The Ultimate NSW South Coast Road Trip
Hit the open road and experience oysters, wine tasting and designer accommodation.
Sydney to Gerringong
The entire South Coast of New South Wales dazzles, but nature’s drama is dialled up the moment one departs Sydney’s hustle and enters the Royal National Park—the oldest of its kind in Australia.
Just an hour’s drive south of the CBD, this remarkable backdrop unites beaches and rainforest, waterfalls, rock pools and sheer cliffs across 15,000 hectares. Pause at Governor Game Lookout to spot crimson rosellas and yellow-tailed black cockatoos, plus migrating whales if touring from May through to November.
The next stretch of road is arguably one of the country’s most scenic: the 140-kilometre Grand Pacific Drive, which begins on a literal high note—the Sea Cliff Bridge snaking 40 metres above the pounding ocean below. The whole of this section is a joy though, especially when plundering the roads in a piece of elevated automotive engineering.
The road south carves through the city of Wollongong, where refreshments of the gourmet kind are dished up at Babyface, its cutesy name belying a seriously grown-up dining room that serves sophisticated combinations such as malawach (a flaky Yemenite bread) with taramasalata and brown trout caviar, or scarlet prawns with oyster emulsion.
Sated, continue around Lake Illawarra and through Shellharbour to Kiama. Yes, the quaint seaside town is known for its natural assets (that ocean blowhole breaks world records), but its boutiques and eateries are also worth the detour. If planning on self-catering, be sure to stop past Flour Water Salt for housemade tomato kasundi, marinated baby figs and the best sourdough you will ever break into.
The debut accommodation options unite style and sustainability in equal measure. Dovecote sits on a working cattle farm in Gerringong, its two high-drama lodges (The Headland and The Range) decked out with fireplaces and outdoor cinemas, heated pool and wine fridge. There are no communal facilities, but you can call upon the services of a massage therapist, sommelier and chef to see you through the night.
Alternatively, in Gerroa, The Shed sits pretty on a perch overlooking Walkers Beach. The dreamy, architect-designed space sleeps 10, with niceties like an open fire, pool and gourmet kitchen. Or nearby, renowned Sydney architect Espie Dodds has crafted Ocean Farm, its bucolic setting replete with infinity pool outshone only by impeccably curated living spaces.
Gerringong to Shoalhaven Heads
Drive onward toward Shoalhaven Heads to sip your way down the South Coast’s unofficial wine trail—because bubbles are permitted at breakfast, right?
Mountain Ridge Wines’ on-site restaurant opens early and serves decadent morning and midday meals alongside monthly market-garden dinners and cellar-door tastings. Visit Coolangatta Estate for a wine-tasting paddle (the semillon is highly awarded) and charcuterie board in the garden, then Two Figs Winery on the banks of the Shoalhaven for a perfectly chilled flute of Blanc de Blanc.
Given that heightened and favoured private estates such as Linnaeus Farm require more than single nights, backtrack to the coast to the ease of Bangalay Villas. Here the 16 standalone lodges exude style, their northern outlook guaranteeing a stream of sunshine over furnishings hewn from the pages of a glossy magazine. Watch the day disappear from the back of shiny Regal Riding School thoroughbreds trotting along Seven Mile Beach, before sitting down to a meal prepared by chef Simon Evans at on-site Bangalay Dining. Evans and his team hero native ingredients like warrigal greens, beach mustard, saltbush, turkey rhubarb, oxalis, seablite and samphire, all found within a kilometre of the restaurant.
Shoalhaven Heads to Jervis Bay
Cross over the Shoalhaven River for a breakfast heart-starter at Jim’s Wild Oysters, where you can sit by the water and enjoy prawns alongside freshly shucked rock and Pacific oysters.
A short drive south at Jervis Bay, powdery coves meet sapphire seas, and resident dolphins dance in the waves. Book a private charter with Discover Jervis Bay to meet these playful mammals in their habitat: the Jervis Bay Marine Park. This part of the world also attracts penguins, fur seals and whales during migration. Back on dry land, discover some of the most blinding beaches in the world on the White Sands Walk, a 90-minute loop linking Vincentia and Greenfield Beach. Allow plenty of time to sink into the squeaky shores of Instagram star Hyams Beach en route.
Check in to the magical Paperbark Camp to sleep in elevated safari-style glamping tents, set amid eucalypts and fashioned with wraparound decks, hardwood flooring, tubs overlooking
native forest and private ensuites. Your dinner tonight is at the retreat’s applauded restaurant, The Gunyah, where a three-course meal might feature barbecued cuttlefish with black lentils, or slow-cooked lamb flavoured with saltbush.
Jervis Bay to Mollymook
Begin the day in Booderee National Park, where visitors can explore Australia’s only Aboriginal-owned botanic gardens. The focus here is on native flora, so you
can taste “bush tucker” and discover the Koori people’s medicinal plants. Lunch is at Cupitt’s Estate: part winery, part brewery, part fromagerie, part farm. At the restaurant and cellar door, register for a matched cheese-and-wine experience or a cheesemaking workshop, and look forward to vivid dreams.
Cupitt’s boasts boutique cottages if you can’t bear to leave, but it’s worth driving the short distance on to Bannisters Pavilion in Mollymook. The Hamptons-esque Penthouse is the epitome of coastal chic, from spacious terrace to designer fireplace. Head to the rooftop for cocktails beside the cantilevered pool, before dinner at the hotel’s sister property nearby.
Beloved chef Rick Stein knows how to cook seafood. And it stars at his eponymous restaurant at Bannisters by the Sea. His nuanced fish stew is laden with mussels, prawns, snapper and ling, while braised ham and Oberon pine mushrooms give pizazz to the roasted swordfish casserole.
Mollymook to Eden
Hard as it is to drag yourself away from Bannisters’ cushy beds, Eden awaits three hours south. First stop is the hamlet of Bawley Point, possessing an ethereal beauty with its cliff shouldered beaches and serene Termeil Lake. A similar outlook adorns Pebbly Beach, where the sand is so pretty that even the local eastern grey kangaroos can’t stay away, and are often spotted lolloping beside (or in) the surf.
You’re now on the “Oyster Coast”, which means briny Clyde River molluscs at the Oyster Shed or Pearly Oyster Bar, where you can sample Sydney rock oysters as well as native angasi, farmed here. If you need a break in culinary scenery, pull up a chair at Dulcie’s Cottage in Merimbula. This establishment occupies historic grounds, its quirky décor the perfect accompaniment to bulging burgers: such creations repeatedly see it take home the title of “Regional Bar of the Year”.
You’re now fully fuelled to make it to Currajong Retreat, a safari-style tented camp that’s the gem of the Sapphire Coast. Unbroken views over the Towamba River, standalone alfresco tubs, woodburning stoves, loaded breakfast hampers and rain showers all add up to an opulent nature-inspired cocoon. Dinner is included in your stay, or instead head to Banksia Restaurant just south in Pambula for Italian-inspired degustations.
Eden to Kangaroo Valley
It’s time to head back north, with a detour through the idyllic village of Kangaroo Valley—take a stroll through the 1870-built main street and poke around whimsically curated stores and cafés. Paddle down the Kangaroo River in a kayak, or hike to Fitzroy Falls in nearby Morton National Park. You’ve earnt a treat from the legendary Famous Berry Donut Van.
When it comes time to bed down, it’s hard to look past Barranca. The four luxe villas here are set on an escarpment with views that defy imagination. Book in for private yoga or forest bathing sessions, forage for mushrooms or truffles, or simply bliss out with a massage. Nearby is Ooralba, a sprawling private estate with an on-call chef, butler, housekeeping and concierge. The interior is impressive, but the garden setting steals the scene with its topiary maze, orchards, olive groves and tea house.
Your toughest decision? Which route to take home to Sydney tomorrow.
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October 12, 2021