It’s time to pack the vegemite sandwiches, because the south coast is calling! While it’s easy to be tempted by the warm north coast as we head into winter, there are some absolute must see spots on the south coast – the drive alone is one of the prettiest in Australia.
Whether you’re a newbie to the Grand Pacific Drive and the famous Kiama blowhole or you have fond memories of getting squished by your older brother and hoping to god the car wouldn’t break down in the heat (those three and a half hours surely felt like ten back then), the south coast is the best. So pack the car and get going, because sometimes the best things to do in Sydney actually involve getting out of Sydney for a weekend or a fortnight – it doesn’t matter, everyone needs a break every once and a while.
First stop: Shellharbour. You’ve crossed the second most famous bridge in Australia, the Sea Cliff Bridge (you know, the one in all the car ads) and through the Royal National Park and have hit Shellharbour. Only an hour and a bit out of Sydney, this 20-kilometre stretch is famous for its coastline and is definitely activity-central. Renowned for its surf beaches, particularly Killalea Beach (aka The Farm) and Minnamurra Beach, the former was declared a national surfing reserve in 2009, so make sure you catch a wave or two. If you’re not much of a surfer, there’s fishing or water skiing at Lake Illawarra and some amazing marine life to be seen at Bushrangers Bay Aquatic Reserve. So grab that snorkel and see if you can spot a sea dragon or two.
Shellharbour village itself is the definition of a cutesy seaside town. Old school bakeries, an ocean front café strip and boutique shops means a stroll around town is definitely in order. If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, make sure you visit the Shellharbour Harbourside Rotary Markets too.
Famous for its blow holes, the gorgeous lighthouse view and, of course, Jamberoo Action Park (where you control the action), Kiama has been known as the Illawarra’s primo destination for many a reason. A classic country seaside town, with farmland surrounding the ocean, it’s your quintessential Australian holiday spot. If you’re not in the mood for a road trip, jump on the train for an easy day trip down south.
The Kiama blowhole is pretty impressive especially when the surf gets massive (however, so does the crowd). This natural rock formation can burst 20 metres of water into the air and don’t miss it at night either – the area is floodlit till 1am. There’s the Kiama coastal walk too, so bring your comfy shoes and if you’re lucky, you may just spot some whales during the winter months as they move past on their annual migration. Surfing is, again, on the agenda, as locals and weekenders alike grab their boards and head out to Surf Beach. If you like the sound of a day on the green, Kiama Golf Club is definitely on the to do list. The town is filled with great little boutique shops and delicious cafes or catch the markets held every third Sunday of the month, to find that perfect little knick knack for your mum.
Foodies, rejoice! Berry has fast become the star of the South Coast in the food department, and it’s not just because of the famous donut van. This quaint, storybook town is surrounded lush green valleys and mountains. A trip to Berry means less water activities like its famous neighbours and offers a more a relaxed Hinterland escape with the added bonus of lots of delicious food. The Hungry Duck and Berry Sourdough Café are Berry’s dining darlings but if you’re after a sugar hit then head Pompadour’s Chocolate House for some handcrafted gourmet chocolate or Il Locale for a caffeine hit and some delicious Pines gelato. You can’t miss the Famous Berry Donut Van either for some super fresh and oh-so warm cinnamon donuts (it’s been in action for no less than 55 years).
Berry is also an arts and craft hub, making the town a shopping destination for many. If you don’t feel like getting dragged on a shopping expedition, head to Seven Mile National Park for a coastal beachside escape and be gobsmacked by the view or grab a schooner while you wait at the old school favourite Berry Pub.
The regional centre of the area, Nowra and the well-known Shoalhaven River means river activities and a lot of them! So whether you are into fishing or are after a relaxing river cruise or you simply want to reap the benefits of some mighty fine seafood. Do not miss Jim’s Wild Oyster Service - it might look like a tiny shack on the beach but here you will find some pretty amazing fresh juicy prawns or oysters shucked by none other than the 1984 Galway Oyster Shucking Champion, Jim Wild.
If you’re not in the mood for sea life and up for something a tiny bit different, why not head to Shoalhaven Zoo and Adventure World for an afternoon strolling through the bush and admiring the native Australian and those not so native animals. If you’re in the mood to snooze amongst the wildlife, it’s also possible to camp onsite.
Where to stay: The White House Heritage Guesthouse
Jervis Bay is home to famous Hyams Beach, otherwise known as the beach with whitest sand in the world. This is not a claim made lightly, just as the locals say – look to the Guinness Book of World Records for proof. Probably best to take your sunglasses, it can get a tiny bit glary but, boy, is it gorgeous. The turquoise waters, clean and super squeaky white sand will force you to annoyingly claim to every foreign friend that Australia has the best beaches in the world.
This coastal wilderness is a hub of activity with camping, fishing, snorkeling, boating and even a little bit of stand up paddleboarding if you’re keen. Jervis Bay National Park and Booderee National Park are full of fantastic bushwalking tracks, so you can’t miss out on the native botanic gardens which are absolutely teeming with wildlife.
Overwhelmingly popular for a reason, head to Mollymook for the ultimate beachside escape. There are two major drawcards: Mollymook Beach and the renowned Mollymook Golf Course, with not one but two courses for those golfing aficionados. The beach is perpetually filled with surfers along favourite breaks Colliers, Golfies and Kamakazes. It’s also renowned for being a super family friendly beach destination too, especially at the nearby Bogey Hole. For snorkeling pros or those who are interested in spear fishing, the rocks are the perfect launching spot and there’s also a couple of jump rocks if you’re in the mood for a thrill. For dinner, head to Bannister’s or Tallwoods. Beloved by locals and longtime visitors, both restaurants offer some delicious local food and a great holiday dining experience.
Where to stay: Bannisters by the Sea
Batemans Bay is well known for its coastline dotted with beautiful beaches, mangroves and oyster flats. Attracting everyone from artists, rock fisherman and families, the wide range of activities means boredom is never going to hit at Batesmans Bay. The Clyde River means some kind of fishing and boating must be done and definitely don’t miss the local oysters too (they’re divine!). National Parks are unlike all others down on the south coast, but Murramarang National Park is well known for its eastern grey kangaroos and beautiful pebbly beaches and is simply a must-visit when visiting the Batemans Bay area.