CRUISE THE COFFS COAST
HIT THE HIGHWAY SOUTH TO DISCOVER KILOMETRES OF UNSPOILED COAST, PICNIC ON PRIVATE BEACHES AND EXPLORE TIME-STALLED TOWNS
Long before the seaside town of Sawtell was given that name, the Aboriginal people called the region Bongil Bongil, or ‘a place where one stayed a long time’, for its plentiful supply of food, animals, birds and fish. After a four-day escape to discover the town that holds my husband’s name, we were hooked.
Sawtell, 6km south of Coffs Harbour, lies between Boambee and Bonville Heads and is bounded by a rail line to the west.
Huge heritage-listed fig trees form the backbone of the main street, now a foodie haven with restaurants and cafes spilling on to the sidewalks.
But its ultimate drawcard is spectacular turquoise beaches and estuaries I almost don’t want to tell you about.
Perhaps why this sunny town by the sea carries the tagline The Best Kept Secret in its tourism material.
After the four-hour drive from the Gold Coast, we grab a quick coldie at Sawtell RSL.
The jovial bloke on the front door spots my husband’s surname on his licence and jokes “Mate, you’re royalty around here with a name like that”.
It wasn’t until we got home that we learned he is a down-the-line descendant of Oswald Sawtell, the developer who bought the land for 500 pounds in the early 1920s and saw its potential as beachside village.
Ossie, as he is known to the locals, subdivided the farmland, now the town’s centre, into 500 blocks and sold them for 10 pounds ($20) and up 100 years ago. The average home for sale in Sawtell when we visited is upwards of $700,000.
In 1927 the town was officially gazetted as Sawtell after Ossie himself.
Today the town swells with tourists during peak seasons with accommodation options aplenty. We stay in a two-bedroom ocean villa at Big4 Sawtell Beach caravan park with views of the layers of teal estuary, blonde sand dunes and ocean. Access to the water is a few steps down a forest path from our door.
The Big4 is just a stroll from the main street and offers all the creature comforts you’d expect, with various accommodation options depending on whether you want to camp or glamp.
The rocky coastline and pools along the estuary are perfect for the kids to play. My only regret was not bringing a tube to float along with the current.
Fish and yabbies swim between our ankles and at low tide you can walk across to the beach on the other side.
On the south of Bonville Headland you’ll find the Sawtell Memorial Rock Pool. The ocean pool, built in 1962, is the only one of its kind in the region.
Surfers enjoy the swell on the southside while the headland itself makes for an enjoyable walk with its breathtaking views.
If you visit early enough you might catch the coffee van for your morning cup of joe.
Sawtell’s bounty of food options remains a drawcard for visitors, albeit in the way of trendy shopfronts these days.
We eat our way around the cafes and restaurants along the main drag during our four-day vaycay. For brekkie, we couldn’t go past the homemade sourdough crumpets with whipped cinnamon ricotta at Cafe Treeo on First Ave.
Other highlights included happy hour at Lime Mexicana and Open Air Picnics, which allows you to order a fully catered picnic basket online (48 hours notice required) to match your occasion — romantic picnic for two, afternoon escape or celebration.
With food options varying from grazing platters to salads and sandwiches, you can also select your food choices and add-ons
such as a traditional wicker basket, cushions, flowers, games, even a portable speaker for your tunes.
The picnic gurus recommend South Beach, or “Southies”, for the ultimate spot to roll out your rug and watch the golden sun set over the horizon.
There’s plenty of touristy things to see and do on the Coffs Coast. Our itinerary is as packed as our Nissan X-Trail.
In town, you can catch a film at the historic Art Deco cinema.
There are also croquet lawns, bowling greens and a golf club to take a swing at.
Swap your club for a paddle and SUP your way up Boambee Creek. Grab your snorkel and head for the bay at the southern end of Sawtell Beach, or head to the boat ramp off Lyons Rd for access to Bonville Creek.
Throw a line in with good fishing spots at Boambee Beach, Boambee Creek mouth and South Beach.
You might reel in some blackfish, whiting, flathead and bream, but Sawtell’s laid-back beachy vibes will have you hook, line and sinker wanting to return.
The writer was a guest of BIG4 and Nissan.