By Gayle Dickson
Regretfully packing my gear back into the rental car, I left Paperbark Camp and headed out onto the road once again, my favourite sounds cranked up, and the Tom Tom GPS turned off. The aroma of the paperbark trees clung to the cloth interior of the car for quite some time, lingering like cobwebs in my mind for even longer.
Instead of speeding south along the Princes Highway towards Batemans Bay and beyond, I turned onto Jervis Bay Road – a longer drive but oh so worth it for the scenery! My ultimate goal for today was to make it as far as Tilba Tilba before dinner; until then, the day was mine to play with.
I skirted St George’s Basin and came across Sanctuary Point on its northern shores, popular for boating, fishing and swimming. Then it was back onto the highway, a section of road dividing Jerrawangala and Conjola state forests. By the time I hit Milton, I was ready for coffee. I grabbed a takeaway long black and hopped back in the driver’s seat – I wanted to visit Mollymook Beach – I’ve no idea why, I just loved the sound of it!
Over a hot brew, I was told by one of the locals: “There aren’t too many places where you can sit up in bed, look out to sea, and watch an albatross diving for cuttlefish or dolphins riding the waves.”
If you fancy a tasty bite to eat, pop into Rick Stein’s Bannisters restaurant or, for something a little more casual, pick up delicious fish and chips. For One Hat dining, head to The River Moruya, just south of Mogo State Forrest.
You can’t help but be drawn to the beach areas when exploring the South Coast, and I’d heard the myth of Pebbly Beach and its surfing kangaroos. Supposedly a kangaroo was spotted in the low surf, but locals surmise it was simply chased there by a dog. While I didn’t spot any roos frolicking in the waves or taking to long boards, there were plenty around, and it was worth every bump along the 8km gravel road to get there.
Mogo Zoo… doesn’t sound like much until you’re inside … is fast becoming a landmark, and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and being shown around by Hannelie van der Merwe. This ex-South African has an inborn love of all creatures great and small. She couldn’t shake my hand as she was cosseting a wee cotton-top tamarin, acting as surrogate mum to the tiny darling, named Cupee. As we wandered around, Cupee dozed, completely relaxed in her keeper’s care. Mogo Zoo is privately owned, committed to the survival of endangered animals and actively involved in a range of global breeding programs. Fastidious attention is paid to replicating each creature’s natural habitat, and the love and care of each staff member shone through on my walkabout. It’s one of the most relaxed, pleasant, entertaining and educational zoos I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Put in on your must-do list soon and get to see first-hand one of the largest primate collections, as well as the rare white lions of Timbavati.
I continued south to Narooma, a water sports and fishing haven. The cliff top golf course offered up the most incredible views to Montague Island, the largest fur seal colony in NSW. I didn’t have time to take a boat out, but it is on my list to do next time around. At various times of the year, I’m told you can see dolphins, endangered grey nurse sharks and, of course, whales.
Next stop, Tilba Tilba, where I pulled the car into the driveway of Green Gables B&B. Stuart and Alex helped me drop my bags into my room, made a very welcome cup of tea and then left me to soak up the ambiance. The house dates back to the late 19th century, originally built as the Temperance Hall, only being converted to a residence around 1940. Whilst all three bedrooms are large and boast the modern convenience of ensuites, the home reflects its history in both furnishings and décor. The floorboards creak as you tread, reminding you of all the boots and shoes that must have walked these planks in years past.
We walked as a group across the road for dinner. Pam’s Store is legendary in these parts – it’s part general store, part petrol station, part bait and tackle shop, part liquor store, part post office, part newsagent, part tourist centre and part restaurant (one night a week only, and I happened to be there!). We dined on the historic verandah and the food was delicious!
After a hearty breakfast and a blast from the shower, I ventured out to investigate Central Tilba, a restored and beautifully maintained period village. At the ABC Cheese Factory I stocked up on as much as I could eat in the next few days – I would have bought more, but I’m sure NZ Customs would have had a lot to say about that!
The variety of shops heralded purchases like a hemp shirt for my son, gorgeous handmade jewellery for my daughter, a painting for mum and a wooden carving for hubby.
I then stuck with Tourist Drive 9, passing through Bermagui where I feasted on seafood delights at the Fisherman’s Co-Op. This little town is famous for its deep sea fishing as the Continental Shelf is just 20km offshore, and it’s renowned for yellow fin tuna and black marlin. At Tathra, I ventured onto the historic steamer wharf where fishermen were tossing their lines. Merimbula, the half way point between Melbourne and Sydney, is that perfect mix of white, sandy beaches, rainforests, lagoons and mountains. Much of life here seems to revolve around the water and their beaches are classified according to activity … snorkelling, surfing, windsurfing and swimming. Visit in June perhaps, when you can partake in the Jazz Festival weekend!
In the late afternoon I checked into Snug Cove B&B in Eden just as the weather started to close in. Eric and Jennifer’s modern abode has been designed with large expanses of glass on the seaward side, offering majestic views over Twofold Bay … even from the bathrooms! Dinner was an incredibly relaxed affair. Eric, Jennifer and I were joined by four other guests and a local couple from further up the hill. The meal was first class and I loved that they dished up as much local produce as possible, including the highly suspicious (to my mind) but totally delectable Disaster Bay Chilli Wine.
Replete, sated and exhausted, I took myself upstairs to bed. The storm had really fired up outside, so I left my curtains open and fell asleep to the sound of masts clanging in the harbour below, the wind whistling as it attempted to enter my haven, and the rain lashing those large panes of glass. I was snug in my own private cove and slept like the proverbial.
By breakfast time, the storm had cleared, the sky was once again a vivid blue, and the waves had ceased churning and were softly crashing. I spent a couple of hours at the Killer Whale Museum, a treasure trove of local history as a whaling community. In the town, many of the historic sites have been preserved. Greenscape Lighthouse, whose first oil lantern was lit back in 1883, is today the second tallest lighthouse in NSW. For hikers Ben Boyd National Park offers a fabulous light-to-light coastal walk between Greenscape and Boyd’s Tower.
My time here on the NSW South Coast was at an end, but I had time for one more quick stop at Wheelers Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Farm before flying out of Merimbula Airport. Merimbula oysters are famed throughout Australia. Take a tour and get to know the oyster story. I’ve never been a lover of oysters so reluctantly, and very gingerly, put one into my mouth. Cooked as it was with bacon and a sweet, yet spicy plum sauce, it was delicious – I was a convert!
Weather Forecasts in NSW: Ph 1196
Getting there and around:
Qantas offer daily services to Sydney from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. For the latest airfares visit W: www.qantas.com, phone 0800 767 400 or contact your bonded travel agent.
Things to do:?