When Sydney people “go south” for a long weekend, most don’t make it past Mollymook, a couple of hundred kilometres south of Sydney. But with a little time to spare, the stretch beyond Bateman’s Bay yields great rewards.
The road between Eurobodalla and the Sapphire Coast has contradictory attractions. There’s long stretches of unblemished native forest, beaches without a soul in sight, and tiny towns where the pace is notably slower. But it’s also the home of some of the country’s best cuisine – Sapphire Coast oysters have rightly made a name for themselves the world over, and Long Time No Sea, a new regional restaurant in Barragga Bay, will definitely be making waves in years to come.
Here’s our itinerary to guarantee a great three-day weekend.
8am – depart Sydney for Tomakin
Throw your bags in the car as early as you can and make your way southward down the Princes Highway. It’ll take about four-and-a-half hours to reach Eurobodalla, and you’ll want to explore some of the attractions along the way. Driving this far you’ll undoubtedly require some caffeine reinforcement. Make sure it’s at Hyper Hyper Coffee in Nowra for a dose of 1950s Florence, and Milk Haus, a farm-to-table cafe in the hills outside Milton.
1pm – lunch at the Rivermouth General Store
Just past Bateman’s Bay and through ye olde tourist village of Mogo is Tomakin, a tiny hamlet where the Tomaga River meets the ocean. Katrina McDonald’s Rivermouth General Store is a super-sweet little cafe-cum-tuckshop with everything from house-made pie, big breakfasts and freshly cut sandwiches and rolls. Grab a milkshake and a BLT, then sit on a picnic table under the flowering pōhutukawa, or bag up your lunch and head down to the nearby beach.
2pm – cruise down to Narooma for oysters (and seals)
Once you’re adequately restored, head south and down across the bridge at Moruya, and continue across the rolling hillsides until you reach Narooma. This whole region, from Batemans Bay through Pambula to Eden, is internationally renowned for the quality of its oysters, and Narooma is no exception.
Head down to the Marina for a dozen (or three) oysters fresh from the river, shucked right in front of you. Before you scoot, make sure you take a cruise out to Wagonga Head to see the imposing Australia Rock, and, if you’re lucky, catch the seals doing their thing in the waters below.
4pm – identify your tent at the Tilba Lake Camp
Only 15 minutes further south is the minuscule village of Tilba. Your accommodation this evening is at the Tilba Lake Camp, an 11-acre property on grassy elevations looking out over the lake and ocean beyond, and Mount Dromedary to the west. Your hosts Rebecca and Tim Jones ditched their corporate jobs in 2015 to open this small B&B, and last year they began offering this “glamping” experience in small lotus-shaped tents in the paddock beneath the homestead.
While they’re elegantly appointed (with a well-blanketed bed) you are still genuinely camping – there’s no electricity, bathroom or heating, though you can cook, shower and recharge in an annex off the main house. These minor deprivations are worth it for the beautiful dawn view.
9am – take a dip in Mystery Bay
Though it took its name from the disappearance of the government geologist Lamont Young and his team of four assistants in the 1800s, we can safely say you’ll enjoy an early-morning dip in Mystery Bay.
Sparsely populated and surrounded by eucalyptus forest, Mystery Bay is a so-called “kink zone”, an area formed by the heavy pressure of tectonic plates. The phenomenon has forged a unique rocky coastline that looks as though it’s been assembled by hand.
10am – drop into Bermagui for Coffee
About half-an-hour south of Mystery Bay is Bermagui, a relaxed township with a distinctly hippy bent. If you’re in need of a cup, drop into Mister Jones, a cute little cafe owned by local artist Matt Chun. They also sell records, put on exhibitions, performances and offer a work space for creatives.
11am – visit the Blue Pool
Hopefully you haven’t changed out of your togs just yet, because there’s time for another quick dip before you leave Bermagui. The Blue Pool is an incredible, naturally formed swimming pool at the bottom of a cliff, right on the edge of the sea. It’s filled with water flowing in from the ocean, and makes a serene spot to snorkel or swim a couple of laps before lunch.
12pm – lunch at Long Time No Sea (re-opening in spring)
You are now ready for the highlight of your trip. William Wade, an ambitious young chef with a stint at Noma on his already-impressive CV, is doing all the right things at his first solo venture, Long Time No Sea. A 10-minute drive south of Bermagui, Wade’s restaurant is set in a modest little room that comfortably fits 30 diners and offers an outrageous view over the bay.
Wade delivers all his dishes with a lightness of touch – don’t expect too many foraged sticks and seaweed foams. Instead, he delivers an inspired reworking of classic crowd-pleasers, built on great local ingredients: buttermilk waffles with caviar and creamed egg; Eden mussels with saffron, tarragon and white wine; an unbelievably delicious, locally caught snapper, crumbed and served with Pernod butter and parsley cream. The dish Wade’s currently most proud of is his mandarin tart with a perfectly crisp base, mandarin ice-cream and coconut yoghurt cream. It’s a masterclass on contrasting texture and taste. Prepare to be here all afternoon.
3pm – make camp at Tanja Lagoon Camp (re-opening mid-September)
It’s likely you’ll be ready for siesta after your session at Long Time No Sea, so set out for your luxury tent on Tanja Lagoon. Though what you’re staying in here barely qualifies as a tent – there’s heating, electricity and hot water, not to mention a bathroom, kitchen and wooden deck looking out over the wetlands below. There aren’t any restaurants in the nearby vicinity, so it’s wise to pick up some produce at the 777 Supermarket and Deli and local butcher in Bermagui to cook over the barbeque – or over the fire, if you’re up for some bush cookery.
9am – head down to Ben Boyd National Park
Make sure to avail yourself of a strong cup of tea before making the two-hour drive south to Ben Boyd National Park, one of the most isolated and unspoiled tracts of coastal forest in the country.
The centrepiece of the park is the imposing Green Cape Lighthouse, built in 1883 on the headland at Disaster Bay. Though its lamp was doused back in 1992, it’s a beautiful turn-of-the-century structure with an unimpeded view up and down the coast. Take the walking trail down to Pulpit Rock, an incredible stone platform over a seemingly endless ocean.
1pm – a lazy afternoon at Dulcies
Merimbula might seem like a strange place for an outlet of Sydney’s Shady Pines, but here it is. This little weatherboard cottage, built in 1925, has a large open courtyard with a caravan, plonked in the middle, making burgers. They’re not just any old burgers, though – they’re made under the advice of Daniel Pepperel – and come served alongside top-of-the-line Broadwater oysters, farmed about 100 metres away. We strongly suggest you reward yourself with a Negroni and see where the afternoon takes you.
This article is produced by Broadsheet and presented in partnership with Destination NSW.