Here’s the problem we were wrestling with. Just a week to revisit old stamping grounds on the South Coast, down Princes Highway from Sydney. It’s possible, but not desirable, to drive down and back in six days, but a better idea presented itself: fly to Merimbula on Rex Aviation, rent a car and take a leisurely drive back to Sydney, spending a couple of nights in some key places.
The plan worked perfectly. Road conditions on the Pacific Highway have improved since 50-plus years ago, when it was a single lane each way; you had to queue for the punt at Bateman’s Bay and brave Bulli Pass with the car radiator boiling. It was certainly an adventure in those times.
Today it’s different. Apart from the beautiful coastal and inland scenery, with lakes dotting the landscape, there’s another surprise in store. The whole region has become a foodie haven, the emphasis being on fresh farm produce, cheese, artisan bakeries, excellent coffee in the many new cafés and of course, seafood.
The oysters at Wharf Road Restaurant in Nowra are a perfect example of the region's delicious seafood
The clean southern waters provide a bounty of fish, lobster, mussels and naturally oysters. These are some of the best we’ve ever eaten, and that’s after touring Tasmania several times. The main variety is Sydney Rock oysters, big and plump compared with those grown on the north coast thanks to the cool fresh waters and cleansing tides.
Couple that with the new wave of wineries springing up all over the place, and you now have what is arguably Australia’s most enjoyable foodie tour, from Eden to Kiama. Here are just a few of the highlights.
The delightful Seahorse Inn is a lovingly restored building on the shore of Twofold Bay near Eden, close to the site of the whaling industry from 1828 until 1930. This 10 room boutique hotel is in a class of its own in the Eden district.
In Mollymook just north of the fishing port of Ulladulla is the legendary 'Bannisters by the Sea' with luxury rooms and suites. Here, guest rooms are front-loaded with magnificent views of the ocean and yes, whales in abundance during the season from August to November. And just 800 metres away is Bannisters Pavilion, a modern building with 34 rooms.
At Jamberoo, 9km inland from Kiama, an unforgettable B&B experience awaits at Terragong, a country house dating back to 1858 and now restored to more than its former glory with four superb Darryl Gordon-furnished ensuite rooms.
The country house of Terragong has been lavishly restored with all the modern fittings you'd expect
The pièce de résistance is surely the lavish breakfasts served by co-owner Simon and the chatty hospitality of the charming hosts, with Daisy the puppy holding court.
Food and wine
The list of great food experiences could fill a few pages, but a few highlights were:
- Bettena’s at Seahorse Inn where chef Julie cooks up a storm using locally sourced produce, and vegies from their own gardens.
- Drift, at Eden’s Snug Cove Wharf, features fresh seafood in a quirky, casual atmosphere.
- Eden Smokehouse where Stan, of Polish descent, creates award-winning smoked fish, eels and other seafood.
- Sprout Café in Eden’s main street, all natural and organic produce from local farmers.
- Oaklands Nano-Brewery near Pambula, where Rob is making excellent craft beers… try the Fatty Arbuckle Dark.
Wine and dine at Wheeler’s Oyster Farm
- Wheeler’s Oyster Farm in Pambula, the go-to place for the best oysters and lobster in the area, plus a good wine list.
- Dulcie’s in Merimbula, where burgers and oysters are served from an old caravan in the garden. Cocktails at the bar in the old house.
- Mimosa Winery between Tathra and Bermagui, with a fine restaurant as well as interesting wines like a chambourcin/tempranillo blend that is very palatable.
- Rick Stein at Bannisters By The Sea. What more can anyone say about this fine dining experience? It’s one that you’ll remember forever. Tip: try the plumpest mussels in the world, better than any we’ve had in Belgium.
Bannisters by the Sea offers a luxury South Coast experience that is truly hard to beat
- Cupitt’s Winery near Milton, a prime example of a local family business who run not only a fine winery but also a craft brewery and boutique cheese factory. A tour with Wally is great fun.
- Wharf Road on the riverbank at Nowra, where the Pacific oysters from Greenwell Point rival those from further south. The $60 tasting menu is great value.
- South on Albany in the pretty town of Berry, where Sonia and John have created a restaurant to rival any in Surry Hills. Much loved by locals and Sydneysiders who appreciate a fine menu and wine list.
- Blue Swimmer in nearby Gerroa, similarly popular with locals who pack the place every night… their vegetarian specialities are outstanding.
The Blue Swimmer bistro promises to tantalise your tastebuds with their quality produce
Other must-see activities
The South Coast is packed with experiences beyond the fantastic culinary scene - some of these include:
- Eden Killer Whale Museum
- Captain Sponge Magical Oyster Tour, Pambula
- Discover Jervis Bay (Eco Dolphin Cruises)
- Minnamurra Rainforest Centre
- Kiama Coastal Walk
See the full skeleton of 'Tom' the Killer Whale, legendary Orca, at the Eden Killer Whale Museum
If you don’t live in Sydney, that’s no problem. Drive all the way through from Melbourne on the Pacific Highway instead of the boring Hume; or if you live in another state just fly to Sydney and start from there.
You won’t be disappointed, although the oysters may not thank you for coming their way.
What's your favourite place to visit on the NSW South Coast?
Photo credit: Nicole Tujague