A Hidden Gem: A Visitor’s Guide to the South Coast of New South Wales | To travel

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AAbout a six hour drive from Sydney and seven from Melbourne, in Thaua Country in Yuin Nation, are the small towns of Pambula and Merimbula. This is not your stereotypical Australian coast of bold, golden beaches and ‘apartment hotels’ with salted glass balconies.

The south coast of New South Wales has a sweet feel of a hidden gem. Surrounded by national parks and nature reserves, seclusion is easy to find, but so are surprisingly excellent places to eat, drink, and take caffeine.

Bittangabee Bay is a turquoise-colored cove in Ben Boyd National Park. Photograph: David Rogers / Ella Freestone

The region is as leafy as it is sandy; as brackish as a beach. Just an hour from the Victorian border, the coastline is dotted with lagoons, lakes, estuaries and river mouths.

It has an abundance of crescent-shaped bush beaches lined with salt-pruned scrub and rustling tunnels of tea trees which, on a great year for cicadas, can vibrate with heart-wrenching intensity.

Ben Boyd National Park is known for its Mars-colored rocks and stunning ocean views
Ben Boyd National Park is known for its Mars-colored rocks and stunning ocean views. Photograph: David Rogers / Ella Freestone

Fifteen minutes to the south is the Windy Whaling Eden and, a little further, the Ben Boyd National Park which will soon be renamed. The park is known for its rocks in the colors of Mars, its coves in turquoise colors and its breathtaking views of an ocean which, from May to September, is often broken by the breach of a passing humpback whale. Pulpit Rock at dawn is breathtaking – you can walk around its sloping platform with ease and discover rock pockets and pools that in some places carve out an opening to the sky similar to a celestial space by James Turrell.

Inland are the Southeastern Forest and Mount Imlay National Parks, while the coastal national parks of Bournda (20 minutes north) and Mimosa Rocks (40 minutes north) are worth a visit for the only forests of spotted gum. An hour north is Gulaga, a mountain deeply sacred to the Yuin people. If you climb it, you should “climb it with respect, wearing a red bracelet out of respect for its sanctity, barefoot if possible, and preferably in silence,” writes Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man Bruce Pascoe in the Loving Country guide.

In a roadside enclosure on the outskirts of Pambula, the barn-like Longstocking Brewery attracts punters who, according to co-owner Peter Caldwell, were once “two months old and 94 years old on the same day.” While the weather can get cold this far south, even in summer, Longstocking’s lush foliage gives it a tropical feel. In addition to craft beer, it serves local bands, local oysters, and wood-fired pizzas.

A trip to Mimosa Rocks National Park is worth it for the only gum spotted forests.
A trip to Mimosa Rocks National Park is worth it for the only gum spotted forests. Photograph: Damian Breach / Ella Freestone

Opposite the brewery is the 82-hectare Panboola Wetlands, once the region’s race track. For 100 years, punters have come to this flood-prone area to bet on horses, but it is now a regenerated sanctuary for swans, marshes, egrets and cormorants to wade among mangroves, salt marshes and billabongs. . The Latham Snipe migrates here every spring from Japan. With the bird’s status listed as vulnerable in Victoria, but secure in NSW, it shows how impacting a community-run conservation project like Panboola can be.

Many parts of Australia praise the superiority of their oysters, but “wild oysters” (Sydney cupped oysters grown in the estuaries between Lake Wonboyn and Bermagui) are incredibly good. You can shell them and serve with sparkling wine at a restaurant like Wheeler’s or flip flops at an outlet like Broadwater Oysters, Oyster Barn, or McKay’s Oyster Shed to buy them fresh for a picnic. Eat them for breakfast! No one will care.

The Local Indigenous Lands Council of Eden says the Bundian Way Story Trail
The Local Council of Aboriginal Lands of Eden claims that the Bundian Way Story Trail “is an ancient path for the Aborigines of Yuin, Ngarigo, Jaitmathang, Bidawal Country which provided a safe passage between the coast and the high country”. Photograph: David Rogers / Ella Freestone

Remember how badly this area was affected by the black summer bushfires. Respect the land, the waters and the reality as the healing continues. During this time, always check the tides, practice safe swimming, and wear life jackets in boats and kayaks.

Do not miss

Serious hikers shouldn’t miss the multi-day Light to Light Walk in Ben Boyd National Park. In town, and more family-friendly, is the 3 km Merimbula promenade, which takes you through mangroves and oyster farms.

The lyrically marked Whale Dreaming Trail to Eden is an intriguing fragment of the Bundian path, which the local Eden Indigenous Lands Council says “is an ancient path for the aborigines of Yuin, Ngarigo, Jaitmathang, Bidawal country who provided a safe passage between the coast and the high country There are two Bundian Way walks in Eden – one in town and one from Cocora Beach to Quarantine Bay.

The Light to Light Walk in Ben Boyd National Park ends at the Green Cape Lighthouse
The Light to Light Walk in Ben Boyd National Park ends at the Green Cape Lighthouse Photograph: David Rogers / Ella Freestone

Or sleep

Green Cape Lightstation Keepers Cottage, or the cheaper Telegraph Station dormitory (up the hill), is a rugged, atmospheric national park experience. The newly renovated 1969 Hillcrest Motel in Merimbula takes it back to the 1970s with a coastal view to boot. The vacation homes of choice are Long Point (Merimbula) or Pambula Beach. If you are camping at Millingandi Station, you can kayak to the beach and have oysters delivered to your tent.

Where to eat

Valentina makes a well-executed Oz-Med fusion with stunning lake views while Dulcie’s makes good vibes, great burgers and oysters in a 1925 log cabin. For bread, pies and coffee go you at the Wild Rye bakery; for premium coffee and inventive breakfasts, try Toast. Sprout Eden is a cafe and food cooperative (across the road) and a blessing for the self-employed with its eco-friendly system of using surplus produce provided by local green thumbs.

Wild Rye's Baking Co in Pambula offers an assortment of bread and pies as well as coffee
Wild Rye’s Baking Co in Pambula offers an assortment of breads and pies as well as coffee. Photograph: David Rogers / Ella Freestone

When should we go

Any month starting in February is considered “off peak”. Fall works wonders for nature adventures with its balmy temperatures, bright, cool days, and still warm water. The Giiyong Festival (April) celebrates Aboriginal arts, culture and resilience and the Narooma Oyster Festival (May) is dedicated to the region’s distinctive sea. Meanwhile, musical events include the Four Winds Festival (April), the Cobargo Folk Festival (May), and the Merimbula Jazz Festival (June).

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