Holidays can be hard work these days. But just 90 minutes from Coffs is a place that lets you truly unwind and relive those blissful laid-back holidays of the past. Living in Coffs Harbour, our holidays usually go via busy Sydney Airport. They involve check-in procedures, long waits, laptop and WiFi hassles, taxi queues or car rental forms, and a full schedule of activities. Once arrived, it can take hours, if not days, to relax.
I’ve discovered a place where stress doesn’t exist. A place that’s easy to get to, yet remote enough to feel like you’re miles away from anywhere. A place people find themselves drawn back to again and again. That place is Wooli, a peaceful village of just 500 people on the Clarence Coast.
Wooli’s topography is unlike any town I know. Stretching out along a 4km long, narrow peninsula (less than 200m at the narrowest points), the village is wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the stunning Wooli Wooli River.
With Wooli entirely surrounded by Yuraygir National Park and the Solitary Islands Marine Park, bushwalks, wildlife, rare birds and great diving and snorkelling are right on its doorstep. But if you like your creature comforts, you’ll be glad to know Wooli also has great spots offering eat-in and take-away food and drink. So yes, you can sip your latte at a café in the morning and celebrate that big fish you caught with a cold beer at the pub in the afternoon.
Wooli does something to people, I’ve found. It takes them back to happy childhood holidays. To times when life was simpler and there were fewer distractions. When mum settled down with a book, dad tried to catch a feed, and you swam, played on the beach and ran around to your heart’s content with not a care in the world.
Wooli somehow manages to take you back there. It slows you down and makes you notice and appreciate things. It gently forces you to (excuse the catch phrase) ‘live in the now’ and enjoy every minute of the day.
Cleanest river in NSW
Locals like to point out that the Wooli Wooli River is the cleanest in all of New South Wales. It actually shares that honour with the nearby Sandon River, but you only need to look in the crystal clear water to know it’s true. Because the river lies within the protected Yuraygir National Park and Solitary Islands Marine Park, there’s nothing but untouched nature upstream. With no industrial or farming runoff into the river, Wooli enjoys pure, unpolluted water that’s relished by fish, birds and people alike.
It’s no wonder the river is Wooli’s beating heart. It’s the star attraction of Wooli’s most popular pastimes such as fishing, boating, swimming, kayaking and canoeing. What’s more, almost all holiday accommodation in Wooli is either right on the river or just a short stroll from it.
For me, part of the charm of staying at the friendly Wooli River Lodges is sitting on the balcony of our cabin and watching hubby try to catch a fish from the river’s edge. Being right on the river also makes it easy to get up early and slide a canoe into the water for an early-morning paddle. Nothing compares to the peace and quiet of sitting in a canoe in the middle of a motionless river at sunrise. Listening to rustling mangroves and beautiful bird song across the still water as nature awakes does wonders for your soul.
Just up the road from the lodges – past Wooli Hotel Motel, Emilio’s Bistro and the service station/general store – the Solitary Islands Marine Park Resort sprawls out along the riverbank. Camp sites by the riverside are the most popular, I’m told, snapped up by anglers keen to cast a rod from right outside their campervan. Here, too, guests make good use of the resort’s kayaks and canoes.
The village ‘centre’
Driving into Wooli from the resort, hotel and lodges at the entrance of town, you’ll pass the Showground. Here, I’ve seen kangaroos graze on the oval’s grass at dusk, while a family of white-bellied sea eagles watched from their nest perched on a power pole opposite the road. From the end of Main Street and Riverside Drive in the centre of Wooli it’s another 2km to where the river meets the sea.
There’s certainly no shortage of holiday homes and units in the central part of Wooli. Staying at Wooli Serviced Apartments, on one of the narrowest parts of the peninsula, we can see the river from our sprawling deck and hear the ocean just over the dune behind us.
Most accommodation in Wooli is fully self-contained but you need to bring or buy your own supplies. So when we arrived at Wooli Serviced Apartments, the fresh breakfast provisions in the kitchen were a pleasant surprise.
Chatting to owners Gordon and Maureen Hooper, we were fascinated to learn that the property on O’Keeffe Lane has been in Maureen’s family for almost a century. Maureen, whose maiden name is O’Keeffe, tells us her great great uncles Jack and Ned O’Keeffe were among the first European settlers in Wooli. They ran Wooli’s first shop and post office from the property, which has since been converted into four comfortable two-bedroom apartments.
A short stroll from here brings you to the Wooli Bowling & Recreation Club and Harry’s Chinese restaurant. Right on the river are Waves at Wooli café and takeaway and Wooli Oyster Supply, which sells seafood and oysters harvested straight from the river behind it. Knowing the Wooli Wooli River is among the healthiest and most pristine in the country, it’s no wonder many visitors proclaim that Wooli oysters are the best they’ve tasted anywhere.
Wooli in a nutshell
Wooli is like a quiet, hidden destination in a beautiful natural setting, where holidays feel like yesteryear – except your accommodation and facilities are modern, food and coffee is good and yes, you even have mobile phone coverage if you really need it. Story By Micky Stuivenberg
Swimming – river, estuary or beach. Patrolled beach in summer.
Fishing – river, breakwall, beach, or join a deep sea fishing charter.
Surfing – variety of banks from breakwall to Wilsons Headland.
Kayaking & canoeing – check if accommodation has canoes or kayaks.
Walking – walking tracks in town and in Yuraygir National Park.
Bird watching – you may spot a brolga, jabiru or emu. Bring binoculars.
Scuba diving – Wooli Dive knows the best spots at North Solitary Islands.
Snorkelling – great rock pools at Wooli, Minnie Water and Diggers Camp.
River tours – hire a tinny or join an eco-tour on the Wooli River Explorer.
Cycling – bring your bikes; you’ll enjoy riding on Wooli’s flat, quiet roads.
Tasting fresh oysters – get a dozen local oysters and picnic by the river.
Photography – it’s so picturesque you’ll want to capture everything.
Camping – camp in Wooli, Minnie Water or a National Park campground.
Day trips – spend a day at gorgeous Minnie Water and Diggers Camp.
Nothing – just read, eat, sleep, hang out and recharge your batteries.
Coffs Harbour CBD to Wooli is 105 km (90 mins).
Follow the signs from the Pacific Highway.
Plenty of accommodation available, ranging from basic to luxury. Busiest time is Christmas to mid-
January. Visit www.wooli-minniewater.com.au for a list of all accommodation and further information about Wooli and Minnie Water.