Riding Waves For Days: A Surfing Odyssey On The Coffs Coast

Explore the thrills, culture, and serenity of surfing on this plentiful coastline.

With over 30 incredible beaches dotted over 80 km of coastline, the Coffs Coast in New South Wales is on track to become the next surfer’s paradise. Nestled just a couple of hours’ drive south of its more crowded counterparts, the Coffs Coast is an underrated coastal gem, and one of the remaining places on the mid-north coast where you can (often) get a wave to yourself. No matter the season, it is beginning to beckon surf enthusiasts worldwide, serving up a tapestry of year-round breaks, a rich marine ecosystem, and a vibrant surfing culture in and out of the water.

Join us as we unpack our quiver and uncover the very best of surfing on the Coffs Coast.

Coffs Coast’s Southern Beaches
Bonville Headland to Sawtell’s Main Beach and Island

Bonville Headland: a south-facing haven for nature and surfing

For post-surf hangs mixed with picturesque views over an ocean bath perfect for the groms, the south-facing Bonville Headland or ‘Southies’, is where both surfing culture and nature come alive. Gateway to the beautiful Bongil Bongil National Park, Southies is also where the Bonville creek meets the sea. Depending on the season, Southies delivers a mix of super-fun conditions. Here you can experience point-break style lefts, peaky beach breaks, or a sucking wedge.

After an epic day of surfing, there’s no need to rush off. Grab your crew and find a spot on the grassy headland to spread a picnic blanket and watch the sunset over the Bonville Creek estuary. Pack some beers and order a famous Southies Wood Fire Pizza made fresh on the headland.

Best time to surf: While being a year-round surf destination, Southies see more crowds during the summer months due to protection from the northerly winds with smaller, more manageable waves.

Tidal considerations: Surfers at Southies often find that low to mid-tide provides optimal conditions. The rising tide contributes to well-shaped waves, creating an enjoyable surfing environment for all levels.

Skill level: Due to its exposure to larger winter and spring swells, Southies is generally more suitable for intermediate to advanced surfers. That said, intermediate surfers can still find opportunities to get out for a paddle during the milder conditions of summer and autumn.

Amenities: Showers, toilets, and free parking.

Local tip: Exercise caution around the sharp, steep jump-off rocks, and like anywhere, beware of sharks!

Sawtell Main Beach and Sawtell Island: a blissed-out, seaside sojourn

Cruising around the charming village of Sawtell, it’s hard to believe we’re only 10 minutes south of Coffs Harbour. With its giant fig trees and heritage-listed buildings, this relaxed seaside town is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring Coffs Coast’s southern beaches. The best part is that Sawtell backs right onto the dunes and has waves that will appeal to anyone keen to get out for a bash.

A stone’s throw from town, Sawtell Main Beach, or ‘Main’, showcases its versatility in various conditions. This popular spot delivers everything from long, barrelling sections to short left or right peaks. But like most breach breaks, it’s dictated by the ever-changing banks and swell directions. Main also provides the added security of being a patrolled beach, making it an excellent choice for surfers seeking a safer environment.

At the southern end of Sawtell Main, Sawtell ‘Island’ thrives in autumn or winter when the wind is southerly or offshore. This location generally boasts longer point-style right-handers and occasional wrapping sections that are ideal launch points. Paddling out near the Island is often the most convenient approach for surfers.

Best time to surf: Sawtell offers surfers year-round rides but will generally work best in north-west to southerly winds, or with an east to-southeast swell.

Tidal Considerations: Timing your surf session with mid to high tide enhances the quality of waves. The rising tide often contributes to better-shaped waves, providing surfers a more enjoyable experience.

Skill level:  Beginners may find the smaller waves during summer and autumn ideal for learning, while more advanced surfers can enjoy larger swells in winter and spring. Surf schools such as Solitary Islands Surf School operate all year round and offer learners a supportive environment in which to build their skills.

Seasonal insights and locals tip: In summer, pack a funboard for the smaller waves, and at this time, the Island can often be a better choice for learners. Bring a performance shortboard to tackle the larger and more powerful southerly swells in winter. Check the online surf reports for sandbar conditions, which impact wave quality.

Amenities: Showers, toilets, free parking.

Beyond the beach: Sawtell’s First Avenue is bursting with character and offers alfresco dining at some of Coffs Coast’s best cafes and restaurants. Located at the Surf Club with views over Sawtell Main Beach, The Kiosk Sawtell offers an all-day brunch and lunch menu, while the family-friendly The Sawtell Hotel serves up fresh, seasonal food in a relaxed, recently renovated setting. For a fun night, check out Morty’s Joint for mouth-watering fried chicken and burgers, pool tables, live music and loads of local craft beers.

While in the area, explore the tranquil havens of Boambee and Bonville creeks, offering a serene setting for a relaxed swim or BBQ with the family. Be sure to say g’day to Matt from Eco-Cerified C-Change Adventures, who rents stand-up paddleboards and runs eco-tours, the perfect way to immerse yourself in the eco-rich systems of these beautiful creeks.

Coffs Harbour’s ‘place of plenty’ – Surfing Park Beach, Macaulay’s Headland and Diggers Beach

Park Beach Coffs Harbour: let the good times roll

Conveniently located with proximity to camping, hotel and motel accommodations, cafes, restaurants, and shopping, Park Beach (known to locals as ‘Parkies’) provides surfers with an authentic and fun coastal experience.

Close to where Coffs Creek meets the sea, Parkies is an exposed beach break, offering consistent and versatile conditions, with waves forming from both local wind swells and distant groundswells. The beach break accommodates peaky left and rights, though increased surf often attracts crowds.

Parkies is Coffs Harbour’s main surf spot and is patrolled daily by the Coffs Harbour Lifeguards during most of the summer, ensuring safety for beachgoers.

Best Time to Surf: Parkies is a year-round surfing destination, offering a variety of conditions throughout the seasons. Optimal wave opportunities arise during the autumn and winter, thriving under offshore winds from the west and providing partial shelter from south winds. When the northeast winds are up, bring a funboard for the smaller waves at the north end of Parkies (Macauley’s).

Tidal Considerations: Surfing at mid to high tide is often preferable at Park Beach. The rising tide contributes to well-shaped waves, enhancing the overall surfing experience.

Skill level: Parkies is pretty versatile and even suitable for learners – especially during the milder conditions of summer. Here, beginners can take advantage of smaller waves at the beach’s northern end, creating a welcoming environment for skill development.

Seasonal insights and local tip: Opt for surfing further south towards the Park Beach Surf Club for a more relaxed experience away from the autumn or winter crowds. Watch out for strong rips, especially near the creek mouth.

Amenities: Barbecues, picnic tables, children’s play areas, shady trees, toilets and free parking.

Beyond the beach: Situated by the Surf Club car park, Park Beach Reserve rests along the shores of Coffs Creek, offering a beloved family destination equipped with barbecues, picnic tables, children’s play areas, shaded spots, and restroom facilities. For a post-surf feast with the crew at Donovan’s Surf Club Restaurant & Bar offers panoramic oceanfront views over Parkies. But for a date with Bae, drive over to see the deadset legends at Old John’s Cafe, the go-to for tasty sangas and shakes, incredible coffee, must-try macadamia toast or even a poke bowl. And as the sun sets, you would be mad to pass up a session at the iconic Hoey Moey. Nestled next to Park Beach, indulge in fantastic pub food, quench your thirst with ice-cold bevvy’s, and groove to live music in Coffs Coast’s ONLY beach beer garden.

Macauleys Headland Coffs Harbour: Coffs Coast’s surf drive-in

Positioned at the northern end of Park Beach, the iconic Macauleys Headland is one of the most popular places to surf on the Coffs Coast. Visiting here you can easily see why, as this local favourite features a mix of break breaks, accompanied by a famous left-hand point break that cranks when it’s working. It’s so fun to watch, as many do from their cars!

The abundance of natural beauty at Macauleys is undeniable. Its rocky coastline blends into a verdant grassy headland, creating a breathtaking view in and out of the azure water that greets it. Walking over the headland to Diggers Beach, wildlife enthusiasts can spot resident black cockatoos, white-bellied eagles, dolphins, and at certain times of the year, migrating humpback whales.

Best Time to Surf: Best experienced with northwest wind, this exposed point break welcomes waves year-round, with autumn and winter being optimum for surf conditions. Regarding swell, Mccauley’s receives a mix of groundswells and wind swells but favours a northeast to southeast directions.

Tidal Considerations and Skill Level: Macauley’s is surfable at all tide stages and almost always guarantees surfers of all skill levels a fun session, no matter the time of day (or year).

Amenities: Toilets, showers and free parking.

Local tip: If surfing here, beware of rocks, rock launches, and other surfers. With care, surfers can use the fast-moving rip that runs out along the headland.

Diggers Beach: Where the mountains meet the sea

As any well-travelled surfer knows, vibes are high when paddling out at an outstandingly beautiful break. Dubbed by locals as Coffs Coast’s most visually stunning, Diggers Beach, or ‘Diggers’, is a beach break with some of the most diverse mix of nature and surfing offered in one spot.

This particular beach certainly has a magnetic allure, so be prepared to share the stoke with fellow surf enthusiasts seeking the perfect ride. But sharing is not always a bad thing, for it is in the friendly embrace of Diggers that camaraderie thrives, adding a layer of community to your surfing saga that you won’t find anywhere else on the Coffs Coast.

Skill level: Depending on swell and weather conditions, Diggers serves up an array of wave diversity, appealing to both a beginner and an advanced surfer. When I learned to surf here, the assurance of lifeguards and surf schools that frequent Diggers took the edge off! Be sure to consult the City’s website for patrol times.

Best Time to Surf: Optimal conditions prevail with offshore winds from the southwest, providing a natural shield against a potential blowout. Diggers thrives on the power of groundswells, with the perfect swell direction emerging from the southeast. However, when north-easterly, the swell often results in consistent beach breaks. At this time, surfers can explore various peaks along the shoreline, finding a suitable wave regardless of skill level.

Tidal Considerations: Ride the waves at Diggers at mid to high stage – the beach break offers a canvas for exploration, with good surf opportunities unfolding at all stages of the tide.

Amenities: Barbecues, shelters, children’s play areas, toilets, showers and free parking.

Seasonal insights and local tip: The north end is usually bigger and more rippy, whereas the south end is smaller and more suitable for beginners. Use the rip in the south corner for an easy place to paddle out if you lack experience. If you do, bring a buddy!

Northern Beaches – Woolgoolga to Arrawarra Headland

Woolgoolga Beach: The small surf town with a big heart

A short 25km drive north of Coffs Harbour, Woolgoolga is a laid-back coastal surf town popular with families and backpackers. Affectionately known by its friendly locals as ‘Woopi’, it’s an excellent base for a year-round surfing holiday as there is so much to see and do. Aside from offering surfers two great options at its Main Beach and Back Beach, there’s also a stack of great cafes, bars and restaurants, banks and shops, holiday parks and luxurious beachfront accommodations. Woopi does have it all.

Best time to surf: Known for its relatively consistent surf, Woolooga offers both exposed beach and reef breaks that have varying conditions across the seasons, so year-round surfing is almost always possible here. Optimal surf conditions are when an east-southeast swell aligns with offshore winds blowing from the west-northwest. 

Tidal considerations: Surfing at mid to high tide is often preferable at Woolgoolga Main Beach and Back Beach. The incoming tide helps improve the shape of waves, making your rides more manageable and fun.

Seasonal insights and skill level: Both beaches are perfect for learners, especially during the milder summer conditions. Autumn and spring present a mix of conditions suitable for surfers of all levels. Winter welcomes larger swells, offering a challenge for advanced riders.

Amenities: Barbecues, picnic tables, children’s play areas, shady trees, toilets, showers and free parking.

Local tip: Woolgoolga Back Beach is often less crowded, regardless of the season. Reasonably protected by the headland, head there early for a more secluded surfing experience, especially during the warmer months when the wind blows in from the northeast.

Beyond the beach: After a delicious Bluebottle Brasserie breakfast, walking around the headland at Woolgoolga provides a prime vantage point for witnessing migrating Humpback Whales between May and November. And just 4 km inland, Sherwood Nature Reserve and Woolgoolga Picnic Area offer a 2km riverside walk through subtropical rainforest to a breathtaking waterfall, providing excellent opportunities for birdwatching. At the end of a fun day, unwind with a beer at the Seaview Tavern or Woolgoolga Brewing Co, both of which are local favourites.

Arrawarra Headland: A love affair with longboarders

Nestled a bit further north along the Coffs Coast, Arrawarra Beach is renowned for its thrilling right-hand point break over a sandy bottom, with waves breaking for up to 100 metres, providing longboarders or performance riders with ample opportunities for impressive carves and hacks.

You can see waves between 4-8 ft when the point comes alive. A longboard is recommended on smaller days, while a shortboard proves ideal when the swell size increases.

Best time to surf and tide considerations: With a mix of ground and wind swells, Arrawarra is a point break that works well in offshore winds from the south-southwest to west directions.. The best conditions are when the winds are offshore and a nice swell rolls in from the east. Mid tides are preferable.

Seasonal insights and skill level: The prime season for surfing Arrawarra is in autumn, characterised by consistent, clean waves with light/offshore winds, especially in April. Surfable waves prevail this month, but the wind can still affect the breaks. Suited for intermediate and advanced surfers, Arrawarra consistently delivers quality waves but can also get crowded on weekends. Occasionally, it may be too small for experienced surfers, but it will make it suitable for beginners and groms.

Amenities: Showers, toilets, free parking.

Local tip: While the surf may draw a crowd during prime conditions, surfers should exercise caution around rocks, be mindful of sharks, and respect the local surfing community

Navigating the Seasons: summer bliss to winter challenges

As the seasons change, so do the surfing conditions on the Coffs Coast. Summer generally brings smaller waves with northerly winds, so get out early in the day for a better surf. Autumn and winter bring larger groundswells, providing a challenge for advanced riders. Talk with the locals who know the waves intimately for the best insights.

Embracing the surfing lifestyle: community, events, and competitions

The Coffs Coast boasts a vibrant surfing culture, celebrated by events like The Barney Miller Surf Classic, Billabong Oz Grom Cup, and local board rider club competitions. This region has nurtured homegrown talents like Harley Ingleby, Shaun Cansdell, Dael Wuff and World professional surfer Lee Winkler. Engage with the local surf community, attend surf festivals, and witness the passion that defines the Coffs Coast’s surfing scene, which is thriving, inclusive and supportive

Surf Schools, shops, and gear recommendations

For those eager to learn or improve their skills, surf schools like Solitary Islands Surf School and East Coast Surf School offer expert guidance across multiple locations. Lee Winkler runs his famous Lee Winklers Surf School which offers 1-on-1 performance coaching, group lessons as well as surf camps. Explore local surf shops like Coopers Surf Australia and XS Surf for quality gear and ‘try before you buy’ board rentals. Friendly staff and a wealth of local knowledge make these establishments essential for any surfing adventure.

Discovering the Solitary Islands Marine Park – A Surfer’s Eden

As New South Wales’ first ECO Destination, the Coffs Coast takes pride in its commitment to environmental conservation. So unlocking a positive Coffs Coast surfing experience will naturally start with an understanding and respect of its underwater world – the Solitary Islands Marine Park.

Surfing here is unlike anywhere in the world. Expect tropical and temperate mixing, where the warm waters of the East Australian Current meet with cool, nutrient-rich currents from the south that rise from the deep. And because of this rare convergence, an abundance of marine life calls this sanctuary home.

Surfing safely and responsibly

Always check surf and weather reports online at Swellnet and Willieweather, adhere to local regulations, and respect the environment. Wear appropriate gear, know your limits, and consider hiring a local instructor if you’re new to the area. Surf with a sense of responsibility, respect the locals, and leave only footprints on the pristine shores

Photography Credit: Ignacio Martinez – a passionate, local surf photographer inspired by the healing nature of the ocean. Follow his socials for even more tips and to purchase his beautiful limited-edition prints: @seamplicity.co & Matt Evans – Naturally Creative