We spent the long weekend in Coffs Harbour

Shawn stayed at my place the night before, so we could wake up and leave first thing. The sun came up as we drove across the border to NSW, spreading sunbeams across the farmland and leaving misty gulleys where the light didn’t reach. The mountains were beautiful, but truth be told there wasn’t much to see from the highway.

We arrived in Coffs at about 9AM and made a beeline to what turned out to be the greasiest, fingerprint-covered Maccas I’ve ever been in. We got McMuffins and headed down the road to the closest beach we could find.

Overcast with patches of blue sky over Park Beach. Muttonbird Island in the distance.

I didn’t bring swimwear or a towel because the forecast was for overcast and rain all weekend. To be fair, there was a little bit of cloud when we arrived, but it cleared out soon enough to reveal blue skies and a high UV index that continued for the entire trip.

After McMuffins, sunscreen, going back to the car to fetch hats, and sitting on the beach watching the crabs for 53 minutes (according to my Google location history), we set off on a walk.

Coffs surprised me with the amount of walkways and free things to do. I’d only ever passed it from the train. It looked like a nice beach and a handful of banana plantations and that’s it. But the coastline is full of parkland and beaches, and all linked together with a nice wide path that extended further than we were willing to walk.

A concrete and steel bridge spans a tea stained creek, the beach in the distance.
This is the rail bridge where you see the coast for the first time, on the Brisbane to Sydney train. It’s ugly but I like it a lot.

We managed a couple of kilometres to the marina, and poked around the artificial breakwater before reaching Muttonbird Island

The island is attached to the mainland by the marina these days, but is still an important nesting ground for the little birds to dig holes in the ground and raise their chicks. There’s a designated walkway from one end of the island to the other, and signs warning you not to stray, lest you step on a sleepy bird. Or break an ankle.

Panoramic view from Muttonbird Island, over the harbour and mountains beyond

We didn’t see any birds, I think we were a bit late in the season. But I appreciated the cliffs, and sat mesmerised by the overwhelming power of the ocean smashing against the rocks. And there was a pretty cool ocean bird hovering in the air for most of the time we were climbing the island again to get back to dry land. (Black wingtips, not sure what it was.)

Our inappropriate choice of clothes made for an uncomfortable walk, so we started back to the car to check into the hotel. But we stopped at the surf lifesaving club for lunch first. I had a parmi and Shawn had a chowder.

I saw they had Schweppes behind the bar so I asked if they had Pepsi Max, and the man said no, but the other girl said she prefers Pepsi Max, and the man asked if there’s a difference and we both said YES! and he said maybe they should switch from Coke No Sugar.

This conversation continued every time I went to the bar, and also when he came around at closing time (2:30) to pack up the tables. We had a rapport.

Check-in was easy enough. The place was 90s vintage, but pretty clean and had an amazing view of the ocean, islands, heritage lighthouse etc. The lighthouse came to be my main wayfinding point throughout the trip.

The window between the bedroom and the toilet was an unusual choice, but we devised a roster system to prevent surprises.

That afternoon we sat on the balcony and ate far too much, watching the myriad of bird life screech and warble and do its thing. There were two tourist planes as best I could tell; one dropping off paragliders, and the other one just hanging around in the sky soaking up the sights.

The view from the hotel balcony, there are some other holiday units, but we're up high and can see the ocean over the top of them. There are two islands jutting out of the water.

The main gotcha was the lack of wi-fi. Despite the blinking modem on the counter, the lady at the front counter said it stopped working and they removed it from the listing. And lo, turns out I’d booked a place without internet.

That night we tethered to my one bar of Telstra and watched Miriam Margolyes reluctantly trudge around Australia and be grumpy in standard definition.

We decided we didn’t need to spend a whole bunch of money on holiday, so we stocked up on supplies and made sausage & egg muffins again for brekky.

We took them to Moonee Beach and grabbed hot chocolates from the cute coffee shack by the beach called I Bean There, and sat watching the surfers, dogs, and hilariously the kids trying to ride their bikes through the sandy creek.

I spilled chocolate all down my nice white shirt, but it mostly came out with wet wipes.

After brekky we drove up to Korora Lookout. It’s a public access lookout with indigenous significance. There’s a little pedestal to read aloud the story of the area, and a cunty next door neighbour who’s planted bamboo along the edge of their property to stop people enjoying the view.

This was where I saw my first leech: a little inchworm-looking thing attached to the sole of my shoe. I knocked it off, and we both hiked our socks.

We walked to the second lookout, with a purpose built suspension deck that some dude thought would be funny to make swing while we were all standing on it. The views were amazing and I tried (but failed) to spot the train line into town.

A viewing suspension viewing platform juts out over the raingforest, with views of the town and the ocean beyond.

We stayed for a moment before setting off on a bushwalk into what I refer to as leech gully (side note, that’s what Indooroopilly means. It’s a corruption of the Yuggera language.)

We started trekking down the hill in a nice moist rainforest setting. We were planning to take the trail a couple of kilometres out, but as we descended and the path got thicker with foliage. The sunlight disappeared. Fern fronds brushed past our legs.

That’s when we saw them.

Mother and two kids making their way out of the forest, looking stricken.

“Turn back!” she said, with fear in her voice.

“The leeches have leeches!”

One of the kids had blood streaming down his leg.

We tried to make it to the next clearing, but I freaked out. Shawn wanted to go ahead, but I couldn’t enjoy a hike when there’s blood sucking parasites waiting to hitch a ride.

We turned back and took the shorter, better maintained path in a little loop back to the lookout.

From there we drove to Sawtell, stopping at a roadside stall to buy bananas, and enjoyed ate them at the lookout.

A friendly family of magpies came to us to beg for food so I threw them bits of banana peel and they seemed to enjoy it. The seagulls that showed up shortly after didn’t care for it at all and were FURIOUS we didn’t have chips.

There was a little path down to the beaches, but we only went about halfway and sat at a cute bench, watching the ocean and avoiding the walk back up the hill to the car.

A man sits by himself at a bench overlooking the ocean, on the side of a steep hill, with a paved path trailing into the distance.

The next day was a public holiday in Queensland, and I was scheduled to leave on the train to Sydney.

Shawn made up the last of our muffins while I showered and went to the jetty for coffee and a bit of sunlight. There were plenty of cute dogs and little regional planes to spot. But eventually it was time to head to the station.

I’d booked a first class ticket from Coffs to Sydney. Usually I book two, because I’m large, but I figured for the short journey I’d be fine. But a few hours into the trip one of the rail staff started hovering around, awkwardly looking at me.

I popped out an earbud.

“I don’t think I have to tell you you’re a big guy,” she says sheepishly.

“There’s another passenger getting on who’s seated next to you. So I’ve moved you a few seats back to your own seat.”

“Lol,” I laughed.

I swapped seats and the rest of the journey was pleasant, but uneventful.

The XPT train pulls into Coffs Harbour station, painted in yellow white and blue.