Road trip: NSW Far South Coast

Merimbula
Merimbula Mob
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7hr 2min | 477.5km
Foodie destination
Foodie
Sightseeing
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Benefit

The NSW South Coast doesn’t stop at Batemans Bay, nor does it close down after major holidays such as Christmas or Easter. Go a little further and you'll find an abundance of cold-weather charms that lie south of the Clyde River

The cooler months are the perfect time for exploring the countryside. South of Batemans Bay, most towns haven’t experienced the population explosion necessitating major road upgrades, so much of the Princes Highway still feels like a tourist drive, especially in winter, as you wind through valleys and past shimmering indigo seas. But what exactly is there to see and do in the far south coast’s ‘off season’? We’re glad you asked.

Hero image credit: Kris Ashton

Day 1: Murramarag to Narooma

1hr 22mins | 92.6km

Stop 1: Wake up with the kangaroos at Murramarang 
Tucked away at the back of South Durras, NRMA Murramarang Beachfront Holiday Resort packs everything into a small and picturesque space. Its crescent of beach looks out to sea but also onto a headland to the north, which makes for beautiful sunset photos. Kangaroos and other macropods enjoy feasting on the grass and Norfolk Island pine needles that carpet the foreshore. Clustered around the park’s southern end are a swimming pool, games room, a take away shop, bistro and bar. Ample seating makes it a pleasant place to discuss the day ahead over breakfast or lunch. 
Stop 2: Get up close to the animals in Mogo
When it was founded almost 30 years ago, Mogo Zoo set new standards for what a small privately-operated zoo could be. It’s not so small anymore, having expanded at intervals over the years, and it’s undergoing another metamorphosis, with renovations on a number of enclosures. It’s an altogether more relaxed and less tiring experience when the mercury isn’t up over 30°C. 
Stop 3: Go back in time at the Original Gold Rush Colony

The Original Gold Rush Colony recreates the old town, which was founded during Australia’s 19th century gold rush and boasted 37,000 fortune-seeking residents at its peak. This attraction features a miniature mine shaft, barber’s shop, police station, jail cell, pub, and even a fully operational crushing machine. There’s still plenty of gold around Mogo and you can try your luck panning in the creek that runs through the colony.

 

Stop 4: Dine and stay in Narooma
Amooran Oceanside Apartments are set into one of Narooma’s foothills and the east-facing rooms have an unobstructed view over to Montague Island. It’s also a downhill stroll to the Narooma Golf Club, which makes the makes the decision on where to have dinner infinitely easier.
Amooran Oceanside Apartments Narooma
Amooran Oceanside Apartments Narooma (Photo credit: Kris Ashton)

Day 2: Narooma to Mystery Bay

1hr 30 mins | 95.9km

Stop 1: Visit a working dairy farm in Bodalla
There are few things ice cream can’t improve and the Bodalla Dairy Shed has added this delicious string to its bow, to accompany its famous cheese which is made with unhomogenised milk. Something a lot of companies don’t do anymore. Here, the ice cream is so smooth and thick it’s almost chewy. Behind the dairy is a working farm where you can sometimes watch calves being fed, while ponies, alpacas and chickens wander about the paddock beside the car park.
Bodalla Dairy Shed
Bodalla Dairy Shed (Photo credit: Kris Ashton)
Stop 2: Take a stroll on Mill Bay Boardwalk in North Narooma
If you haven’t done this boardwalk, you haven’t really visited Narooma. Park your car at the bottom of Centenary Drive (the turnoff is just past the northern end of the bridge) and then set off along the timber walkway, enjoying unique views of the town. Keep an eye on the water for fish, stingrays and sea lions, which are attracted to the fish-cleaning facilities at the boardwalk’s eastern end. Continue far enough and you end up at Wagonga Head, where you can look across to nearby Montague Island.
Stop 3: Relax and recharge in Mystery Bay
A dog-friendly accommodation, Oakleigh Farm Cottages has a history dating back to the 19th century. The spacious, country-style cabins are perched on expansive hillside lawns in an enviable eyrie with views to Montague Island. A communal hut has table tennis, a yawning fireplace, cosy lounges and a barbecue and BYO bar area. Oakleigh is also a working sheep farm. Friendly horses Charmer (an ex-racehorse) and Tex (a spotted horse that looks like he’s never even seen a racetrack) are in the next paddock and will entertain a pat, especially around breakfast time. Chooks are let out of their pen each morning and come running up to our cottage, clucking and pecking at the grass.

Day 3: Mystery Bay to Tathra

1hr 38mins | 107km

Stop 1: Be beside the sea in Bermagui
Simply getting to Bermagui is half the fun – whether you approach from the north or south, you have to follow a tourist drive with quaint bridge crossings, spectacular Bega Valley vistas and the occasional sea view. Once you arrive, head for Bermagui Fishermen’s Wharf – a retail space that is proof a seaside town can be developed without losing its cosy seaside demeanour. Housed within its impressive timber structure is a boutique ice cream parlour, clothes shops, Asian and Italian restaurants, and the ‘HarBar’. Its frontage overlooks the Bermagui River, with clear waters full of fish. Also worth seeing in ‘Bermi’ is the historic Blue Pool, a seawater pool that was constructed in the 1930s under the auspices of philanthropist and resident Bill Dickinson. It underwent major renovations in 2011 and is well worth a photo, even if it’s too cold for a swim.
Narooma
Narooma (Photo credit: Kris Ashton)
Stop 2: Visit Australia’s iconic cheese factory in Bega
Along with the Killer Whale Museum in Eden, the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre is Bega Valley Shire’s worst kept secret. Upstairs is devoted to historical artefacts from the cheese company’s long history, including the original ‘factory’ – one of many in the area at the time – which is little more than a hut. Downstairs is the cheese tasting deli, a gift shop, and benches where you can sit and enjoy a ‘Moo moo moo shake’ or cup of coffee.
Stop 3: Visit and stay in recovering Tathra
Until recently, Tathra was familiar to mountain bikers, holidaymakers, and pretty much no one else. It hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons back in March, when the town came under threat from bushfire and subsequently affected tourism, with some business owners believing the town is doing about half the business it normally would. A total of 66 homes were lost to the bushfire, and more than 150 were damaged in the blaze, including an old motor park that was entirely destroyed.
 
One property damaged was Tathra Beachside Holiday Park, which belongs to renowned entertainer Frankie J. Holden. From its grounds, you can look up the hill to the ridge, where brown leaves and blackened trunks still stand testament to the conflagration. It reached the shoreline on fireballs that rocketed down on 100km/h winds. Although the park lost a couple of cabins, Frankie doesn’t dwell on it or add to the negative media reports, focusing instead on how Tathra is bouncing back and very much open for business. “This is a great time to come to the Sapphire Coast,” says Frankie. “A lot of people still have the misconception that, ‘Oh, the South Coast is cold!’ But we call a typical winter’s day ‘blue sky winters’. You need your jacket on when you first get up, but by ten o’clock or ten-thirty you take it off, then you put it back on at about four-thirty.”

Day 4: Tathra to Green Cape to Merimbula

3hr 12mins | 182km

Stop 1: Learn about Oysters in Pambula
How much do you know about oysters? Love or loathe them, after two hours cruising Pambula Lake with Brett Weingarth, aka Captain Sponge of Captain Sponge’s Magical Oyster Tour, you’ll be ready to lease your own farm. One of the most fascinating insights is how oyster farmers have resisted the homogenisation of equipment and methods, and still have their own “peculiarities” in farming, depending on the estuary. 
Stop 2: Sample a beverage in Greigs Flat
Just outside the Pambula town centre, Oaklands Barn is a wonderful rustic precinct combines a stockfeed store, nursery, art gallery, café, and a farm with horses, alpacas, donkeys and even an ostrich. The Imlay brothers, who were pastoralists and gold miners, first settled the land in 1833 and are synonymous with the region. The main homestead that now houses the businesses was built in 1847 for the Walker family. The Longstocking Nano-Brewery (i.e., even smaller than a micro-brewery) was recently added, which serves up beer, cider and oysters. If driving duties preclude you from enjoying a full glass, $2 will get you a ‘sample’ (slightly larger than a shot glass) of anything on the menu. Try the ‘Fatty Arbuckle’ dark ale, which is just the shot on a cold afternoon. 
Stop 3: Cruise Twofold Bay
Departing from Eden, the Cat Balou Cruises’ catamaran heads out into Twofold Bay and explores various points along the shores. In addition to the bay’s natural beauty, it holds pockets of history from the region’s whaling past, dating back to 1791. Many of the tales relate to Scottish immigrant Ben Boyd, a wealthy landowner whose grandiose plans included founding Boydtown in 1843, which he hoped would become Australia’s capital. At its peak, 200 people lived in the town, but investment woes and Boyd’s mysterious death in 1851 saw it abandoned in favour of Eden by 1870. The cruise’s on-board commentary also outlines the unique relationship whalers had with killer whales (orcas). These remarkably intelligent mammals would ‘herd’ migrating whales into the bay so the whaling ships could harpoon them. The orcas would then be rewarded with the carcass ‘off cuts’, such as whale tongues.
Stop 4: Climb to the top of a lighthouse at Green Cape
Erected on a remote windswept point in 1883, this imposing lighthouse was once the tallest concrete structure in Australia, standing at 29m. Many of the materials to build it were shipped from England and brought to the site on a horse-drawn cart along a rudimentary rail system. Today, Green Cape Lighthouse is part of Ben Boyd National Park and the old lighthouse-keeper residences have been turned into bucolic holiday accommodation. Visitors in winter who aren’t keen on chilly and blustery isolation might be more comfortable holding off their stay till spring. Much of the 23km road in to the lighthouse is gravel, so take your time. Tours can be arranged with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and include loads of history, plus a climb of 116 spiralling stairs to the top of the lighthouse, which will be lit up in November 2019 to celebrate its 135th anniversary. 
Green Cape Lighthouse
Green Cape Lighthouse (Photo credit: Kris Ashton)
Stop 5: Stay in a luxury cabin in Merimbula
When it comes to luxury cabins, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere better than NRMA Merimbula Beach Holiday Resort. The clifftop ocean condo is palatial, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a gas fireplace in the living room. In fact, ‘cabin’ is a misnomer; it’s a house that happens to be in a holiday park. You’ll be glad of your NRMA Membership discount, especially in the high season, but in the cooler months it feels well worth the outlay.

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