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Lesser-Known Destination: The South Coast of New South Wales

By Kames Narayanan

Boats moored in Currambene Creek, Huskisson in Jervis Bay
 
Boats moored in Currambene Creek, Huskisson in Jervis Bay

“The story of the south coast writes itself,” quips Georgia Wilson, my chaperone from Destination New South Wales, as we tucked into grilled salmon on the fourth night of my six-day road trip down the southern coast of New South Wales. 

At this point of the trip, I had seen and experienced more than enough to understand exactly what Georgia’s poetic effusion meant. The New South Wales (NSW) coastline, the stretch that runs south of Sydney, holds a quiet allure as a lesser-known destination. Most travellers, who venture out into the city’s periphery, generally plan their trip along well-trodden paths like the Blue Mountain range. 

The reputation of the southern coast is one of a land untouched, which has proven to be a double-edged sword for tourism in the area. On the optimistic end, the elusive slant piques the curiosity of travellers who increasingly seek out obscure destinations to add to their travel portfolio. Yet, the general impression of vast expanses of barren land outweighs as a deterrent to the uninitiated who perceive a lack of activity in the region. Prior to embarking on the road trip, my thoughts echoed a similar sentiment: What could possibly lie along the endless stretch of sandy beaches and the rolling waves beyond? 

During the approximately two-hour long drive from Sydney Airport to the quaint town, Kiama, for the first time as far as my memory served me, I was surrounded by more animals than humans, and more nature than the man-made. My body pushed forward against the resistance of the seat belt, I oohed and aahed at every passing cattle and horse farm, craning my neck to catch the last of glimpses — tempted more than once to hop out of the car mid-traffic to immortalise the sights in photograph. 

Like a series of Windows default screensavers on rotation, the journey traversed through boundless picturesque flat plains of green that at times grew into hills and tapered off into white sand beaches. The scenic route drew to an end when we reached our stay for the night — Sundara Beach House. The panoramic views, however, extended far beyond and my earlier paranoia about the lack of activity in the vicinity, all but forgotten.

Kangaroos roam in the sand at Pebbly beach.
Kangaroos roam in the sand at Pebbly beach.

Located a stone’s throw away from the beach, the three-storey bungalow, overlooks the horizon where the ocean meets the sky in varying shades of blue in the distant horizon. Before the sun went down, Georgia and I set out to the Kiama town centre, a concentration of establishments that run the gamut from gift shops to convenient stores, cafes and restaurants. On a late Tuesday afternoon, the roads were mostly clear and the streets, void of people. 

Within close proximity was the Kiama blowhole, supposedly the largest in the world. Though unpredictable most times, the best time to visit is deemed to be when the south-east wind is sufficiently strong to drive the current upwards, and through the blowhole. During my visit there, the blowhole was but a howling, hollow crevice. 

As we continued our evening stroll about the coastal town, the wind carried the echo of a melodious voice, our way. Intrigued, we trailed its path, eventually led to two buskers serenading bystanders along a lake. As the sun began to set behind a glistening body of water, the sky waned into an awe-inspiring gradient of soft pink, blue and yellow. In that moment, time stood still — my mind and body, at complete ease. 

The following day, the road trip took us further down south the coast, to the next small town, Berry. Off the cuff, these coastal towns may be dismissed as meagre in its repertoire of offerings. This was a common misconception, widely prevalent amongst the uninformed. Berry is home to one of the longest beaches on the south coast, the Seven Mile beach. The breathtaking view, that stretches on for, as its name suggests, a little over seven miles, sets the backdrop for an afternoon picnic or leisurely swim. 

As rolls of waves broke at the shore of powdery white sand that the feet sink into, the concept of time here was inconsequential — and in the metaphorical blink of an eye, an entire afternoon whizzed by. Time is as much of an elusive concept at the Berry town centre, where a spectrum of boutique shops catches the unsuspecting traveller off-guard. 

Later that day, I arrived at my respite for the night, The Woods Farm at Jervis Bay. A self-contained farm land, on which eight individual houses and several other ‘glamping’ tents stand, is an immersive experience into the simple life. Read: no available Wi-Fi network and an unstable mobile connection. The lack of connectivity, a seasoned city dweller’s cause for panic. 

Yet, therein lay the novelty of the experience — disconnectedness. As I stretched out on the compound’s hammock, with no mobile phone in hand and my mind entirely emptied, I watched as the leaves danced to the hymn of the wind. A stark contrast to the incessant buzzing of the city, the disconcerting quiet grew on me.

The safari tent at Tanja Lagoon camp completely furnished for a comfortable stay.
The safari tent at Tanja Lagoon camp completely furnished for a comfortable stay.

With the distractions of the larger world tucked away in my back pocket, I took in every bit that my surroundings had to offer. From riding a bicycle around the premise to patting the families of cows, horses and alpacas on the farm and sitting out in the chilly night under a blanket of stars, I took it all in. To just be was, after all, far from a blasphemy. 

It was the first of the ah-ha moments that would ensue in my following day in Jervis Bay, a relatively popular tourist destination along the south coast. Boasting a world-renowned reputation for its untouched, pristine beaches and conserved wildlife, Jervis Bay reels in visitors from across the globe — the shores of its Booderee National Park even painted the backdrop for Kim Kardashian’s Vogue Australia cover shoot in 2015. 

Owing to its strategic geographic location along the south coast, Jervis Bay’s sheltered waters offer one of the longest viewing seasons to whale watchers across New South Wales. At Jervis Bay, its dolphin and whale cruises give its visitors a glimpse into the wildlife that the coastal village holds dearly. Onboard a dolphin watch cruise, I was told that the life expectancy of dolphins in Jervis Bay extends beyond the average of about 25 years of age elsewhere in the world. Albeit being no expert in dolphin talk or acquired knowledge on marine wildlife, the glossy, smooth skin of the dolphins led me to believe that these could full-well be the world’s happiest dolphins. 

Following the brief yet comprehensive introduction to Jervis Bay, the road trip took off to the next coastal dwelling — Mollymook. Here, I indulged in the pinnacle of coastal luxury at Bannisters By the Sea, a boutique retreat overlooking the boundless ocean. An experience akin to living on a beach but elevated on the spectrum of luxury, I was put to bed and awoken by the tranquility of waves breaking ashore. 

The boutique hotel further triumphs in the impeccable culinary experience curated for its guests. Rick Stein at Bannisters, housed within Bannister By the Sea, is the hallmark of celebrity chef Rick Stein’s kitchen. The extensive menu of locally sourced, fresh seafood, is a gastronomical experience awaiting gourmets. Served from ocean to table, the impeccable culinary standards take the palate to nirvana. 

This far into my experience of the south coast, an overarching ethos underscoring the coastal villages and its people drew apparent. It was an endearing sense of care towards nature and its ecosystem.

The infinity pool at Bannisters by the Sea that overlooks the ocean.
The infinity pool at Bannisters by the Sea that overlooks the ocean.

“I live here (Jervis Bay) because I enjoy the nature, I love the environment and being a part of it brings me immense joy,” shared my guide midway through the Clyde River oyster tasting kayak tour the next morning. 

Elsewhere in the world, farming practices are a topic of debate, largely owing to its adverse effects on the environment. At the Clyde River, the home of some of the most successful oyster farmers along the south coast, I witnessed an entirely different approach. Albeit to some extent infringing into the natural ecosystem, the farmers here believe in working with, and for, the betterment of the environment. The modus operandi resonated even by the manner of the tour’s conduct. Veering away from the archetypal boat tours, the kayak tour around the waters granted an intimate experience from which I walked away with a deeper appreciation for not only slinky oysters that slide straight down the throat but also the rivers in which they are cultivated. 

My now few-days old, new-fangled taking to the outdoors came to a crescendo at Tanja Lagoon Camp, located at Tanja — the furthest down south that the road trip took me. In hindsight, the farm stay from two nights before was but a primer for the immersion into nature that was to follow. 

When the car’s GPS system completely cut-off en route to the campsite, it dawned upon me, just how far (both literally and figuratively), into nature I was veering. Pulling up to my safari tent (one of the four in the entire compound) for the night, what stood before me was the stuff of the millennial Instagram — the love child of camping and glamour, ‘glamping’. Built atop a spacious deck, each tent is outfitted with a fully- functioning kitchen, bathroom and a furnished front porch. Mobile connectivity, non-existent at this part of the coast, the only agenda on the list serves to savour the rare moments of respite.

At Tanja, time, yet again came to a halt, amidst a slice of paradise that remains unmarred on earth.
My time along the south coast drew to an end the next day where we traced the path back up north, along the way, making the last stop — Bowral. Here, for the first time throughout the drives along the coast, the road was lined with rows of awe-inspiring, modern houses with manicured front gardens. Located within the same affluent neighbourhood stood the Milton Park Country House & Spa, a five-star establishment. Set discreetly on its own plot of land, with a spa, swimming pool, gym and restaurant, guests at the Milton Park Country House would be hard-pressed to find a reason to venture elsewhere. 

Schools of dolphins at Jervis Bay; Smoked Trout and Green Mango Salad served at Rick Steins at Bannisters.
Schools of dolphins at Jervis Bay; Smoked Trout and Green Mango Salad served at Rick Steins at Bannisters.

I did, however, find mine a five-minute drive from the hotel premise — Biota Dining, a modern restaurant concept birth from a desire to craft a delectable menu from locally produced fare. In fact, most of the ingredients used in the kitchen are grown a few metres from the diner’s tables. With no fixed menu, the culinary experience at Biota is curated as per the produce allows. Upon getting seated within its Scandinavian-inspired interior, heavy on the grey and touches of dark wood, our server for the night approaches us, “Would you like to know what is on the menu for the night or would you like to be surprised?” he asks coyly. 

As a conservative eater, I opted for the former. By the end of dinner, I walked away with newfound confidence. I would gladly shovel into my mouth whatever the Biota kitchen dished out, blindfolded. 

The charm of the south coast lies, very much, in this ability to meld preconceived perceptions, all without trying too hard. Save for bookmarking culinary experiences that one might specifically gun for and pre-booking accommodations, the south coast is best explored without too much meticulous planning. Driving down the coast, charming coastal villages like Mogo (a small heritage town with a history in mining) or Kangaroo Valley reveal itself along the way. Here, you can do either everything or nothing, and perhaps, this is why the story of the south coast writes itself.