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A nicer Nerriga Road trip to Nowra

By Paul Costigan - 27 April 2016 15

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While some people may enjoy the buzz of living within densely population metropolitan cities, there are definite benefits to being in Canberra and being able to head out into the country in a few minutes, rather than struggling down the crowded toll ways.

A big attraction about having the time to travel the regions around Canberra is the opportunity to observe the differences in the geographic and climatic areas on this side of Australia – being very dry in some places while predominately green in the next.

I have always sought out different ways to drive between destinations. Decades ago I ventured onto the road from Nowra via Nerriga and Braidwood as an alternative to the usual route back to Canberra. That particular journey nearly cost me my car as the roads were not as passable as colleagues had said. Much of the roads were rough dirt roads – being very basic back-country roads not meant for much through traffic. Worse still a couple of the river crossings were clumps of rocks pretending to be a road.

Move forward to 2016 and a couple of weeks ago we had the occasion to attend an exhibition event at the Shoalhaven City Art Gallery in Nowra. Even after much internet searching I remained hesitant about using that set of roads again. But I was keen to use an alternative to the usual via the Hume Highway and over to (very beautiful) Kangaroo Valley. I should not have worried so much – it was a great drive down and back – taking easily under three hours each way.

There was very little traffic about and it was so much less stressful than using any of the major highways. Given that I love trees and the changing countryside – this was one of those drives that delivered pleasure from the drive itself rather than just being a means to get from one place to the next.

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The journey from Canberra heads out to Bungendore. Then instead of turning right for the coast, head straight through to the small town of Tarago. Along the way you get to appreciate the wonders and beauty of those giant wind farms – and to laugh again at those stupid statements by Joe Hockey. Remember him?

At Tarago, instead of turning left for Goulburn, drive straight ahead and follow the signs to Nerriga and Nowra. Along the way the road cruises past the Bungonia National Park and the trees start to become very distinctive and denser. The roads are now all sealed (completed in 2015) but they are still very much country roads. I was amazed that it was sign posted for 100 kph, as travelling at about 80 or so was safe enough for most of this stretch.

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The next town, being a small group of buildings, is Nerriga. The two photos of buildings, above and at the top of the post, were taken there.

And that’s about it for the whole journey except for a few at Sassafras.* After that the road widens and becomes a secondary highway into Nowra.

The bridge at the Shoalhaven crossing has recently been replaced with a high standard structure. Likewise the bridge at the Endrick River crossing is very new with no hint of the former notorious and dangerous rocky road.

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It is a journey to be recommended especially if you have the inclination to take it easy and enjoy the country along the way. As for Nowra, it is a coastal town that has really picked up and is very busy. The local council has spent wisely in landscape design work around the centre’s main streets. The city has retained enough of the historic public buildings and houses to keep this regional centre as an attractive area to visit. It is apparently also attracting significant numbers of retirees from Sydney.

The country to the east between Nowra and the coast is to die for. It is just so green – and so flat. Along the coast, being between Jervis Bay and the mouth of the Shoalhaven River, are some wonderful beaches to be enjoyed at this time of the year – being very quiet – and with absolutely magnificent views of the ocean.

I can totally recommend a breakfast at a Culburra Beach little café – Ten Thousand Tastebuds – they serve some very nice hot coffee.

So next time you are contemplating a few days away from Canberra and wish to head to the NSW South Coast, I recommend the quiet drive directly to Nowra and then to take in the areas around Berry, Nowra and the coastline north of Jervis Bay.

But as one local told me, the recent upgrades to these roads have been very welcomed. But they now hope that the impatient drivers of large vehicles – in particular she did mention Jeeps and a couple of other road monsters – leave these country roads to the sensible ones who wish to enjoy driving and not just want to be the first to get to their destination – or more likely be the first to kill others in the process. So with that in mind, if you have been one of those must-get-there–first drivers, please slow down or stay away.

And for those who wish to travel further north, the road from Nowra to Sydney is almost a complete multi-lane freeway. There are just one or two places still to be upgraded – notably around Shellharbour. It will not be long before it will be plain sailing north bypassing Berry, Kiama, Wollongong, onto the outskirts of Sydney.

The reason for the drive? The exhibition in Nowra, a survey of works by one of Australia’s great photographers, Robert McFarlane, is there till 21st May. Well worth the visit.

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* Sassafras: This was one of the forty townships that vied for the honour of being named Australia’s capital city. Now there’s a thought – what if they had been chosen – the journey to the coast would definitely have been much shorter on the weekends.

Music for travel? Why not play Driving Away From Home by It’s Immaterial (1986)

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