Planning on heading to Australian round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) for the first time? Great.
In terms of motorsport events, nothing rivals WRC cars in action. Their defiance of basic physics makes them spectacular to witness in person. An experience simply not matched by watching them on TV.
Australia’s round of the WRC is held in the forests in and around Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales Mid-North Coast. The worlds best rally drivers and leading manufacturers like Toyota, Hyundai, Ford and Citreon descend on the regional city and put on a world-class display of both driving and engineering.
I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled up to Coffs Harbour for Rally Australia a couple of times now, so sat down and put together a collection of my tips for travelling to Coffs Harbour for WRC Rally Australia.
Where is the WRC Rally Australia held?
WRC Rally Australia is held mostly on gravel roads in the forests surrounding Coffs Harbour.
The event is held over four days usually held in three separate areas in the outskirts of Coffs Harbour. With the rally starting in the city on Thursday night before return for nightly special stages in the waterfront/foreshore area.
While individual configurations of the competition stages change each year. One day is usually held to the south (as far south as Macksville), the other two days are a little closer to Coffs Harbour, to the North and West in the Bucca State Forest.
For more specific information about this years event, head over to its official website.
Where to stay for Rally Australia?
You can cover a fair bit of ground following the Rally Australia action throughout the event. However, Coffs Harbour being the hub and central base for the event it also makes it the best place to stay while taking in all the action.
The WRC teams tend to base themselves at Absolute Beachfront Opal Cove Resort if you’d like the chance to run into your favourite WRC star over breakfast.
However, depending on your budget I’d also recommend either Ramada Resort by Wyndham Coffs Harbour or BreakFree Aanuka Beach Resort for a bit more of a resort-style, relaxed approach to your WRC experience.
For something a little more low-key, then the Aquajet Motel or the Bentleigh Motor Inn are good options that I’ve stayed in a couple of times in the past. While for larger groups the cabins at either the BIG4 Park Beach Holiday Park or the Sapphire Beach Holiday Park are probably your best bet.
Getting to and from the Rally Australia stages?
You’re going to need a car to get to and from the stages and spectator areas for Rally Australia.
As I mentioned in the previous sections Rally Australia covers a large area over the three days. While the spectator areas are well thought out, with some easily accessible on sealed roads. Some of the spectator areas, particularly Friday’s stages and Thursday’s shakedown, are only accessible through gravel logging roads. So its recommended (but not required) to have a car with some sort of AWD/4WD capabilities.
Having that extra ability to get off-road, also helps you access crossroads and other sections of the rally that aren’t necessarily official spectating areas for unique and possibly less crowded views of the event. Just always remember to pay attention to officials and authorities and never enter a road that has been closed. Motorsport is dangerous so its always best to err on the side of caution.
If you’re not confident in your cars off-road capability, then the Raleigh International Kart Track and the Wedding Bells/Rally Village are the safest/easiest stages to get to.
It’s also worth noting that parking options are often limited near the spectator areas so it’s recommended that you get to the stages early. My advice is to be at the spectator area at least an hour (if not 2) before the first car is due to arrive in stage.
What to do in the evenings?
If you just can’t get enough rally action, Coffs Harbour’s foreshore area hosts a special evening Super Special Stage which is a unique experience in its own right.
The natural amphitheatre experience for the crowd, as well as a specialy designed stage to showcase the ability of the WRC cars, makes it well worth checking out on at least one of the nights its held.
Alternatively, if you’ve had enough rally action there are plenty of pubs and restaurants in and around Coffs Harbour for you to try out. If you are looking for something a little fancier, the foreshore area just north of where the rally action is held are some nice restaurants with water views. Otherwise in the city, particularly around the Pacific Highway, there are a wide variety of pubs and restaurants to cater for all sorts of tastes and budgets.
Spending time in Coffs Harbour before or after the rally?
Coffs Harbour is a great place to relax for a couple of days before or after Rally Australia. While the event is a great reason to visit, its a destination in its own right with some sensational beaches and national parks to explore. Why not check out my suggestions of the top five things to do in Coffs Harbour to give you some ideas on what else you can do there.
WRC Rally Australia Tips
WRC Rally Australia is a fantastic event, but unlike circuit racing, you do need to put in a little bit of preparation to really make the most of the event.
As I mentioned previously, you really do need to get to the spectator areas early. Again I’d recommend at least an hour prior to the stage start, but also give yourself plenty of time to drive to the spectator areas. I have more than once put the location for the spectator area into my GPS only to find a section that it was trying to direct me down is closed as part of one of the rally stages. While usually well signposted, it’ll add extra time that you might not have accounted for in getting to the stage. Traffic on the narrow dirt roads can also slow things down more than you might expect.
Competition is held over four to eight stages throughout a particular day. That said, WRC cars travel much faster over these roads that you’ll be able to so don’t get too ambitious and plan to watch the action from every stage throughout the day. It’s not feasible. Instead, pick out two, maybe three spots that you’d like to watch the action on each day. The WRC cars get through the stages extremely quickly, but there are many other competitors from WRC2 through to the local Australian Rally Championship series coming through the stages as well. Not only does it give you plenty of cars to watch over a couple of hours action at each spectator point, but it’ll also give you an appreciation for how good the WRC cars really are once you have something to compare them too.
Another note about the spectator areas. Some of them, particularly on Fridays running, are quite remote. I really would recommend that you bring some food and drinks with you to get through the day. As the rally progresses, the spectator areas have better facilities, particularly the Rally Village on the Wedding Bells stage.
One last point I’d really like to reiterate is to make sure that you obey the instructions of spectator marshals. Rallying is a spectacular but unpredictable sport and while some of spectator areas will require you to cross the road that forms part of the rally stage, only do so when the spectator marshals say it’s ok. Cars can have issues at any point during the stage, so you can’t be guaranteed the road is safe to cross without proper instructions.
Now that’s my brain dump of all the things I can think of to help you make the most of your Rally Australia experience. Also check out the events official website for all the latest up to date information about the event, spectator areas and road closures and what tickets you may need to purchase.
Travelling to Coffs Harbour for the first time? You may also like to check out my tips for travelling to Coffs Harbour for the first time.
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