When people say Shoalhaven, they tend to think Jervis Bay and Hyams Beach, but this stretch of coastline roughly 200 kilometres south of Sydney is made up of a seriously good-looking string of seaside villages. Here’s how to make the most of it.
1. Give the 100 Beach Challenge a go
A trip to the Shoalhaven without stopping off at Jervis Bay is tantamount to going to Paris and not checking out the Eiffel Tower. Renowned for having some of the whitest sand in the world, the best way to experience it is on the White Sands Walk which takes you past an array of dazzling beaches including Chinamans, Seamans and Hyams. After a little more privacy? There are plenty more to explore – 100 more, in fact.
The 100 Beach Challenge is a clever way of pointing out the area’s many beaches, such as the secluded Barfleur beach which backs onto Plantation Point Reserve, Callala beach and bay with its sand forests or Murrays in Booderee National Park, that all share the same crystal-blue waters and white sands as those you’ll see on the White Sands Walk– sans crowds.
If you take the ‘challenge’ out of the title you’ll see it isn’t a competition, rather a self-guided itinerary of what’s on offer. Download the app to guide you via geo-location or, if you prefer the old school map, you’ll find it on the back of the visitor guide.
For those who do want to take the ‘challenge’ part seriously, the best time so far is 100 beaches in three days.
2. Take advantage of the lighthouse lookouts
Like any self-respecting, picturesque coastal hideaway, the Shoalhaven is home to lighthouses. Yes, more than one. Crookhaven Heads Lighthouse, just east of Nowra on the south side of the entrance to the Shoalhaven River, is a brick building that went up in 1904 to replace the original timber structure; Warden Head Lighthouse in Ulladulla boasts ocean views that stretch from Jervis Bay to Bawley Point; peer down from Point Perpendicular Lighthouse’s perch on an 80-metre-high cliff into the clear waters below and you might spot a school of fish; or visit the heritage-listed ruins of Cape St George Lighthouse in Booderee National Park.
Visit anytime from May through to November for a chance to see the whales’ migration but, for a better vantage point, arrange your stay between September and October. This is when the mums bring their babies in for a pit-stop at Jervis Bay where they indulge in some breaching and tail slapping practice before they fill up on fish and continue down south.
3. Take a leisurely stroll down the slow food trail
Snails are usually something to avoid, but here you’ll want to keep an eye out for the ‘Snail of Approval’: the symbol of the Slow Food South Coast movement. You’ll find it affixed to farm gates, and on the outside of at least 70 local providores and restaurants, meaning you can create your own South Coast foodie trail.
The taste of your holiday will depend on the season you visit. In April and May, pick and roast chestnuts at Sassafras Nuts; from October to February stock up on peaches, nectarines and plums from Martin’s Orchard; and December and January is berry-picking season at Clyde River Berry Farm. Or time your visit to coincide with one of four local farmers’ markets.
For organic, ethically grown Angus Beef, ask Brooman Farm Co near Milton to deliver straight to your holiday house and, for the entree, pick up a few oysters direct from the leases at Jim Wild’s Oysters at Greenwell Point.
Most of the restaurants in the region subscribe to the paddock-to-plate ethos. Check out Silos Estate, which is set on a winery complete with alpacas; Cupitt’s Winery that has a restaurant and brewery attached; Kraken Sourdough for bread and pastries; and the famous Berry Donut Van for piping-hot cinnamon doughnuts made to order.
4. Explore the region’s art trails
When you think of vibrant street-art communities, Shoalhaven probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But, by teaming up with some of the area’s best up-and-coming street artists, the commercial centre has had an injection of much-needed cool.
You’ll find eight cultural trails in the area, taking in the murals dotted around the CBD, with each one highlighting a part of the area’s history – from its roots as a fishing village to its Aboriginal heritage, and local legend Arthur Boyd.
All that walking whets an appetite, so perk yourself up with locally roasted coffee at Hyper Hyper Coffee and stop for lunch at Wharf Rd Restaurant and Bar. A modern eatery, the folks here champion local produce such as Wagyu beef from nearby farms – dry-aged on the premises in a custom Himalayan salt brick coolroom – and Pacific oysters from Goodnight Oysters at Greenwell Point.
5. Get back to nature with a farm stay
There aren’t a lot of accommodation options that boast about having no wi-fi or 4G dark spots, but if you want to disconnect this is the perfect opportunity.
Mt Hay Retreat in Berry offers secluded luxury accommodation with an indoor heated pool and spa, while the self-contained mud-brick houses at Narawilly Farm Cottages in Milton will satisfy those after something a little simpler. Families should head to The Woods Farm in Jervis Bay where kids can feed miniature goats, horses, chickens and more, while those who pined for a pony when they were a kid will enjoy the equine program at The Cedar Lodge.
6. Learn the art of aperitivo
It’s not just city slickers who can enjoy an aperitivo to end the day. In the country, it’s more commonly referred to as a sundowner, but the ethos is the same – a drink with snacks to commemorate another day done.
For cocktails, it’s hard to beat Bannisters by the Sea in Mollymook. Choose between the rooftop bar at Bannisters Pavilion or the classic Pool Bar at the main resort, which won best small bar at the Savour Australia Restaurant and Catering Awards in 2017.
7. Get a local to show you around
Yes, the locals are friendly, but we’re not suggesting you knock on any old door in town. Rather, choose one of the local tour operators. Chris from Big Nature Adventures in Milton will tailor a trip to you – like a visit to The Castle, Byangee Walls or the Shrouded Gods in Morton National Park. Let him lead the way into the wilderness, so you can relax and take it all in.