Rose Jacobs wears many hats including being the travel expert on FOXTEL’s The Lifestyle Channel, mother to Isabella (3) and Frenchie (1) and wife of TODAY weather presenter Steve Jacobs. She grew up in the Coffs Harbour area in eastern Australia and still loves the favoured local family holiday destination. From swimming in the Rosewood River to soaking up the sun on the stunning beaches, Rose tells suitcases&strollers why travel with kids in Coffs Harbour is absolutely perfect.

Why should parents plan a family holiday in Coffs Harbour with kids?

Coffs has always been on the map as the perfect stop over for anyone driving from Sydney to Brisbane or vice versa. But not many people stay long enough to really appreciate the hidden beauties of this amazing region. It’s way more than just a large coastal town…it’s an entire chunk of the mid-north coast that is exploding with colour, lush rainforests, white sandy beaches with no one for miles, tiny coastal inlets perfect for sunny day floats on lilos and exceptional little pockets of dining and entertainment that only the locals still know about. The locals are pretty cool too!

Where is your favourite place to take kids in Coffs Harbour?

One of my first jobs ever as a teenager was at The Big Banana. It’s the clichéd icon of the region – but if you really want to know, it’s actually awesome!! In recent years (and recent facelifts) the Big Banana has gained an ice skating rink and has the coolest rides and attractions. I’m proud to say it’s a local asset of Coffs and I am yet to meet a kid who hasn’t had an awesome day at The Big Banana!

What is the best free activity to do in Coffs Harbour with kids?

My kids are still young enough to be entertained by the most simple of things and the closer to nature the better. A little insider secret is the estuary at Sawtell where the Bellinger River flows out to the ocean at the Sawtell headland. It’s the perfect place to take a boogie board or a canoe and a picnic and, if you get the tides right, you can cast off and just coast down the stream, swimming whenever the sun gets too hot. The water is so majestically green and clear you will swear you are in Thailand or the islands of the South Pacific. You’ll also find you have the place to yourself most of the time. [For some family beach safety tips, read the suitcases&strollers interview with the team from Bondi Rescue.]

Where is the best place to take kids in Coffs Harbour when the weather is bad? 

As a weather presenter, I know that Coffs is also known as “Thunderstorm Central” with almost 40 major thunderstorms per year in the region. So, with this in mind, I think the best place to go is the trampoline centre on Hogbin Drive in Toormina. Admittedly I was a trampoline enthusiast as a kid, representing Coffs Harbour as a state champion gymnast – but this place is for everyone, of every age and every level and it’s certain to get the heart racing.

What are some of the city secrets that tourists might not know about but shouldn’t miss on a family holiday in Coffs Harbour?

There’s nothing better than eating freshly cooked scrambled eggs and bacon as the sun rises over a pristine sunny beach and potentially witnessing whales breaching and dolphins skimming the waves. This is what a typical weekend morning is like at the Sawtell Surf Club Café. Unlike any Sydney venues that would have a waiting list longer than a year and a price list no average family can afford, this is a tiny little hidden gem that I share with my closest friends who want to experience the absolute best of the mid-north coast.

What’s the best way to have an authentic experience in Coffs Harbour with kids? 

It was always known as the Pet Porpoise Pool when I was a kid (now it is called Dolphin Marine Magic) but it still boasts the most beautiful, up-close encounters with dolphins and seals a kid could ever imagine. It’s super affordable and this is something the kids won’t ever forget.

What is the ideal time frame for a holiday to Coffs Harbour with kids? 

I would spend a minimum of one week. This is how long it takes to get the city smog off you and to truly slow down and sit amongst the lush rainforest and the birds, the warm sand in your toes, and read books, take afternoon siestas do day trips to Bellingen for the markets and swim in the Promised Land river called the Never Never.

When is the best time of year to visit Coffs Harbour? 

I would visit in the seasons either side of summer. The weather is warm in Coffs almost all year round but the best time is when you can escape the summer crowds and still take advantage of the beaches. Anytime from September to December and again from February to May.

Where are your top 3 places for family-friendly meals in Coffs Harbour?

My favourite is the Sawtell pub – it’s super family-friendly and often has a live band that fires up and the kids can go for a genuine foot-tapping boogie after an early meal.

Otherwise try a lunch outing at the Coffs Marina foreshore and have some of the best takeaway fish and chips in New South Wales.

And, finally, don’t miss the chance to stop at the Bellingen Gelato Bar for some of the most delicious gelati you will ever taste, especially after a hot day swimming at the river.

What are your tips for kids' shops in Coffs Harbour? 

Little Einstein [Shop 74/ Harbour Dr., City Centre Mall, Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia, +61 2 6651 7777] in Coffs City Mall is packed with really unique kids’ toys, clothes, games and gifts.

I also love Love & Kisses (in the mall) that has a really awesome rage of kids products at every price range that is usually really unique.

Which is the best place to stay if you are on family vacation in Coffs Harbour?

I am biased, but I believe sunny Sawtell is the best place for an authentic experience around Coffs Harbour. If you’re after a self-catering option as close to the dunes as you could imagine, the magical private rental beach houses called Shellies On The Beach are breath-taking.

If you want something super [low] budget and just for a quick overnight stopover, then the Sawtell Motor Inn is a great choice.

And if you’re in for a super duper family vaycay with all the bells and whistles then the Opal Cove Resort or Aanuka Beach Resort are pretty good options.

What is the best way to move around Coffs Harbour with kids? 

It’s a huge area. I wouldn’t even consider tackling it without a car or hire car. Unless you’re up for a real adventure and want to spend the day peddling around on some bikes, then cars are the only real option. [To read more about Rose's family holidays, see the suitcases&strollers interview with her husband Steven Jacobs.]

What are your top 3 tips for families travelling to Coffs Harbour with kids?  

Think outside the square. The region around Coffs is where the hidden gems are. Don’t be afraid to explore Bellingen, Sawtell and even north of Coffs around Woolgoolga.

Switch off the phone, take off the shoes and start a new policy that no rules apply! It’s when you’re outside your comfort zone that the best experiences happen. Drive to a river and go for a dip. Take the kids to the pub for a family-friendly meal and a dance. Or just sit and have a picnic at sunrise with fresh coffees and croissants from the local bakery. These are the memories your kids will never forget.

And don’t forget the camera.

To read more about the beaches in northern New South Wales, see the suitcases&strollers story Port Stephens

Images: Destination NSW, Hamilton Lund, Grenville Turner