As we made our way home the last trip, we explored the Snowy Mountains through the beautiful, lush pastoral landscapes and little villages surrounding Canberra and Cooma before making tracks into the heart of NSW’s Alpine Country and enjoying the sights of Jindabyne, Thredbo, and the Kosciuszko National Park.
On this trip, we planned to revisit the NSW south coast we had travelled a few years back – but only as far as Tathra before heading inland over the Kosciuszko mountain range again. The reason being – we were keen to finish the Victorian High Country we had started earlier in the year only to be driven out by bushfires!
The south coast of NSW stretches along this coastline for over 400-kilometres.
Commencing at Wollongong (80-kilometres south of Sydney), this region is squeezed between the mountains and forests of the Great Dividing Range and the beautiful beaches of the Pacific Ocean – with the Princes Highway traversing its entire length.
It is a coastline full of beauty and has always been a favourite trip for us… and after reading this blog you’ll soon see why!
Our journey begins…
How long do you need for the trip from Wollongong to Tathra… well Google Maps will tell you it will take almost 5-hours to travel a bit under 360-kilometres – that’s non-stop – but if you take your time and enjoy the beautiful little towns, gorgeous National Parks, and pristine coastline… it can take anything up to a week or more!
Our plan was to revisit all the places we had visited previously, and explore the wonders we hadn’t… so leaving Narrabeen bright and early we headed out along Mona Vale Road and through St Ives – then with our Navman set south-east and the coast in our sights we made tracks for the famous ‘Grand Pacific Drive’.
After braving the early morning traffic our first stop was Helensburgh, a town many travellers (as we have in the past), drive past without even knowing it exists… and although there’s not a lot at Helensburgh – it is worth the detour!
A short drive from town through the forest, Kelly’s Falls are two beautiful waterfalls located within a few minutes hike of each other… and if you’re a train buff then the old, abandoned Helensburgh train station and tunnel is also an attraction to look at! Although now mostly taken over by the lush foliage this location still makes for lovely photos, especially after a rain!
Marking the northern end of the Illawarra region Helensburgh borders the southern end of the Royal National Park and the western side of the Garawarra State Conservation Area and owes its existence to the coalmine that was first discovered in 1884, and is still in operation today. In fact, it is Australia’s oldest working mine.
Originally known as Camp Creek (after the creek that runs through the area), it was renamed Helensburgh after the daughter of a man who was regarded as the founding father of the town, Charles Harper.
The Royal National Park…
Further down the road and just over an hour’s drive from the realms of Sydney is one of the world’s oldest National Parks – the Royal National Park.
This national park is home to an abundance of pristine beaches, rainforests, ancient Aboriginal sites, and native wildlife.
It spans 160-square-kilometres and is a popular day trip for Sydney siders and travellers alike – those who like to dabble in a spot of bushwalking, mountain biking, cycling and surfing.
At the entrance of this national park is a ticket booth (the entrance fee is $12 per vehicle if you intend on stopping)… and with lots to check out, it’s no surprise why it’s so popular.
There’s the Aboriginal Rock at Jibbon Head, the sandstone formation of Wedding Cake Rock (also known as White Rock), a whale or two, the spectacular views from Governor Game Lookout, and the beautiful beaches of Wattamolla, Garie, and Burning Palms to relax on!
The Grand Pacific Drive…
This National Park is also the starting point for the spectacular 140-kilometre Grand Pacific Drive that hugs the coastline and winds its way through rainforests, over the famous Sea Cliff Bridge, and through the coastal cities and townships of Wollongong, Shellharbour, and Kiama as far south as Shoalhaven.
Bald Hill Lookout, Stanwell Park…
Our next stop was Bald Hill Lookout in Stanwell Park known for its mesmeric views through the Illawarra Region.
This is one of Australia’s most well-known and popular lookouts situated atop a hill of the same name… its bald appearance making it a very popular airstrip for hang gliders to take off and soar into the sky. This is the very spot where Lawrence Hargrave (the road heading south that we were about to follow, named after him), successfully achieved lift-off in 1894 with his tandem box kites.
Usually, on a clear day, the vista here is spectacular overlooking the beautiful Stanwell Park Beach, the Seacliff Bridge, and stretching far south to Wollongong… but today sadly, the view was marred by a thick smoke haze rendering the view almost non-existent!
Sea Cliff Bridge…
One of the best attractions on this drive is the iconic serpentine Sea Cliff Bridge that winds above the rocky shoreline, close to the dramatic cliffs between Coalcliff and Clifton.
This bridge was built in 2005 and stretches for 665-metres. It is one of only 7 off-shore coastal parallel bridges in the world and is often seen in Aussie TV commercials advertising new cars.
At the most southern point of the bridge, there are a few car spaces where you can pull over to follow a short but steep hike to a precarious viewpoint. This viewpoint offers incredible views back over the bridge then further on a larger car park allows you to park and walk back across the bridge!
Leaving the magnificent Seacliff Bridge the Lawrence Hargrave Drive continues further south along the breathtaking Coal Coast to Scarborough, a rustic seaside village where its main attraction is Scarborough Hotel. Built in 1886 and perched on the escarpment edge, this magnificent hotel overlooks the ocean and is the region’s oldest licensed hotel – and an Illawarra icon!
Passing more beautiful beaches we soon came to Coledale Beach, which offered us a little haven to set up camp for the night.
Coledale is yet another of the many historic coal mining villages on this stretch along Lawrence Hargrave Drive and is set in an amazing and very picturesque landscape on a narrow band of relatively flat land sandwiched between the sheer cliffs of the Illawarra Escarpment… and the golden sands and rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean.
The main appeal of this town are the beaches with Coledale and Sharky’s edged by fascinating rock platforms and dotted with small rock pools… and of course the great camping area, Coledale Beach Camping Reserve.
Thirroul was next on our map where the challenging hike up the Illawarra Escarpment cliffside to Sublime Point Lookout is a must do.
Not for the faint-hearted this hike is only about 30 minutes, but it’s incredibly steep with winding wooden steps and metal ladders on the steeper terrain as you pass through dense forest– but once you reach the top, the breathtaking panoramic view and fresh coastal air will make you forget about your burning muscles.
With Wollongong just down the road our journey continued.
Sitting at the northern edge of Wollongong and still dwarfed by the dramatic Illawarra Escarpment, Bulli’s main streets of colonial buildings face out onto quiet beaches and the blue waters of the beautiful ocean.
Like most of the little towns on this coast, Bulli also grew from a coal town.
Originally nicknamed ‘black diamonds’ it began its life in the 1860s and for history buffs its stories of coal miners, mining tragedies and underground heroism can be seen at the Bulli Black Diamond Museum Heritage Centre in the heritage-listed Bulli Railway Station, built in 1887.
Some of the best-kept secrets on this coast are its beautiful beaches and quaint villages with Sandon Point, Thirroul (where DH Lawrence lived during his time in Australia) and pretty Austinmer attracting the surfing fanatics from all over the world. There are 17 patrolled beaches in this vicinity, and I could easily go into a description of each but like Austinmer they are all lovely little coastal communities full of boutique shops, rock pools, and parks attracting tourists all year round!
Wollongong, just a few kilometres down the road and often referred to as the ‘Gong’ by its locals, is NSW’s third-largest city with the best of everything on offer – including a world-renowned university.
It’s a beautiful city with many must-see attractions from its beautiful beaches and spectacular coastline, to a vibrant arts precinct and restaurant scene.
It is also home to beautiful botanic gardens, the Australian Motor-life Museum where exhibits date back to 1904, the Nan Tien Temple (the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere), the Science Space, the panoramic lookout atop Mt Keira and many footpaths, cycleways and rainforest bushwalks to explore.
With the lovely coastal town of Kiama our next planned overnight stop we left the busy hub of Wollongong and continued our journey past Gerringong, Port Kemba, and Shell Harbour!
There are a couple of must-see local sights in this area including the aviation museum at Illawarra, the Illawarra Railway Museum, and nearby Lake Illawarra, which is famous for its National Surfing Reserve surf breaks at ‘The Farm’ at Killalea Beach and ‘Mystics’ at Minnamurra Beach.
Continuing south it was only a short drive to Kiama and its world-famous blowhole we had heard so much about.
Kiama and is one of the most striking seaside holiday villages to visit along the Grand Pacific Drive and is a popular pit stop for travellers and day-trippers to explore.
Full of little cafes and artsy shops it was the perfect place to meet with friends Renate, Martin who tackled the Simpson Desert with us, and our daughter-in-laws Uncle Dave – all travelling north!
The name Kiama has long been explained by the local Aboriginals as ‘where the sea makes a noise’.
The famous blowholes are obviously the big drawcard in this town with the larger of two located near the lighthouse in an area within an easy walking (or driving) distance of the Visitor Information Centre.
First discovered by the local Aboriginals who called it ‘Khanterinte’, these blowholes were formed from a basalt lava flow 260 million years ago… and were first written about by George Bass in 1797.
The Kiama blowhole is the largest in the world with a 2.4-metre-wide opening that sends vast plumes of spray into the air from the surging waves below. It is said to be most active in a southeast swell and high tide with its spray recorded at heights of more than 30-metres – but unfortunately for us, we didn’t get to see it working.
2-kilometres south of the town is the second blowhole called Little Blowhole. This is a much smaller but arguably more consistent blowhole – and was certainly working when we visited affording us a consistent and remarkable display.
Both these blowholes are located on the ‘Kiama Coastal Walk’ so it’s a lovely walk between them both.
The Kiama Coastal Walk is a 22-kilometre trail that takes in beaches and headlands… a stunning walk where the mountains meet the sea – and one beautiful stretch of coastline… especially for keen photographers!
After booking into ‘Kendalls on the Beach’ (a great holiday park situated on beach frontage of the awe-inspiring Pacific Ocean) we spent the next 2 days trying to capture as many sunrises and sunsets as possible and explore the several incredible landscapes in the area.
In addition to the blowholes and Kiama Lighthouse, Cathedral Rock is a remarkable rock formation at the south end of the beach in Kiama Downs with access to these rocks (and the cave) only accessible during low tide.
The Bombo Quarry and Headlands just north of town are also worth a look even though you must pass the giant sewage treatment plant to get there.
Once there the quarry is a most unusual landscape where at high tide waves crash against massive rock formations. From the top of the headlands, the view is fabulous.
Leaving Kiama, we passed through the twin towns of Gerringong and Gerroa and for a classic, South Coast beach day, spend some time at Werri Beach in Gerringong.
Gerringong is a vibrant hilltop village overlooking Werri Beach that stretches between the two headlands and is loaded with delightful surf and seaside shopping.
Just a few hills away Gerroa hugs its own headland and faces the long curve of Seven Mile Beach to the south.
From here on, South Shoalhaven incorporates all the villages as far as Murramagan National Park to Bateman’s Bay including Kangaroo Valley.
From Shoalhaven Heads, our journey then continued inland a short distance to Berry and on into the Kangaroo Valley.
Shoalhaven Heads is a quintessential sleepy seaside town and a nice place for a stroll to stretch the legs after being in the car. Here the Shoalhaven River meets the sea so you get the best of both worlds – nice river and ocean views!
Berry is a favourite of mine and I should imagine a popular stop for many.
This historic town was named in 1890 in honour of Shoalhaven’s first European settlers, the Berry family.
It’s a charming inland stop with beautiful National Trust buildings housing lots of antique and homeware stores, an old pub and a café come restaurant scene jostling happily with the heritage buildings.
Leaving Berry, the road winds up Berry Mountain through a beautiful bush with glimpses of wonderful views over the surrounding countryside.
Once over the escarpment, the road then winds down into the lush grasslands of Kangaroo Valley. Here we were surrounded by stunning towering gums, lush forests, and sprawling pastures, and our endpoint – Kangaroo Valley village.
This scenic country town of Kangaroo Valley is home to another pub, restaurants, more boutique shops, galleries, cafes… and the spectacular stone Hampden Suspension Bridge (built in 1898) spanning Kangaroo River.
Only a few kilometres north of the town the picturesque Kangaroo Valley settles against this fortress-like backdrop built of sandstone and iron. It’s a tranquil environment of rainforest-covered cliffs, valley floors carpeted by sweeping green pasture lands, river gums and gurgling creeks… and a lovely river beach below the bridge, which is an ideal spot to cool off!
Winding east down Cambewarra Mountain back to Bomaderry (on the opposite banks of Nowra) a lookout on the edge of escarpment offers spectacular views of the northern part of the Shoalhaven region.
Further Inland from Kangaroo Valley…
On a previous trip, we ventured further inland on a round trip through this valley taking in Berrima, Goulburn, and Canberra before exiting back out on the coast at Batemans Bay.
This road northwest of Kangaroo Valley is a winding ascent of the escarpment and offers incredible views of the hill-lined plains through the tall trees of the Upper Montane Forest with a must stop the Fitzroy Falls Lookout, which overlooks a fall that plunges 80-metres into the valley below.
Alternatively, you can head south at Moss Vale through the sleepy town of Bundanoon, which is the gateway to Morton National Park. But thereafter it’s back out on the highway following the signs into Canberra.
Berrima is another lovely heritage-listed town just off the Hume Highway.
Founded in 1829 with visions of a future as a major metropolis, Berrima grew into an important inland waystation that was, during its 19th-century peak, home to 14 hotels. Today impressive sandstone buildings adorned the streets – among them the Berrima Courthouse (1838), the Old Berrima Gaol (1839), the Holy Trinity Anglican Church (1849), and the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church (1849)… and just a short distance southwest is the Hume Highway that also heads into the capital city of Australia.
Founded following the federation of the colonies of Australia as the seat of government for the new nation, we all know Canberra is Australia’s largest inland city. It is also the eighth-largest city overall!
Canberra is a custom-built capital, which depends largely on national politics and university students and usually hums with a buzz during parliamentary sitting weeks and university terms.
It’s a great city to explore and a great day trip from the coast.
You can spend many hours at the War Memorial, cycle around Lake Burleigh Griffin – then if you follow the signs to Queanbeyan, then take the King’s Highway the road loops back up and over the Great Dividing Range on a twisting forest road and heads straight back down to the coast… it’s only 150-kilomtres from Canberra to Batemans Bay!
Back on track…
For us, this trip was only a short drive from Berry through Kangaroo Valley and back to the coast via the scenic Wattamolla Road. This road is partially unsealed but worth completing the circuit exiting at Bomaderry then crossing the bridge over the wide banks of the Shoalhaven River into Nowra.
Whichever road you take on this coastal drive, it seems you have no choice but to pass through sprawling town Nowra. At the crossroads, the road turns right and journeys northwest into Kangaroo Valley… or it continues south!
Nowra meaning ‘black cockatoo’ is a lovely little town on the southern shore of the Shoalhaven River. It’s twin, Bomaderry, hugs the northern river flats.
It is only a little town you can quite easily pass through but take the time to stretch your legs and wander along Bens Walk, an easy 5.5-kilometre return walk, or the slightly more strenuous 2-kilometre Grotto Walking Track. Both walks provide sweeping views of the river and are well worth the effort.
There are a few heritage buildings to check out… and if you’re into heritage naval aircraft, nearby Nowra Hill is the place to visit.
South of Nowra is Jervis Bay… and its beautiful National Parks – but before heading into Booderee National Park, make sure you detour out Point Perpendicular Light Station.
Point Perpendicular Light Station – Beecroft Weapons Range…
Situated on the northern headland of Jervis Bay, Point Perpendicular and its towering lighthouse is one of Jervis Bay’s most powerful and iconic landmarks – and a must stop!
The Department of Defence’s Beecroft Weapons Range (Royal Australian Navy) includes approximately 4,200 hectares of the Beecroft Peninsula on the northern headland of Jervis Bay.
This area has regularly been used for training activities since the 1800s, but management of the lighthouse and its grounds wasn’t handed over to the Department of Defence until 1995.
Located just past Currarong, this lighthouse is around 10-kilometres from the Beecroft Weapons Range gate, which means you will need to pass through security to access it… but once there, there are many remote walking tracks leading to rugged cliffs more than 75-metres high all providing magnificent views south towards Cape St George and Bowen Island, and across dangerous rock platforms and secluded beaches.
It also has strong traditional, cultural and spiritual significance to the local Jerrinja Aboriginal people.
Further south, the small holiday town of Huskisson, founded in the 19th Century on the wooden shipbuilding industry, is the gateway to Jervis Bay and along the bay, Vincentia is another little township fringing its clear waters.
Jervis Bay, the St Georges Basin, and Lake Woolumboola in Jervis Bay Marine Park are all sections of the Booderee National Park.
Booderee National Park…
On the southern headland, Booderee National Park is one of the most popular locations in the Jervis Bay area and a spot we love to frequent.
Park entry fees per vehicle apply here and include entry to the Botanical Gardens, which can be made at the entrance to the park at the ranger’s station – but be warned – bookings are essential for campsites.
Owned by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community this is a significant place for all Koori people.
There are three camping areas with Bristol Point and Cave Beach only suitable for tents and Green Patch… our favourite – suitable for vans, camper trailers and tents.
Here we shared our camp with resident kangaroos and beautiful birdlife – including one rather aggressive Kookaburras who wanted to steal the sausages off our bbq and – and broke my camera when it flew at me while I was trying to take its photo.
This park is home to many great self-guided trails. Munyungawaraga Dhugan Trail is a 5.5-kilometre trail, which includes interpretive signs of natural and cultural heritage and comprised Governor Head Lookout that offered spectacular views over Jervis Bay, Bowen Island and the Tasman Sea and walks (or rather rides in our case) around Murrays Beach, the Telegraph Creek nature trail, Steamers Beach and Cave Beach are highly recommended.
From the ruins of Cape St George Lighthouse, built in 1860, we were afforded stunning views of the sandstone cliff coastline and a history lesson on the local shipwreck history… and a must visit is the Botanic Gardens.
These are the only Aboriginal owned botanic gardens in Australia and showcase significant coastal plant species sourced for food and medicinal needs by the local Aboriginal Community… so take a stroll along the many pathway that wind themselves through rainforest, koori gardens, heath, woodland, and casuarina forests and enjoy views across the gardens and Lake McKenzie.
After 3 glorious days in Booderee National Park, it was time to move on again with our next stop St Georges Basin and Sussex Inlet just down the road.
Fringed by shallow sandy beaches and lovely coves, St Georges Basin is a fisherpersons haven with the Basin to the Tasman Sea via Sussex Inlet.
Like most of the coastal villages on this coastline Sussex Inlet is a relaxed holiday location and with much of the town built around a system of tidal canals it makes for a popular drawcard for water activities.
Further on and 15-kilometres east of the Princes Highway, Bendalong is another idyllic beach.
Only a short detour from the highway is another of our favourite havens on this coast – Lake Conjola.
This sleepy little town sits on a lake of the same name and has a great caravan park resting right on the water’s edge and within walking distance of the ocean – with one compelling attraction being the many very friendly kangaroos that wander around the sites and nibble on the grasses on the edge of the lake.
This area has more to offer than kangaroos though – its main appeal is that it appears to have seen very little tourist development and is still an area of great natural beauty that has been largely undisturbed – unlike many of the beaches that lie along this coastline.
Here, Fishermans Paradise, Killarney and Lake Conjola townships are all perched peacefully around Lake Conjola itself, a deep coastal lake continually flushed by the sea.
Back on the Princes Highway and a little further south is the quaint historic village of Milton with its art galleries, antiques, fine dining restaurants, and heritage bakery.
Named in 1859, Milton is the birthplace of famous Australian poet Henry Kendal and not to be missed are the magnificent examples of the Italian style and Gothic architectures lining the main street of this town.
Moving on just 6-kilometres Mollymook is a popular holiday spot with more great beach cafes… and fish and chip shops.
Then comes Ulladulla.
Ulladulla is the largest town in Southern Shoalhaven. Here we pulled in at Brodie Park on the harbour’s northern headland to boil the Trangia for a cuppa.
From here the Gondwana Coast Geological Time Walk follows a meandering path amongst landscaped gardens, explanatory signage, and rock boulders.
At Warden Head, the Coomee Nulunga Walking Track winds past the historic lighthouse. Originally built on the Ulladulla Breakwater in 1873, this light was shifted to Warden Head in 1879 and is one of only two towers in NSW made from wrought iron plates – making it a rarity!
Dotted with hand-painted and carved dream posts the last section of this walk twists down to the beach in the shape of the Aboriginal Dreamtime Creator, the Rainbow Serpent.
At the southern end of the Shoalhaven region, we drove into Murramarang National Park.
Murramarang National Park is no more than 2-kilometres wide, but it stretches for 44-kilometres along the coastline from Kioloa to Batemans Bay and is dominated by beaches, cliffs, rock stacks, offshore islands, and impressive rock platforms.
The tiny cove of Pretty Beach and its campground is nestled within this National Park and framed by the mighty Snapper Point to the north and O’Hara Island to the south but having camped here on a previous trip we decided to push on and check out what North Head had to offer.
There are three tiny townships here (Durras North, Durras Lake, and Durras South) – all surrounded by this National Park and edged by more quiet beaches and nestled between Duras Lake and the ocean is the small township of Durras village, which itself comprises mainly of private holiday homes.
After briefly checking out the area we then headed back along the road where we turned left towards North Head.
It’s a bit of a drive into this remote campground and you really do need a high clearance vehicle to access it – particularly if it’s been raining… but once there, it is easy to access the beautiful beaches and some great walking tracks. It’s a basic camping area and only has only long drop toilets so you do need to be self-sufficient and bring everything with you.
Just a short distance on, Batmans Bay, situated on the Clyde River’s broad estuary, is a quaint little town with museums and galleries to explore, a beach is not far away as is the fertile hinterland of farms and vineyards.
Just 10-minutes south of ‘The Bay’ as it is known by the locals, is the historic gold rush village of Mogo, which traverses the Princess Highway.
Mogo is a quirky village that is really no more than a cluster of buildings on the side of the road, but it’s worth checking out to see some of the eccentric and arty shops, and admiring the treasures within each!
Here you will see old miners’ cottages now transformed into quirky clothing and art and craft shops and cafes… and behind the village the ‘Original Gold Rush Colony’ showcases life as it was in the 1850s during the gold rush era.
Continuing, the road hugs the coast as it passes the scenic communities of Moruya, Tomakin and Broulee.
A must stop is Guerilla Bay along this stretch of highway just to admire some of the oldest rock formations on the east coast – then further south, walk over the permanent sandspit to Broulee Island.
Away from the beach, New South Wales is home to some spectacular state forests – and there are lots of free camping spots within these forests, each home to many walking trails. Look for signs to rest areas between Mogo and Eden; you’ll find information about local walking trails along this route.
Moruya is an attractive town located on the banks of the Moruya River and the administrative hub of the Eurobodalla Shire.
Many of its historic buildings are built from local granite and can be admired on a town walk where you can also enjoy the intricately carved wooden statues as you pound the pavement.
From here Eurobodalla National Park stretches along the coast from Moruya Heads south to Mystery Bay (with another great campground) and the village of Tuross Head lies between the twin lakes of Coila and Tuross with Tuross Lake the delta of the Tuross River. Montague Island (the largest inshore island off the NSW coast) is 9-kilometres from Narooma.
Then comes Narooma…
Travelling along this coastline make sure you have… Kianga Point tagged in Google Maps as you enter North Narooma. This loop road hugs the coast and the shore of Wagonga Inlet as it passes through the outlying suburbs of Dalmeny and Kianga and is a lovely drive – and an easy tourist route to miss!
A 5-minute drive south from Kianga Point is Bar Beach. Here you’ll find a netted-off inlet swimming area, a lovely boardwalk, and a breakwater you can wander along.
Heading on we crossed the bridge over Wagonga Inlet and made our way into Narooma itself and the Visitor Information Centre to find a local yearning for a yarn!
We love Visitor Information Centres because we can always have a chat with a local about all the best things to see and do in the area!
Scattered all over Australia, there’s always a team of helpful folk who are just waiting to greet you with a smile, answer your questions and hand you a map to help navigate your way around!
Narooma’s history dates back into the early 1800s when it was known as Noorooma – the Aboriginal name for clear, blue water. Dairy cattle were raised at Wagonga, at the head of the inlet, and cheese factories were later established at Bodalla, Tilba, and Narooma itself.
Leaving the information centre we set off to wander around the then town then made our way over the hill to the Marine Rescue headquarters off Pilot Street where we followed a track to a lookout that overlooked the entrance to Narooma from the ocean, the town itself and Narooma Bridge.
Straddling 74 steps we then headed off in search of a rock with a hole we had been told to visit, known as ‘Australia Rock’. This unique natural rock formation apparently cops a fair amount of flack for its lack of likeness to Oz but I think it presented a pretty good resemblance – the only problem was poor ol’ Tassie was missed off the map again!
From here a path then led along the wharf area and out onto the Breakwall of Wagonga Head where we found a haven for seals basking on the rocks.
After exploring the sights of Narooma we then continued south to the beautiful beach of Mystery Bay where we had camped on a previous trip.
Mystery Bay, only a short distance off the Princess Highway, has a great natural camping area that fronts the ocean. The area is quite large with campsites scattered throughout native bush of mainly spotted gums, with acacias and banksias closer to the spectacular cliff headlands and smaller beaches. There is no town here and internet and phone coverage are poor but it’s a great spot.
It became known as Mystery Bay after a fateful day in 1880 when a boat was discovered, and five men vanished forever without a trace in what became one of Australia’s most baffling sea mysteries.
Then came the tiny historic hamlets of Tilba Tilba and Central Tilba where it was like turning back the clock.
Both these villages are National Trust-classified and apart from their heritage value, they are located in some of the most beautiful countrysides I had seen with lush green hills, rich valleys, and Mount Gulaga providing an idyllic backdrop.
South of Tilba and east off the Princes Highway it is also worth a stop at Wallago Lake, the south coast’s largest lake.
And just when you thought you had seen it all – only 7-kilometres north of Bermagui the historic ‘Montreal Goldfield’ (the only goldfield in Australia that extends to the sea) should not be missed!
A portion of this old goldfield has been made safe for public access and it is a site with lots of history… and mystery!
Just down the road Bermagui is the Sapphire Coasts northern gateway and is another stunning coastal town worth dropping in to see the iconic Camel Rock on the beach and the coastal ‘Blue Pool of Bermagui’. Although it wasn’t so blue on our visit! It was in fact empty… and even on our previous visit, it wasn’t blue as its name implied – but instead a mossy green!
This coastal town is nestled under the shadow of Gulaga (Mt Dromedary) and hugs the edges of its harbour… and like other locations down this coast (which I have forgotten to mention) – is close to the continental shelf.
Our last stop was Tathra with its main attraction, its historic wharf built in 1862. The only deep-sea timber wharf on the east coast of Australia.
All too quickly our southern NSW coastal journey came to an end and from here we turned inland and headed for Bega, then into the heart of NSW’s high country – Cooma, Jindabyne, and the Kosciuszko National Park before making our way to the Murray River in Victoria… a route we have frequented often!
Turning west onto the Snowy Mountains Highway at Tathra and following a wonderfully scenic route the road veered inland through the legendary dairy region of the Bega Valley and it wasn’t long before we came across the most relaxed cows in Australia residing in the fertile pastures surrounding the cheese haven of Bega… and lots and lots of cheese – the best-known cheese brand in Australia at Bega Cheese factory, established in 1900!
From here our journey continued through the gorgeous Bega Valley where the pristine stillness was backed by the towering gorges and towering eucalypts forests of Wadbilliga National Park… and just a 40-minute drive from the white sands of the Sapphire Coast we arrived at our next camp at Colomba Rest Area and Sports Ground on the outskirts of Bemoka.
Bemboka is the northwest gateway between the coast, Cooma, and Canberra.
South of Tathra…
On a previous trip, our journey continued south of Tathra through an area dotted with more beautiful beaches, peaceful forests, and charming seaside towns.
Lying between Tathra and tranquil Eden the remainder of the Sapphire Coast drive offers a slow and scenic alternative to the Princes Highway as it winds its way down the stunning coastline through Merimbula and Pambula before passing through Eden and over the Victorian Border.
Merimbua, situated on the shores of Merimbula Lake, is surrounded by beautiful beaches, calm lakes and rolling hills… and is the largest coastal town on the Sapphire Coast towns with lots of boutique and shopping services.
Enjoy the 3.5-kilometre round trip along the stunning Merimbula Boardwalk here that skirts the northern shores of the Top Lake. Short Point offers stunning views and nearby Bournda National Park, to the north of Merimbula, is one of several national parks in the area.
A few kilometres south of Merimbula, Pambula began its life as a town born in the gold rush times and today offers eclectic boutiques, heritage buildings, cafes and the Panboola Wetlands.
This villages name comes from the Yuin Aboriginal word meaning ‘two waters’.
Then comes the picturesque town and port of Eden.
This town lies on the edge of Twofold Bay, the third deepest harbour in the southern hemisphere and a haven for the whales during annual migration from Antarctica between May and November.
Eden was once the centre of operations for entrepreneur and pioneer, Benjamin Boyd who built the landmark Boyd’s Tower, Boydtown and the Seahorse Inn as part of an extraordinary empire.
Make sure you drive down to the port here and watch as the boats return with a day’s catch – then enjoy lovely fish and chips… they’re the best!
As the journey continues south, Wonboyn is tucked between Ben Boyd National Park and the Nadgee Nature Reserve. This is where Lake Wonboyn winds 10-kilometres and empties into the stunning Disaster Bay.
Named after 19th-century entrepreneur Benjamin Boyd the Ben Boyd National Park offers a rich history of the region’s shore-based whale operations. Two of its landmarks are Boyd Tower and the Cape Green Lighthouse (built in 1883) which is linked by the 30-kilometre ‘Light to Light’ walk. This is the first concrete lighthouse in Australia and is still the state’s second tallest and most southern.
Crossing the Victorian border…
Once over the border, the coastline takes in the Gippsland Region of Victoria… a region split into four sections, East, West, South and Central Gippsland.
Because of its size, it is a very diverse region, famed for its incredible landscapes ranging from rugged mountains to rolling plains, sparkling lakes and stunning deserted beaches to lush national parks, alpine regions, and ancient forests.
Sparkling lakes and beaches…
This stretch of coast is home to the nation’s largest network of lakes and rivers with the lovely Lakes Entrance, lying at the mouth of the river and lake systems – and famed by its long, straight stretch of rugged beach known as ‘Ninety Mile Beach’!
Lakes Entrance is situated between Orbost and Bairnsdale on a man-made channel that links Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea with the 400 square kilometre network of inland waterways known as the Gippsland Lakes.
The main thoroughfare of the Esplanade runs along the shoreline of the Cunninghame Arm inlet, with marinas and attractive foreshore gardens on one side, and a good selection of shops, restaurants, and accommodation options on the other. Several wooden sculptures, carved out of old tree trunks, can be seen along the Esplanade, each representing images of Australia at war.
A footbridge crosses Cunninghame Arm and links the town centre with the beach and various walks on this narrow land peninsula leading along the picturesque coastline and through the bush to Flagstaff Lookout for a view over the man-made entrance into the Gippsland Lakes.
This is a great base from which to explore the area with Lake Tyers – a small community around 10 kilometres east of Lakes Entrance opening out into the ocean on Ninety Mile Beach; Colquhoun State Forest, the Lakes National Park and the Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park to name a few!
The Colquhoun State Forest is where the Stony Creek Railway Bridge is located. A trestle bridge built in 1916 from local timber, which stands 18.6 metres in height and is 274-metres in length and believed to be the largest wooden bridge still standing in Australia.
More lush rainforests and national parks…
Further south you’ll find Tarra Bulga National Park and although camping is not permitted in this park it is well worth the visit. Here the gullies are alive with ferns, majestic towering ash trees and cascading waterfalls. Lyrebirds, currawongs, platypuses, and wallabies are just a few of the birds and animals that inhabit the region – and there are numerous walking and mountain biking trails.
Another attraction is Baw Baw National Park, located in the Gippsland high country with the surrounds of Mt Baw Baw, a popular spot for bushwalking, mountain biking, and horse riding in the warmer months and ski trails in the cooler times.
Wilsons Promontory National Park further south (or the ‘prom’ as it’s known to the locals) is high on our list of places still to visit as we have only ever ventured as far as Bairnsdale before turning onto the Great Alpine Road to Omeo and over Hotham – or on through Falls Creek Alpine Village!
Described as a striking wilderness region with lush rainforest, rugged mountain tops, and beautiful, secluded beaches Wilsons Promontory National Park is the most southern point on the Australian mainland and an area high on our to-do-list!
Don’t miss our next adventure as we tackle the rugged tracks of the famous Victorian High Country!