With its shell-like, scalloped contours and sapphire-blue water, Wallaga Lake – southern NSW’s largest – is a place of significance for the local Yuin people and a haven for the holiday-makers who come to fish, swim, boat and observe its wildlife. As you weave between this region’s lush hinterland and golden sands, from Narooma in the north to Merimbula in the south, you’ll find charming towns like Tathra, Tilba Tilba and Mystery Bay. Here’s how to make the most of a drive through them.
Known for creamy oysters and clean surf breaks, Narooma – a town almost completely encircled by water thanks to the Wagonga Inlet and coast to the east – captures the utopian feel of the sleepy summer vacations of your youth. Slurp the most recently shucked gems on a trip with Magical Oyster Tours or swim among the area’s impressive aquatic array by taking a boat out to Montague Island, home to the state’s largest colony of lazy, blubbery fur seals.
Just 20 minutes south of Narooma further down the A1 is Mystery Bay but there’s nothing head-scratching about the beauty of this coast-fringed hamlet. Locals here are most likely to be of the marsupial kind, with a large population of kangaroos hopping through the Eurobodalla National Park, which encircles the sparkling bay. Even if you’re not an outdoorsy person, consider camping: Mystery Bay has one of the area’s last remaining natural campgrounds, with its edge by the sea. A drive into nearby Tilba is perfect for refuelling - Rose & Sparrow Cafe is a charming neighbourhood cafe that serves scones with piles of jam and cream.
Anglers will adore Wallaga Lake, where dusky flathead, bream, garfish and salmon swim through the deep waters, which reach a depth of 10 metres in some places. Unsurprisingly, the tranquil lake draws more than just an impressive selection of marine life: many native birds also flock to the area, including the pacific black duck, or the umbarra, that’s also the emblem of the local Yuin-Monaro people.
An hour south of a straight run on Tathra-Bermagui Road, and just as the land slips away into a scooping peninsula, the town of Tathra begins at the hilltop and dives into the sea. Wave chasers flock to the south end of Tathra Beach for consistently good surf while the rest of the morning crowd stop into The Wharf Local café, set inside the town’s historic wharf as it juts into a lookout from a pier. Staff are welcoming, the coffee is excellent and sprigs of fresh mint sprout from every dish lovingly served.
The jewel in the crown of the Sapphire Coast, Merimbula is the stuff of family holiday dreams. There’s a boardwalk that weaves its way through swampy mangroves, a place that serves delicious burgers (along with oysters and beer on tap) out the back of a weatherboard cottage and, of course, a shimmering coastline for dips from sunrise to sundown.