Many Australians felt their efforts to aid those suffering from the bushfire disaster were miserably inadequate as flames ravaged swathes of land and swallowed homes in NSW, SA and ACT. But the power to help those affected is firmly in our hands.
As the ash settles and the fires dwindle into containment, it’s time to launch our relief campaign and support communities through their heartbreaking losses.
And the best way to bolster recovery is simply to jump in the car and embark on a local road trip. The south coast of NSW, although badly scorched, is ready and waiting to welcome visitors with open arms. This is the first of many articles that we will be publishing to help you plan your trips to the other affected regions in Vic, SA, ACT and NSW. Book some annual leave, throw your bags, kids, and dogs in the car and follow our bushfire relief road trip itinerary.
Just remember to pack light and buy your groceries, drinks, and supplies locally in these recovering towns – your money will help these communities find their feet and feel more optimistic about the future.
Sydney to Jervis Bay (drive time: three hours, 20 minutes)
This road trip loops from Sydney to Jervis Bay and back again. But if you’re travelling south to north, you could easily pivot this itinerary around Eden.
The stunning Shoalhaven town of Jervis Bay is a playground comprising crystalline waters and white sands. Fringed by Booderee National Park and Jervis Bay Marine Park, this is a veritable paradise for nature lovers, surfers and – from May to October – whale-watching enthusiasts.
Whether you’re keen for casual frolicking or serious underwater adventure, the dazzling water off the coast of Jervis Bay beckon: head to the marine park and book yourself in for a snorkel or dive session. When all that saltwater action has worked up a ravenous hunger, head to The Huskisson Hotel for good, coastal pub fare or refuel with an Aussie-style burger and milkshake at Hyams Beach Store and Cafe.
Start your trip on a luxe note with a night or two glamping at stunning Paperbark Camp, where you can truly appreciate the unique importance of your bushland surrounds. You can also immerse yourself in the coastal experience at Bangalay Villas Shoalhaven Heads or, for something more casual, book a tiny cabin at Huskisson’s Holiday Haven White Sands.
Jervis Bay to Milton (one hour), then Milton to Batemans Bay (one hour)
Your final destination today is beautiful Batemans Bay. But relax and take it easy; there’s no hurry to get there. It is, after all, about the journey, so rise early and thread your way through the historic village of Milton, enjoying a stroll and stopping for coffee and cake at Brown Sugar cafe.
Navigate your way to the hills behind Milton for lunch and you’ll be rewarded with a wine-and-dine experience in the hinterland at Cupitt’s Estate. We do recommend, however, you have the ‘designated driver conversation’ before you start your meal. Once you’re suitably fed and quenched, it’s just an hour’s drive to Batemans Bay. Do it right and time this leg so as to arrive for a restorative afternoon swim.
Make sure you build in some time to sample at least one of the many culinary gems dotted around Milton and the neighbouring towns of Mollymook and Ulladulla. This area is well-endowed with excellent eateries, from the sleek and polished Rick Stein at Bannisters and Tallwood in Mollymook to Milton’s inviting Harvest Bar and Ulladulla’s Maverick Coffee. The Ruse overlooking Ulladulla Harbour opened a few days before Christmas and the new restaurant and bar could do with some love.
The next leg of the south coast NSW itinerary steers visitors into Batemans Bay for the night. But if you’re altogether captivated by Milton and its surroundings, you can opt to bed down at nearby Surfside Cudmirrah Beach. If you are continuing on, however, there’s a good chance you’ll arrive late in Batemans Bay. Know that when you do turn up, you’ll be warmly greeted at The Esplanade. So chic is this five-star boutique hotel that you’ll likely want to add a second night. But what are road trips, if not flexible, right?
Day three and four
Good morning Batemans Bay! Before you put tyre to bitumen on the Bay to Bermagui leg (one hour, 26 minutes), we strongly suggest you spend a good portion of the day exploring this idyllic town in the heart of Australia’s Oyster Coast. You might choose to do so by bike and pedal your way along the Batemans Bay cycleway, or perhaps you will decide to paddle along as part of a kayak tour in the gentle waters of the Batemans Bay Marine Park. Whatever you decide, be sure to block out some time for a solid beach session.
Continue onto Bermagui on the stunning Sapphire Coast. This picturesque harbour town is well known for its impossibly fresh seafood and deep-sea game fishing. While you may not be here to throw a line out, you can certainly indulge in the catch of the day at the Bermagui Fishermen’s Wharf.
If you’re travelling with mini humans, we advise you swing through historic Mogo and pay a visit to Mogo Zoo before continuing onto Bermagui. Be sure to check the website before you visit because unfortunately, at the time of writing, the zoo was temporarily closed due to the bushfires.
Buy groceries locally and enjoy a barbecue by the pool at The Anchorage Bermagui before retiring to your self-contained apartment.
Bermagui to Merimbula (70 minutes), then Merimbula to Eden (25 minutes) is the next stretch. Rise and get the day off to a shining start with some baked delights from Bermagui’s Honorbread. One you’ve inhaled some delicious carbs, head to the famous Blue Pool just off Pacific Drive for an invigorating dip. The pool is still worth a visit in the cooler months as it offers a great vantage point for whale-spotting.
It’s time to roll on to pretty Merimbula, arriving in time for lunch at the Merimbula Wharf Aquarium and Restaurant. Here you can feed and be fed fish (not the same ones, obviously) in this remarkable location that clings to the coastline. Stop in at nearby Pambula’s Wild Rye’s Baking Co for a treat to sweeten the short drive to NSW’s most southerly town of Eden.
Eden is a town of deep beauty, where the verdant bush virtually tumbles down craggy cliffs and into the sea. It also has a fascinating whaling history, which you can explore at the Eden Killer Whale Museum and by driving the Killer Whale Trail on the Sapphire Coast. If you’re wild about whales, plan your visit in November to coincide with the Eden Whale Festival.
Head to Green Cape Lookout for mesmerising vistas from the jagged peninsula, where you might even spot a fur seal or an albatross. Join a Cat Balou cruise of Twofold Bay for a more in-depth interaction with this coastal beauty.
Set yourself up for the night at the luxe, Twofold Bay-side Seahorse Inn. Alternatively, keep it low-key at one of the many Airbnbs or camping parks.
Eden to Tathra (50 minutes) then Tathra to Narooma (70 minutes)
Sadly, it’s time to point your wheels homeward. Stop at the Eden Smokehouse before your cruise north and fill your esky with delicious local, smoked seafood.
Then it’s onward to Tathra, where you can find yourself an ocean-side picnic spot and decant the smoked goods from your esky, supplemented with some Tathra Oysters you’ve picked up on the way.
Continue northward to Narooma, where you can freshen up at the wonderful Whale Motor Inn before taking a short drive to Tilba for a lazy afternoon at the Tilba Valley Winery and Alehouse. Return to the Whale Restaurant for dinner where ex pro-surfer Matthew Hoar heads this kitchen with a cult following.
The clear waters of Narooma in the Eurobodalla region invite swimmers, surfers, snorkellers and divers into its pristine depths. But if you have the time, a must-visit itinerary item is a day trip to Montague Island. Here you’ll find incredible sealife, birdlife (including penguins) and a fur seal colony, all just nine kilometres from Narooma.
Bed down beachside at the adorable Mystery Bay Cottages, where you have your own, private four-star cottage set on a beachfront 12-hectare property.
Today is the day you will be making your way from Narooma to pretty Kiama (three hours, four minutes). It’s a decent drive, so stock up on snacks and have lunch at the Quarterdeck before you set off.
Once you arrive in Kiama, make a tour of those breath-snatching blowholes before settling into the laidback-luxe vibes at Diggies at Blowhole Point for a well-rounded afternoon of good eats and cooling cocktails.
The Kiama Coastal Walk is a 20-kilometre track that curls gently from Minnamurra River to Gerringong’s Werri Werri Beach. For such a staggeringly beautiful coast-fringed walk, it’s remarkable how under-the-radar this experience is. You needn’t do it all; simply choose the section that suits you best and be entirely captivated by this special place.
Kiama has a sparkling new boutique hotel. Complete with 32 stylish rooms, a pool, and coffee dispensed from a ‘Kombi’, Nova Kiama will bring your road trip to a well-appointed end.
It’s time for the final leg of your south coast escape. You came, you spent money, and you’ve left these communities in slightly better shape than before your visit. There’s no doubt you’re also feeling restored by this enriching experience punctuated by clear waters, astounding wildlife and resilient locals. This is what we call mutually beneficial tourism. Well played, travellers.