Goulburn Writers Fest Masthead

Escape Trails: Tathra

Tracy Bell

Five generations of my family have made Tathra their number one spot for RNR. Here’s why.

Tathra is something of a paradox. This tiny coastal village becomes a town in summer, mainly due to its popularity with Victorians, but it never loses its relaxed small-town vibe. There are few flashy beach mansions, no large shopping complexes and no pretensions. But there is plenty here to keep everybody happy. And there is, of course, that beach.

It’s postcard perfect. The startlingly blue and white foamed waves of the Sapphire Coast seas roll onto three kilometres of golden sand, a natural and popular trail to the misty headlands of Mimosa Rocks National Park. Surfers catch epic waves while the yellow and red-capped lifesavers from the Tathra Surf Lifesaving Club continue a hundred year tradition of watching over families in a patrolled swimming area.

The iconic red Tathra Wharf stands just off the beach. Built in the mid-1800s and in use until 1952, it’s the only remaining coastal steamer wharf on the Australian east coast. While no longer central to the town’s economy it remains central to its character. It’ a popular spot for fishing, whale and dolphin spotting or just taking in that stunning coastline from another angle. Inside great local food and art is served up at Locavore. It’s Tathra in a nutshell.

As March brings cooler days to Canberra the magical East Australian Current warms the Tathra waters throughout Autumn. It’s a great place for fun before winter sets in.


It’s a three-hour drive from Canberra to Tathra over Brown Mountain. Clyde Mountain is an option but to my mind the lush rainforest ferns and soaring white ash eucalypts make it a Brown Mountain the prettier mountain. There is no Pooh Corner to distract car sick kids, but Pipers Lookout does the trick with views of the beautiful Bega Valley and an easy boardwalk into the bush. There’s no designated car park but there’s plenty of room to park safely.

The route over Brown Mountain can easily become a day trip in itself. Cooma has a number of good cafes, including Lott Food Store Bakery and Cafe or Kettle and Seed. Just out of town Miss Heidi’s Teahouse is worth the extra mile for Austrian food served in a rustic chalet setting. Share the pancakes and strudel with someone because you don’t want to miss either. Cooma has a great park if the kids need to run off some energy or adults need to walk off some strudel. Be warned, short stops may become long stops if tempted to do some clothes shopping at the fabulous Birdsnest.

For pie lovers head to the Nimmitabel Bakery (try the chunky steak pie). Kids will love the town’s full size wooden elephant. Why the elephant? No idea. For the adults, the Royal Arms Hotel is worth a walk across the road. Now a BNB, the building appeared as the ‘Australia Hotel’ in the 1959 Australian film classic, The Sundowners, starring Maureen O’Hara and Robert Mitchum. Its facade has a distinctive large archway which sheltered coaches stopping there in the 1850s.

On the other side of Brown Mountain the kids can chase geese while adults browse at Australian Pottery at Bemboka. As a side interest in their retirement Judith Pearce and David Rofe expanded their personal collection from 100 to around 4 500 pieces and opened a gallery. The gallery displays stunning examples from Australia’s best potters but the “storeroom”, also open to visitors is a showstopper in its own right, simply because of the sheer amount of pottery crowded on the shelves. There is something for all tastes and budgets so walk away without a purchase if you can!


Campers, glampers, caravanners or those looking for a beach shack will find something to suit at multi-award winning Tathra Beachside Holiday Park just a sand dune away from the beach. The Big Splash Waterpark and jumping pillow are drawcards for kids but day passes are available for those not staying at the park. Gig night on Sundays with ex Ol’ 55 band member and actor Frankie J Holden crosses the generation divide and gets all ages up and dancing.

Across the road another award winner, Tathra Beach House Apartments, is a home away from home with a little luxury thrown in. The units and townhouses are modern, spacious and tastefully decorated (read: fun Tathra beach print by local artist John Mills and no fake starfish or dolphin decals in sight). All the basics to starting a great holiday are provided, even fresh milk in the ‘fridge on arrival. The two pools and public spa are definitely a worthy alternative to the beach.


Follow the crowd for a great breakfast at HowWeRoll. It’s bustling but the wait staff are unfailingly friendly and service is prompt. The banana pancakes with syrup ladybirds drawn on the plates will draw gasps of admiration from kids and adults alike. Breakfast options are all beautifully presented and delicious, and the bircher muesli passes muster with the Swiss branch of our family. Grab some made to order sushi for later.

Next door Blend at Tathra is another dining option, as well as offering a fantastic range of locally made cheeses and a range of homewares. The Swiss contingent are very pleased with their purchase of a raclette set for grilled cheese.

For takeaway, try fish and chips from Tracy’s Beach Break at Tathra. The customer line up out the door moves quickly and the flathead is definitely worth the wait.

Tathra Beach Tapas, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, gives true meaning to dining on the beach as it is next door to the Tathra Surf Life Saving Club. Wait staff say it’s not unusual to see kangaroos on the beach but to see one taking a dip in the surf, as we did, was a first. Appropriately the picture for the restaurant’s weekly colouring competition for kids was a kangaroo. Winners get a free meal.

The menu relies on regional seasonal produce and changes regularly. A tasting platter is a great way to sample Eden mussels, award-winning Tathra oysters, local eel, calamari, pork belly and other local tidbits. If you are lucky, the dessert of three kinds of sticky rice with coconut, pomegranate and pistachio toppings will still be on the menu.

Fat Tony’s Bar and Grill is the rarity in Tathra as it is more than a few minute’s walk from the beach. This 1905 heritage house has a romantic ambience which is further reinforced by a delicious range of cocktails. It’s another favourite with locals serving regional produce and though meat dishes will not disappoint seafood is a speciality.


The great outdoors goes far beyond Tathra Beach. The town sits between Mimosa Rocks and Bournda National Parks, both well known for unspoiled beaches, scenic drives and bush walks. (Tathra Oysters names Mimosa Rocks National Park as the secret weapon responsible for 20 years of awards.) Over 90 kilometres of bike trails have been constructed through the parks to maximise eco-friendly access to their treasures.

Fishing is obviously a drawcard for Tathra, especially when the East Australian Current brings baitfish and bigger fish looking for food. Along with the dream of the big one, fishermen are lured by a two-day fishing competition paying over $3500 in cash and prizes.

For prawn lovers, February and March is a gift when the prawns run in such numbers that locals tire of eating them. Wallagoot Lake is probably the best known prawning spot but there a number of estuaries in the area to choose from. Watch for signs around the town advertising fresh prawns for sale if you don’t want to catch your own.

Bega cheese is one of Australia’s best-loved homegrown products, even if not everyone can locate Bega on the map. Less than 20 minute’s drive from Tathra, the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre recreates the history of the cheese industry in the Bega Valley in a reproduction of one of the original Co-op buildings. Enjoy your purchases with a local drop from Mimosa Wines.

The beauties of the area have inspired and attracted artists of all types over the years, leading to the establishment of a strong creative community. The Tanja Artist Trail on the Easter weekend combines one of the most beautiful drives on the south coast with a chance to see artists at work in their studios.

At the end of the day there is no better way to relax than to catch some live music at the undisputed best pub on the south coast, the Tathra Pub. Or families might opt to catch a movie on the beach at the Easter Moonlight Cinema. There’s a BBQ at sunset and drinks, popcorn and ice-cream are offered throughout the evening. It’s typically Tathra, a perfect place with something for everybody.


Athletes might like to start training now for the Wharf2Waves, a series of events in January including swims from Tathra Wharf to the beach, the two-kilometre Coastlife Beach Fun Run and the Bega to the Beach (Tathra) Mountain Bike Ride. More information can be found at www.tathrawharf2waves.com.au

If planning to self-cater, stock up for groceries at Coles or Woolworths in Bega. Tathra has a couple of small IGAs which provide all the basics but you’ll find a greater variety in Bega.

For information about Tathra visit: Sapphire Coast Tourism, Visit NSW and Tathra Tourism

Feature image: facebook.com/visittathra


Tracy Bell

Tracy is a recently retired public servant with connections to the Queanbeyan area that go back the 1820s when her ancestors settled there. Her passions are family, friends, travel and learning. Reading is an addiction she has no intention of kicking and favourite subjects are English and military history. Other interests include art, music, movies, good food and dachshund racing. She lived in Japan for six years and is frantically brushing up her Japanese before an upcoming visit. More about the Author

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