On a drive over the Clyde Mountain from Canberra to the coast, the tiny riverside village of Nelligen is a welcome sight as it comes into view. It means the end of the Kings Highway is near, and that the sand and surf are just minutes away. But instead of rushing through on the way to all that the beaches have to offer, it’s worth spending some time in the tranquil town on the edge of the Clyde River. It has plenty going for it in its own right.
At first glance, there is barely more than a pub, a handful of homes and a few cafes in Nelligen, but don’t be fooled – the town’s easy access to the peaceful and beautiful Clyde River makes it a haven for water skiing, fishing, and boating.
Situated on the Clyde River about 10 kilometres upstream from Batemans Bay, Nelligen is rich in history which is closely linked with the waterway it sits on. It was once a busy trade and commercial centre and bustling port that was at the centre of gold and wool shipments to Sydney. From 1895 until the 1960s, travellers from Canberra to the South Coast needed to cross the river by using a punt service. Once the bridge linking the Kings Highway with the Princes Highway was in place, the commercial centre for the region gradually drifted from Nelligen to Batemans Bay.
Things to do in Nelligen
- Kick off your visit with some leisurely time on the waterfront. There’s a lush grassy bank that’s the perfect spot to set up a picnic or grab fish and chips from the shops across the road.
- Grab a bite to eat at the River Café or Steampacket Hotel.
- Watch the passing parade of tinnies, houseboats, jet skis and kayaks on the river.
- It’s not just water craft that you can see passing by – there are often pelicans, kookaburras or sea eagles to be seen cruising the skies.
- Cast a line into the river from its grassy banks or the jetty. It’s a paradise for fishing, with bream and flathead common in the waterways.
- The areas surrounding the Clyde River are pristine, and a trip by boat or kayak will reveal all kinds of interesting things to see – beaches, islands and small tributaries are all there for the exploring. If you don’t have your own kayak, you can hire one from Nelligen Kayak Hire near the boat ramp. They set up most weekends, but recommend that you call them beforehand to confirm.
- If you prefer to let someone else guide your boat, relax on a river cruise from Batemans Bay that takes in Nelligen.
- Beyond the village, there is plenty to be explored on foot, bike or car. There are national parks and forests nearby, where you can explore deep rainforest valleys and high mountain ridges. Serious bushwalkers might like to try the challenging Corn Trail that travels over some demanding terrain through Monga National Park, west of Nelligen. Be aware that it is a challenging walk of around 30km. Allow a full day to do the whole walk.
- Explore some four-wheel drive roads in the Shallow Crossing It’s a gravel road but it is well maintained, but be aware that it can be affected by high tides and rain.
- Check out some history taking a stroll around the town. There are plaques dotted around places of interest, and in the park, you’ll find a map which shows 24 sites in Nelligen that are of historical interest, such as the original river ferry, the location of the first school, the old Mechanics Institute and others. The detailed Nelligen Main Street Study provides extensive details of many of the town’s most significant buildings.
- By the river is a large tree trunk known as the Bushranger’s Tree. It is believed the bushranging Clarke Brothers were chained to it in 1867 while they awaited transportation to Sydney and ultimately, execution.
From Canberra, head through Queanbeyan and follow the Kings Highway through Bungendore and Braidwood and over Clyde Mountain. You’ll see Nelligen on the main road once you’re back closer to sea level, about 20km from the mountains.
When to go
- Country music greats come to Nelligen for the Nellijam Country Music Festival, held every January.
- January is also one of the busiest months of the year as school holiday crowds descend on the coast.
- The warmer months are better for water-based activities but any time of year is fine for exploring the history of the region.
- Duration: allow two hours each way
- Distance from Canberra: around 140km
- Recommended for: getting away from it all, history buffs and anyone with a love of water sports and natural environments
- More information: Australia’s Guide: Nelligen or Nelligen NSW Travel Guide
Question: Have you stopped at Nelligen on the way to or from the coast, or stayed for a longer holiday? Do you have any recommendations for other travellers?