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Introducing Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay

With a nice beach in a deep cove, Woolgoolga (also known as Woopi; population 3800) is a less-developed coastal town just north of Coffs, known for its surf-and-Sikh ­community.

As you drive by on the highway you’ll notice the impressive Guru Nanak Temple, a Sikh gurdwara (place of worship). Don’t confuse it with the Raj Mahal, a decrepit, Indian-influenced concrete extravagance that has two giant elephant statues out the front; it’s actually an emporium of sorts, with arts and crafts, clothes, and a restaurant.

If you drive straight through town up to the point, you’ll get a magnificent view of the Solitary Marine Reserve.

About 5km south of Woolgoolga and signposted off the Pacific Highway, the small Lake Russell Gallery (02-6656 1092; www.lakerussellgallery.com.au; 12 Smiths Rd, Emerald Beach; 10am-5pm) exhibits work by local artists and doubles as a B&B, with two private and very indulgent air-con cottages (doubles including breakfast are $250). Alternatively, the Woolgoolga Beach Caravan Park (02-6654 1373; Beach St; unpowered sites/cabins from $35/60) right on the beach can’t be beaten on position.

The Maharaja Tandoori Indian Restaurant (02-6654 1122; 10-12 River St; mains $26) opposite the temple gets into the spirit of things with a suitably authentic curry. On the beachfront, Bluebottles Brasserie (02-6654 1962; cnr Wharf & Beach Sts; mains $23; breakfast & lunch daily, dinner Thu-Sat) serves fine seafood and vegetarian gems and hosts live jazz on sultry summer afternoons.

Red Rock (population 290), a sleepy village with a beautiful inlet and gorgeous surrounds, is a site sacred to the Gunawarri people. Soak up the sun or catch a fish while camping at Red Rock Caravan Park (02-6649 2730; 1 Lawson St, Red Rock; sites/cabins from $12/65).

The 20, 000-hectare Yuraygir National Park covers the 60km stretch of coast north from Red Rock. The beaches are outstanding and there are some bushwalking paths where you can view endangered coastal emus.

Walkers can bush camp and there are basic camping areas ($5 per person) at Station Creek in the southern section; at the Boorkoom and Illaroo rest areas in the central section; on the north bank of the Sandon River, and at Red Cliff at the Brooms Head end of the northern section. These are accessible by car; there is also a walk-in camp site in the northern section at Shelly Beach.

Nearby Wooli (population 600) hosts the Australian Goanna Pulling Championships (02-6649 7575) over Easter. Rather than ripping the eponymous animal to shreds, participants, squatting on all fours, attach leather harnesses to their heads and engage in cranial tug-of-war. This sport was all the rage in the 19th century, until it was replaced in popularity by sheep worrying and dunny dodging.

The Solitary Islands Marine Park Resort (1800 003 031, 02-6649 7519; North St; sites/cabins from $21/70) here has a mouthful of a name and lovely cabins in a scrubby bush setting.

The Solitary Islands Marine Park, a group of five islands, is the meeting point of warm tropical currents and cooler southern currents, which makes for a wonderful combination of corals, reef fish and seaweeds.