Right by the crashing waves on the Far South Coast of NSW, the gorgeous NRMA Merimbula Beach Holiday Resort awaits.
I love camping, but it's usually in a tent and the said tent is usually being put up by me in the dark against the light of a mobile phone after I've left work too late, bundled the kids into the car because I don't want to miss a day, driven to the coast and been determined to have our shelter erected, no matter if it's close to midnight or not. Deep. Breath.
So, what an absolute pleasure it is to, yes, arrive at the NRMA Merimbula Beach Holiday Resort after dark because, again, I'm running late, but then to walk into one of its safari tents, turn on a light - a light! - and be greeted by the cosiest and most comfortable glamping experience you could ever hope for.
There may be canvas sides and ceilings to the tent but that's about where the camping starts and ends. There are lights! (I love lights). And comfy beds! A kitchen! A fridge! And bathroom! (No more tramping to the communal showers, juggling towels and toiletries, hoping your undies don't fall out somewhere along the way.)
The kids loved the little hidey-hole beds, like a cubby house all to themselves where they could also sleep. And they did. Soundly.
We pretty much packed as much as we could into our 36 hours in Merimbula on the Far South Coast of NSW.
There was no problem checking in after hours. If I'd been a bit more organised and got there earlier, we could have pre-ordered woodfired pizzas from Sapphire Coast Eats which is onsite at the holiday park on Friday evenings. Next time.
The park manager had sent us the code to the safe and we easily collected our keys and map to the park, settling in late at night and not realising until morning just how spectacular the location was.
The holiday park is perched high on a headland, with stunning views out to sea. Oh, yes, did I mention there's a bath on the private porch? So you can laze in some bubbles while you try to spot a whale. The luxury.
We have recently joined the Parkrun craze and the best part about that is you can easily search for the nearest Saturday five-kilometre run when on holidays. We settled on Pambula's "Panboola Wetlands" parkrun, which provides a scenic route through wetlands built on what was once the town's racecourse. (The old race-caller's box, fences and distance signs are still there, which adds to the charm.)
The parkrun always begins at 8am and it was an easy 10-minute drive into Pambula .All visitors were welcomed and it was a great, energising way to kick-start the weekend.
Back in the car, I googled "good cafes in Merimbula" and zeroed in on Bar Beach Kiosk. So glad I did. What a slice of paradise.
The bustling cafe is a shack overlooking the turquoise waters of Bar Beach and Merimbula Bay. Nothing better than having a coffee, people-watching, relaxing in a beautiful location in the morning sun. Just magical.
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We made sure to come back later in the day for a swim. A little bit freezing, for sure. But invigorating. The beach was full of families and groups of young people, all enjoying the warm weekend. Very chill.
Lunch was buns and salad from the local Woolies and afterwards my daughter and I had a very fun fossick through the local Vinnies (just down the road on Main Street). Later my son and I also had a go at some of the amusement games in the kids' room back at the park. There's also a tennis court, go-karts, a playground and a big, resort-style pool.
But all my son really wanted to do was to try the e-bikes. They are stationed at the park and easily accessed by downloading the NRMA app and hiring the bikes via a QR code. The cost is $30 per hour or half price if you are an NRMA member. (Helmets are provided.)
We each got a bike and rode into town for dinner. We ambled past the lake, across the bridge, down Fishpen Road and to Fishpen Takeaway on Marine Parade. Putting our steaming, warm bundles of fish and chips into the bike basket, we rode down to the waterfront to eat, looking out across the flat water to the twinkling lights of town, some pelicans and seagulls our only company.
Getting back to the park might have been a challenge on a normal bike, but the e-bikes glided up the hills with ease.
The next morning, we got up early, packed up, dropped off our key and headed over the bridge again, to do some kayaking off Mitchies Jetty. We were there by 8am, because the advice is to go early, on a mid to high tide.
Mitchies Jetty is called "Merimbula's Happy Place" and it's not hard to understand why. From the little turquoise shack with the pink roof, to the coffee stand to the dogs to the kids making sandcastles on the beach, it's a lovely little area.
I'd hired the kayaks online the night before and the kids and I each had one, paddling around for an hour, looking for stingrays, having a close-up look at the boats anchored on the lake and sailing alongside others on stand-up paddleboards. It was a memorable way to spend a morning. On our way home, we stopped into the Pambula Rotary Markets, which had everything from bunches of proteas, to home-made bread to leather-tooled handbags for sale. Such cute markets.
So, if camping is not your thing, glamping could be. The only note of caution I'd sound is that the canvas walls of the safari tents do flap a fair bit in the wind. You're still experiencing the elements, to an extent. But you can turn on a light and you do have a bed with beautiful clean sheets and, when nature calls at night, you don't need to dash across the grounds to the toilet.
We spent less than two days in Merimbula, but we came back home feeling really refreshed and brimming with some already great memories.
Where: NRMA Merimbula Beach Holiday Resort, 2 Short Point Road, Merimbula
How much: Standard rate for one night in a Safari tent for four people is $227.
Explore more: nrmaparksandresorts.com.au
The writer was a guest of NRMA Parks and Resorts.