“Over there; that dip in the water!” Our tour guide, Ros, waggles her finger out towards the endless blue. We follow her sightline and are greeted by a spray of sea and the slow hulking form of a breaching humpback whale followed by the crescent arc of its calf. It’s magnificent.
On a whale-watching cruise with Cat Balou Cruises, we’ve already been fortunate to see a sea lion sunning itself on the rocks and watched a million playful dolphins race our boat as we motored out of Eden’s Twofold Bay towards the elliptical lapis-blue of the South Pacific Ocean. But the humpbacks, up until now, have proved elusive.
Once a whaling station, it’s the whales, on their southern migration to the icy waters of Antarctica, that have led us here – two days happily road-tripping the dazzling marine palette of NSW’s Sapphire Coast – to the tiny historic town of Eden for a romantic weekend away. September to late November is prime whale-watching season and this sleepy coastal hamlet, bounded to the north and south by national park, is the only place where you can see the whales feeding their young.
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It’s also where we learn about the town’s extraordinary whaling history and the legend of ‘Old Tom’, Eden’s famous killer whale, one of a pod of remarkable whales who helped local fishermen capture migrating Baleen whales. Old Tom’s skeleton is on display at the excellent Eden Killer Whale Museum, a stunning Art Deco building overlooking the bay, along with whaling boats, old photos and other maritime memorabilia that tell the town’s fascinating 100-year whaling history.
While you can fly into Merimbula and truncate what is an equidistant 6-hour trip door to door from Sydney or Melbourne, the coastal drive is exceptional: an eye candy coastline of precious biodiversity, national parks and wonderful produce. En route to our romantic getaway, we’ve tasted cheese in Bega, stopped for a swim in Tathra, eaten our fill of freshly shucked oysters and slung back a couple of original handcrafted brews in Pambula at Longstocking, the only nano craft brewery on the Sapphire Coast.
Eden, the southern gateway of the Sapphire Coast culinary trail, is no shirker either. Sprout, a funky organic café and local produce store in town, where we lunch post- cruise, has a sunny rear courtyard, fantastic local, pesticide-free produce and Australian-grown Kahawa Estate Coffee. The steak at Great Southern Inn comes with 180-degree views of the bay from the outdoor terrace and a well-deserved two schooners in the 2014 SMH Good Food Pub Guide. Down on Twofold Bay, bobbing yachts and the faint twinkle of stars, are the romantic backdrop for a gorgeous fresh seafood dinner at Wharfside Cafe.
On the final morning, we set out early and walk the rugged headland, taking the Heritage Walks path past historic buildings offering a rare insight into the town’s whaling history and convict past, and down to the golden sands of Asling Beach. We scrunch our toes in the gritty warmth and watch as two windsurfers dance and dip on the sparkling froth of cobalt sea. It’s just another day in paradise.
Cocora Cottages, a charming heritage-listed B&B with period décor, is a delight in every way. Located close to the Killer Whale Museum, it sits on a rise with uninterrupted views of the harbor and Twofold Bay. There are two large guest rooms, each with big bathroom and spa bath, a light and airy sitting room upstairs where, over breakfast, we watch the fishing boats chug to shore and, of an evening, admire the sunset while enjoying a pre-dinner tipple with Gail and David, our congenial hosts. Post-dinner comforts await in the front room where, on chilly nights, a wood fire blazes and there is port, chocolates and slabs of plump fruit cake.