After a our first week in Australia (split between Brisbane and Gold Coast), we set off towards Sydney. We broke up the 12 hour drive over the course of a week, with stays in Coffs Harbour, Newcastle, and Katoomba.
The Big Banana
Our first overnight stop was Coffs Harbour, a town on Australia’s “Banana Coast.”
Bananas are far from the top of the list of things that we associated with Australia, so we were surprised to see banana plantations along the roadside. We later learned that Bananas were introduced to Australia in the 1800s, and today all bananas sold in Australia are grown domestically.
When we saw “The Big Banana” in Coffs Harbour we had to stop and investigate further.
The Big Banana was built 45 years ago, and it started a trend of “big thing” roadside attractions on the continent. At the Big Banana you can do more than just snap a picture; there’s mini golf, laser tag, giant slides, and more.
Our middle son had been asking to play mini golf for weeks and this seemed like a good enough place to get in a round. But first we recharged our energy stores with chocolate-dipped frozen bananas at the cafe.
Forest Sky Pier
The Forest Sky Pier is an attraction in the Orara East State Forest on a hillside overlooking Coffs Harbour. Getting there requires driving up a twisty uphill road past even more banana fields.
From the Sky Pier we took in the view of the city and the ocean beyond.
While in the forest we decided go for a short hike.
Along the trail there were sculptures and murals that taught us about the indigenous Gumbaynggirr people and their creation story that involves hunters pursuing a goanna. In the story the goanna dove underground and reemerged as an island just of the coast.
On the way back into town we stopped at a farm stand and bought some fresh bananas – 2kg for $2! These were some of the most flavorful bananas we’ve eaten, probably because they were picked when nearly ripe (unlike the bananas at the grocery store).
Sea Acres National Park
Leaving Coffs Harbour, we continued south. Our next overnight stop was Newcastle, but first we made a stop at Sea Acres National Park near Port Macquarie.
The park features a boardwalk through the dense coastal rainforest. We were given laminated cards with pictures of plants and animals that we might see along the way.
As we walked quietly through the forest we heard the rustling of leaves below and we spotted a goanna!
After our walk around the boardwalk we spent some time looking around the gift shop and had a snack at the delightful cafe.
Reaching Newcastle, we started with a stroll along the Newcastle Memorial Walk. This walking path is dedicated to Australians that fought in the first world war.
The walkway runs along the edge of a tall sea cliff. Down below we spotted dolphins and some surfers trying to catch a wave.
Next we headed down to the historic Ocean Baths, which has been operating for nearly 100 years.
The baths are huge concrete lined pools filled with sea water. The water was a tad chilly but we made the most of it! 🙂
Later we made our way to the Newcastle Museum where we learned about the town’s industrial roots.
For 80 years, Newcastle was home to a large steel mill operated by BHP. Part of the museum was made to look like the inside of the steel mill, complete with an audiovisual presentation. We hoped that the presentation would teach us something about how steel is made, but it was mostly a romanticized homage to the mill and the people that worked there.
The museum also had a small hands-on science area. The kids found out that they could lift this car using lever!
Later in the afternoon we went to the Blackbutt Nature Reserve, a short drive from central Newcastle.
The reserve features walking paths through the forest and a small zoo with native animals. This is a fantastic FREE (other than a small parking fee) attraction.
We even got to see more koalas!
Adjacent to Blackbutt Reserve is Richley Reserve. There was a huge adventure playground that the kids loved!
In our next update we find out what makes the Blue Mountains blue!