Exploring the coast
Sapphire by name and a veritable gem in reality, just a short, engaging drive from Sydney.
On the Sapphire Coast of far southern NSW, urban stress and development peel away and ever more flamboyant scenery unfolds.
6 October, 2023
You dream of escaping to a peaceful place where you can spend your days eating oysters, dabbling your toes in the ocean
There comes a time when you’ve had enough of shrieking alarm clocks, late trains and office tedium. You dream of escaping to a peaceful place where you can spend your days eating oysters, dabbling your toes in the ocean and waking up to the sound of surf. You won’t give your boss another thought, and who knows how many years will slip past.
Well, maybe you’re ready to make the ultimate sea change, but at least you can get away for a week. The far south coast of New South Wales is just the place. It has rugged colonial history, historic pubs, enough water sports to transform you into a mermaid and national parks haunted by pelicans.
Towns on the Sapphire Coast sit in a labyrinthine wonderland of waterways between ocean headlands and inland lakes. Tilba Tilba, whose coloured weatherboard houses stand among rolling green hills against the backdrop of Mt Dromedary, is your turn-off from the Princes Highway if coming from the north.
The 95-kilometre coastal route that runs to Bermagui and Eden is surely one of the most beautiful on the entire east coast of Australia, as you’ll see if you start with a kayak on Lake Wallaga. The water is so clear you might spot stingrays flapping by and seagrasses waving on the lake bottom. Pelicans gape as you paddle past.
Big game fishermen from all over the world come to Bermagui to wrestle with blue marlin and yellowfin tuna, kingfish and morwong, then retire to the pub on Horseshoe Bay to recount their exploits and rub sea salt off their gnarly skin. Charter skippers wax lyrical about the fighting abilities and tail-walking of hooked marlin.
The more relaxed can net smaller fry including whiting, snapper, bream and flathead. Hang out on Fisherman’s Wharf and enjoy great fish straight from local boats at the restaurants. The only traffic jam is the seagulls lined up on the wharf, and the only blues you’ll encounter are the colours of sea and sky meeting at Blue Pool, cut out of the rock on the seashore.
Big game fishermen from all over the world come to Bermagui to wrestle with blue marlin and yellowfin tuna
It is the very definition of 'sea change' territory and tempts you to leave the rat race far behind for good
Tourist Drive 9 that leads south is a very special drive that should be savoured. The first of its highlights is a lookout, three kilometres down the road, that overlooks dramatic rock formations in skirts of booming surf. Then the road crosses an old timber bridge with a rattle that attempts to pitch your car into the lagoon beneath.
If you’ve got off to a lazy start, stop for an early lunch of soft-shelled crab at Mimosa Wines, matched with one of the vineyard’s Savagnin wines from a Spanish grape that seems designed for seafood.
Mimosa National Park, honeycombed with sea caves and ancient lava flows, has more stunning waterscapes that tempt you to canoe, kayak or walk on beaches. Cormorants sit on rocks with wings outspread, sea eagles drift above and oystercatchers strut in the sand.
From here you’ll want to take a 13-kilometre detour inland to Bega, where coastal scenery is replaced by forest and then rolling hills chewed by dairy cows. You can overdose on cheese at Bega Cheese Heritage Centre, or learn to make and bottle your own gin at North of Eden Gin School.
Back on the coast, Tathra provides another excuse to get out of the car for an hour – or a week, since its location half way along the Sapphire Coast makes Tathra a great base for exploration and activities from boating to surfing. Sit in the sun at the old 1862 wharf and watch fishermen and seals eye each other off over potential dinner.
As you head south, the road skirts inland through Bournda National Park before returning to the water at Merimbula. The hearty can walk – the new 27-kilometre Wharf to Wharf Walk between Tathra and Merimbula is beyond lovely as it threads between waterways blue as peacock feathers and across bushland scented with eucalyptus.
Back on the coast, Tathra provides another excuse to get out of the car for an hour – or a week
Another good pit stop is Eden further south, where humpback and southern right whales pass close to shore on their migration routes
Merimbula is a laidback holiday town distanced enough from both Sydney and Melbourne to have avoided concrete development. Come here to explore rock pools, paddle a kayak between flocks of pelicans, and admire the red rocks at Merimbula Wharf. Main Beach runs for a glorious six kilometres, but you’re spoiled for choice with Short Point great for surfing and windsurfing and Bar Beach offering excellent snorkelling.
Another good pit stop is Eden further south, where humpback and southern right whales pass close to shore on their migration routes. Dolphins, turtles, penguins, seals and seabirds also enjoy the nutrient-rich waters. Eden Killer Whale Museum provides an insight into whaling history and the October annual Eden Whale Festival is a celebration of all things cetacean.
Yet although its main reputation is for whale-watching, the bushwalking in surrounding Beowa (formerly Ben Boyd) National Park is outstanding too. Take to the Light to Light Walk and you can enjoy a three-day trek (or shorter sections) from Boyds Tower to Green Cape Lighthouse, whose Keepers’ Cottages provide self-catering heritage accommodation with soul-satisfying views.
Finish with a typical Sapphire Coast evening and enjoy fat, creamy oysters as the sun sets. Stuff yourself like a Roman emperor on bargain-priced oysters that would cost a small fortune in big cities. River and tide meet in a gurgling embrace, sunlight dances on water, and blue hills are a smudge on the horizon. The office is a long way off, and life is good.
Finish with a typical Sapphire Coast evening and enjoy fat, creamy oysters as the sun sets
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