South Coast NSW - Nature's Refuge at Coolendel
|Nature's Refuge - Quick Facts|
Coolendel is located on the Shoalhaven River on the NSW South Coast, approximately 3 hours' drive from Sydney and 30kms west of Nowra. It takes approximately 45 minutes to reach Coolendel from Nowra.
South of the Shoalhaven River in Nowra, take Kalendar Street to the west. Take the second exit from the roundabout into Albatross Road, travel 500 metres, then turn right into Yalwal Road. Continue along the road following signs for Coolendel. The last 11km is a well maintained dirt and gravel 2WD road, but it's quite windy and narrow in sections.
What to take:
Coolendel has it all: a scenic river with cascading rapids, great camping sites with camp-fires, fabulous bush walks and fascinating wildlife. It's the ultimate bush getaway.
"Are we there yet?" was the question we were all asking as we wound our way along the dirt road leading to Coolendel, 30km west of Nowra. It's a pretty drive along the Shoalhaven River, along ridge tops and through shady cycad lined gullies. The twists and turns slowed the trip which only added to our excited anticipation. Finally, a sign "Don't Despair, You're Nearly There!" gave us hope.
The name Coolendel comes from an Aboriginal word meaning Place of Angry Waters. While there are small sets of babbling rapids, the river is much more tranquil than the name suggests. Two and a half kilometres of the Shoalhaven River wraps around three sides of the rectangular Coolendel 'peninsular', with rapids on either side of the property and picturesque stretches of river in between. We were looking forward to shooting down the rapids, patting wombats and toasting marshmallows around a campfire.
As we pulled up at the office, we were greeted by the resident peacocks, the first of many wildlife encounters. Coolendel is a private nature retreat and wildlife refuge set on 52 hectares of bushland and surrounded by Morton National Park. There are numerous open and secluded grassy camping areas from which to choose. They come with the enticing names of Willow Flat, Sandy Beach, Canoe Flat, The Burrows, Riverview, and Hideaway. We chose a lovely campsite in the main camping area, right next to a camp fire and picnic table. From there it was only a short walk to the rapids in one direction and the amenities in the other. This is my idea of bush camping - back to basics amongst nature, but with the luxury of flushing toilets and hot showers.
We had a variety of visitors to our campsite during our stay. The proud peacocks came with vibrant displays of their plumage along with the more subdued peahens and chicks; goannas lazily sauntered around; kangaroos and wallabies bounded by; yellow-tailed black cockatoos squawked overhead and kookaburras perched above having the occasional raucous laugh at us. At night we could hear wombats steadily munching grass. In the mornings, we awoke to a birdsong orchestra which sounded like a waterfall of beautiful bird calls gently descending on us like a musical cascade.
Each evening, we soaked up the sounds and scents of the Australian bush under a blanket of dazzling stars. Then, with torches in hand, we headed off 'wombat spotting' on a leisurely walk around the camping areas. These bulldozers of the night were not at all concerned about us watching them. With heads down, they continued their relentless munching of grass necessary to fuel their solid frames. It is such a thrill to be up close to wildlife, and so these wombat encounters make Coolendel an even more special place. There are lots of kangaroos and wallabies to spot as well. Back at camp we enjoyed our other favourite nocturnal activity: sitting around the campfire toasting marshmallows.
Excitedly, we headed down to the Coolendel rapids with our li-los tucked under our arms. We squealed with delight as we swished our way down the dancing grade one rapid. It was so much fun, we did it again and again. The kids had great fun constructing rock pools out of the river stones in the more gentle part of the rapids.
Another option is to put the canoes or li-los in at Bugong Rapids and then float along with the current down the river to the Coolendel Rapids. This is absolute relaxation and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours. We stopped at Sandy Beach for lunch and a swim. You can finish your trip by floating down the rapids.
At the end of the rapid, the river deepens, slows and glides around what we have called the 'Jumping Rock'. It's a two tiered tall rock next to deep water that just beckons to be climbed and jumped from. Such simple pleasures are a feature of Coolendel.
A little further down river is Canoe Flat where hire canoes are located, and where private canoes and kayaks can easily access the river. We enjoyed paddling downstream on the unspoilt river to the next set of rapids. Paddling upstream from the Coolendel rapids is another option, with striking sandstone ledges providing perfect basking opportunities for green water dragons. You'll easily reach Bugong Rapids, a gentle pebbly rapid. We decided to pull our kayaks up through it to continue on our journey. With a packed lunch on board, we paddled up river inhaling the serenity and solitude of our surrounds. We pulled up through a couple more gentle rapids before having lunch on the river bank. But the best part was paddling back down river and negotiating the rapids. Before deciding on this option, talk to the office staff to check water levels and any dangerous snags in the rapids.
Fishing is the other main river past-time at Coolendel. Australian Bass and Estuary Perch are found in the Shoalhaven River and Yalwal Creek, and both are delicious cooked over a campfire.
Down the Track
There are bushwalks galore, throughout the park, along the river, or into the stunning Morton National Park. They range from easy strolls to difficult climbs up nearby mountains. Our favourite is the Cliff Top Walk. Take the track to the river via Wombat Hollow. You'll see wombat burrows and maybe a paw print or two. You may also be lucky and see a Lyre Bird as we did. Further along the way you'll come across a natural lookout providing a beautiful view back up the river to the Coolendel rapids. Continuing on, the track takes you beside an old telephone line before joining a track leading down to the mouth of Grassy Gully Creek. Walking a kilometre up the creek will bring you to Solitary Pool with its small waterfall.
The area's mining history makes for an interesting side trip. You can walk or drive to explore the old mine workings at Grassy Gully Creek. Gold was discovered there by James Barron around the 1890s but the area was abandoned by miners in the early 1900s. We all found this to be a fascinating way to spend a couple of hours.
Mountain biking at Coolendel added another dimension to our visit. Dirt roads and bike tracks wind their way around the campground, so if you've got room to pack the kid's bikes, they'll be able to explore. There are lots of flat trails and green open spaces for little kids as well as more challenging trails and unsurfaced roads in the surrounding bushland.
There is something very restorative about spending time amongst nature; it's calming and re-energising. You'll experience this at Coolendel. It's a natural refuge from the demands of ordinary life. Once you're there, you won't want to leave.
Words by Karyn Fanous. Photography by Karyn, Joseph and Aaron Fanous
Published in Australian Caravan+RV magazine, August/September 2013.
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