Coffs Harbour

Wed 9 Dec 2015 21:36
New South Wales coast as we approached. Note the weather rolling in from the North, lightning was striking by the time we were entering the harbour.

I didn’t quite know what to expect as we approached Australia. We had made the decision to come here just a couple of busy days before we left so I didn’t have much time to research and I’d thought the coast would be pretty flat so the outlines of mountains was a pleasant surprise as we closed the coast. We were just thinking how nice it was to be back in the world of lighthouses, buoys you could rely on and all big ships showing on AIS when we noticed a pretty big craft shadowing us about a mile towards the shore. It hardly showed on radar and had no AIS, pretty irresponsibly we thought. After 15 mins or so they hailed us on VHF: it was an Australian ‘stealth boat’, a Border Force patrol boat checking us out. They just wanted to check that we’d sent prior notice of our arival, noted our call sign and intended port of arrival and asked if we’d seen a any other boats making the passage from the islands. All good.

Just look at those exhaust pipes! That thing can fly across the water.

We’d decided on Coffs Harbour because our good friends on Scotia told us they’d enjoyed the place and had had a hassle free check in. Having experienced no lights brighter than Port Vila for the last 4 months we didn’t want to go straight into a first world city, so a sleepy holiday town, with lovely beaches and a working fishing harbour, suited us well. I knew Australia had great beaches, of course. I’d learnt to speak Australian crossing the Pacific as there were a number of Oz boats crossing at the same time as us and we'd made friends. The simple phrase "Surfing, surfing, surfing, vegemite” is a good start, but I’d progressed with my grasp of the language to the occasional reference to water skiing, beer and barbies, along with a deeper understanding of the term ’thong'. I was well prepared to be able to communicate with the locals and I found that they were all that I’d come to expect: open, straightforward, a little blunt at times but so welcoming, friendly, proud of their country and glad to share it with you.

Coming through the breakwater into the harbour.

Coffs' inner harbour, with berths for the fishing fleet and small craft, was made by joining the mainland to an island just off the shore, called Muttonbird Island (you can guess why), which is a Shearwater sanctuary. The Shearwaters make nests in burrows, like puffins, but it must have been the wrong time of year because I didn’t see any going in and out of burrows. 

The inner harbour, taken from Muttonbird Island, with the start of the town on the left.

However, there wasn’t a shortage of bird life - and what bird life! The second bird I saw after we arrived (the first was a Pied Cormorant, like we saw in New Zealand) was a pigeon. A pretty little thing, like you’d find anywhere in the world, except… except he had a ridiculous tuft of feathers on the top of his head, like a punk pigeon! Phil had told me that’s what Australian birds are like on the whole - larger than life, or brighter than life, or with tufts or frills or madly loud calls, and here was living proof.

Crested Pigeon, I prefer the name ‘Punk pigeon’.

Of course, being a fishing port, there were Pelicans and gulls but I hadn’t expected to see Lorikeets and Cockatoos right by the harbour. Some pohutukawa trees were just coming into flower alongside the fishing cooperative and Rainbow Lorikeets were feeding there. Galahs, a grey and pink cockatoo, seemed to be eating buttercups by the railway track when we walked by and Kookaburras sat on the telephone wires overhead as we cycled into town. Wayne, who ran the coffee shop, was best friends with a magnificent and very intelligent Australian Magpie. Wayne fed him, along with a delicate Magpie Lark, on raw burger meat. Wayne had also got acquainted with a water lizard who lived in the rocks nearby and would come out to be fed when he heard Wayne’s voice.

A preening Pelican and a Kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree-ee.

Australian Magpie, having a moment then going all sleek again.

Rainbow Lorikeet, incredible colours! Spike is a little jealous.

A Galah cockatoo, sorry for the poor quality picture, taken on my phone through a chain link fence!

One of the locals sunning himself: a Water Dragon lizard.

And if the wildlife wasn’t enough, when we went for a walk along the path above the beach we came across some rather interesting trees, putting extra roots down, a bit like like banyan trees. I think Australia will stand some exploring!