Arriving in Merimbula was always like a homecoming for Hugo Gruzman. One half of Sydney electronic duo Flight Facilities (the other is James Lyell), Gruzman has deep family ties to the pretty coastal town in southern NSW. Gruzman’s grandfather was Laurie Gruzman, a pilot who in the 1960s founded air freighting (and later air search and rescue) service Flight Facilities here, from which the band took its name.
Flight Facilities’ Guide to Merimbula and Surrounds
While the natural beauty of the Sapphire Coast is its star attraction, it’s also a bounty of fresh produce, historic spots, art galleries and even an amusement park. In partnership with Jeep and the Empty Esky initiative, we speak to Hugo Gruzman from Flight Facilities about his family’s ties to the area – and what to see, eat and do while in town.
That link meant rather than piling into a station wagon for the six-hour trip from Sydney to a holiday house in Merimbula, Gruzman’s family would cram into his grandfather’s tiny plane, a six-seater Cessna 310. Flying to your holiday home in a private plane sounds glamorous. Gruzman describes it only as a “car with wings”.
“Sometimes we’d only get halfway there and have to land somewhere else because the weather was so bad,” says Gruzman. “Sick bags were frequently called into action. Once we even had the cat and the dog in the plane, and they were both sick.”
But once there, the trip was worth it. Gruzman remembers outings to the ice-cream shop, playing “putt putt” golf and arcade games at Top Fun (which we’re glad to report still looms over the main street today), and swimming to get fish and chips.
“We loved going to Fish Pen takeaway shop,” he says. “To get there you could [walk around the lake] or take a shortcut by swimming across the channel. But only at low tide.”
His grandfather’s Cessna might not be an option anymore, but Gruzman recently took a trip down memory lane and headed back to Merimbula by road.
Enter the Empty Esky initiative – a tourism movement that encourages people to take an empty esky to regional towns affected by bushfires and Covid-19, and fill it up with local produce, supporting local businesses. With travel restrictions lifted, Gruzman and photographer Pat Stevenson hit the road to spread some love around the seaside community still so dear to him.
“People lost so much in the bushfires,” says Gruzman. “Merimbula is a town that’s given me so much joy in my childhood and I have such fond memories. So it’s nice to be able to go back down there and support a place like that.”
For someone who’s travelled the world playing music, Gruzman still reckons the hidden gems are often closest to home.
As luck would have it, the drive time from Sydney to Merimbula is about as long as Flight Facilities’ new decades mix, available on the recently-launched Flight Facilities app, Flight Deck. Gruzman says the songs, which span 40 years of musical history, is an ideal soundtrack for the nostalgia evoked by heading back to Merimbula.
“If you like our stuff then everything is here in one place,” he says, “including exclusive tracks and edits of other artists. You’ll find stuff that hasn’t been on the internet for 10 years. We’re pretty excited about it.”
There are over 200 businesses along the Sapphire Coast registered on the Empty Esky website.
Here’s Gruzman’s tips for a Sapphire Coast summer holiday to remember.
Eat and Drink
The fishermen’s basket for two is great value (the calamari and sea scallops are house specialities). Grab a drink from the general store next door and stroll a few metres across the oval to Main Beach, where you can plonk down on the sand and look out over the waves to where your meal came from.
Pambula Wholefoods looks after all your local organic produce needs, while Broadwater Oysters sells straight-from-the-sea Sydney rock oysters, farmed on Pambula Lake for more than 100 years. Across the entrance to the lake is the tropical island-like Barmouth Beach, “equally enchanting and beautiful,” says Gruzman. “I would suggest driving down to Lions and parking there and then rolling out onto the beach towards the river mouth.” It’s a bit of a trek to get down to from the car park but well worth it.