The 'city' of Shoalhaven in NSW, which sits south of Sydney and the Illawarra stretches from the mists of Kangaroo Valley all the way south past Pretty Beach. This region is seemingly comprised entirely of national parks, white sand beaches, biodynamic farmland and little seaside towns. Sure, Shoalhaven's weather isn’t as consistently perfect as say, Byron Bay’s, but the surfing is just as good and so is the food.
Shoalhaven is not a small region, so a car is essential. Follow the ‘scenic route’ signs along the way, and the drive may even be the highlight of your trip.
Where to stay...
Camping is usually a very cheap way to travel, provided you have your own tent, sleeping bag and an endless supply of wet wipes. It’s seldom regarded as a luxury experience. Paperbark Camp, found ten minutes’ drive from Huskisson in Jervis Bay, is the antidote to all those shoestring family camping trips (and the subsequent backache). It’s by far the most glamorous way to camp under the stars that we’ve ever experienced, from the queen bed with bamboo and cotton linen to the outdoor roll-top bath with white cotton robes and slippers.
Bannisters by the Sea
Perched on the northern headland of Mollymook Beach, overlooking nearby, more tumultuous Narrawallee Beach is a 32-room luxury hotel with near-panoramic views and a design palette that evokes warm climates everywhere from Morocco to Mexico. Bannisters by the Sea sports an astonishing infinity pool with clifftop views, set into a teak deck with a lovely little bar at the side, for when you feel like an Aperol spritz (always). Rooms have a sense of place, thanks to local landscape photography, and baskets and pendant lamps woven by Indigenous artists.
Things to do and see...
If you’ve always fancied yourself a bit of a Lara Croft type, you can put your ability to climb, swing and jump through the jungle to the test at this aerial obstacle course. You'll be ziplining through the forest, scaling rock faces by the river and dangling over a camel enclosure.
Pam Burridge Surf School
The star in Mollymook really is the beach. Get better acquainted with it by booking a surf lesson with Pam Burridge. The Australian women’s surfing pioneer has retired to the South Coast, where she coaches everyone from little frothers and absolute beginners to more established surfers.
Restaurants and cafes
Rick Stein at Bannisters
Rick Stein brings his recipes and seafood knowledge to Australia and makes use of fresh fish and shellfish from the waters South of Sydney. The menu consists almost entirely of fish based meals though there are several vegetarian and meat lover’s option every day.
Berry Organic Sourdough Cafe
In their hometown of Berry, the Berry Organic Sourdough Café make great sourdough, even better croissants and excellent sambos. This South Coast institution has three other branches in Shoalhaven and its surrounds (in Bowral, Kiama and Milton), under the name Flour Water Salt. Wherever you encounter them, they'll provide you with perfect road-trip fuel, or a welcome respite from your car, complete with chewy bread and smooth coffee.
If you’re looking for a place that was vegetarian long before it was cool Pilgrims is your jam. The Mexican-inflected café has outposts in Milton, Huskisson and as far north as Cronulla. Their veggie-burgers are so packed full of fresh produce, it’s hard to get your mouth around them, and their spicy kidney bean pie has a serious kick.