It’s been a while since I relived my childhood memories of travelling down the highways of NSW’s idyllic and picturesque South Coast. I spent many hours as a little girl in the back of the car looking forward to making sandcastles with newfound friends.
Now, I’ve returned to the region on an exploration of the small coastal towns of Eden, Pambula, Merimbula and Tathra.
What will it be like?
For a start, I appreciated what the South Coast has to offer as an adult. There are new places to stay, adventures to be had and fabulous produce to be eaten. For families with little ones, or for those seeking a serene escape, this is the destination that will hit the spot.
The drive from Sydney is close to six hours, but from Canberra, it’s a mere three-hour roadtrip. Driving through the towns with the window rolled down, crossing the small bridges, watching the pelicans take flight and the tides come and go already sets the pace for a relaxing holiday.
In the gorgeous little hamlet of Merimbula, the NRMA Merimbula Beach Holiday Resort is a slice of paradise for the entire family.
There are go karts at the front door, lined up ready for action for big kids and small. These are a stone’s throw from the giant water park that has a flowing waterfall slide and bunch of splash parks and water features. The jumping pillow looks like it’s been super-sized to match any kids’ wildest dreams and it’s also alongside the games’ rooms with a TV room, and even a separate games room with pinball machines. Where were these parks when I was growing up? There are also two giant swimming pools which are perfect for the warm summers afternoons or stroll to the beach.
The beauty about the NRMA Merimbula Beach Holiday Resort is that it offers a range of accommodation which includes well-appointed self-contained cabins which can sleep up to eight. There are 25 types of accommodation, whether you’re looking for villas or condos by the pool.
For the grey nomads who might be travelling along the coast, the resort also has a caravan and camping area which has fantastic views. Most of the sites have access to power and water, as well as access to the amenities block. And the area also has an area for those who are travelling with their own motorhomes, or travellers looking to camp. There are eight different types of camping and caravan sites.
If you want the camping experience but with the luxuries of running water and electricity, the stunning safari tents can sleep up to four. A new addition to the park, the safari tents overlook the ocean and makes you feel like you’re sleeping under the stars. The tent comes with a queen bed and two single beds in a cozy nook for the kids. But without forgoing the luxuries of the cabins, the tents come with a kitchenette with a bar fridge, air conditioning, a private bathroom as well as my favourite – an outdoor tub so you can enjoy some bubbles while you take in the sounds of the ocean.
I was lucky enough to have the entire Escape Villa to myself. With three bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as an outdoor dining area with a barbecue, this is the perfect getaway for groups of friends and the family.
What’s lovely about the accommodation is that it’s clean and simple in its decor: the blue panelled walls juxtapose with the white linens making it a relaxing retreat after a day of activities. The Escape Villa also comes with a kitchen, so if you’re not dining at one of the many eateries along the South Coast, you can enjoy a barbecue with some of the spoils you’ve found from the local providores.
Speaking of food, when you’re on the Sapphire Coast, it would be a crime to visit without sampling the local oysters. These are known across the country as some of the very best oysters in Australia due to the South Coast’s plankton crystal clean waters. There are dozens of producers that grow Sydney rocks, Pacifics and some native angasi flat oysters.
One of the best places for a meal out is Wheelers Seafood Restaurant in Pambula. Their specialty is local Merimbula Lake oysters. Aside from serving them fresh, they also offer the molluscs with traditional Kilpatrick or try with a refreshing Japanese dressing of pickled ginger, cucumber and wasabi aioli. My waiter encourages me to opt for the natural oysters as they are just that good. As I’m in one of the best seafood regions in Australia, the rest of dinner is fittingly house-smoked kingfish served with fresh paw-paw salad, mango and chilli salsa.
But if you’re just popping in for a drink, take a seat at the oyster bar for a light meal where you can wash down those oysters with a spiced negroni or perhaps a glass of craft beer.
For breakfast and lunch, the Waterfront Cafe in Merimbula has the best views in town. The beauty of these quaint villages is that you’ll find your waiter at breakfast is the same person you sat next to at dinner last night.
Sitting in the sunshine on the pier overlooking the harbour, munching on vongole pasta and fresh garlic bread, life just doesn’t get any better.
If you’re looking for something more adventurous, the South Coast has a raft of activities for visitors with varying levels of fitness.
I set the alarm for the crack of dawn as it’s the best time to be on the water. Stand up paddle boarding, might seem relaxing and calm, but it’s a workout. Steve from Merimbula SUP Lessons and Tours has been taking out groups for years. I’m with a few beginners, and once we get the hang of it, Steve navigates us towards the Merimbula Bridge, back up past the local oyster farm and into the safe aqua swimming beach again.
Another totally unique holiday activity in the area is a fully interactive oyster farm tour with hilarious local oyster expert, Captain Sponge. A celebrity among the locals, Captain Sponge will take you around the oyster farms on his small barge, teaching you all about how they grow, how to harvest them, how to shuck them and how to truly appreciate the intricate flavours. Best served with a slice of lemon, a glass of something cool and crisp, and with an appetite for discovery.
The South Coast is also known for its shops offering beautiful hand-made arts and crafts. Art lovers can even check out the Art Trail or the old wares vintage collectibles trail. Eden has the pick of the bunch with Antiques. Narooma has a great range of new and used bric-a-brac. And the markets in Bermagui have a great selection of “retro cool stuff” with over 45 businesses under one roof, open seven days a week.
Whale-watching is a highlight in this southern coastal area throughout the year, so be sure to book in early for the two-hour tours where whales are pretty much guaranteed.
Particularly between May and November, thousands of majestic humpback and southern right whales their way along the coast in an annual migration. September is when you’ll see mothers stopping to feed their calves before they head down towards Antarctica.
But like the whales, it’s time to depart this beautiful place. With a belly full of seafood and a heart full of memories, the South Coast has once again rekindled childhood roadtrip memories.
Take me there
Drive: From Sydney to Merimbula it’s a six-hour drive and from Canberra it’s just under three hours. Take the scenic route down the Illawarra coast, passing through the towns of Kiama, Bateman’s Bay and Narooma.
From Melbourne, the drive includes a journey through the stunning Lakes Entrance and Mallacoota as well as Eden, with the brand-new port facilities ready for tourists to enjoy.
Fly: A flight from Sydney is also an option, with regular Rex and Qantas Link flights into Merimbula for about $380 one way. From Melbourne, the flights start from $540 and most involve a stopover at Sydney airport. Car hire is available from Merimbula airport.
Price: Cabins and villas are priced from $155 to $390 per night and can sleep up to eight. Safari tents are priced from $167 per night and can sleep up to four. And caravan sites are priced from $42 per night power, and $35 unpowered.