On the last day of our holiday and before we spent the evening at the Indian Restaurant, we drove to the Big Banana. The reason we went on the last day is because Carl had been hoping that by some rare, very rare miracle, Alfie would forget we’d promised to take him.
But when Carl returned from his morning swim, Alfie saw him come through the door and said, ‘Yeah, now we can go to the Big Banana’. And Carl’s shoulders rounded because the sun was shining, it was a perfect beach day but instead, we were heading off to one of those hideous places that kids love and parents loathe.
The Big Banana has been a Coffs Harbour icon for over 40 years. Opening in a banana plantation in 1964, owner John Landy wanted something big to attract passing traffic to his roadside banana stall. When completed, it was the biggest banana in the world. It quickly became a tourist attraction offering more than just roadside bananas; there were tours through the banana plantation, train rides, a restaurant, kiosk and souvenirs. It was sold and re-sold and sold again with each new owner upping the commercialism and lessening the emphasis on bananas. Today it offers a theatre experience, an ice-skating rink, toboggan rides and a water park.
‘Oh come on, Carl’, I said to him as he sat slumped on the bed, ‘We didn’t take him to the Easter Show so we promised we’d take him to the Big Banana. We’ll just go for a couple of hours’. So off we went and it was only a 10-minute drive north of where we were staying in Sawtell. The first thing we did was walk through the Big Banana. This is not a momentous occasion; you just walk like you normally would except you’re walking through a big banana. Once on the other side, Carl asked, ‘Can we go now?’
Ahhh, but no! We hadn’t had a frozen banana dipped in chocolate and covered in crushed peanuts. So just so we could say we had the full experience we went to the cafeteria that is as underwhelming as walking through the big banana and had frozen bananas and banana splits.
‘Can we go now?’ asked Carl.
‘Not yet’, I said because we hadn’t walked up to the look-out. The view was spectacular (if you didn’t depress yourself by looking at the beach and wishing you were there), but looking around the Big Banana was certainly depressing because I could see the old train tracks where the trains used to run when I was a teenager and it was always such a highlight of the Big Banana experience. Today the trains have been removed to the scrapyard, the tracks are overgrown with weeds, the train station is fenced off, the external walls of the restaurant are covered in graffiti and even the banana plantation seems to be in a state of neglect.
After our visit to the look-out we bought tickets for Alfie to have two toboggan rides and an hour and a half in the water park for $18.00. I should explain that as the mid-north coast never sees snow, the toboggan ride is in a metal half-pipe and winds for 800mtrs down a hill with no snow in sight. I went on it a few times and it was actually a lot of fun.
Then we went to the water park and this was completely lame. Alfie could have been in there for an hour and a half but within 20 minutes he was bored, cold and eager to go. The water park is just a handful of blow-up slides and structures covered in water.
Once dressed, Carl thought we could go but no, we hadn’t been to the souvenir shop where everything junky and tacky is available for a rip-off price. So Alfie stocked up on a whole bunch of stuff he’d lose interest in within about three-minutes and then we could leave.
Carl said it was the worst day of the holiday and he hoped to never have to go back there ever again. But, maybe we will. Because the Big Banana is about to have injected into it, around $200 million. The new Big Banana will have a hotel and conference centre, a proper water park, new restaurants, shops and cafes.
It might just be worth a look.
The Big Banana – 351 Pacific Highway, Coffs Harbour NSW 2450