After a devastating bushfire season and border closures decimated the South Coast of NSW in 2020, communities are rebuilding and welcoming much-needed tourist dollars back. With dazzling natural beauty, adventure activities aplenty, fresh-off-the-water seafood and even a burgeoning winery scene, there is plenty to delight all types of traveller. We uncover the jewels of the aptly named Sapphire Coast.
Main image: Merimbula
A South Coast road trip can start in luxury with an overnight stop at Bannisters by the Sea in Mollymook. When winding down the highway, stop in at the cute village of Milton, where you can pick up an array of local and organic deli goods (handy given much of the beachside South Coast accommodation is self-contained).
Further south on your journey, Dollini Ocean (Unit 1) Narooma is an easy walk to both Josh’s Beach and the local shops – not that you will want to leave with a view this jaw-dropping. With space to sleep as many as 10 guests, it is a great spot for a getaway with friends and family; so long as you’re prepared to fight it out for the one gorgeous giant bathtub.
Coast Resort Merimbula has spacious and self-contained penthouses and apartments resting between the lake and Merimbula Bar Beach. There are two pools and tennis courts for more active tourists, and every room has a balcony perfect for gazing out at the water or getting lost in a book.
There is no television at the charming Ellington Grove cottage in Candelo, a short drive from Bega, but when nestled between willows and eucalyptus trees choose nature over Netflix. The velvet lounges are a tribute to the Jazz Age and the AirBnB hosts provide essentials like coffee, tea and olive oil for use in a slickly renovated kitchen.
There’s a magic sound overheard frequently at Tathra Oyster House: the glee of a reluctant oyster eater being won over by the creamy and mineral delight of this local delicacy. Tathra’s oysters are so renowned they are often sourced to fill the ice-stacked plates of some of Sydney’s best restaurants (Saint Peter, Rockpool and Café Sydney to name a few). Here, they are fresh from nearby Mimosa Rocks National Park at a fraction of CBD prices. Bar Beach Kiosk Merimbula is also a local favourite for fresh sandwiches, the perfect fuel for another stint in the surf.
Tables go quickly at The River Moruya, so book in advance for their popular Sunday lunch seating. Diners can linger over plates of locally sourced French flavours (crab beignets, seared scallops and grilled eye fillet with shallot puree are current menu favourites) and enjoy the view of – as the name suggests – the Moruya River, sparkling on a summer afternoon.
Just off the Princes Highway, south of Ulladulla in Burrill Lake, Lagom Bakery is quickly gaining a reputation for some of the South Coast’s best sourdough, best enjoyed in thick slices with moreish toasted fillings in between. Don’t skip one of their chocolate chip cookies or croissants for a sugar hit on the long drive.
The Tathra Hotel knows how to proudly show off its 18-month renovation on a sunny afternoon. Out with the poker machines and TAB area, and in with the on-site Humpback Brewery and a stunning view of this gorgeous pub’s panoramic water views. For a lazy sundowner, it’s hard to beat the low alcohol, dry ginger ale, or the house-recommended First Calf Pale Ale by local brewers Humpback Brewery. If you prefer to sample a few, there are tasting paddles and beers can also be served as a “schmiddie”: halfway between a schooner and a middie.
For wine drinkers, Cupitt’s Estate in the rolling hinterland of Milton offers award-winning wine tours in a picturesque setting. Drink it all in over a long lunch at the popular restaurant, where menu indecision is not a problem with a multi-course sharing menu ($85 per person) centred on home-grown-and-fished local ingredients (Try to wrangle first dibs on the tangy cured ocean trout). Blend Providore Tathra offers local drops, which you can sample by the glass alongside small share plates. It also rises early to serve coffee where you can pick from four varieties of beans.
For cheeky cocktails, try Narooma institution Quarterdeck. Watch the sun set over the Wagonga inlet oyster leases with tiki themed drinks and 70s rock tunes. Chris Scroggy and his team offer fish pellets for kids to toss into the water off the jetty.
The South Coast is the home of the Yuin people, and many of the local national park trails offer a chance to pay respects to the custodians of this beautifully kept region. Pull in between Merimbula and Tathra and follow stunning bush paths to secluded spots, like the hidden away Wallagoot Gap in Bournda National Park, a 50-metre beach with cascading tides, bookended by 30-metre-high cliffs. Nelson Lagoon, buried inside the Mimosa Rocks National Park and a short drive from Tathra, is a calmer swimming spot for those less comfortable with the area’s surf beaches and occasional rips.
The area is suited to any marine adventurer. For those keen to give stand-up paddle boarding a try Dalmeny, Kianga and Mystery Bay are good places to put balance skills to the test, or at least enjoy the view on the tumble down. Another aquatic option is to jump on a fishing boat (tours leave from most local jetties between Narooma and Eden) and attempt to catch your dinner; salmon, whiting and bream are among the most likely to take your bait. Montague Island Adventures, based in Narooma, offer a range of trips for sport and game fishing, from sunrise sessions for early risers, to afternoon and all-day options.
To catch a glimpse of marine life greater than what you can reel in on a hook, whale watching season in Eden is between August and early November and it is one of the best vantage spots in Australia during their annual migration. Cat Balou Cruises have more than 30 years’ experience steering delighted observers to the best and safest vantage spots. The company also run twilight cruises along the pristine waters of Twofold Bay to spot dolphins and seals. The more adventurous may even elect to snorkel with seals at Montague Island (see left).
Mogo Wildlife Park, just past Batemans Bay, offers the chance to get even closer to the animals. Feel like a character in The Lion King playing with meerkats, feeding lions and tigers or pose for a selfie with a squirrel monkey.
Don’t leave the South Coast without a sharp detour to the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre, where tours of the factory are expected to resume shortly after being cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.