With its world-class whale watching, cosy cellar doors, and Slow Food-focused restaurants, the Shoalhaven on the NSW South Coast offers a tantalising winter escape, two hours’ drive from Sydney and Canberra.
Whale watching and swimming
The Shoalhaven is located at the halfway point of the annual East Coast whale migration, affectionately known as The Humpback Highway between May and November. Its unique coastline combining Jervis Bay’s translucent, still waters with dramatic headlands jutting into the deep ocean delivers a wonderful diversity of whale-watching opportunities.
Jervis Bay Marine Park, with 16 white-sand beaches, is the best spot in NSW for whale watching in calm waters. It becomes a crèche where mothers play with their babies on the return leg of the migration, from September to October.
This is where the cool waters from Bass Strait mix with the warm waters of the East Ocean Current so you’ll also see resident dolphins, the northernmost colony of Australian fur seals, little penguins, white-bellied sea eagles and albatross.
A bucket-list experience for the adventurous is to swim and snorkel with whales with Dive Jervis Bay and Woebegone Freedive , which operate under strict guidelines with the whales’ best interests at heart. Jervis Bay Wild and Dolphin Watch offer eco-cruises during the entire migration from May to November.
There are also many viewpoints along the Shoalhaven coastline that offer premium whale-watching experiences which you could combine with your morning walk. Prime spots include Penguin Head Lookout in Culburra Beach, Point Perpendicular Lighthouse in Currarong, Cape St George Lighthouse in Booderee National Park and Warden Head Lighthouse in Ulladulla.
Wineries and more
With its mild maritime climate, the Shoalhaven Wine Coast is one of Australia’s key emerging wine regions growing a diverse array of varietals including chambourcin, merlot and shiraz, semillon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Here, the white wines are fruit-driven and well-balanced while the medium-bodied reds have fine tannins and elegant fruit characters.
Most of the nine cellar doors are family owned, so when you visit you’re likely to meet the producers who might open some brand-new releases.
NSW Tourism Hall of Fame star, Cupitt’s Estate, offers the complete gourmet experience, with award-winning wines, craft beers, artisanal French-style cheeses, a farm-to-table restaurant, live music on Sundays and new luxury pod accommodation in the Ulladulla hinterland. Taste the multi-award winning Wollstonecraft Semillon from the many wines at Coolangatta Estate, the first European settlement on the NSW South Coast. You can also dine on local produce in the Wine Garden and stay overnight in one of the convict-built cottages.
Try chambourcin on a wine and cheese picnic at the off-grid Lyrebird Ridge Organic Winery or admire views of the Shoalhaven River while sampling shiraz at Two Figs Winery. Try the chardonnay/arneis blend at Mountain Ridge Wines and dine at its paddock-to-plate restaurant. In the foothills of the Kangaroo Valley, savour high tea and rosé on the lawn or in the giant tea cup at Cambewarra Estate and sample the wines, jams and nuts at Yarrawa Estate.
Popular with families are Silos Estate, close to Berry, with its engaging cellar door experience, casual restaurant and alpaca farm, and dog-friendly Bawley Vale Estate (try the sparkling rose), with its farmyard animals.
Don’t stop there. Sample also the gin, vodka and whisky from Tara Distillery, Shoalhaven’s trailblazing craft distillery, and taste beers from new craft breweries Flamin Galah Brewing Co, Husky Brewing and South Yeast Brewing and old favourites such as Dangerous Ales at the Milton Hotel, Jervis Bay Brewing Co and Cupitt’s Estate Brewery.
Unique Places to Eat:
The Shoalhaven is home to one of Australia’s largest Slow Food convivium, part of the international association that promotes local food communities. Local Slow Food founder, Rosie Cupitt ensures Cupitt’s Estate sources locally, including from its extensive kitchen garden.
Here are some more Slow Food gems.
In Milton, Alex Delly prepares sublime locally sourced dishes at his tiny Small Town Food and Wine, the Milk Haus is a friendly wholefoods café featuring just-picked produce from its kitchen garden and Duke & Co Cafe has a strong buy-local policy.
And whilst it doesnt have the official ‘snail of approval’ at Bangalay Dining in Shoalhaven heads, chef Simon Evans offers inspired creations on a menu led with locally foraged native ingredients.
Unique Places to Stay:
Cupitt’s Estate, outside Ulladulla, has recently launched its sleek offering of accommodation pods with spacious living rooms, kitchenettes, supremely comfy beds, designer bathrooms and decks.
The Jackson Ranch is Bannisters’ newest sister property with five cabins, a newly renovated event space and saloon bar tucked into 14 hectares of bushland at Bawley Point.
Bannisters by the Sea and Bannisters Pavilion in Mollymook offer serene rooms and suites in a soothing coastal palette.
Set amongst the Bangalay Sand Forest behind Seven Mile Beach in Shoalhaven Heads, Bangalay Villas has 16 private villas with fireplaces and north-facing decks with garden or golf course views.
Australia’s first glamping retreat, Paperbark Camp is a peaceful bush retreat with premium tented accommodation and an airy treetop restaurant in Jervis Bay. Five of the original tents have now converted to Deluxe Plus safari tents meaning all 13 tents at the camp boast tubs with bush views and indulgent day beds.