Created 30 million years ago, the Great Dividing Range shadows the Coffs Coast creating pristine pockets of rainforest, beautiful mountain streams and stunning views right down to the coastline, but it also allows for some of the best four-wheel driving and camping experiences in NSW.
Coffs Harbour, home of the legendary Big Banana and beautiful beaches for as far as the eye can see, prides itself on its natural wonders, clean coastal air and it’s now a mecca for sporting clubs … but did you know that the Great Dividing Range follows and for parts comes right down to the coastline? Thus, giving the Coffs Coast some of the most diverse and unique areas to explore along the eastern seaboard. Most of what is here was actually created more than 30 million years ago when a series of volcanoes were active, especially the Ebor volcano just 100km inland from Coffs. This created rugged valleys and mountain ridges, spectacular rivers and stunning areas of prehistoric-like rainforest valleys.
But for four-wheel drivers it’s given us the perfect playground to explore in with so many different areas depending on your preference and ability. The tracks around Coffs are like a giant maze criss-crossing through the forest areas and it can be as hard or as easy as you make it. Although they are only a part of what makes this region the perfect place for outdoor explorers.
Coffs is now regarded as the 4WD capital of New South Wales with its range of challenging tracks designed to test most skill levels. At nearly 700 metres high, Mount Coramba is a four-wheel driver’s heaven with never-ending hill climbs, rocky terrain and clay-based tracks. The mountain demands respect even in the dry with track names like Rocky, Commando, Army, Morbid and Cyclone. It can be hardcore, but this is the place to come to and it’s easy to spend a day on the mountain traversing tracks to the top then doing another back to the bottom. But be warned, when the weather turns as it often does here being in the subtropics, the rain turns the tracks to pure slop and often the traction is little to none which will have you screaming for the winch. Don’t believe me on just how steep it is? Well, grab a local topography map and see how close the contour lines are.
So, what’s so good about Mount Coramba? Well, when you get to the top there are rugged views to the west towards the plateau regions yet down below the coastal ranges give you an indication of just how close the mountains are to the sea. Ironically, you can’t see Coffs Harbour from up here as the city was built in a bowl with the mountains as a close backdrop. Mount Coramba is only a short drive (15 minutes) to the city centre which makes it perfect for a quick explore or worst-case scenario, recovery and parts.
Getting lost in Coffs is always a fun way to spend the day on the assortment of tracks around the Coffs Coast. Now, not saying you will get lost, but with more than 500,000 acres of state forest and national parks to explore, you really do need a decent GPS or series of maps. Along the Great Dividing Range, you’ll need to use 1:25,000 maps with every bit of detail you can find. Tracks around Coffs range from easy forest road with stunning views and opportunities to explore to others that are for the hardcore fanatics.
One of the wonderful things is that no matter how much or how little experience you have, Coffs is a great playground to get dirty in. There are enough tracks here to whet your appetite with coastal sea views, through old growth forests stopping at little villages along the way, to loops where you can explore a mix of everything all in one day. Quite often you won’t see another 4WD all day because of the number of tracks there are to explore. There are also many camping options in the area from free camping in state forests, booking online for National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) sites, through to caravan parks or the fancy resorts in town … there are plenty of luxury options in this great spot.
The discovery of timber (mainly red cedar) along the north coast opened up many areas deep into the thick forests and with this the flow-on effect continued with the discovery of gold — then towns were born, railway lines were built and the population grew. Up in the hills behind Coffs there is plenty of rich history just waiting to be explored. The most significant pieces of history would be some of the 300 registered gold mines dating back to the mid-1880s, plus the Glenreagh to Dorrigo railway line that covers nearly 70km but only lasted a few years. Along the way there are abandoned structures including railway tunnels, old trussed and steel bridges, platforms and old machinery. Throw in the old gold mines with tunnels, shafts and pits where finding the shiny stuff had different degrees of success, the hinterland is a pretty cool place to explore.
Pebbly Beach has to be one of the most sought-after beach camps along the eastern seaboard of NSW all year round. What makes this place so special is that it’s only accessible during low tide and has limited camping. Picture this: After leaving the Pacific Highway turn-off to Pebbly (midway between Coffs and Grafton), you’ll need to meander nearly 20km of dirt roads with creek crossings passing through a mix of pine plantations and dry gum forest, then a 2km drive along a designated track across sand dunes before popping out onto a stunning beach, heading north for a further 2km with the ocean on one side and dunes on the other. It’s at the end of the beach run where you need to cross the tidal creek to access the stunning Pebbly Beach camping area.
Now, you’ll need to book through the NPWS website these days well in advance but it’s well worth it. Wake up with beautiful sunrise views, salt air in your lungs and then a magical beach stroll … there’s no better spot to get away from the rat race. If by some chance you are not keen to head up the beach, Station Creek camping area is another option where you can base yourself and explore the area on foot. Around the forest there are some fairly good 4WD tracks following the ridge lines, through the pine plantations and incorporating power line tracks.
For something quirky head out to the ‘Key Man’ statue on Yellow Cutting Road. What’s the Key Man all about? Well, Jonas Zilinskas was born in Lithuania in 1919 and migrated to Australia where he was involved in the timber industry. He was a natural performer with a circus and performed many stunts on the high wire. Even today you can look in the trees and see cables still bound in the air. He built the statue in 1957 as respect to his maker, and he was known to work in the nude while working in the forest.
Up in the Coffs hinterland the soil is fertile, and with decent annual rainfall plus warm sunshine there is a never-ending supply of rainforest areas with many exquisite waterfalls throughout. Most people head an hour away to explore the Dorrigo region with its world-class Heritage-listed rainforest complete with suspended walkways and cafes.
But closer to Coffs in the hinterland there are many more areas that can only be accessed by 4WD. All created when the Ebor volcano exploded, it created many waterfalls and natural creeks. Ironically, most of the water flows into the Orara River just west of Coffs. Now, while you would think it would have cut a path straight to the ocean, the Orara actually flows 100km north to join other rivers before it heads east to the ocean.
One of the most popular waterfalls is Bangalore Falls. With a combination of 4WD tracks and a short five-minute walk to the falls, it is a perfect day out for anyone with a 4WD. Grab a detailed map and create your own adventure by discovering the hinterland. Most waterfalls have designated roads to either the base or top of the falls, which makes finding them an enjoyable experience.
Top tips for exploring the Coffs Coast
- Ensure your gear is up to scratch if tackling any of the serious terrain that is on offer.
- Research as much information as you can — ARB in Coffs has all the relevant information including recovery gear, maps and books.
- Respect the conditions and drive the tracks to suit.
- If camping out, leave it better than when you arrived.
- Look after the environment and look at the big picture, not just the tracks you drive on.
- All year round is great to visit the Coffs area — during summer you can cool off in the hinterland creeks or the nearby ocean, yet in winter it’s perfect for campfires and marshmallows.
- Accommodation — there are many options depending on your situation, from free and low-cost camping — there are Hipcamps throughout the area — or maybe you prefer a little luxury each night at one of the many high-end resorts in the area … they will have you covered.
- Be prepared for sudden weather changes especially in summer — sudden downpours can and will affect the tracks.
- Explore the history in the hinterland from the old gold mines to the Heritage railway.
- Most of all, soak up just what the whole Coffs region has to offer.
Coffs Coast 4WD destinations
Available at ARB Coffs, this guide is the only one you will need to explore some of the tracks and find those camping hotspots in and around the Coffs Coast. I’ve authored this book as an introduction for exploring the Coffs Coast hinterland as there is nearly 170,000 square acres of state forest, NPs and crown land to discover. From mild to wild tracks there are so many to explore within the area. Camping highlights include remote riverside spots, stunning beach campsites, beautiful gorge country and local gems. Only available at ARB Coffs, it will get you started towards creating your own adventure somewhere on the Coffs Coast.
So, no matter what your reason is for coming to the Coffs region, I can assure you there is something for everyone.
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