled stones. Bliss.
Having delayed our visit to the Big Banana two full days, the kids really can’t wait any longer and so follows a morning of toboggan rides, waterslides and ice-skating before indulging in a frozen chocolate-dipped banana (just like I remember them).
Another great Coffs attraction for rainy days is Tabatinga, a fantastic indoor play centre with features such as glow-in-the-dark mini-golf and Balladium – an action-packed air cannon arena.
There’s also a computer games area suitable for toddlers and pre-schoolers and a huge indoor Jungle Gym.
Back to the great outdoors and getting wet for fun, we opt for an activity that is possible unique to Coffs: surf rafting. Nearby operator Liquid Assets can take you from fresh water to salt water and from whirlpools to waves.
It’s tremendous fun as we test our team-work as a family to ride the waves safely to shore without losing family members along the way.
This is followed with a kayak around the headland where we encounter dolphins and turtles and glimpse abundant marine life through the crystal clear water.
Beyond the Big Banana there is much more to the Coffs Coast than what’s stored in my memory of childhood holidays.
It’s a beautiful sub-tropical destination with abundant opportunities for wildlife encounters – whether it’s at the Pet Porpoise Pool or walking through the many national parks. It’s well worth revisiting.
(Featured image – Will Ellis)