Six Of The Best North Coast, NSW Tourist Attractions

By: Heather Gow, ellaslist explorer

In my 1980’s childhood, post-school holiday conversations were full of names like Coffs Harbour, Yamba, and Nambucca Heads. Since the arrival of cheap air travel, names like Fiji, Bali and New Zealand seem more likely to feature in my daughter’s schoolyard chats. Yet, warmer weather, spectacular scenery and some terrific, child-friendly tourist attractions are still available on our own north coast with the benefit of being able to pull over for a screaming baby or motion-sick child – something an A380 can’t manage quite so easily! We took our four children, aged between 11 months and 12 years, on a road trip in the recent school holidays. Here are six of the best ways we found to entertain them (and ourselves!) at the north coast, NSW.

1. Butterfly House, Coffs Harbour

Located just off the freeway at Bonville, nine kilometres south of Coffs Harbour, the Butterfly House captured the imaginations of my daughters when we visited three years ago and it did not disappoint the second time around. The opportunity to hold a butterfly on the tip of a finger seemed just as magical for our twelve-year-old as it did for the younger kids, and the butterfly keepers were full of patience and answers to their many questions (Is this a boy or a girl butterfly? Does it have a name? Can I name it Fred?). There is a restaurant with fresh, simple and kid-friendly meals and an outdoor play area to burn off some energy before getting back in the car. A far more fun, educational and nutritious option than Maccas!

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday; 9am-4pm (best time: 10am-2pm), open Mondays during NSW school holidays
Costs: Adult- $18, Child (4-16yrs)- $9.50, Family- $50

2. Bago Maze, Wauchope

We took a little detour down a windy dirt road and arrived at Bago Maze, ten kilometres from Wauchope and half an hour from Port Macquarie, at around 10am on the first Saturday morning of the school holidays. We appeared to surprise our hosts somewhat, however, they cheerfully interrupted their cups of tea and paper-reading in the sun to show us their creation: the biggest hedge maze in NSW. It is a twisted, circular labyrinth of eight-foot-high hedges nestled into the side of a hill next to a vineyard and in the morning sun it was spectacular. By the time we had become well and truly and pleasantly lost, scared the kids by pretending to be bunyips, and found our way out again, the car park was full and the hosts were busy chatting about wine and maze building with their visitors. Another great way to burn off some energy if you are willing to go just a little off the beaten track!

Hours: Daily; from 9am, last entry to the maze is 4pm. Takes about 20 minutes.
Price: Adults- $10, Children- $7, Family- $35

3. Dolphin Marine Magic, Coffs Harbour

There are some for whom the ethical issues of keeping marine mammals in captivity for entertainment will mean that they will prefer not to support this type of business, however, the rescue, rehabilitation and research roles performed by the staff at Dolphin Marine Magic and the education of children about the issues facing marine wildlife make this a valuable visit and it was an outstanding highlight of our trip. The stars of the show are a family of six dolphins, consisting of two rescued dolphins and their four offspring, and eleven Australian Sea Lions, bred at the zoo in one of the most successful sea lion breeding programs in Australia. They put on an incredible show of playful games and aerial gymnastics and provide wet and rubbery (dolphin) or soft and whiskery (sea lion) kisses to everybody who wants one. The opportunity for the children to interact with these clever and fun-loving creatures was profoundly engaging for them and I expect I’ll be fielding questions about when we can go back again for years to come.

Hours: Daily; 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Price: Adult- $36, Kids (3-15 yrs)- $19, Family Pass- $100

4. The Big Banana, Coffs Harbour

My father was a big advocate for family road trips but he came from the school of “get there as fast as you can” rather than “take your time and see some sights”. Year after year we’d cruise straight past the Big Banana, regardless of the chorus of pleas coming from the back seat of the family Holden. Well, I am pleased to report that at the ripe old age of thirty-nine and a half I have been to the Big Banana and it was totally worth it. The video of my five-year-old daughter on the toboggan with her father begging to “go faster, Daddy!” and her squeals of frightened delight when he did is destined to become a family classic. In addition to the Banana itself, the tour of the banana plantation and the toboggan, there is ice-skating, mini-golf, laser tag, and a water park—so I’m sure our first visit will not be our last.

Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Prices: Fun Park FREE to enter, Water Park Adults: $19.50, Children: $16.50

5. Macadamia Castle, Knockrow

We have family up the coast who are lucky enough to have season passes to the awesome Macadamia Castle between Ballina and Byron Bay, and after spending a cousin-filled afternoon there, I can see why they renew them every year. The kids got to hold crocodiles, snakes and baby chickens (not all at the same time!), as well as feed kangaroos and have an up-close-and-personal conversation with a curious emu. There was a variety of playground equipment, a tourist train, and a mini-golf course where we held an inaugural family putt-putt tournament (sadly your correspondent didn’t win, but did score a couple of tricky hole-in-ones to keep dignity intact!). Staff were helpful and knowledgeable and kind enough to wait while we finished the last couple of golf holes after closing time. Not so big that you couldn’t see everything, but big enough to hold plenty to keep the kids entertained, this was a perfect way to spend a relaxed few hours.

Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm daily
Prices: Adult- $21.50, Kids (2-5 yrs)- $12, Kids (6-16yrs) $15

6. Byron Bay Markets

If you’re in the market for a dreamcatcher, Byron Bay Markets might well be the place, but they are far from being all that’s available. We dropped by thinking that we’d be there for a couple of hours but were captivated by the food, the music and the atmosphere, as well as the creativity of many of the artisanal products on offer. One of the most talented face-painters I’ve ever seen managed a line-up of children an hour long – her creations were so incredible that the kids were more than happy to sit on their plaster toadstools and watch her work. No request was deemed impossible -everything from fairy princesses to Darth Vader. We got ourselves a couple of snow-wolves who were so pleased with themselves that there were storms of tears at shower-time. Just a tip – be prepared to park and walk – it was busy, even in the middle of winter.

Hours: 8:00 am – 3.00 pm on the first Sunday of the month
Prices: Free entry


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