The drive to the Shoalhaven region on the south coast of NSW is a picturesque two hours from the traffic snarled streets of suburban Sydney, through the rugged Royal National Park (the second oldest in the world), past the small beach-side townships of the Illawarra district, and further south through undulating green hills, sweeping valleys and lush grazing paddocks. The scenery reminds me of postcards I brought back from the UK years ago except for the red tin roofs of the homesteads we pass; serene scenes of country life so different to the skyscrapers and dense traffic of our city life. Garlanded with the ever-present blue haze of the Great Dividing Range, it’s the sort of luminescent countryside that announces you’ve arrived somewhere special.
The Shoalhaven area is noted as the most popular tourist destination in the state, but it’s a secret that New South Welshmen have kept to themselves for far too long. With cheap airfares and excellent value accommodation options, we say it’s time the rest of Australia discovered this gem of a region, and when combined with a couple of days in magical Sydney, this would be a holiday to remember!
It’s a vast area and there’s a lot to see and do so here are our suggestions on what you shouldn’t miss when you visit.
At the northern end of Shoalhaven you’ll find the charming village of Berry which is so cute it’s almost adorable. First settled in the early 1800s, this is a pioneering town that has retained many of its wonderful historic buildings which now enjoy new life as antique stores, art and craft galleries and quaint cafes and shops.
Many city dwellers have made a tree-change to the area, started small businesses such as fashion and homeware boutiques, delis, bakeries and cafes and along the way, they’ve injected some big city sophistication without ruining the country ambience.
DON’T MISS: The markets which are on first Sunday of every month.
A meal at one of the local cafes that utilise the freshest local ingredients. A loaf of sourdough bread from the bakery – people drive for an hour just to purchase it! Set aside a few hours to wander in and out of shops such as Shambalaa Books And Gifts in Alexandra St, you’ll always come away with something unique.
COUPLES WILL LOVE: Lunch and wine-tasting at Coolangatta Winery – an impressive series of convict-built buildings set amidst beautiful gardens and hectares of vines.
Not far from Berry, the endless rolling green valleys and amphitheatre of lush mountainous terrain gives one the feeling of being in the centre of an old volcano. Mother Nature worked overtime here creating what is arguably the most beautiful valley in Australia with a unique and varied landscape of flora and fauna, and mankind has done very little to destroy it. In fact, the residents of Kangaroo Valley have started a program to be the developed world’s first carbon neutral tourist destination and we applaud them for their initiative. With rivers and creeks meandering through lush green pastureland and majestic rainforests hugging the winding mountain roads, the drive is spectacularly beautiful – simply immerse yourself in it.
DON’T MISS: Kayaking along the glorious Kangaroo River. A bushwalk through pristine forests. Having your photo taken on the Hampden Bridge with its magnificent, castellated sandstone towers. This is Australia’s oldest suspension bridge and the only surviving timber decked vehicular suspension bridge constructed in the nineteenth century.
COUPLES WILL LOVE: The shops and cafes in the pretty village, a picnic by the river and the joyous, peaceful feeling of being at one with nature.
As the area’s major town you’ll pass through here coming and going from the beach areas further south so make time to call into the Information Centre which is a treasure trove of holiday ideas.
DON’T MISS: The Fleet Air Arm Museum which has a great collection of aircraft that date back to the early aviation years.
COUPLES WILL LOVE: Famous artist Arthur Boyd created some of his most beautiful landscapes when he lived at Bundanon, on the Shoalhaven River. He gifted it to the nation before he died and it’s now open to the public on Sundays when you can view some of his most magical works. Make a day of it and take a picnic lunch to enjoy by the river.
Jervis Bay is a magnet to visitors from all over the world. The calm, clean waters are home to a variety of dolphins and twice a year you can watch the migration of whales up and down the coast. Beautiful Hyams Beach at the southern end of the bay is reputed to have the world’s whitest sands. There are myriad walking tracks in the area so it’s a great opportunity to commune with nature on both land and sea.
Water based activities include fishing and sailing charters, dolphin and whale watching cruises, dramatic scuba diving along the cliff faces of the outer bay and sea kayaking, so whatever you love to do in, on or under the water, this is the place to do it.
DON’T MISS: The Lady Denman Maritime Museum which shows a wonderful history of the bay’s naval base amongst other interesting pieces and artifacts.
COUPLES WILL LOVE: Take a dolphin-viewing cruise from Huskisson between June and November. Sociable creatures, these dolphins love performing and will probably give you quite a show! You may also see migrating whales.
Mollymook / Ulladulla / Milton
With the glorious beaches of Mollymook and Ulladulla on one side and Moreton National Park on the other, the town of Milton is yet another National Trust gem where you can immerse yourself in Australia’s history. Craft shops, boutiques selling fashion you don’t see everywhere and antique shops and art galleries abound. One of the area’s most popular beaches is Mollymook which boasts a long stretch of pristine, golden sand and a fabulous wave for board and body surfers.Just down the road, Ulladulla is a fishing village where the trawlers come in daily with their fresh catch. These are both lovely spots to spend a night or two and they’re a great base to get out and explore the wonderful countryside. Between Ulladulla and Batemans Bay you’ll find Pebbly Beach, the local kangaroos’ favourite surfing spot (only on really hot days) and if they’re not surfing they’re just hangin’ out dude!
DON’T MISS: If you’ve got the energy and you’re a bit of a daredevil you can climb the rocky spire of Pigeon House Mountain, but be warned, the final ascent is via ladders but the rewarding view, so I’ve been told, is stupendous.
The art gallery at the Ulladulla Guest House which showcases the works of some of Australia’s most talented artists, open daily from 10.30 to 5.30.
COUPLES WILL LOVE: A day at Lake Conjola where swimming, sailing and fishing are all available. Take a picnic lunch, walk through the nature reserve or just kick-back and enjoy the tranquillity. The access road off the Princes Highway is about 7kms past Milton.
There’s so much to see and do in the beautiful Shoalhaven area; sailing, canoeing and kayaking, scuba diving and snorkelling, fishing, body and board surfing, horse riding, bush-walking, off track 4WD safaris and cycling just to mention a few. Vineyards and wineries are scattered throughout the area so there’s quite a number of cellar doors where you can sample the local drop and there’s an exciting range of boutique galleries where you can purchase treasures you can’t find at home. And there’s always something happening somewhere in the area to make your stay even more special so for a complete calendar of events visit www.shoalhaven.nsw.gov.au
MUST DO: Make the spectacular Grand Pacific Drive with its dramatic 665 metre Sea Cliff Bridge perched 41 metres above sea level part of your journey. It will take you longer to drive the distance but the visual spectacles will be worth it. Turn off at Loftus and follow the signs or join the drive further south at Stanwell Park.
Photography: Tourism Australia and Tourism NSW.