31 July 2012
Humans being humans, we often differ in what we like and what we don't. But it's amazing that what is a 'wow' place for some is more than likely to be a 'wow' place for someone else. Certain gems present themselves to us as some form of divine reminder as to just how beautiful this country is, and how lucky we are to be able to live a lifestyle to experience it.
Interestingly, two of my 'wow' places are located about 30 minutes from each other. I was so taken by them that I decided that this was the area I wanted to live – the NSW South Coast. The region has such diverse beauty, covering the Great Dividing Range and its escarpment, the coastal hinterland and some of the most unspoilt and accessible coastline in Australia. The region has the best of both worlds – bush and beach.
The NSW South Coast is an area of spectacular granite cliffs, wonderful surf beaches, beautiful hinterland, and wonderful national parks. A short drive south from Sydney (less than two hours) reveals glimpses of the Pacific Ocean just prior to reaching Wollongong, as you descend the Illawarra escarpment at Bulli Pass and the start of the NSW South Coast, which extends to Eden near the border of NSW and VIC (400km to the south).
So with four days free, my partner and I were off to explore a little piece of paradise via a touring loop that ventures no more than 200km south of Sydney.
While many people know the mid and north coast of NSW, those who do venture south for the first time get their first taste of what's in store when they clear the sprawling housing estates of Shellharbour, and round the bend to get their first glimpse of the of Bombo Beach with the iconic Kiama Lighthouse in the distance. That visit never fails to move me and, as such, is the perfect place for a rest and a stretch of the legs.
Kiama is a beautiful seaside town located about 130km south of Sydney and sits perfectly between the escarpment of the Southern Highlands and the Pacific Ocean. The hinterland of this region is probably one of the most beautiful in the country.
The Kiama Township grew out of the early timber cutters (cedar), with the harbour providing the means of transporting the timber to Wollongong and Sydney. As a result of the clearing, and good rainfall, it comes as no surprise to anyone who visits the place and experiences the year-round greenness. This area is prime dairy country.
Kiama is famous for its blowhole, despite a lot of effort by local tourism to place focus on other elements of the town. Mention Kiama and most people will say, "Ah, the place with the blowhole". Add that to the fact that Kiama's name is believed to be a transliteration of the Wodi Wodi indigenous name, Kiarama-a, meaning "Where the sea makes a noise", and I don't think you can argue with the association. To see it in all its glory is truly amazing and once every few years, when the conditions are right, it is a mind-blowing spectacle.
The European development of the area can be attributed to the dairy industry. Nearby Jamberoo is known as the birthplace of Australia's dairy industry, and Kiama came into its own due to the basalt quarries that supplied the growing colony with its blue metal road base. Its early quarrying history is still visible around town and also at Bombo Headland.
Rested up and having seen the sights of the town, we headed off down the road. About 5km south of town, the highway winds around a section where the mountains meet the coast – you'll want to pull in there for a moment. This is known as the Kiama Bends, and as you round the last bend, you'll find one of my favourite 'wow' places that I like to share.
Pulling off the highway at Mount Pleasant, the lookout faces south across Werri Beach and the iconic surf village of Gerringong. Beyond that is Mount Coolangatta and the escarpments of the Great Dividing Range, which run off in the distance as far as the eye can see.
Perched on the hill overlooking Werri Beach, Gerringong is one of those beautiful coastal towns that's just the right distance off the main highway to enable it to retain a country style and true community spirit. Renowned as one of the best surf beaches on the south coast, Gerringong's Werri Beach (originally known as Ourie Beach) stretches out between two rock headlands with a magnificent rock pool on the shelf of the southern end, and a wonderful lagoon at the northern end that provides great tidal fishing opportunities.
Just south of Gerringong is Gerroa, which is located on the Crooked River at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach National Park. Over the years, due to its width, the compact nature of the sand, and its flatness, the beach has played host to many activities, including horse racing, car and motorcycle racing and land-speed records. In fact, it was the site where the 100mph speed barrier was broken.
More famously, Charles Kingsford-Smith used Seven Mile Beach as the departure point for his Southern Cross aeroplane when conducting the first commercial trans-Tasman crossing to New Plymouth in New Zealand in January 1933.
Continuing south past Nowra was our first major destination for this loop: Jervis Bay.
Jervis Bay is a unique place, not only for its sheer beauty, protected waters, and award-winning national park, but also for the story behind it.
As we know, Federation occurred on January 1st, 1901. The Commonwealth of Australia was established, Canberra was selected in 1908 as the nation's capital, and the building of the city commenced in 1913. The capital needed to have some access to the water and as such, the Jervis Bay Territory was surrendered by NSW in 1911 and became part of the ACT.
Captains Point on the south end of Jervis Bay was selected as a site for the Royal Australian Naval College, that later became HMAS Creswell. The base is surrounded by Booderee National Park, which distinguished itself in 2010 by being the first Australian destination to win the prestigious Virgin Responsible Tourism Award.
Booderee National Park, managed by Parks Australia and the local Wreck Bay Aboriginal community, is a pristine area of wonderful beaches and coastal landscapes that offer visitors bushwalking, free-camping, bird watching, swimming and fishing. Another unique aspect of the park is that it's home to Booderee Botanic Gardens, which is the only Aboriginal-owned botanic gardens in Australia. It's a great place to explore and learn about hundreds of native flora and discover their significance to the local indigenous communities.
The ill-fated Cape St George Lighthouse is also located in the Park and is a must-visit site for those interested in history and the plight of mankind. The lighthouse was constructed in 1860 without consultation with the Pilots Board, and as such was not visible from the northern approach to Jervis Bay and barely visible from the south.
The keepers and their families were prone to disasters. Typhus fever, pleurisy, drownings, cliff falls, horse kicks to the head and the most tragic of all, the death of a 10-year-old girl after she was playing with a rifle that discharged. A visit to the lighthouse and reading these stories will help you appreciate the determination of the pioneering families. We often forget how isolated these places were 150 years ago, especially given the only way in or out was by horse and cart or by ship.
I remember the first time I visited Jervis Bay. I was amazed at the natural beauty of the beaches and surrounds, but what surprised me more was that the place wasn't crowded. The area (JB National Park and Booderee National Park) is well managed to limit overcrowding – they run a ballot system for the limited number of camp places.
We stayed overnight at the Green Patch, one of two places open to RVs. It's located next to one of the most beautiful beach settings there is. Despite its beauty and great location, it's one of those places where you are corralled into predefined places that are only five metres from each other and open. It's very popular, for obvious reasons, and fills up very quickly.
Despite giving the feeling of isolation and remoteness, it's well serviced for the visitor with a general store in the Jervis Bay Village, as well as Vincentia, which is a good-sized town with plenty of shops, cafes and a supermarket, so it's worth a visit. They also run whale watching cruises out of there.
Jervis Bay is reputed to have the whitest sands in the world, which is the reason so many advertisements are filmed there. The sand also has that wonderful squeaky quality when you walk over it.
I am one who never likes to retrace my steps while travelling, hence my penchant for seeking out touring loops. And my next destination is one of my favourite inclusions to any travels south of Sydney: Kangaroo Valley.
It was described as a place "no painter could beautify", back in 1812 when George Evans (Surveyor and Explorer) first laid his eyes on this remarkable valley. Anyone who visits will certainly agree with Evan's first impressions, as it's a truly remarkable and beautiful setting. There is a wonderful feel about Kangaroo Valley – the geomorphology provides an amazing energy and many are drawn to its spiritual power as well. It's no surprise that many describe it as the most beautiful valley in Australia. Access for caravans is only possible from the south, via Nowra, or from the north, via Bowral and Fitzroy Falls.
Part of the southern highlands, Kangaroo Valley is a gently sloping, wide east to west valley, surrounded on all sides by the towering mountains of the NSW Southern Highlands. It's an ideal Sydney weekender destination with must-see attractions like Fitzroy Falls, Berry, Moss Vale, Bowral and Mittagong. The high sandstone escarpment envelopes the lush green pastures. The pristine creeks and rivers and the verdant rainforest combine to create the perfect escape.
Kangaroo Valley was formed when the Kangaroo River (and its tributaries) slowly carved a deep valley into the southern end of the Sydney basin, below the towering Hawkesbury and Nowra sandstone cliffs. The resultant valley floor has deep and fertile alluvial soils that support dairy and beef agribusinesses and the beautiful riverside vegetation. Also located in Kangaroo Valley is the much photographed Hampden Bridge, the oldest suspension bridge in Australia.
For those visiting Kangaroo Valley there's no shortage of things to see and do and the town offers the traveller a great array of shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants and a great hotel. One of the most popular activities when visiting the valley is to go canoeing along the river. There are several businesses to hire equipment from, and many offer group and guided tours.
While there is a great caravan park, conveniently located in the town, there's a little gem a few kilometres to the north of the river – Bendeela Campground. Set beside the beautiful Kangaroo River, Bendeela is a great free-camping spot with basic amenities (no fires) and lots a space and grassed areas. From Christmas to Easter, the managers of the picnic area and campground open up a larger camping area with more access to a beautiful stretch of the river.
Visiting mid-week and avoiding the school holidays meant there were only about five other RVers in the campground, which highlighted the experience. It's one of the best ways to see this wonderful free-camping area.
With only a short drive back to Sydney, it's possible to leave your departure as late as possible. This enabled me to share with Elenor my second 'wow' vista. The scenery in Kangaroo Valley is normally spectacular, but during the late afternoon on certain days it's exquisite. It's all about timing. So we pulled up a piece of ground under a tree and waited for nature to do its thing… and we weren't disappointed.
Kiama is 130km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway. Jervis Bay is 200km south of Sydney and 230km north-east of Canberra via Braidwood. Kangaroo Valley is 43km south of Mittagong (Hume Highway) which is 120km from the south of Sydney along the Hume Highway.
• Walk the Kiama Coastal Trail.
• Visit the Booderee Botanic Gardens.
• Visit Booderee National Park and go bushwalking.
• Explore Kangaroo Valley village, classified by the National Trust.
• Walk across Hampden Bridge, a grand medieval design suspension bridge and picnic by the river.
• Go kayaking or canoeing to the upper reaches of the Kangaroo River.
• Take your time to wander through the galleries and antique shops in the village.
• Drive up to Cambewarra Mountain lookout for the best ocean and valley views.
• Get a National Parks guide to explore the many graded bushwalks in the valley.
BOODEREE NATIONAL PARK
Village Road, Jervis Bay
Ph: (02) 4443 0977
Bendeela camping grounds
Ph: 1300 722 468
JERVIS BAY VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
11 Dent Street, Huskisson, NSW 2540
Ph: (02) 4441 5999
KANGAROO VALLEY VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
10 Marshall Street, Kangaroo Valley, NSW 2577
Ph: (02) 4465 1175
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY SIMON BAYLISS