The article is sponsored by Destination NSW.
Rosie Jacobs takes the slow road down the NSW South Coast to find the best accommodation, restaurants and activities of this idyllic region.
It's been a while since I relived my childhood memories of travelling down the highways of NSW's idyllic and picturesque South Coast. I spent many hours as a little girl in the back of the car looking forward to making sandcastles with newfound friends.
Now, I'm returning to the region on an exploration of the small coastal towns of Eden, Pambula, Merimbula and Tathra.
What will it be like? For a start, as an adult I appreciate more what the South Coast has to offer. There are new places to stay, adventures to be had and fabulous produce to be eaten.
For families with little ones, or for those just seeking a serene escape, this is the ideal destination.
The drive from Sydney is close to six hours but from Canberra, it's a mere three-hour road trip. Driving through the towns with the window rolled down, crossing small bridges, watching pelicans take flight and the tides come and go already sets the pace for a relaxing holiday.
Nestled in a gorgeous little hamlet, the NRMA Merimbula Beach Holiday Resort is a slice of paradise for the entire family.
There are go-karts at the front door, lined up ready for action for big kids and small. These are a stone's throw from a giant waterpark with a flowing waterfall slide and a bunch of splash parks. The jumping pillow looks like it's been super-sized to match kids' wildest dreams. It's alongside a TV room, and a separate games room with pinball machines. There are also two giant pools, perfect for summer afternoons. Where were these parks when I was growing up?
The beauty of this beachside resort is the range of accommodation, including well-appointed self-contained cabins which sleep up to eight. There are 25 types of accommodation from ocean view villas to a condo by the pool.
For grey nomads, the resort has a caravan and camping area with fantastic views. Most sites have access to power and water, as well as the amenities. There's an area dedicated to motorhomes, or travellers looking to camp. There are eight different types of camping and caravan sites.
If you want the camping experience but like the luxuries of running water and electricity, the stunning safari tents sleep up to four. A new addition to the park, the safari tents overlook the ocean and make you feel like you're sleeping under the stars. The tent has a queen bed and two single beds in a cosy nook for the kids. Without forgoing the luxuries of the cabins, the tents have a kitchenette with a bar fridge, air conditioning, and a private bathroom as well as my favourite, an outdoor tub to enjoy some bubbles while taking in the sounds of the ocean.
I was lucky enough to have the entire Escape Villa to myself. With three bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as an outdoor dining area with barbecue, this is the perfect getaway for groups of friends or the family.
The accommodation is clean and simple in its decor: the blue-panelled walls juxtapose with the white linens making it a relaxing retreat after a day of activities. The Escape Villa also has a kitchen, so if you're not dining at one of the many eateries along the South Coast, you can enjoy a barbecue with the spoils you've found from local providores.
Speaking of food, when you're on the Sapphire Coast, it would be a crime to leave without sampling the local oysters. Theyre known across the country as some of the very best in Australia due to the South Coast's plankton-rich, crystal-clean waters. There are dozens of producers growing Sydney rocks, Pacifics and some of the native angasi flat oysters.
One of the best places for a meal out is Wheelers Seafood Restaurant in Pambula. Their specialty is local Merimbula Lake oysters. Aside from serving them fresh, they also offer the molluscs with traditional Kilpatrick or a refreshing Japanese dressing of pickled ginger, cucumber and wasabi aioli. My waiter encourages me to opt for natural because they are just so good. As I'm in one of the best seafood regions in Australia, the rest of dinner is fittingly house-smoked kingfish served with fresh paw-paw salad, mango and chilli salsa. If you're just popping in for a drink, take a seat at the oyster bar for a light meal and wash down those oysters with a spiced negroni.
The Waterfront Cafe in Merimbula has the best views in town. The beauty of these quaint villages is that you may well find your waiter at lunch is the same person you sat next to at dinner last night. Sitting in the sunshine on the pier overlooking the harbour, munching on vongole pasta and fresh garlic bread, life doesn't get any better.
For something more adventurous, the South Coast has a raft of activities for visitors no matter what level of fitness. I set the alarm for the crack of dawn, the best time to be on the water.
Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), might seem relaxing and calm, but it's a workout. Steve from Merimbula SUP Lessons and Tours has been guiding groups for years. I'm with a few beginners, and once we get the hang of it, Steve navigates us towards the Merimbula Bridge, past the local oyster farm and back to the beach again.
Another unique activity in the area is an interactive oyster farm tour with hilarious oyster expert Captain Sponge. A local celebrity, he will take you around the oyster farms on his small barge, teaching you everything about how they grow, how to harvest them, how to shuck them and how to truly appreciate the intricate flavours. Best served with a slice of lemon, a glass of something cool and crisp, and eaten with an appetite for discovery.
The South Coast is also known for its shops offering beautiful handmade arts and crafts. Art-lovers should check out the Art Trail or the old wares, vintage collectibles trail. Eden has the pick of the bunch for antiques; Narooma has a great range of new and used bric-a-brac; and the Bermagui markets have great retro "cool" stuff and are open seven days a week.
Whale-watching is a highlight in this southern coastal area, so be sure to book in early for the two-hour tours where whales are pretty much guaranteed. Particularly between May and November, thousands of majestic whales make their way along the coast. September is when you'll see some mothers stopping to feed their calves before heading towards Antarctica.
But like the whales, it's time to depart this beautiful place. With a belly full of seafood and a heart full of memories, the South Coast has once again rekindled childhood road trip memories.
Take me there
Drive: From Sydney to Merimbula it's a six-hour drive and from Canberra it's just under three hours. Take the scenic route down the Illawarra coast, passing through Kiama, Bateman's Bay and Narooma. From Melbourne, drive through the stunning Lakes Entrance, and Mallacoota, as well as Eden, with the brand-new port facilities now open.
Fly: A flight from Sydney is also an option, with regular Rex and QantasLink flights into Merimbula for about $380 one way. From Melbourne, the flights start from $540 and most involve a stopover at Sydney airport. Car hire is available from Merimbula airport.
Stay: Cabins and villas cost $155 to $390 per night and sleep up to eight. Safari tents are from $167 per night and can sleep up to four. Caravan sites are priced from $42 per night power, and $35 unpowered.
Explore more: caravancampingnsw.com.au/love
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This article is sponsored by Destination NSW.