Mark Chipperfield finds a weekend away on the coast brings some southern comfort.
Escaping to the coast has been the holiday of choice for urban Australians for much of the past century. For those living in Sydney and Canberra, the preferred holiday destination has been that beautiful stretch of beach, bush and birdsong from Wollongong to Eden - the South Coast.
Although the New Year's Eve bushfires ravaged parts of the hinterland, many of these famous coastal towns, such as Ulladulla, Batemans Bay and Narooma, were largely undamaged and are keen to welcome new visitors.
So whether you dream of snorkelling in Jervis Bay, surfing at Broulee, tasting Clyde River oysters or dining out at Rick Stein's place in Mollymook, it's all still here.
Even those communities directly impacted by the bushfires, such as Mogo and Nelligen near Batemans Bay, are now starting to rebuild. Many small businesses have already re-opened.
Famous for its pristine national parks, jaw-dropping beaches and sparkling waterways, the South Coast is an evolving story, with exciting new places to stay, fantastic local cuisine and a huge range of outdoor activities.
Here is an example of what you can pack into a two-day itinerary. So isn't it time you returned to the coast?
Nestled around a magnificent estuary, Batemans Bay should be your first port of call on arrival in the South Coast. This bustling coastal town offers plenty of affordable accommodation options and has a growing reputation for its food scene; the local seafood, including Clyde River oysters, is excellent. Innes Boathouse, which operates its own trawler, serves up the freshest and most delicious fish and chips. The Oyster Shed on Wray Street is another family-owned business celebrated for its fresh seafood. But if you are looking for a great coffee and a healthy snack, pull up a chair at Nourish On North, which opens for breakfast and lunch.
If you fancy a dip head, over to Corrigans Beach, while Surf, McKenzies and Malua Bay beaches offer the best waves. Broulee, 20 kilometres south, is another popular surf break. For something a little more laidback, drive over to Mossy Point - a great spot for kayaking, cycling and hiking. There is pleasant swimming at Candlagen Creek and a popular cafe on the point.
If you can drag yourself away from the beach, hop in the car and drive south to Narooma. It's a popular stepping-off point for Montague Island, a wildlife reserve home to fur seals, little penguins and many native bird species. The island is a popular spot for snorkelling and whale watching. On the return leg to Batemans Bay, spend a little time in Moruya. This compact little township also provides access to some of the region's loveliest beaches. To learn more about the area's Aboriginal heritage follow the Bingi Dreaming track. Nearby, Deua National Park is a mecca for campers, bird-watchers and hikers.
Halfway between Moruya and Batemans Bay is the gold-rush village of Mogo which was badly affected by the New Year's bushfires, but is definitely open for business again. Thanks to the heroic efforts of its staff, nearby Mogo Wildlife Park also survived the devastating fires. Home to exotic species such as zebras, giraffes and white rhinos, the wildlife park is due to reopen soon - check its website (mogozoo.com.au) for an update.
After-dark activities in Batemans Bay mostly revolve around the dinner table. Visitors will find plenty of dining options from modern-Australian cuisine to traditional Italian fare and mouth-watering Asian dishes. Sam's Pizzeria on the Waterfront serves authentic wood-fired pizza and is a big hit with families. Nearby, Kohlis Indian Restaurant provides a tasty introduction to the sub-continent, with spicy curries and tandoori grills. After 20 years in business, Starfish Deli is something of a local institution and occupies an impressive waterfront site. The menu covers everything from risotto to pizza and burgers, but the real star here is the local seafood.
Finish the evening with a nightcap at the Bayview Hotel, a friendly local with a spacious beer garden. Alternatively, kick back with the latest blockbuster at Perry Street Cinemas which screens a good range of movies. Before bed, take a stroll along the foreshore and enjoy the sight of the bay bathed in moonlight and the distant sound of breakers.
Driving north of Batemans Bay, aim for Jervis Bay and its deservedly popular white sand beaches and buzzy communities. En route spend some time exploring Ulladulla, Mollymook and Milton.
Thanks to British chef Rick Stein, the fishing port of Ulladulla is now one of the foodie hotspots in NSW. His signature Mollymook restaurant, Rick Stein at Bannisters, is a delightful place for lunch, with a dazzling array of seafood dishes.
For something a little more rustic drop into Cupitt's Estate for some wine-tasting and a casual lunch overlooking the vines. The property also boasts its own brewery and fromagerie.
Continue your drive to Jervis Bay, stopping at Milton for some window-shopping and maybe afternoon tea at one of the many cafes. This pretty heritage village has a number of art galleries, and pottery and antique shops.
After a busy morning, it's time to kick back on one of the many small coves that dot Booderee National Park. Occupying the southern headland of Jervis Bay, the park is popular with swimmers, snorkellers and walkers. Don't miss the magnificent botanic gardens, where you can learn about bush tucker from a local Koori guide. In June and July, migrating whales can be seen from the ruins of Cape St George lighthouse.
Later in the afternoon drive back to Hyams Beach, just outside the park, for a quick snack at the sunny village cafe before continuing north to Huskisson, a bustling coastal town packed with funky cafes, gift shops and surf-wear outlets. The bay is home to colonies of bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and little penguins; a number of wildlife cruises operate out of Huskisson.
For something a little more energetic hire a kayak or join a guided paddle tour to Booderee National Park or St Georges Basin. Snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing are popular, while stand-up paddleboards are available from SUP With George.
With its busy dining scene Huskisson is the place to be when the sun goes down. First stop is the Huskisson Hotel (aka the Husky), which offers family dining, live music and ocean views from the deck. For a glimpse of pre-internet Australia, catch a movie at Huskisson Pictures, a small timber cinema which has screened movies since the 1950s.
Meanwhile, craft-beer lovers should visit Jervis Bay Brewing, which makes a small range of ales, lagers and pilsners, plus a raspberry wheat beer called the Loveboat. The beer garden is the buzziest place in town. Another microbrewery, Flamin' Galah Brewery on Scallop Street, is due to open its doors in the coming weeks.
Dining options in Huskisson include longstanding names such as Wildginger, 5 Little Pigs and Stonegrill. For something a little more outback, The Gunyah is a modern dining space set in the bushland of Paperbark Camp, an eco-tourism venture on the banks of Currambene Creek.
Note: Before you leave check your route on livetraffic.com and keep updated on bushfire activity via the RFS Fires Near Me app or Bushfire Information Line (1800 679 737).
Five towns worth leaving the coast for
Most people associate Bungendore with antique shops and teahouses but this beautifully preserved colonial township rewards anyone who is willing to explore a little further. How about joining a black truffle hunt at Turalla Truffles or tasting some biodynamic wines at Lark Hill?
Stock up on regional produce at the Southern Harvest Farmers Market, held every Saturday. Bungendore is also packed with galleries and artisans' workshops, including Bungendore Wood Works Gallery. Be sure to drop into the historic Carrington Inn, which dates back to 1885.
Packed with colonial-era buildings and gold rush folklore, Braidwood is an obvious choice for anyone who wants to break the drive from Canberra to the South Coast. First surveyed in 1839, Braidwood is one of the oldest country towns in NSW and has featured in many Australian movies including Ned Kelly and The Year My Voice Broke.
Apart from its delightful 19th-century architecture the town offers several exciting culinary experiences - from Sully's Cider and Dogo Bread to Terra Preta Truffles. If you want to stay overnight, Braidwood has a good range of motels, hotels, campsites and cosy B&Bs.
Nestled in the heart of the Great Dividing Range, this atmospheric ghost town is a pleasant distraction for travellers en route to the South Coast. You can access Araluen using a sealed road south of Braidwood or, for the more adventurous, on a dirt track from Majors Creek.
The township was once a thriving settlement with a school, shops and productive orchards. Today the population has dwindled to less than 200. Most people come here to picnic besides the Araluen River and for a spot of gold panning.
Located just 16 kilometres from Braidwood, this historic goldmining town provides a small window into the district's colourful past. Majors Creek was the centre of intense gold-mining activity from 1851 to 1900 - and remains of these workings can still be seen.
In the 1860s, bushrangers such as Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert and the Clarke Brothers roamed the countryside, robbing, shooting and causing general mayhem. There are several significant buildings dating from that time, including St Stephens Church and the Elrington Hotel, which offers food and accommodation. The town hosts a biennial folk and roots music festival each November.
This picturesque settlement on the banks of the Clyde River is celebrated for its connection to those notorious bushrangers called the Clarke Gang. You can still see the tree where they were chained up before being transported to Sydney for execution in 1867. A self-guided walk links most of Nelligen's heritage sites.
Just nine kilometres inland from Batemans Bay, the town is a popular spot for fishing, boating and hiking. The 30-kilometre Corn Walk Trail is a great way to explore the surrounding countryside, with plenty of challenging sections. Alternatively, hire a houseboat and enjoy the tranquillity of life on the river.
Fly: Canberrans can fly to Moruya or Merimbula via Sydney. Rex operates daily flights to Moruya from $238 return and to Merimbula from $334. See rex.com.au
Bus: Murrays offers a fast daily coach service from Canberra to several South Coast destinations, including Broulee, Batemans Bay, Narooma and Malua Bay. Return adult fares from $37.50. See murrays.com.au
Train: NSW Trainlink operates a service from Central station in Sydney to Kiama, with onward connections to Berry. Travel time is three hours. See transport.nsw.info