Bordered by ancient volcano Gulaga (Mount Dromedary) on one edge, the Pacific Ocean on another side, and an estuary teeming with oysters on another, the small far South Coast NSW town of Narooma is fast becoming a popular getaway for Sydneysiders – helped in part by the work of Justin Hemmes’s hospitality empire Merivale, which has picked up multiple venues in the town over the last couple of years.
Here’s where to eat and drink, and what to see and do in Narooma.
Eat and drink
Editor's note: Quarterdeck is temporarily closed until Wednesday August 16 2023.
For more than 20 years, tiki-inspired bar Quarterdeck has sat right on the water at Wagonga Inlet. It’s not a stretch to call it a local institution – and while it was taken over by Merivale in 2021, the hospitality group only gave it a light refresh, maintaining its seaside charm. Cocktails here are rum-heavy, and the list takes in classics like Banana Daquiris, Pina Coladas and Mai Tais. The menu is by Merivale executive chef Jordan Toft (Mimi’s, Bert’s), who has packed the menu with plenty of seafood, as well as dishes inspired by Latin America: snapper ceviche, yellowfin tuna tostadas, tacos filled with battered whiting, and grilled corn topped with chilli salt and shavings of cheese. It’s the perfect spot for parking up as the sun goes down.
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Another smack-on-the-water venue is tiny cafe Salt. On a deck overlooking pristine Wagonga Inlet and its colourful boats, it’s a tranquil spot to start a weekend morning. Dishes here are made using local produce, and house-made preserves, ferments and pickles. Tuck into classics like the bacon and egg roll, which is made with all locally sourced bread, bacon and eggs, as well as lashings of house-made slow-cooked tomato relish. The coffee beans are from nearby Guerilla Coffee roasters.
With so many Sydneysiders making their way to Narooma for holidays, it only makes sense to give them a slice of home while they’re there. Enter Queen Chow, the popular Cantonese restaurant in Enmore and Manly, which has now also set up in Narooma’s Whale Inn. There you’ll find Queen Chow classics such as its dim sum platters, excellent fried rice, and salt and pepper squid, alongside Narooma-only specials like local rock oysters and sashimi, and crayfish with XO sauce.
And it’s always a good idea to head to the next-door Ocean Lounge for a pre-dinner drink: nab a wicker chair for views across the inlet out to the ocean, and light and fresh drinks like the Chow Sour (gin, apple, rhubarb and mint) and a Summer Palace Spritz (pisco, vodka, Lillet Blanc, pear and soda).
This 1895-built watering hole is a real charmer – and though Merivale took it over a little while back, beyond its menus, it’s barely been touched. Its blue wooden facade is classic old-world Australian boozer, and the fridges behind the bar are so old they have wooden doors. Nonetheless, it makes a mean Negroni. And you’ll find relatively few country Aussie pubs of its ilk serving local oysters, pasta alla norma and hearty fish pies.
Do and see
Narooma Oyster Festival
Narooma Oyster Festival is a little more high-octane than other food events: during the 2022 Narooma Oyster Festival, a world champion oyster shucker, Irishman Stephen Nolan, arrived by jumping from a seaplane. Thousands of punters gather at the festival each year to down oysters – from Sydney rock oysters to Pacific oysters, and giant oysters the size of two hands – as well as cheese from local dairies, locally produced gin, wines and more. It’s a wonderful celebration of the local community – which punches above its weight in the food stakes – and, of course, of oysters.
Oyster farm tours
A festival devoted to oysters not enough bivalve for you? Narooma and its surrounds are famous for oyster growing, and local company Out of the Blue will punt you around its oyster farms on Wagonga Inlet (and let you try a few shucked beauties). You’ll see how oysters are grown, hear what makes Sydney rock oysters so unique, and learn about how the team revived its leases following bushfires and floods. Tours run for up to two hours and include plenty of tastings.
Southbound Escapes e-bike tours
Narooma is a beauty – and the best way to see it up close is on an e-bike tour (a low-effort way to get around if you’ve thrown down one too many oysters or Lynch’s Negronis). Cycle to Bar Rock Lookout where you’ll get an eyeful of Baranguba (Montague Island) off the Narooma beach. A highlight is the breakwall near Australia Rock, which is home to a colony of seals who remain unfazed by the human gaze as onlookers watch them soak up the sun. Southbound Escapes’ owner and director Sally Bouckley is a knowledgeable guide, who easily weaves the area’s Indigenous history in with information about local wildlife and landmarks. She’ll tell you all about Gulaga, a sacred landmark for the local Yuin Aboriginal people; shaped like a pregnant woman lying on her side, she’s known as Mother Mountain, and is an important place for women, a spot for ceremony, childbirth and storytelling.