Sandy feet, kangaroos and fish and chips in the sun. This quiet stretch of coastline, between Bermagui and Eden in New South Wales, is a reminder of the way summer holidays used to be. Discover the best things to do on your visit.
Admittedly, I hadn’t had my morning long black when I saw it. I blinked a few times to make sure I wasn’t in some sort of half-awake trance. There, in the middle of the main street that runs between the shops and the beach in the NSW South Coast town of Tathra was a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch, paused placidly on the median strip next to a telegraph pole decorated with dozens of brightly coloured thongs. Even the hazy morning light looked sun-faded, like an old photo you’d find tucked away in an album in your dad’s study. I was suddenly in an ad for Foster’s Lager or Holden Monaros, circa 1982 – although thankfully it wasn’t actually 1982 or I wouldn’t have been carrying the camera phone that I whipped out to record the moment. Thrilled, I retreated to the nearby Wild Orchid café and asked for an extra espresso shot to shake me back to reality.
There’s no guarantee you’ll stumble across a perfect Aussie vignette like this on a trip to the NSW Sapphire Coast, which stretches more or less from Bermagui in the north to Eden in the south, but spend any significant time in these laid-back, lo-fi beachside towns and you’re in with a pretty good chance. Everything moves a bit slower here, in a sepia, sun-speckled haze. It has that time-stands-still feeling of childhood summer holidays, back when Mum or Dad took care of the important stuff and your only job was to avoid sunburn and stop fighting with your little brother in the back seat.
Image credit: Emma Benton at the Wharf Local Cafe/Claudine Thornton.
Maybe that dream photo will present itself as you snaffle your Honorbread Vegemite toast and Ona coffee from the Wharf Local café, watching fishermen reel in flathead and snapper on the faded grey timber wharf. Or as you bite into a takeaway bacon and egg roll while scanning the horizon for whale spray at nearby Chamberlain Lookout.
It could capture the whole family over schooners, pink lemonades and beerbattered flathead and chips at the Bermagui Beach Hotel or enjoying dripping cones from Bermagui Gelati Clinic (73-79 Lamont Street; 0404 813 323), where the ice-cream is made using local fruit and cream. Or at the Kianinny Bay boat ramp, looking for the stingrays that glide lazily around in the shallows.
Image credit: Tathra Oysters in Nelson Lake, part of the Mimosa Rocks National Park/ Destination NSW
Maybe it’s when you glance up from your book to see the kids planting a eucalyptus-leaf flag on top of their sandcastle on the wide stretch of sand at Aslings Beach in the fishing town of Eden. Or it might be when you make it to the end of the boardwalk bushwalking track through the banksias and eucalypts in the Mimosa Rocks National Park, north of Tathra, and find a plump pademelon in your path.
Away from the coast, the region is scattered with plenty of Kodak moments – along with pretty towns that make a welcome stop for food and souvenirs. After my unexpectedly lively morning in Tathra, I drive south to the charming historic town of Pambula to discover they pour an excellent cup of coffee made from house-roasted beans at Wild Rye’s Baking Co. And I didn’t know I needed a delicate chain necklace until I saw the collection – featuring independent designers Elassaad and Isabeau – curated by Megan Ruhr at her chic, boho-beautiful Goldfinch boutique.
Image credit: Longstocking Brewery’s outdoor bar area in Pambula/Destination NSW
From there, I head a few clicks down the highway towards Eden, to the Oaklands Barn complex, a group of locally owned and run businesses, including a café and the Longstocking Brewery, that could easily entertain a family or couple for an entire day. The folk at Longstocking will set you up in a sunny spot with a dozen of the area’s best oysters – and there are none quite like NSW South Coast oysters, harvested from the clean, nutrient-rich waters of Pambula and Wapengo Lake – and a flight of beers. Oaklands Cafe co-owner Eleanor Burbidge is always up for a chat and talks me through the constantly changing specials board, where everything’s made from scratch – her mum’s special-recipe sausage rolls are unmissable. Whatever isn’t eaten each day makes a meal for the resident big black pig, Cyril, who shares a farmyard and petting zoo with Shetland ponies, chickens, donkeys and a noble but cranky ostrich.
Regrettably for Cyril, I leave very little on my plate before continuing down the coast to Eden. What would a classic Aussie holiday be without something “educational”? Enter Eden Killer Whale Museum, which bills itself grandly as a “Cavalcade of Twofold Bay History”.
From the mid-1800s, Eden was the centre of Australian whaling, then the country’s primary industry. Whalers in this area formed an extraordinary relationship with local killer whales or orcas, which would herd larger mammals, such as humpbacks and right whales, into the shallows to make it easier for them to be harpooned.
Satisfyingly stuffed with both knowledge and food, I begin my drive back north as the late afternoon light begins to fade, all dusty-violet streaks across the Bega River to the mountains beyond. If you don’t manage to snap any obliging kangaroos wandering around town when dawn breaks, it’s worth getting into the car and doing a few slow (and careful) laps along the road between Tathra and the Mimosa Rocks National Park in the late afternoon. That’s where you’re almost guaranteed to score a photo of the enormous mobs of curious eastern greys and wallabies gazing insouciantly from paddocks and scrub as you pass.
You’ll have to set up your own thong pole, though.
Where to stay
Boasting six bedrooms, one with bunk beds for the kids, a huge gourmet kitchen and a Mediterranean-blue infinity pool with 180-degree views across the oyster leases of Merimbula Lake, Sybella is a private property made for big families and groups. The cool tiled floors will stand up well to sandy feet and sunscreen smudges, while the multi-level living areas mean everyone has their own space. Do your own cooking or keep it simple with platters of prawns, oysters and fish and chips from one of the region’s best seafood restaurants, Wheelers, only minutes away in Pambula.
Image credit: Tathra Hotel/Destination NSW
The 132-year-old, meticulously restored Tathra Hotel would have to be a contender for NSW’s prettiest pub and its four newly refurbished heritage rooms and suites, which each accommodate a couple, boast sparkly ocean views from wraparound balconies. The pick of the suites is Mimosa, named because it faces towards Mimosa Rocks National Park, about 17 kilometres to the north. The venue is in the process of building a further 10 rooms, which will all have direct sea views to drink in the neon-pink sunrises. The bistro serves hearty pub food, much with a pan-Asian tilt, as well as beer from the onsite Humpback Brewer. The perfect picnic spot – the Tathra Headland – is just footsteps from the door.
Top image credit: Tathra Wharf and Tathra Beach/Destination NSW