When a number of friends took off from Canberra for a sea change a few years ago, some ended up on a part of the coast that I didn’t know well. I had long been of the belief that if I went further south than Rosedale, I might be in danger of driving off the edge of the earth. But with the need for an ocean dip and some fresh sea air, I made a pre-Christmas dash to the deep south and discovered my friends still adore living on the Sapphire Coast in and around Pambula, and the whole region is buzzing, and ready for summer visitors.
For historical interest, my first stop was Boydtown, almost on the Victorian border. Despite the enormous choice of accommodation on the Sapphire Coast (with motels, bed and breakfast and Airbnb), I chose a delightful boutique hotel, the Sea Horse Inn just south of Eden. Dating from 1843, the Inn was the home of the infamous whaler Benjamin (Ben) Boyd, and is perfectly located on the western edge of Two Fold Bay. Ben is a figure of curiosity from my childhood as he also whaled out of Neutral Bay in Sydney and I love the fact his Boydtown home has become such a comfortable small hotel. Eden was an obvious halfway point for his whaling empire which stretched to Hobart.
After a very pleasant dinner (and I had a choice of a busy bistro or a more sedate a la carte restaurant, both with outdoor seating and water views) I sat on my verandah and listened to small waves gently lapping and watched the twinkling lights of Eden across the bay. In the morning the beach invited an early morning walk before breakfast. I had imagined I might even find a little seahorse skeleton, but I later was told that was unlikely as the Inn is named for a ship that brought early settlers to the district! I suspect the park-like setting of the Inn will be a whole lot busier as soon as the season starts because it is far too lovely not to share.
On the way north I revisited what has become a favourite since I discovered this corner of paradise: the port of Eden. I have heard that Eden is set to undergo a renaissance. The port is much quieter than it has been in recent years, with fishing now restricted because of the extent of the marine park, and a lot of the trawlers no longer working out of the port. There are a cluster of tidy seafood cafes around the waterfront, but this isn’t the bustle of the true working port I have enjoyed in the past. However, change is in the air and plans are well underway to build a large and impressive looking marina to service the cruise ships already regularly visiting, with 15 calling in this year and up to 22 scheduled in 2017. There is no doubt Eden is ripe for development and there are a number of attractions in the region to bring in the cruise ships.
View over Eden port from a large elevated block due to be developed in the near future.
There are plans for a big development on a large vacant block overlooking the port and Two Fold Bay, and it could include townhouses, cafes and restaurants, community facilities, and commercial and office spaces and even a new hotel. I know this is the sort of thing that will excite potential ‘sea-changers’ from both sides of the border as real estate stock on this part of the coast generally doesn’t include many new developments with services attached. Eden might be 300 km from Canberra, but in this internet-driven age, people are starting to feel more and more comfortable about being further away from city hubs. Alas, I was too late in the season for a spot of whale-watching from the nearby lookout, but if a rogue whale had suddenly surfaced it would have had a good audience as there were quite a few tourists out and about early before the day heated up.
Heading north on the Princes Highway, I called into the Imlay oyster co-operative on Broadwater, located on the edge of the positively sparkling Pambula Lake. Knowing they supply visitors, the local district and select distributors with sweet and creamy Sydney Rock Oysters, I had packed an esky and was very pleased with my purchase of a small jar of freshly shucked oysters, and two dozen unopened oysters for later in the week, plus ice for only $35.00.
A little further north, I drove into the small coastal town of Pambula, perfectly situated near the river and a beautiful white sandy beach. I had expected a quiet Monday morning, but I found I had arrived too late even for a parking spot on the main street. Quondola Street is lined with a variety of attractive weatherboard and brick shopfronts, some worthy of heritage listing. There are two popular pubs universally known by the locals as the ‘Top Pub’ and the ‘Bottom Pub’ as one is at the top of the hill, and the other down the bottom! For years a fairly quiet town, Pambula is growing in popularity for a variety of people seeking a new way of life, or a holiday home that could cost less than further north, and as would be expected, the population explodes each summer. Notable in the past was the number of cars with Victorian number plates, but now an ever-increasing number of Canberrans are finding their way there. Liking what they find, they are returning regularly.
Pambula has had a bit of a shakeup recently with a few new arrivals. Just as the entrepreneur Ben Boyd found this part of the world to his liking, many years later other entrepreneurs have identified the market is changing, and changing fast, and have realised the potential. Black Daisy Trading, fronting Quondola Street, opened its doors mid-November and already has caused some excitement with locals. I have no doubt visitors over the holiday season will want to put this on the top of their summer ‘must-do’ list. The brainchild of a group of inspired local designers and artists, Black Daisy would fit in well on any beach-side boulevard on the most glamorous of the northern beaches of Sydney.
I just love the original shop fronts on Quondola Street, Pambula, especially Black Daisy with the gorgeous black tiles
There is a real air of creative energy in this lovely new emporium. Light and airy with beautiful polished floors, Black Daisy presents original art works and a selection of hand crafted home wares with an emphasis on the eco-friendly and fair trade. Also featured are brightly coloured cushions, cuddly throws, and beautiful vintage clothing. While I was busy sniffing gorgeous locally-made soap and testing the great skin-care range of Saarinan Organics, a local walked in, smiled broadly and said “This is kinda groovy!”, and she sure is right! I think Black Daisy is going to be very busy this summer.
Next door is the just opened Pambula Pantry, serving locally sourced fresh and wholesome food from their seasonal kitchen and great coffee from 7.00 am, visiting for an early lunch, I was pleasantly surprised to see a very young, relaxed crowd. Also on Quandola Street is the creative studio and workshop of Zoe O. who recently featured at the Canberra Undercurrent design markets at the National Portrait Gallery. Zoe O stocks independent Australian artists, designers and makers by collaboration and commissioning new work and small limited edition items. Pambula can be justly categorized as ‘cool’ and these newbies will greatly complement existing businesses, such as the standout-out Wild Rye Artisan Baker and Coffee Roaster.
Pambula is blessed by its location. Locals and holiday-makers have the choice of the beautiful patrolled surf beach or for littlies, or days when the surf is rough, the tranquil river mouth can be accessed at the end of Coraki Drive. Here you will find the well-tended Lions Park Beach; and no you won’t find sea lions, just a couple of big rocks that look like lions as well as a neat picnic area, free gas BBQs, new toilets, a dog friendly space, free parking, with beautiful white sand and turquoise waters. What more could anyone want? Well, another great thing about Pambula is it has town-wide free wifi. Last week things were starting to hot up for the summer season in Pambula and next year I think the town will be busier than ever!
Beautiful Lions Park Beach is a favourite with everyone
Suddenly I realised I had run out of time and after a quick visit to bustling Merimbula, I headed up Brown Mountain for a much quicker trip home than I expected. Next week is the final few days of the ‘quiet before the storm’ all up and down the coast. If you have a chance, head south, enjoy a dip in the unseasonably warm ocean, and enjoy all the wonderful things this beautiful part of the world has to offer before the crowds arrive for the crazy January holiday season.
And this is some of what is hot for your summer break on the far south Sapphire Coast:
Best New Year’s Eve event: Fireworks at Ford Park, Merimbula
Best local market: Candelo Markets on the first Sunday of the month Over thirty years old and still going strong
Best shopping: Quondola Street, Pambula
Best boutique brewery: Longstocking Bar and Brewery , Pambula with live music
Best burgers: Dulcie’s Cottage, Merimbula
Best waterside cafe: The Wharf Locavore at the beautiful historic Tathra Wharf. Everyone is excited that the Wharf Locavore is re-opening in time for the summer season after damage from winter storms. If you are in the area on the weekend of 14 and 15 January, do not miss the exciting Wharf to Waves event. Join in or watch comfortably from the wharf or beach.
Best fish and chips: Famous as producers of oysters in the pristine waters of Merimbula Lakes, Wheeler’s Restaurant is an excellent seafood restaurant and great takeaway. Whatever you do, don’t forget to book! Eat-in or great takeaway
Best tapas: The Ritzy Wine and Tapas Bar, Merimbula
Best summer exhibition: Bega Regional Gallery’s summer blockbuster “Waves and Water’, Australian beach photographs
Best Live Music: between the Longstocking brewery and the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ pubs of Pambula, there is live music most Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.
NSW Far South Coast: In a nutshell
Directions: I took a big round trip heading south through Cooma (carefully avoiding the dirt road between Bibbenluke and Cathcart) by going through Bombala. It was about 300 kms from Canberra to Eden and took over 3 hours. I loved coming down through the South East Forests National Park via the quite windy and steep Mt Darragh road to the coast, but it was a quiet afternoon and there was virtually no traffic. However his route is recommended only for the adventurous. I came back on the Princes Highway and Brown Mountain and through Nimmitabel. A great pit stop is the Nimmitabel Bakery, easy to spot by the life-sized elephant in the garden! This great little bakery will be open early every day over the holiday period except Christmas Day.
For lots more information: Sapphire Coast Tourist Information
Top Photo: The magnificent sweep of Pambula Beach on a perfect early summer day: the locals have told me the water is unseasonably warm so I headed for the modest surf with my flippers