Chris Smith gets over his fear of NSW coastal towns in the small and scenic enclave of Gerringong.
I have a confession to make: I’m tiring of the east coast of Australia! Not the cities or larger towns, where there’s an effort being made to improve what’s on offer and entice travellers.
But those sleepy villages that are locked into their 1970s time warp… I don’t want to be too disparaging, but you know the scene: the same crumby restaurants, greasy fish and chip shops, hoons down the main drag, expensive grocery stores, and caravan parks that haven’t changed the pool water in 30 years.
Which is why I was very reluctant, recently, at the prospect of being dragged by my wife to another sleepy hamlet on the South Coast of NSW called Gerringong. The name translates in the local Aboriginal language to “fearful place” and I was definitely feeling the fear as we drove south of Wollongong to the “little Gong”.
My memories of Gerringong dated back to the ’70s and ’80s when my holiday bar was quite low. I recall how ghostly the town was on weekends, how basic the Gerroa caravan park was and how infatuated we were as kids to go to the pub owned by Parramatta league great Mick Cronin. There wasn’t much more beyond that.
Well hold the handbrake! All is not lost on the east coast because Gerringong delivers!
I’d forgotten how heavenly Seven Mile Beach is: its length ensures an almost private experience.
Gerringong’s main street has now been beautified, and contains some superbly creative cafés and restaurants, some with views of the coast. What a treat it was to stone-grill a platter of fresh surf and turf at the Anchor Inn. Yum.
The surf shop is a two-storey wonderland for the boardshort brigade: the best I’ve been in for boards and beachwear.
The biggest surprise came when we checked into what was formerly Bellachara Boutique Hotel. Newly rendered, redesigned and renamed, Mercure Resort Gerringong By The Sea is an absolute treasure, with its restaurant, wine garden, kids’ club, two pools and day spa.
Then there is the golf. Yes it’s a bush course, where boundary riders like me battle with rabbits in the briars, but this is Australia’s answer to Pebble Beach in California. At least I felt it was, as I caressed the ball over clifftop fairways that overlook a pristine beach.
Even the old Boat Fisherman’s Club has been spruced up and captures a breathtaking view of Seven Mile Beach and Shoalhaven Heads. Coupled with its cheap beer, it’s a magnificent way to watch the sunset.
And have you ever tasted wine grown in a sea spray? That’s what’s on offer at the picturesque Crooked River Winery, where the restaurant overlooks a green valley, with ocean glimpses. Try the pork belly for lunch – it’s beautiful.
And so I’ve regained my respect for the east coast, thanks to the “fearful place”. But the locals are keen to keep their nirvana secret, so please don’t spread the word. Just go yourself!
To find out more about Gerringong, go to visitnsw.com