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Why A Trip To Shoalhaven NSW Is So Much More Than Just Stunning Beaches

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Shoalhaven on NSW’s South Coast is a popular spot for holidaying Sydneysiders, but you can have a completely new experience by taking time to plan a few fun adventures.

Have you ever tried to relax on a holiday, only to wind up doing the same old Netflix-on-the-couch routine? After many years travelling, I’ve come to learn that those seeking true relaxation and holiday satisfaction benefit from a dash of adventure. Push yourself with a few out-of-the ordinary activities, and your downtime is so much sweeter.

This ideal getaway is a piece of cake for Shoalhaven, a picturesque region on NSW’s South Coast. It has the best of both worlds in abundance: adventures galore – think hiking and rock climbing, cultural immersion, surfing, free diving, kayaking, snorkelling and incredible beaches and wildlife – and an indulgent edge, with gorgeous wineries, delicious eateries and luxury spas and accommodation. It’s all about balance.

But like most Sydneysiders, I’ve visited Shoalhaven before, treating the stunning beaches as the main attraction. While there’s nothing wrong with that, my recent quest for adventure opened me up to the oodles of amazing local businesses offering everything from cultural tours to surf lessons. It was a wake-up call; I’d been missing out on so much goodness, including getting to know the locals.

Here are just a few of the many relaxed adventures you can get involved with in the Shoalhaven region to experience this area with fresh eyes.

A few hours from Sydney

 

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The two to two and a half-hour drive down to Shoalhaven from Sydney is the epitome of ‘God’s Country’. Bucolic green hills roll into pristine coastline in a scene so beautiful, it’s hard to believe it’s real. But this is regular life for the lucky residents of Shoalhaven.

Teeming with wildlife, the region is made up of 49 country and coastal towns stretching from the Kangaroo Valley to Murramarang National Park. Shoalhaven is actually 70 percent national park with over 100 beaches and 20 vineyards, and the Jervis Bay area is home to 16 of those beaches like Blenheim and Hyams, boasting incredible white sand and sparkling turquoise waters.

It’s little wonder TripAdvisor recently named Shoalhaven in the 10 Emerging Destinations in the World.

Shoalhaven had a rough go during the 2019 bushfires and is now getting back to a sense of normality, so it’s a perfect time to pack the car and head off for a weekend. The best part about this area is that it can provide as much or as little adventure and indulgence as you wish.

A low-key high tea with a view

 

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On our way down to Jervis Bay, we stop off at family-run Cambewarra Estate Winery for a mid-morning high tea. The winery is low key and relaxed, and the view is magical: you’re in the foothills of Cambewarra Mountain and it’s smack bang in front of you.

The high tea is tasty, with a nice mix of freshly made sweets and pastries, with finger sandwiches and mini savoury bites like pies and spanakopita. There’s also a giant pink tea cup you can sit in to grab a pic for the ‘gram. 

Between the bay and the bush

Our accommodation, Bay and Bush Cottages, is in Woollamia, just a few minutes outside the hustle of Husskison. The eight unique self-contained properties are situated on 27 acres of unspoiled Australian bush, with Kangaroos milling about.

The previous owners created a home stay that modelled a small country town, where cabins resemble buildings like a bank, a post office, a church and a general store. They’ve now all been lovingly renovated.

The Greenfield Beach Cottage is my post for two nights and it’s spacious and comfortable. I’m touched by the thoughtful details, from the Salt By Hendrix bath products to the loveliest marshmallow roasting hamper to use by the fire (which we do that evening, under an almost-full moon). But the breakfast hampers are the most impressive: all the beautiful, mostly homemade fixings to craft your own gourmet brekkies, like buckwheat waffles with smoked trout, homemade cakes from the French chef and more.

Kayaking the bay

There’s no better way to spend a few hours in the afternoon than on a leisurely kayak around Jervis Bay’s crystal waters. Donna from Jervis Bay Kayaking and Paddlesports (who, by the way, is both friendly and freakishly strong), sent us off on our self-guided exploration, where we cruised between boats and had a stare down with some pelicans.

Depending on the time of day (and year) you kayak, you could be lucky enough to see everything like turtles, dolphins and whales on your excursion exploring the ancient mangroves, river estuaries and bay waters of the area. There are also kayaking and canoe adventures (some with canapes and wine) in the beautiful Kangaroo Valley.

Surf lessons with the best

The first time I tried surfing was in Bali a decade ago. I’d bought a pair of bike shorts at a local market to preserve some kind of modesty in front of my 19-year-old Balinese surf instructor, but after yanking and pulling them in the water, I managed rip a huge hole in them – right across my bottom. For the remainder of the lesson, the instructor chanted “Big bum! Big bum!” every time he pushed me on my board toward the shore. I’ve never really surfed since.

So the next morning, when it’s finally time to get back on a board, I immediately blurt out this story to the lovely Samantha of Currarong Surf School. After a laugh, she assured me that this lesson will be different. As she handed me my own wetsuit, it’s clear we were already off to a flying start.

Currarong Beach is protected from north-east winds and the easy breaks are a perfect choice for beginners. We began the lesson with a safety briefing and then ran through a few stand ups on the board, before heading out to sea. In between Sam and I chatting away like old friends, I managed to stand up a few times. Of course, I also eat it once or twice and wind up covered in seaweed, but that’s part of the fun.

An unforgettable afternoon learning about country

 

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Our special part of the world opens up to you in a completely new way when you learn from its traditional owners. If you’re not usually one to book an Indigenous-led bush walk, it’s definitely worth doing. My friend and I left the experience deeply impacted and still consider it the most incredible part of our epic weekend.

Matt Simms and Raymond Timbery of Djiriba Waagura run cultural tours in the area, known as Yuin Country. Our group was taken on a bush walk, where we learn about smoke ceremony, totems, instinct, lore, bush medicine, song lines and so much more. I even have my hair combed by a bush brush (also known as an Old Man Banksia).

Matt and Raymond are funny, gracious and wise, happy to share their immense and important knowledge. We end the experience with hugs all round, after their families perform traditional song and dance.

Out to sea for cliffs, caves, seals and dolphins

 

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On our final morning, we were keen to see some marine wildlife. We hopped aboard a cruiser with Jervis Bay Wild (who also do boom netting) to explore the Jervis Bay Marine Park’s caverns, sea cliffs, crystal waters and hopefully, seals and dolphins. Skipper Ken takes us out toward Point Perpendicular (a popular sunset spot) where we marvel at the this ancient sea bed that has emerged from the ocean.

It isn’t long before we could smell the seals ahead on the ‘drum and drumsticks’ rock formation. These sea pups were adorable, with half the herd sunning themselves on rocks, and the other bobbing in the ocean with a flipper out – how they thermoregulate.

We also ventured into some spiffy looking sea caves before Ken got a call about Jervis Bay’s resident pod of bottlenose dolphins, so we headed back toward Husky to try and catch a glimpse. It was the perfect way to end our time at sea: right in the bay, about 10 dolphins duck and dive around our boat on both sides. I can’t wipe the smile off my face.

Tasty eateries galore

When heading to regional areas, it’s natural to be a little nervous about the food offerings. But Shoalhaven is as much about a tasty meal and juicy vino as it is about nature.

Throughout our stay, we ate delicious Japanese food at Kanpai (including supersized Greenwell Point Pacific oysters), spent a sunny lunch chowing down on nachos from the Cheeky Taco Food Truck at Jervis Bay Brewing Co, and enjoyed a beautiful yet relaxed South East Asian feast at Wild Ginger (I’m still thinking about the fresh and punchy pork belly and slow-cooked beef cheek curry).

Because of the gorgeous breakfast hampers at Bay and Bush Cottages, we didn’t have a chance to try the multiple fab cafes in the area, so that’ll have to wait for next time.

We close out our idyllic weekend with a stop in nearby historic Berry en route to Sydney, eating at farm-to-table Harvest and then meandering the homewares boutiques. Of course, we also grab a famous Berry Donut before jumping back in the car.

The whole two and a half days left my muscles worked, mind stimulated, belly full and heart happy – the kind of getaway where you leave your usual self. And there’s still so much more to explore.

The author was invited to the region as a guest of Visit Shoalhaven.

(All images: supplied)