For Sydneysiders, escapes to the Blue Mountains, the Hunter Valley and the Southern Highlands are not just enjoyable, they’re convenient. But for those prepared to a travel a little further, a true food-lovers haven awaits.
The Tilba region on the South Coast (which incorporates the neighbouring towns of Tilba Central and Tilba Tilba, both National Trust villages) pairs calm, pastoral countryside with one of Australia’s most fertile stretches of coastline.
It’s a six-and-half-hour drive south of Sydney (or 50 minutes via plane to Moruya, then a 50-minute drive), and when you arrive you’ll discover cheese, wine, crayfish, Sydney rock oysters and, if you get your timing right, whales. There are also verdant hills and one of rural NSW’s most memorable pubs.
These are our favourite dining and drinking experiences in Tilba and its surrounding towns.
Hit up the Narooma Oyster Festival
Most Sydney restaurants source their Sydney rocks oysters from this part of the world – Merimbula, Pambula and Narooma. The latter is a 10-minute drive from Tilba and its annual festival is a giant celebration of the beloved bivalve, held mere metres from where they’re farmed. Watch cooking demos, compete in a shucking contest, shake it to some live music or order a glass of wine and sample the oysters from a wide selection of growers on the South Coast of NSW. This year’s festival kicks off on May 4.
More info here.
Cruise an oyster farm
If you can’t make it to the oyster festival, don’t despair. Narooma locals Bill and June Dudley offer tours of the area’s oyster farms in a custom-built boat. While you learn how much work goes into getting one of those delicious shells onto your plate, you’ll be able to slurp down some freshly shucked examples of the local produce. Tours run Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, or daily during peak holiday season.
Email Narooma Oyster Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org) to enquire or book.
Try cheese made by the happiest cows in Australia
It’s the milk from the Jersey cows happily roaming the Tilba Valley that makes Tilba Real Dairy’s cheese so remarkable. Stop into this dairy at the end of Tilba Central’s main street to try them for yourself, including the range of vintage infused cheeses, variously dotted with pepper, herbs, chilli and black garlic. Sure, you can find their cheese at Carriageworks Farmers Market and other places closer to home, but where’s the fun in that?
Tilba Real Dairy, 37 Bate Street, Central Tilba.
Book cosy accommodation
If you were captivated by the idyllic visions of pastoral life on the sadly cancelled River Cottage Australia TV show, the new owners have turned the familial homestead into a stunning Airbnb, which means you can now embrace a (temporary) tree change of your own. Make full use of the kitchen once frequented by chef-host Paul West, sit by the open fireplace and stroll around the surrounding farmland. Bliss.
Book your stay here.
Learn to cook the River Cottage way
Kelly Eastwood spent years working behind the scenes on shows like My Kitchen Rules, The Great Australian Bake Off and Family Food Fight. When the River Cottage Australia cooking school, which Eastwood ran, was shuttered after the show was cancelled, she opened her own deli and cooking school in nearby Bermagui. Now she offers seasonal classes on baking, preserving and plenty of other fundamental cooking techniques, often collaborating with other local food businesses and identities.
Eastwood’s Deli and Cooking School, 1/26 Bunga Street, Bermagui. eastwoodsbermagui.com.au
Sample the local wine
Home of the famous Tilba Tawny, the Tilba Valley Winery has recently undergone a facelift to become the Tilba Valley Winery & Ale House. With local brews on tap and relaxed al fresco seating with views of the vine-covered rolling hills, it’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon unwinding after a busy day of unwinding.
947 Old Highway, Corunna.
Go angling for a bite
Bermagui, only 10 minutes south of Tilba, is significant for being the closest the Australian mainland comes to the continental shelf – only 20 kilometres away. This brings warm, northerly currents close to the shore and a wide array of sea life to the local waters. Game fishers can angle for various breeds of marlin, as well as albacore and the prized yellowfin tuna, while seafood fans are just as likely to find squid, octopus, wild mussels and, closer to shore, the odd crayfish. Numerous charter companies operate out of Bermagui and nearby Narooma.
Forage for bush food
While Tilba was first populated by colonial settlers during the gold rushes of the 19th century, it has served as an important, social, food-rich hub for tens of thousands of years. Traditionally the land of Yuin Nation (Tilba Tilba is said to mean “many waters” in the endangered Thawa language), it was known as a place where nations from further inland and those that resided in coastal area would meet to trade. Budawang elder Noel Butler, himself of the Yuin Nation, understands the rich history of this part of Australia, and together with his wife Trish leads regular bush food foraging tours throughout the South Coast. Learn about the foods that have been sustaining people in this country for millennia, many of them growing right under our noses.
For more information, visit here.
Grab a pint at the Tilba pub
Gazing down over Central Tilba’s main street like a bejewelled monarch, the Dromedary Hotel has been keeping locals well watered since 1895. Built from wood recycled from ships retired in Bermagui, the Palace Hotel (as it was then called) was known to offer hearty, affordable meals, cosy accommodation and somewhere friendly to stop on the South Coast. And it still is. Taken over by new owners in June 2018, you can now also try house-made infused gins, or grab something off the lunch or dinner menus (which profile plenty of local ingredients). The small balcony is the perfect place to retire with a beer next to a local and watch the world pass by.
The Dromedary Hotel, 14 Bate Street, Central Tilba.
Grab a loaf at Honorbread
Buy a loaf of sourdough from anywhere in the Tilba region and there’s a good chance it’ll have been kneaded by Honor Northam. What started as a hobby for the Bermagui local transformed into an institution, with bread, cakes and pastries appearing in her shop in town, as well as in dozens of other cafes, delis and markets. Bread-making classes are available too for those wanting to perfect the craft. But get there early – the Honorbread bakery closes when the last loaf is sold.
Honorbread, 8 Bunga Street, Bermagui.