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6. Australian Road Trip: The Road to Eden on the 'Deep South' Coast.
The City of Woollongong - gateway to the beautiful South Coast of New South Wales, a part of Australia less frequently visited by foreign tourists.
Welcome to the South Coast
At time of writing this Hub, the area south of Sydney known as The South Coast, is one of the lesser visited regions on the Eastern seaboard of Australia, at least by foreign tourists. Aussie locals have long used this geographically beautiful and historically rich zone as both a perfect place to live and to vacation. It has countless golden, sandy beaches, rolling green farmlands, quaint villages and busy fishing ports. The forest clad mountains of The Great Dividing Range rise up just a few miles inland, allowing easy access to secret valleys, rainforests, waterfalls, spectacular views and the unique landscape of the Southern Tablelands and the Australian alps.
Come with us as we really get stuck into our Aussie road trip, heading south down the meandering Princes Highway, through the large conurbation of Woollongong, the industrial centre of Port Kembla and on to those lush pasturelands, volcanic rock headlands and surf pounded beaches.
Terra Australis a bit less Incognitas
The South Coast of New South Wales makes for a spectacular leg of the Round Australia Road Trip. Golden beaches, rugged mountains, lush green fields, rolling hills, dry stone fences, National Parks and copious wildlife punctuate every mile of the journey. There are also picturesque fishing towns and rustic villages all along the way.
As I mentioned a couple of Hubs ago - Australia is a big place (duh), and so far on this journey we are still sitting at Stanwell Park, barely 40 miles from Sydney. So... it is time to hit the road and get some distance under our belts. The coast road below Stanwell Park winds along the foot of steep mountains that plunge into the sea. The Coal Cliff "Sea Bridge" is a new bit of ultra modern highway that is built up high on pylons about a hundred feet or so off shore, to protect the road from the dangerous, crumbling cliffs. The towns of Coal Cliff, Bulli, Corrimal and Austinmer lead onto the sprawling city of Woollongong where we stop to stock up on groceries. Beyond the "Gong" is the great industrial monster that is the Port Kembla steel works, and then the urban/industrial expanse gives way to verdant green farmlands on rolling hills sandwiched between the ocean and the Great Dividing Range, that runs the entire length of the Australian East Coast. Our next stop is the pretty town of Kiama.
There is a strip of old colonial shops here, offering arty, crafty, tourist goods and a busy main street that is chockablock with shops and cafés. At the end of the main street there is a headland of jagged volcanic rock with a lighthouse standing tall and white in the car park. The big attraction is the famous Blowhole - a volcanic lava tube that funnels ocean swells through its length, forcing enormous geysers of water high into the air.
Beyond Kiama we pass through more green farmland, reminiscent of English or Irish countryside, with dry stone walls dividing fields and old homesteads perched on hilltops. It is a beautiful landscape and not at all on the International tourist trail, though Aussies have vacationed in this region since cars were invented. My Family used to take their summer holidays down here at a place called Gerringong, where Seven Mile Beach stretches into infinity (or seven miles, whichever comes first). The town of Berry lies a few kilometres in from the coast and is an attractive, affluent little community with colonial pubs and great restaurants. For the more adventurous road tripper, try and find the little B-road that leads up into the mountains to Kangaroo Valley. I will take you there on our return journey several weeks hence, I promise.
Jervis Bay region
Booderee national Park on the shores of Jervis Bay is the place to see Aussie wildlife, rugged coast and bushland and the whitest sand in the world.
Green Patch, white sand
We finally stop for the night at Jervis Bay. This big bay is mostly an Australian Naval Base but out near the mouth of the bay there is Bouderee National Park. It is a wild and rustic place that boasts "The Whitest Sand in the World" It is almost dark when we arrive but I swear, if the sand isn't the whitest on earth then it is surely the softest and silkiest. Our campsite is set in a gumtree forest and that evening we are treated to a fantastic show as cockatoos, lorrikeets, rozellas, king parrots, kookaburras and magpies go berserk in the branches around us. When the birds finally calm down for the night it is the turn of the possums to come out and interact with us. They are everywhere, and as it is spring, many are sporting babies who cling monkey-like to their mothers' backs. After dark we get to see the fabled "Grey Ghosts" of Bouderee. These spirit-like creatures are, in reality, kangaroos, who materialise out of the bush to graze on the short grass under the trees behind the beach.
Murramurang National Park
Accessed via a hard to find, dirt road that winds through a spectacular primorial rainforest, Pebbly Beach is home to kangaroos and colourful birds.
Such a great place to camp...
Go to Pebbly Beach for Kangaroos
After breakfast we head back to the Princes Highway (Hwy 1) and roll on to Ulladulla. This is a fishing port with a strong Italian influence with a "Blessing of the Fleet" celebrated every Easter. We decide to make a short day of it and head to our next stopover - Pebbly Beach in Murramurang National Park. You could easily miss the turn off, so innocuous is the sign. The road down to the Park is gravel and we get a real feeling of being out in the bush. Skyscraper blue-gums tower above us as the road snakes along a ridge. The forest floor is made up of huge tree-ferns, lending the place a primordial air. The road branches off and heads down to Pebbly Beach and man is it steep! Luckily, the incline is tar-sealed - we might have slid down the gravel and over the edge if it wasn't, and we would never have made it back up in this van.
Pebbly Beach campsite is in a valley, surrounded on three sides by the prehistoric bush and by the ocean lapping the golden beach on the fourth. One of the attractions here are the wild kangaroos that graze on the short grass that binds the sand dunes above the tidal line. They are pretty tame but it is advised NOT to try and kiss them or anything as they can rip your guts out with their powerful hind legs. (lot of gut-ripping critters in Oz - see previous Blog about Hazards.).
We set up our first proper campsite, with the intention of staying a couple of nights. I put the big Tarpauline to use, tying one edge to the side of the van and supporting the other with the three tent poles and guy ropes. It makes a great open-sided shelter, and with our hurricane lamps, table and chairs we create a comfortable, "Safari-style" camp to lounge about in. After exploring the beach and the rocky headland we are treated to yet more "Avian-TV" with Galahs and King Parrots adding to the squawking all around us. In the morning we take a hike along a coastal trail that leads to a cove called Snake Bay. It is a hot day and as well as birds we come across a red-bellied blacksnake, kangaroos, a water dragon and even find two beautiful abalone shells amongst the rocks.
When we leave the next day, we follow the wonderfully named "Mount Agony Road" back to Highway 1. It is a day of driving. We pass through Bateman's Bay, Moruya, Narooma, Bermagui, Merimbula until finally arriving in Eden just before dusk.
So much to see...
The road south hugs the coast but also winds through thick natural bushland of tall blue gums and other eucalypts. It goes through managed State Forests and extremely lush dairy farmland. The town of Bega for example is the "Cheese Capital" of Australia. The beaches along this coastline are pounded by South Pacific swells and offer some great surf with far fewer crowds than you might find on the North Coast.
I have memories from childhood of hanging onto my father's shoulders as he swam through the breakers at Tathra to bodysurf into shore - Dad was my first 'surfboard'. Fishing is a hugely popular sport throughout Australia, no less so here on the South Coast. You will see people fishing from the beach, from rocky headlands and from small aluminium dingies known locally as 'tinnies.' Do be sure to check licensing and seasonal details and to obey the catch restriction signs that you may see at certain places. Spear fishing and scuba diving are also popular sports along the coast.
The mountain range that looms over the coastal strip can be crossed via numerous routes but keep in mind that there are some terrifically steep ascents with hairpin bends and very distracting views. The climate on the Tablelands at the top of the coastal range will be considerably cooler in winter. From the far South Coast it is really only a short hop over the hills to the Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, and the majestic Snowy Mountains.
Eden on Twofold Bay
Historic old whaling port. Last coastal town in New South Wales. Surrounded by South Coast wilderness.
Eden - Not quite paradise, but close
Eden is an interesting place, though I tell you now, in early spring it is very quiet and not so warm at night. We ended up in a big, well-equiped caravan park on the outskirts of the town, which is built on a hill overlooking Twofold Bay. The town began life as a whaling station in 1818. This makes the place historic as well as picturesque (1818 is ancient as far as white Australian history goes). We decide to eat in town for a treat but it is a long walk up a long hill and half way up we begin to regret it. Not because of the walk but because of the appearance of millions upon millions of large black ants all over the footpath. They are biters too so we can't stand still, we have to run up the bloody hill, all the while ensuring that no ant has managed to hitch a ride in our jeans. We find some so-so fish and chips in the only restaurant open that night and then shelter from the cold and the HEAVY RAIN in the pub, until we become resigned to the fact that there are no taxis operating and we have to walk back through the pitch black and the rain, via the ants. We are on an adventure, I keep reminding myself. We make it back to the van but it was so dark once we left the glow of the town that we couldn't even see each other from a foot away. Mental note: bring torch next time we go wandering at night. The pop-top leaks in heavy rain too. So much for being in Eden.
The Hollywood effect...
- 7 Australian Road Trip: Victorian Road Movie
We cross the state border into Victoria and later that evening, while camped on the edge of a small country town, I experience a surreal muse which I can only describe as a 'Road Movie Moment," where our journey takes on cinematic proportions.
- 14 Australian Road Trip: The last hop - Kangaroo Val...
On our journey back to Sydney, after more than 6 weeks on the road, we revisit the South Coast via one of the most beautiful hidden valleys on the continent. We also take in Seven Mile Beach, Kiama and the fabulous Minnimurra Falls.