From bell miner calls to sapphire blue waters, the far South Coast is an Australian wonderland that arguably rivals the Canary Islands.
Over the September long-weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited down to the Sapphire Coast to experience the natural wonders of New South Wales and discover some hidden small-town gems. Bringing along a friend, this weekend was packed with adventure, laughter and now fond memories – and ultimately, it’s a weekend I would recommend to anyone and everyone looking for a wonderfully wild getaway.
Here’s how we spent three days down on the Sapphire Coast.
Overlooking Merimbula’s town centre with uninterrupted coastal views lies Sapphire Coast’s newest luxurious getaway – The Hillcrest.
Located off Merimbula Drive, The Hillcrest is a convenient roadside find with eye-grabbing signage that can only be described as super funky! And let me tell you, from the moment we drove down that driveway we were instantly transported into a relaxing retro world.
This 1970s inspired resort-style motel perfectly fuses contemporary design and with the unique charms of the 50-year-old property to deliver guests a sophisticated but nostalgic holiday experience (children of the 70s you’re going to love this place!). Whether it’s the kombi van parked out front or the vintage décor, there has been meticulous attention to the detail in both the exterior and interior design of The Hillcrest.
Surrounded by some of the world’s most pristine beaches and unspoiled national parks, The Hillcrest getaway experience invites you to look in and look out. Walking into our seaward facing room with beautiful natural light, cloud-like bedding and balcony views like no other, our stay truly lived up to this vision – for a moment I forgot I was still in Australia!
95-97 Merimbula Drive, Merimbula | hillcrestmerimbula.com
As an early-riser, Sunny’s Kiosk is the ultimate breaky spot to head to in Merimbula and catch the morning sun.
Perched by the top lake, this little gem is open from 7:30 am and serves the delicious coffee of Seven Miles Roasters. We popped by Sunny’s on our first morning in Merimbula to grab a quick takeaway and fell in love with the spot so much that we returned before leaving town on the Sunday!
With outdoor jetty seating and a friendly local atmosphere, Sunny’s welcomes you to peacefully breathe in the fresh salty air and take the time to simply unwind from it all.
68 Lakewood Drive, Merimbula | sunnyskiosk.com.au
Further inland and tucked away in the grassy hills of Burragate lies The Woolshed, an intimate long-table lunch experience like no other. This hidden treasure is a beautiful 40-minute drive from Merimbula, where with limited reception, you are given a wonderful opportunity to disconnect and reconnect with yourself and the individuals dining alongside you.
Placed at a table with sixteen complete strangers, this dining experience truly offers you a magical space that thrives off conservation and storytelling. Despite being completely isolated from the rest of the world, The Woolshed left me feeling more connected and a part of a community than ever before.
Over three hours of lunching, three scrumptious courses were served, made from fresh produce, lamb raised on the property, and ingredients sourced from local suppliers. Even now looking back on it I struggle to find the words to describe how divine this meal was! Sahra, the beautiful mind behind The Woolshed concept, had designed a spring menu that was the perfect balance of light but filling, sweet and salty, and fresh and well-cooked.
To start the table shared plates of spring vegetables with a mouth-watering lemon mayonnaise, homemade lamb koftas with a zesty mint yoghurt and Sydney rock oysters accompanied with citrus mignonette. With a cocktail in hand made from locally distilled gin, this first course deliciously initiated what would be a memorable dining experience.
Following the entrée, we were dished a slow-roasted lamb complemented with fennel and grapefruit salad and crispy lettuce with a homemade dressing. This course truly gave us a taste of the country with every bite packed with garden-fresh flavour.
Between our last course, we took an afternoon walk through the gardens where we learnt about the history of the property, seasonal produce and what would be sprouting in the coming weeks. We were also very lucky to meet and have a play with a new litter of border collie puppies!
The final plate was an exceptional strawberry and blood orange cream dessert that so wonderfully melted away in your mouth. With a perfect wobble, these panna cottas were the perfect sweet treat to end this lunching experience.
From banter to sharing life stories, this long table lunch is truly extraordinary experience that uniquely combines food, conversation and the landscape to creatively foster a sense of community, celebrate kindred spirits and most importantly promote Sapphire Coast living. If you are planning on visiting this coast over summer, I would hands down recommend that you get in early and book this experience!
In the heart of town, sits Bar Monti, a modern Italian dining experience and a great place with your looking for a quick meal.
Focused on creating fresh Italian classics with an Australian twist, Monti is a tasty dinner option for couples, friends and families. While we luckily scored walk-in table, I would suggest booking in advance if you are hoping to dine here as the place was packed by 6 pm!
If you’re looking for advice on what to try, don’t be afraid to go simple and order their Spaghetti Bolognese. You won’t regret it!
6/11 Merimbula Drive, Merimbula | barmonti.com
Toast Café Pambula
Pulling up to Toast in Pambula, it was clear that this is a town favourite. With groups of families waiting for their morning coffee and the dining spaces packed with foodies, this local eatery was bursting with character and energy – an energy that we were keen to immerse ourselves in!
Welcomed by Toast’s co-owner, Nicky, and her friendly team, the service experience was nothing but top quality. From the beautifully brewed ONA Coffee, which gave us a taste of home, to the yummy sweet potato, pumpkin and kale fritters served with a zesty whipped ricotta and dukkah (a must-try dish!), Toast Pambula has hit the mark with providing flavourful food and specialty coffee in the Sapphire Coast. And while our tummies were well and truly full, we were left yearning to explore the rest of the menu.
3/25 Quondola Street, Pambula| toastpambula.com.au
For a second year, Wanderer Festival made a vibrant comeback to Pambula Beach over the spring long weekend. This three-day festival celebrating all things music, arts and culture, attracted a stellar lineup of Aussie artists, including Ocean Alley, The Jungle Giants and Thelma Plum, to the South Coast stage this year, and with that a buzzing crowd of young, old and everyone in between.
Dropping by Wanderer on the Friday (day one of our trip), our time could only be described as one big creative journey that we got to share with music lovers from all over the Australian East Coast. While dancing in the mosh to Jungle Giants was a core memory from this adventure, one thing I truly loved about our experience at Wanderer was witnessing Sapphire Coast locals come together to pull off this major event. From sociable campground communities, friendly food vendors, market stores and supportive event staff, Wanderer Festival is truly the perfect outing for those wanting to feel the magic of the South Coast’s local spirit.
Navigate Expeditions Kayaking Tours
Picture this: crystal clear water, blue skies with not a cloud in sight and kookaburra laughs echoing through bushland. Sounds divine, doesn’t it? Well, I was blessed to experience just this with Navigate Expeditions Kayaking Tours.
Led by Navigate Expedition’s mastermind, Jess, we embarked on an early-morning paddle down Pambula’s River mouth in Beowa National Park. While our time on the water was made easier by the light sea breeze that pushed us down the river, this location’s sheltered flat water with minimal currents makes it the perfect kayak tour for beginners or those looking for a non-energy intensive holiday activity.
Broadwater Oysters – Shucking and Tasting
Broadwater Oysters is a small family-owned farm that has been on Pambula Lake for 27 years. As part of our Navigate Expeditions Kayak Tour, we paddled to Broadwater’s farm sheds for their “Oyster School” experience. This tide-to-table culinary experience was filled with tips on how to shuck, the best temperature to serve and what tastes best with fresh oysters.
I will embarrassingly admit (as a non-seafood lover) that this was first time EVER tasting an oyster but let me tell you, these oysters definitely have something going for them. I am now a massive oyster fan!
Hot tip, get yourself a bottle of Nine Circle’s Australian Dry Gin and pour it over the next dozen oysters you purchase – It gives them a flavourful and bite-y kick.
Shed 1/25 Landing Road, Broadwater| broadwateroysters.com.au
Nines Circles Gin Tasting
By Pambula riverbank, Nine Circles Distillery has also partnered with Broadwater Oysters to deliver a pop-up gin tasting experience. We fortunately had this included in our Saturday itinerary.
Led by Cat and Jason, two of the faces behind this small local business, we were taken on an intimate tasting journey where we learnt all about Nine Circle’s vision, distilling process and the best ways to experience their three craft gins.
“We just wanted our gin to stand up in the drink, sing when you mix it down.”
With a focus on botanicals and spice, Nine Circles Signature, Pink and Australian Dry gins all deliver a powerful aromatic experience but an experience unique to every individual and their tastebuds.
As the 2023 Gold Medalists at the Royal Melbourne Distilled Spirits Awards for their pink gin, Nine Circles are truly making their mark in the industry and for Sapphire Coast small businesses. Word on the street is that this local distiller has big things coming to town…it could be your next Pambula social hideout so keeps an eye out over summer.
While our weekend down south was packed with activities and dining, we did have a few spare moments to explore the region and experience the invigorating rush of diving into the icy waters at Lions Park Beach in Pambula.
With some of New South Wales finest national parks at your fingertips, I highly recommend grabbing some park maps during your next visit to discover the hidden beaches and breathtaking walking tracks this beautiful part of the world has on offer.
So, whether you’re a traveller that thrives off the simple pleasures like lounging by a pool or are a keen wanderer looking for a new adventure, it’s time you visit the untouched jewel of the Australia!