Southern comfort: where to eat, shop and play on NSW’s South Coast
Between Australia’s two biggest cities, and just down the mountain from its capital, lies a stretch of idyllic country known as the far south coast. This end of NSW is defiantly sleepy — even the Princes Highway running through it seems to empty of any significant traffic in deference to the way things are.
From Batemans Bay southwards to the Victorian border, the landscape of velvety pastures, eucalypt-covered hills and sweeping beaches is almost impossibly pretty. And while the region may have giant neighbours to its south, north and west, it is sufficiently far from all of them to have remained unspoiled. Some extraordinary natural experiences can be had without jostling for elbow room with a bus load of tourists.
Swimming with the ever-curious seals off Montague Island and watching the troops of fairy penguins waddling ashore at dusk is unforgettable. Taking a tour of Mount Gulaga with your personal Aboriginal guide might just be life-changing. Standing alone on a headland as sea eagles soar above, catching dinner from a solitary tinny on Pambula River or watching stingrays glide around you at Merimbula Boardwalk — everything becomes more special when there’s room to breathe.
Since settlers arrived in the 1830s, farming has shaped the landscape of the far south coast and farm-gate and market sales are burgeoning as demand for organic produce grows. In this quiet corner of the world, the launch of on NewYear’s Day 2013 caused the kind of enthusiastic scramble more often seen at a David Jones clearance sale.
Above: The hills of Central Tilba.
Tourism has long been one of the region’s biggest employers but the emergence of food tourism is helping raise the profile of artisan producers, such as Tilba Tilba cheesemaker Erica Dibden. “A lot of our customers are well-educated in terms of what they want and their approach to quality and integrity,” Erica says. “They love the fact that our Jersey milk is straight from the farm.”
Above: The Holy Trinity Church at Central Tilba, built in 1896.
Nearby Narooma, which sells some four million oysters annually all over Australia, has already realised the benefits of an oyster festival and Merimbula is considering plans for a similar event. Oyster beds are common in the waterways of this region, where the water purity and ideal tidal flows make for outstanding shellfish.
The region’s rich food resources have also helped spawn some fine eateries on the coast. in Merimbula combines the talents of brothers Huw and Gus Jones — formerly of and in Sydney — to create chef ’s hat-winning dishes such as con t pork belly with black pudding, apple and cauliflower.
A concentration on local fare has made in Moruya a perennial Sydney Morning Herald/Age hat winner, while art and food are combined at Tathra’s The Wharf Locavore and Bermagui’s , where the food and coffee respectively are as lovingly crafted as the works on display.
Above: Matt Jones mans the coffee machine at Mister Jones.
While the countryside is undeniably beautiful, much of what happens on the far south coast revolves around the ocean. Fishing is taken seriously, whether it’s dangling a line off Tathra Wharf, surf casting at Mystery Bay Beach, or game fishing from one of the million-dollar rigs that have moorings in Bermagui Harbour.
A dedicated contingent of surfers greets the sunrise each morning, snorkellers and divers abound, and children armed with orange nets fossick busily in the myriad rock pools. Yet the beaches remain remarkable for their emptiness and lack of development — the only high-rise along this coastline is the ocean on a good swell.
Above: a beachside cemetery at Central Tilba.
‘Getaway’ may be clichéd, but it does perfectly describe the appeal of the far south coast. This is a region where you can get away from everything over-processed, overcrowded and over-thought. A dedication to all things honest and natural flows through the food and culture of the region and shapes the identities of the people who live in it.
And while the lights of the cities to the north, south and west may be bright, the brilliance of stars in a far south coast night sky can eclipse them all.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Central Tilba shops
Watch the cheesemakers through glass walls in the ABC Cheese Factory, linger at Passionfish Candles & Gifts, Reva jewellery and Tilba Woodturning Gallery, and have a reviving cuppa at The Tilba Teapot. Bate Street, Central Tilba.
Stretching for 3.4 kilometres along the northern shores of Merimbula Lake, this walkway has panoramic views, and brings you close to the area’s marine life.
There’s great coffee at this tiny gallery run by the talented and very cool Matt Jones. Pull up a cushioned milk crate and peruse the artworks from the pavement. 4 Bunga Street, Bermagui.
The island, nine kilometres offshore from Narooma, offers an unforgettable brush with seals, dolphins and penguins. In winter and spring, whales may play around the boats. Narooma Wharf, Bluewater Drive, Narooma.
Mount Gulaga guided tours
These are run by Yuin elder Max ‘Dulumunmun’ Harrison. 0408 272 121.
The market of ‘Sustainable Agriculture & Gardening Eurobodalla’ is on Tuesdays from 3pm. Riverside Park, Moruya.
Strangers In Paradise
Everything old is new again in this store, which sells an eclectic mix of clothing, homewares and furniture. Worth a rummage. 36 Lamont Street, Bermagui.
The Wharf Locavore
Food, art and craft served up on a historic wharf. Wharf Road, Tathra.
Above: Meals with a view at The Wharf Locavore.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
Everything is generous, from the warm welcome to the fabulous breakfast. 88 Nuttleys Creek Road, Bermagui.
A well-executed simple menu and good coffee. 59 Princes Highway, Cobargo.
Above: Enjoy simple yet delicious food at Chalk and Cheese.
A two-bedroom storybook cottage with pretty views of Wagonga Inlet. Lot 64 Flying Fox Road, Narooma.
Cool but unpretentious, everything is done really well at this modern Italian restaurant. Fishermen’s Wharf, Bermagui.
Delicious food in beautiful surrounds and the wines are definitely worth investigation. 2845 Bermagui-Tathra Road, Bermagui.
Above: Drystone Restaurant at Mimosa Wines.
Won a Sydney Morning Herald/Age chef’s hat once more this year for its locally sourced food. 16 Church Street, Moruya.
Above: Salted caramel tart at The River Restaurant.
Shop for a range of organic sourdough breads, house-made pies and pastries, and irresistible Turkish bread. 26 Quondola Street, Pambula.
Huw and Gus Jones, and Renee Loftus bring considerable class to this 2013 and 2014 chef’s-hat winner. Corner of Main and Market streets, Merimbula.