On the last trip, while making our way home with our family from Narrabeen we explored beautiful, lush pastoral landscapes and little villages surrounding Canberra and Cooma before making tracks into the heart of the NSW Alpine Country – Jindabyne, Thredbo, and the Kosciuszko National Park.
On this trip, after leaving Narrabeen, we planned to revisit parts of the NSW South Coast we had travelled a few years back… and then head back into the spectacular Snowy Mountain Range once again.
Commencing at Wollongong (80-kilometres south of Sydney), the South Coast of NSW is squeezed between the mountains and forests of the Great Dividing Range. The beautiful beaches of the Pacific Ocean stretch along the coastline for over 400-kilometres and the Princes Highway traverses its entire length!
It is a coastline full of beauty and has always been a favourite trip for us… so come along on another thrilling adventure and see why we love this part of the world so much!
Our journey begins…
How long do you need for the trip from Narrabeen to Tathra?
Well, Google Maps will tell you it will take 6-hours and 10 minutes to travel a bit over 465-kilometres – that’s non-stop! But if you take your time and enjoy the beautiful little towns, the gorgeous National Parks, and the 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 straight past thinking it’s not worth the detour… but believe me it is!
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.
Formerly known as Camp Creek (after the creek that runs through the area), this town owes its existence to coal that was first discovered in 1884 and originally started as a tent city to accommodate miners and later railway workers constructing the Illawarra railway line. This mine is still in operation today and is Australia’s oldest working mine.
Today, Helensburgh is better known as the gateway between the cities of Sydney and Wollongong… and just 45-kilometres south of Sydney’s CBD and 34-kilometres north of Wollongong this little hamlet offers a couple of great attractions worth checking out!
First up, set high on top of a hill a glistening white South Indian-style temple is not easy to miss. Helensburgh has been the home of this Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple since 1978.
Take a stroll along the beautiful 6.5-kilometre bushland Wodi-Wodi walking trail named after the original Custodians that lived along the Illawarra coast…
… or if you’re a train buff, the old abandoned Helensburgh train station and tunnel is a great attraction that makes for lovely photos, especially after rain.
Next, get lost in the bush… just a short drive from town, Kelly’s Falls in the Garawarra State Conservation Area is a network of walking trails affording scenic lookouts and cascading waterfalls located within a few minutes hike of each other. Just be mindful though… there are several unmarked routes on this hike and one is much shorter and easier than the others! When you know where you’re going it should only take about 15-minutes… and the reward at the end is a lovely waterhole to swim in!
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.
It is the very spot where Lawrence Hargrave successfully achieved lift-off in 1894 with his tandem box kites… and today, its bald appearance still makes it a popular airstrip for thrill seekers who love to feel the wind beneath their wings as they soar into the sky.
Usually, on a clear day, the vista here is spectacular overlooking 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!
From here, our path followed Lawrence Hargrave Drive, named after the said box-kite thrill seeker! Originally constructed in the 1870s, this drive forms part of the Grand Pacific Drive connecting the northernmost suburbs of Wollongong to the city of Wollongong.
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 street of colonial buildings faces 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 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 beautiful with 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 the 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. It is also 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.
The name Kiama has long been explained by the local Aboriginals as ‘where the sea makes a noise’.
Kiama is one of the most striking seaside holiday villages along the Grand Pacific Drive and, being full of little cafes and artsy shops is a popular pit stop for travellers and day-trippers to stop and explore.
It was also the perfect place to meet with friends Renate and Martin who tackled the Simpson Desert with us, and a family friend Dave… and we all delighted in an enjoyable reunion over lunch, doughnuts and coffee.
Finally, bidding each other farewell they continued their journey north and we headed off to ‘Kendalls on the Beach’, a great holiday park situated on beach frontage of the awe-inspiring Pacific Ocean, to set up camp.
The famous blowholes are obviously the big drawcard in this town with the larger of two located near the lighthouse in an area within easy walking distance of a great Visitor Information Centre and the town 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 a more consistent blowhole – and was certainly working when we visited affording us a remarkable display.
Both these blowholes are located on the ‘Kiama Coastal Walk’ so it’s a lovely walk between them both… then if you’re feeling energetic…
… this stunning 22-kilometre trail offers magnificent views of striking mountain ranges, beautiful beaches and a dramatic coastline. The path follows very close to the cliff edge, over headlands and past suburban gardens and front rooms!
Over the next 2 days, we trekked the coastline and explored the incredible sights in and around the township on our bikes.
At the Pilot’s Cottage Museum, built in 1881, we learned all about maritime history and history relating to the cedar industry and basalt quarries in the region. Around town, we caught a glimpse of the past with the beautiful terraced houses that were originally built as housing for the local quarry workers in 1886.
Further afield, we came across kilometres of striking dry stone walls constructed more than a century ago as paddocks were cleared for cropping and stock.
In addition, 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 have to 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, spent 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, Shoalhaven incorporates all the villages as far as Murramagan National Park to Bateman’s Bay including Kangaroo Valley.
Shoalhaven Heads is a quintessential sleepy seaside town and a nice place to stretch the legs. Here the Shoalhaven River meets the sea so you get the best of both worlds with lovely river and ocean views!
From Shoalhaven Heads, our journey continued inland a short distance to Berry and then on into Kangaroo Valley.
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, homeware stores, and a café come restaurant scene jostling happily with the heritage buildings… and right in the heart of town, an intriguing pub – the Southern Hotel, famous for the surf boats on its roof and the bottleshop covered in hubcaps.
One of my best finds in Berry was Cuckoo Corner. This unique jewel of a shop is filled with treasures and quirky toys for all ages and definitely inspired magic in my heart…
… and of course, an essential stop is ‘The Treat Factory’! There’s a decadent treat for everyone here! For the chocoholic, there are hundreds of varieties of handcrafted chocolates, the aromas of the preserves and condiments are delightful and the gelato churned onsite, is sooo delicious!
Leaving Berry, the road wound up Berry Mountain through beautiful bush offering glimpses of wonderful views over the surrounding countryside.
Once over the escarpment, the road then wound down into the lush grasslands of Kangaroo Valley. Here we were surrounded by stunning towering gums, lush forests, and sprawling pastures with our endpoint – Kangaroo Valley village, formerly known as Osborne.
Kangaroo Valley is a most beautiful valley. Nestled between two mountains – Cambewarra and Barrengary mountains, this is dairy country and offers a gorgeous combination of rolling hills, green fields, quaint farms and a charming village – all quietly hidden away in the wilderness!
The little historic town of Kangaroo Valley seems to have stood still for the past 100 years. It is home to an array of fabulous and interesting shops that adorn its main road including another pub, restaurants, more boutique shops, galleries and cafes.
A little out of town the spectacular stone Hampden Suspension Bridge (built in 1898) spans Kangaroo River.
Here in the picturesque Kangaroo Valley this fortress-like construction built of sandstone and iron graces the tranquil environment of rainforest-covered cliffs, valley floors carpeted by sweeping green pasture lands, river gums and gurgling creeks… and a lovely river beach sits below the bridge, which was an ideal spot to cool off!
Continuing on and winding east down Cambewarra Mountain we stopped at a lookout on the edge of escarpment that offered spectacular views of the northern part of the Shoalhaven region.
For us, this trip was only a short drive from Berry through Kangaroo Valley and back to the coast via the scenic, partially unsealed, Wattamolla Road to Bomaderry and Nowra.
On a previous trip, we skipped the well-trodden path and headed further inland on a loop taking in the historic village of Berrima and the city of Canberra, before exiting back out on the coast at Batemans Bay.
Brief overview of our last trip further Inland of Kangaroo Valley…
The 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.
Here we browsed the Tourist Information Centre where we found loads of information about the local history, wildlife and gained an insight into the Aboriginal history of the region… then feeling like stretching our legs we headed off on a stroll along the West Rim walking track and the East Rim Wildflower walking track which, being spring, was spectacular .
Further on at Moss Vale we came to a fork in the road, and a sign that pointed to the sleepy town of Bundanoon. This is the gateway to Morton National Park.
The other pointed to Berrima, a lovely heritage-listed town just off the Hume Highway and our next stop.
Berrima sits on the banks of the Wingecarribee River in the Southern Highlands.
It was established in the 1829 at a time of fast development in NSW and was established with vision of a future as a major metropolis. It originally grew into a prosperous colonial inland waystation that was, during its 19th-century peak, home to 14 hotels – but any chance of this town flourishing soon came to an abrupt end when the railway bypassed the village in 1867.
Since then there has been little or no development in this quiet historic Georgian-era village and today when you visit its like being transported back to the early days of Australia’s European settlement.
Impressive sandstone buildings adorn the leafy streets – among them the Berrima Courthouse (1838), the spooky Old Berrima Gaol (1839), the Holy Trinity Anglican Church (1849), and the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church (1849)… but the simple charm of this village can only be experienced with a stroll around town where we saw a mix of well-preserved stone cottages (mostly built by convict labour), and run-down buildings – all wonderfully portraying those earlier times.
Its hard to believe when you visit this quiet little town the its main street once rumbled all night long to the sound of heavy vehicles on their way to and from Melbourne when the Old Hume Highway passed through.
It was in 1989 the town was bypassed and relieved of the constant, thundering traffic and today it is a peaceful holiday destination and home to outdoor cafes and interesting little shops selling local gourmet produce, teas, antiques, crafts, souvenirs and wines.
Out on the Hume Highway our journey continued south with our next stop…
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 and take the King’s Highway the road loops back up and over the Great Dividing Range on a twisting forest road that heads straight back down to the coast… it’s only 150-kilometres from Canberra to Batemans Bay!
Back on track…
With our Navman set on Bomaderry we left Kangaroo Valley and wound our way east down Cambewarra Mountain stopping briefly at a lookout on the edge of escarpment that offered spectacular views of the northern part of the Shoalhaven region… then heading over the partially unsealed Wattamolla Road we were finally back on the coast.
Whichever road you take on this coastal drive, it seems you have no choice but to pass through the sprawling town of Nowra … so exiting at Bomaderry we crossed the bridge over the wide banks of the Shoalhaven River and there we were – in Nowra!
Nowra meaning ‘black cockatoo’ is a lovely little town on the southern shore of the Shoalhaven River. Its twin, Bomaderry, hugs the northern river flats.
It is only a little town and you can quite easily pass through without stopping… but take my advice and allow time to stretch your legs 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 too… and if you’re into heritage naval aircraft, nearby Nowra Hill is the place to visit.
South of Nowra is Jervis Bay… and the beautiful Booderee National Park – but before venturing into the national park, make sure you detour out to 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 the 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 – some cliffs more than 75-metres high and providing magnificent views across dangerous rock platforms towards Cape St George and Bowen Island.
This area has strong traditional, cultural and spiritual significance to the local Jerrinja – Wandi Wandian nation Aboriginal people or the ‘Salt Water People’ whose land boundaries stretch from Gerroa across Shoalhaven, Jervis Bay and south to Lake Conjola.
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.
Owned by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community this is a significant place for all Koori people and a spot we love to frequent.
There are 3 camping areas. Bristol Point and Cave Beach only suitable for tents…. and Green Patch, which is our favourite and suitable for vans, camper trailers and tents – but be warned – bookings are essential for the campsites here! Park entry fees apply per vehicle and campsite fees can be made at the ranger’s station at the entrance to the park!
The campsites at Greenpatch are large with lots of space to relax and chase the sun, and although grass is a rare commodity – by our bush camping standards… it is the perfect spot!
Between the campground and the beach is a lovely park area with shelters, trees, picnic tables… and amenities that are some of the cleanest we’d come across… spotlessly clean and complete with flushing toilets and taps that flowed!
It was only about a 500 metre walk to the beach from our campground and much like all beaches within Jervis Bay – stunning and blessed with the soft white sand and small, blue waves that the region is well known for.
The area is also frequented by lots of kangaroos and birdlife.
These Aussie creatures have hopped and flown into all our hearts… but they can also become a nuisance around the campground if people feed them – and sadly, despite the many signs in the area, we still saw way too many people doing this. Consequently we shared our camp with resident kangaroos and inquisive birdlife – including one rather aggressive Kookaburra who wanted to steal the sausages off our bbq… and broke my camera when it flew at me while I was taking photos.
Please when you visit our national parks observe the signage and enjoy these amazing creatures, but don’t feed them. It not only leads to nuisance behaviour from animals that would otherwise fend for themselves… and they also become dependent on unnatural food sources that can lead to disease. Please remember – they don’t need you to help them find food – they can find their own quite easily!
Booderee National Park is also home to many great self-guided trails and from gentle strolls to more challenging tracks on our mountain bikes there’s no better way to experience this area’s natural beauty.
Munyungawaraga Dhugan Trail is a 5.5-kilometre trail, which includes interpretive signs of natural and cultural heritage and comprises Governor Head Lookout, which offers spectacular views over Jervis Bay, Bowen Island and the Tasman Sea.
Other walks (or rides in our case) traverse to Murrays Beach, the Telegraph Creek nature trail, and I highly recommend Steamers Beach and Cave Beach.
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.
The Botanic Gardens in this park 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 pathways that wind themselves through the 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’s 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. This is also another haven for 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 beachside communities 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 architecture 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 before heading off on the ‘Gondwana Coast Geological Time Walk’ that 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 our walk twisted down to the beach in the shape of the Aboriginal Dreamtime Creator, the Rainbow Serpent.
Further on 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. Nestled between Duras Lake and the ocean is the small township of Durras village, which itself comprises of mainly 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 great walking tracks. It’s a basic camping area and only has 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 beachside town with museums and galleries to explore. It’s the best of both worlds here because not far away are the fertile hinterlands 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 just to see some of the eccentric, arty shops, and admire the treasures within each!
Here you will also see old miners’ cottages now transformed into quirky clothing shops, cafes and art and craft shops… 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 along this stretch of highway is Guerilla Bay, home to some of the oldest rock formations on the east coast – and a great walk that crosses over a permanent sandspit to Broulee Island!
Away from the beach, New South Wales is home to some spectacular state forests where there are lots of free camping spots and many walking trails. The rest area between Mogo and Eden showcases all the information about walking trails in these state forests.
Further down the track, Moruya is an attractive town located on the banks of the Moruya River. This is the administrative hub of the Eurobodalla Shire.
Here many of the historic buildings are built from local granite and can be admired on a town walk as can intricately carved wooden statues.
From here, Eurobodalla National Park stretches along the coast from Moruya Heads south to Mystery Bay where you’ll find another great campground… then next on the GPS was the tiny village of Tuross Head that lies between the twin lakes of Coila and Tuross with Tuross Lake, the delta of the Tuross River.
Not to be missed on this drive south is Montague Island, just 9-kilometres from Narooma. This is the largest inshore island off the NSW coast.
Then comes Narooma…
When travelling along this coastline make sure Kianga Point is tagged in Google Maps as you enter North Narooma. It’s easily missed! 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.
From here it was just a short drive to Bar Beach where we found a netted-off inlet swimming area, a lovely boardwalk, and a breakwater to wander along… then heading on we crossed the bridge over Wagonga Inlet and made our way into Narooma itself where we stopped at 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 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 led along the wharf area and out onto the Breakwall of Wagonga Head where we found a ‘bob’ of seals basking in the sun 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, acacias and banksias and surrounded by spectacular cliff headlands and smaller beaches. There is no town here and internet and phone coverage are poor but it’s a great spot… although our memories of our last visit are that of torential rain!
It became known as Mystery Bay after a fateful day in 1880 when a boat was discovered but the five men in it had vanished without a trace in what became one of Australia’s most baffling sea mysteries.
Further on, and located in beautiful countryside of lush green hills and rich valleys with Mount Gulaga providing an idyllic backdrop, we came to the tiny historic hamlets of Tilba Tilba and Central Tilba. Both these villages are National Trust-classified with the shops all beautifully restored and plaques outside telling the history of each. A visit to the old fashioned lolly shop is a must and there’s gift, woodwork and jewellery shops. The Tilba ABC Cheese Factory has been in operation for over 100-years and is a great spot to try yummy cheeses!
South of Tilba and east off the Princes Highway it is worth the detour to Wallago Lake, the south coast’s largest lake… and then, just when you thought you had seen it all – only 7-kilometres north of Bermagui is the historic ‘Montreal Goldfield’, the only goldfield in Australia that extends to the sea. 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 the stunning Sapphire Coast welcomed us as did the seaside village of Bermagui, the Sapphire Coasts northern gateway.
The Sapphire Coast stretches from Bermagui to Eden near the Victorian border and westward to Brown Mountain, taking in the Bega Valley Shire.
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 – Jervis Bay being another) – is close to the continental shelf.
Bermagui is another little piece of paradise with a couple of attractions worth dropping in to see including the unique rock formations of Horse Head Rock and Camel Rock and the coastal ‘Blue Pool of Bermagui’.
Horse Head can be viewed from above and below the cliff face. The first track follows the Bermagui to Wallaga Lake Coastal Walk past Horse Head to Murunna Point which overlooks Wallaga Lake. The other starts where Camel Rock forms a magnificent backdrop on Haywards Beach. The coastal walk then continues a bit further to where Horse Head can be seen from below!
The Blue Pool is located at the base of a steep cliff and is without a doubt a beautiful ocean pool. There’s a separate children’s wading pool at the southern end and the main pool was large enough for us to swim a few laps. The water is crystal clear and there’s an abundance of fish along the rocky oceanside wall making a great place to snorkle… but the added bonus for us tent dwellers was the showers and toilets at the top of the steep stairs, next to the car park.
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.
Our journey would now take us back into the heart of NSW’s high country via Cooma, Jindabyne, and the Kosciuszko National Park before crossing the Victorian border where we would make our way along the Murray River… 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 itself. This is home to the Bega Cheese factory, established in 1900, where the best-known cheese in Australia is made!
Continuing through the gorgeous valley the road ahead was backed by the soaring gorges and towering eucalypts forests of the Wadbilliga National Park… and just a 40-minute drive from the white sands of the Sapphire Coast we arrived at our next camp – ‘Colomba Rest Area and Sports Ground’ on the outskirts of Bemoka.
Bemboka is the northwest gateway between the coast, Cooma, and Canberra.
It’s my mission to explore every corner of our beautiful country and share our experiences with you…
… so buckle up and enjoy the ride. Let’s GO!
Don’t miss our next adventure as we cross the majestic Snowy Mountain Range into ‘Man from Snowy River’ country… where the Mighty Murray River springs to life and meanders northwest across Australia’s inland plains, forming the border between NSW and Victoria as it flows into South Australia!
Continuing our journey south along the coast – from Tathra over the border into Victoria!
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 of the Sapphire Coast towns with lots of boutiques and shopping.
Here the 3.5-kilometre round trip along the stunning Merimbula Boardwalk skirts the northern shores of 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. Its name comes from the Yuin Aboriginal word meaning ‘two waters’.
Then comes the picturesque town and port of Eden.
Eden, located at the most southerly point of the Sapphire Coast, is almost at the border of NSW and Victoria.
This town lies on the edge of Twofold Bay and boasts one of the deepest natural harbors in the southern hemisphere.
In search of somewhere to celebrate my birthday we pulled in to Snug Cove where three wharves join and watched as the boats returned with a day’s catch and the fishermen went about preparing their catch for market! This location was once home to shore-based whaling stations due to the depths of the ocean. It is now filled with fishermen and plenty of cafes and restaurants – and was the perfect place to enjoy a feed of fresh fish and chips.
Stretching from north to south along the coastline of Eden is the Ben Boyd National park where there are a number of scenic walks through the parks and lighthouses to visit.
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 – Boyd Tower and the Cape Green Lighthouse (built in 1883 and the first concrete lighthouse in Australia and the state’s second tallest and most southern) are linked by the 30-kilometre ‘Light to Light’ walk.
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!
Nearby Colquhoun State Forest is where the Stony Creek Railway Bridge is located. This trestle bridge, built in 1916 from local timber, stands 18.6 metres in height and is 274-metres in length and is 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!