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You can't miss the 10m (33-ft.) reinforced-concrete banana alongside the highway at the Big Banana Theme Park (tel. 02/6652 4355; www.bigbanana.com), 3km (2 miles) north of town. The adjoining park offers ice-skating, a toboggan run, and 'the largest inflatable waterslide in the world', and other attractions. It's open daily from 9am to 4:30pm (3pm in winter). Admission to the Big Banana is free.

A free natural attraction is Mutton Bird Island, which you can get to from the Coffs Harbour jetty. A steep path leads up the side of the island, but views from the top are worth it. Between September and April, the island is home to thousands of shearwaters (mutton birds), which make their nests in burrows.

If you prefer fish, try diving with gray nurse sharks, manta rays, and moray eels with Jetty Dive Centre, 398 Harbour Dr., Coffs Harbour (tel. 02/6651 1611). Two dives cost A$175. If you'd rather catch them than swim with them, the Pamela Star (tel. 02/6658 4379) offers good-value deep-sea-fishing trips.

For a taste of gold fever, head to George's Gold Mine, 40km (25 miles) west of Coffs Harbour on Bushman's Range Road (tel. 02/6654 5355 or 6654 5273). You get to go into an old-time gold mine, see the "stamper battery" crushing the ore, and pan for gold yourself. The mine is open Wednesday through Sunday (daily during school and public holidays) from 10:30am to 5pm. Admission is A$10 for adults, A$5 for children, and A$28 for families.

Exploring the Rainforests & Other Outdoor Adventures

Coffs Harbour's main advantage is its position as a good base for exploring the surrounding countryside. You must see the World Heritage-listed Dorrigo National Park, 68km (42 miles) west of Coffs Harbour, via Bellingen. Perched on the Great Dividing Range that separates the lush eastern seaboard from the arid interior, the rainforest here is fascinating, and features huge ferns high up in the trees, creeping lantanas, and lots of bird life. Entry is free, and there are good walking tracks.

The Dorrigo Rainforest Centre (tel. 02/6657 2309) is the gateway to the park and has extensive information on the rainforest. (I also highly recommend the Canopy Café here, the coffee and cakes are really good and they do a very good lunch.) Just outside is the 21m-high (69-ft.) Skywalk, which offers a bird's-eye view of the forest canopy. Several walks leave from the Rainforest Centre, the Glade Picnic Area (about 1km/ 1/2 mile away), and the Never-Never Picnic Area (a 10km/6 1/4-mile drive along Dome Rd.). Most tracks are suitable for wheelchairs. Bring a raincoat or an umbrella; it is a rainforest, after all! For more information, the Dorrigo Tourist Information office (tel. 02/6657 2486) is in the center of Dorrigo township.

If you have the money, Precision Helicopters (tel. 02/6652 9988; www.precisionhelicopters.com.au) offers scenic flights around the area. For a bit more personal action, try horseback riding through the rainforest 23km (14 miles) southwest of Coffs Harbour with Valery Trails (tel. 02/6653 4301; www.valerytrails.com.au). Two-hour rides leave at 10am and 2pm daily and cost A$50 for adults and A$45 for kids. Reservations are essential.

If you have your own wheels, I'd recommend a visit to the little town of Sawtell, 10km (6 miles) south of Coffs Harbour. Despite its size, it has plenty of designer stores, chic cafes, and gourmet restaurants. The beach is nice too, with hypnotic views up and down the coast. There can be dangerous rips here though. If you want to stay the night here, the Creekside Inn B&B, 59 Boronia St., Sawtell (tel. 02/6658 9099; www.creeksideinn.com.au), is best. Rooms cost from A$140 for a double, including gourmet breakfast and afternoon tea. Some of the town's best restaurants are Barrels Global Bistro (tel. 02/6658 8255; www.barrelsbistro.com.au) and Taste Restaurant (tel. 02/6658 3583).

Worth visiting for its markets on the third Saturday every month is nearby Bellingen. The markets are one of the best in Australia and feature live entertainment, and 200 stalls selling things from hippy gear to soaps and garlic.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.