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The Blue Mountains and Coffs Harbour are both great destinations to explore during the winter months. The air is crisp and clear and generally you are sharing the beautiful surrounding landscape with far fewer people.
There’s nothing like a day of brisk outdoors activity followed by a hot chocolate at a cosy café. And there are plenty of both to be found in the bush or by the sea.
The Blue Mountains
Most outdoors activities on offer in the Blue Mountains are available year-round. The best way to start is with one of the shorter, more accessible walking trails and work your way up from there to longer hikes and more extreme activities like rock climbing and abseiling.
There’s a great walking loop that will take you across the top and bottom of the Jameson Valley canyon without too much effort, starting from Scenic World.
From Scenic World, grab yourself a day pass and take the Skyway across to the cliff track on the opposite side of the valley, taking in views of Katoomba Falls on the way. From here, walk around the cliff top to Echo Point and the Three Sisters.
The Giant Staircase then takes you down into Jamison Valley, where you take a right turn and wind your way around Federal Pass track through lush temperate rainforest back to Scenic World, where you can catch either the Scenic Railway or Cable Car back up the cliff.
For something a little more adventurous, check in with High ‘n Wild Mountain Adventures, who have an office in the lobby of the Katoomba - Blue Mountains YHA.
They run abseiling, canyoning, rock climbing and mountain biking tours in the surrounding bushland and canyons. It’s a great way to get an introduction to these types of extreme activities in a safe, controlled environment, with qualified instructors.
On a full day’s trip with High ‘n Wild, you get the chance to try both abseiling and canyoning. First, you’re shown the basics and taken through a safety briefing before launching yourself over the cliff abseiling 50 metres to the valley below.
Then it’s time to get wet. The mountain water doesn’t change in temperature much throughout the year – it’s cold year-round – so you are supplied with appropriately chunky wetsuits and it’s recommended you wear a beanie underneath your hood.
This tour takes you on a series of climbs, crawls and squeezes through the Elder Cave and the only escape at the end is through the “S Bend”. The so-called S Bend is a very narrow gap between cave walls that you need to shimmy through on your side at first on your left, and halfway through you then have to flip yourself over to shimmy the other way.
There are also two longer adventure cave activities; the Aladdin, which takes half a day to complete and the Mammoth which takes a full day.
If you’d rather explore the Blue Mountains on horse back, head for Megalong Valley and Centennial Glen Stables.
A guided trail ride will take you through some very pretty trails, with landscape that changes every few hundred metres, from open paddocks, to little goat paths that wind through tall trees.
Top 3 cozy Blue Mountains cafes.
1. Yellow Deli on Katoomba St looks like it’s been built with driftwood. It’s a labyrinth of little dining booths made from twisted branches and vines, with stained glass windows and whole meal waiters. The cheese melts and the chocolate brownies are recommended.
2. The Gingerbread House is a repurposed and renovated old church, now a café and sweet shop serving up classics like gingerbeer floats, creaming soda spiders and malted milkshakes. The brownies here are pretty good too.
3. Josophan’s Fine Chocolates on the Mall in Leura is a rather like chocolate heaven, with a wide range of home made chocolates. Make sure you try the choc-mint and pick up their hot chocolate mix.
Coffs Solitary Coast
Coffs Coast is a bit of a hidden gem. Yes, we’ve all heard of Coffs Harbour and the big yellow fruit that still (STILL) sits next to the highway perched on a grassy knoll.
But you probably didn’t know about the Solitary Islands Coastal Walk, a walking route that winds 60km along beautiful beaches and windswept headlands.
This coastline really is beautiful – I’d go as far as pristine. There’s abundant wildlife, lush green hinterland, unspoiled beaches and a thriving foodie culture.
If you’re not up for walking 60km, the coastal walk is easily broken up into bite-size chunks. It’s not exactly serious hiking, mostly along beaches, boardwalks and gentle uphill and downhill slopes as you round each headland.
A good place to start is at the north end of Park Beach, winding around Macauleys Headland, along Diggers Beach and Diggers Headland, finishing up at Charlesworth Beach.
It’s a leisurely 2-hour stroll along practically untouched beaches and leafy rainforest with eagles hovering above and most likely whales and dolphins frolicking about in the distance out to sea.
Coffs Coast has the longest whale-watching season on the Eastern Seaboard. By the time the last stragglers swing by on their way to Hervey Bay, the early starters are starting to head south.
If you’re travelling on the weekend or during school holidays, it’s worthwhile stopping at Charlesworth Bay for a visit to the Solitary Islands Aquarium where you can learn a bit about the unique mix of marine life here.
Or better still, take a trip out the South Solitary Islands and go for a snorkel or a dive. Warmer waters brought this far south on the Eastern Australian Current (EAC) make for perfect sub-tropical snorkeling and diving conditions.
The water is clearer in winter so possibly the best time to seek out the resident populations of colourful sub-tropical fish and sleepy grey nurse sharks. You’re also likely to see manta rays, turtles and big schools of trevally, goatfish and snapper.
Jetty Dive run both diving and whale-watching trips in a very cool little purple Zodiac, which gets you out to sea so quickly there’s no time to get seasick.
Top 5 Coffs short walks
1. Mutton Bird Island Walk. A 2km return trip starting from the harbour, with views back across the harbour and up and down the coast. Great spot for whale-watching.
2. Diggers Beach to Charlesworth Bay is a 4.5km return trip along pristine beaches, and though literal rainforest, with great views of the Solitary Islands.
3. The Sawtell Headland walk is a 6km loop from Boronia Park to Boambee Bay reserve past Boambee Creek, with great views from Sawtell lookout and Bonville Headland.
4. The Beach to Lake walk starts north of Coffs Harbour at Woolgoolga Town Beach. It’s a 3km loop from there to Woolgoolga Lake, past the site of the “Buster” ship wreck, a steamer that ran ashore in 1893.
5. The Korora South Walk is 3.5km return, starting at Opal Cove or Hills Beach along empty beaches and across headlands to Charlesworth Bay.