Escape to the sparkling beaches, rolling green hills, lakes, caves and national parks of the Sapphire Coast, about a six hour drive from Sydney or Melbourne and three hours from Canberra.
By Stephanie Williams
The Sapphire Coast is home to some of Australia's most pristine oyster estuaries, which you can explore on the Oyster Trail, from Bermagui in the north to Wonboyn in the south. Eden is known as a paradise for whale watching. And then there's the area's cheese. Bega is a hotspot for quality dairy products, and home to Bega Cheese, a much loved national cheese brand. Holidays in this relaxed seaside area are about soaking up nature, taking it easy and enjoying the beaches, hills, lakes, produce, seaside villages and national parks.
- Try some oysters on the Sapphire Coast Oyster Trail
- Conquer the mountain bike tracks of Tathra
- Learn about whaling history and watch whales in Eden
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Top things to do on the Sapphire Coast
See the whales at Eden
The pretty town of Eden is one of Australia's best whale watching locations and boasts the third deepest natural harbour in the Southern Hemisphere. It's little wonder you'll see lots of yachts here (especially during the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race; this is the last point before the fleet crosses into Bass Strait). The working port of Snug Cove is a great place to see fishermen return each morning with their fresh catch. Or pop in to Sprout Eden for fresh local produce for breakfast and lunch. Visit the Killer Whale Museum and learn about Australia's early whaling history, then head out on a whale watching tour (between September and November). You can explore the area by sea kayak with Ocean Wilderness. Divers will love a shipwreck scuba dive; you can even stay at the Merimbula Divers Lodge with other divers. Follow the Light to Light Walk between Boyds Tower in the south of Ben Boyd National Park to Green Cape Lightstation at the northern end of the park.
Get a taste for Bega
Bega is known nationwide for its award-winning cheeses, made from milk produced in the vivid green hills of this area. The town is the business centre of the Sapphire Coast, but feels anything but urban. Start your exploration at the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre, which is also home to the Bega Visitor Information Centre. At the Heritage Centre you can taste local and other Australian cheeses, or take a seat in the cafe and try a milkshake, coffee or ploughman's lunch. Take a walk around town and enjoy the work of local artists in the Bega Valley Regional Gallery or the artist-run Spiral Gallery. Have a picnic alongside the Bega River, or visit Biamanga National Park and enjoy a walk to the tranquil Mumbulla Creek Falls or along the Biamanga Aboriginal Culture Walk. Just north of Bega is the stunning Brogo Dam – hire a canoe here and explore.
Experience the waters and wine of Tathra
Follow the Tathra-Bermagui Road along the ancient, sea-sculpted coastline of Mimosa Rocks National Park to the quaint town of Tathra. Along the road you'll see Mimosa Wines & Drystone Restaurant, as well as galleries and cafes, so leave enough time to explore. You can spot penguins and seals from the historic Tathra Wharf. The only remaining sea wharf on the east coast of New South Wales, it has been restored by the National Trust. Pop in to The Wharf Locavore for coffee, lunch and local art, or try Fat Tony’s Bar and Grill for a taste of the local seafood. If you'd like to see what lies beneath, pop on a snorkel and cruise around Mimosa Rocks. To the north lies the serene sanctuary of Bournda National Park, with its empty beaches, freshwater lakes and rugged cliffs. Camp next to grazing kangaroos and wallabies and walk among thousands of local wetland birds at Wallagoot Lake. Mountain bike riders will love to explore the rolling bush tracks of Tathra Mountain Bike Trails, a network of more than 50 kilometres (31 miles) of track. There's also some great riding to be had in Bermagui, Manna Park and Mandeni.
Get out, on and under the water
The Sapphire Coast is an incredibly beautiful stretch of the Australian coastline and there are so many ways you can get out, on and under the water. In summer you can hire a kayak or try stand-up paddleboarding with Merimbula Stand-up Paddle in the calm waters near Merimbula and Bermagui. Coastlife also offers stand-up paddleboarding, as well as surfing lessons, from beginners to advanced, on the beaches of Merimbula, Tathra and Pambula. Australia's Coastal Wilderness Adventures has a range of activities on offer along the coast including snorkelling, prawning and an Ocean to Plate tour on which you head underwater with a snorkel and fins to harvest your own seafood, learn how to prepare the fresh catch and enjoy it matched with local wines.
Try watersports and oysters at Merimbula
Picturesque Merimbula has long been a popular holiday town. You can fly here from Melbourne or Sydney. Have a surf at the sweeping stretch of Main Beach or picnic beneath tea-trees and banksias at Short Point and Tura Beach. Cruise, sailboard or canoe on Lake Merimbula on your way to the river village of Pambula, where many of the buildings date back to the 1850s. Walk around the freshwater lagoon at Pambula Beach and taste the town's famous fresh oysters at Broadwater Oysters on the Pambula River. The Bar Beach Kiosk in Merimbula serves up simple food and coffee overlooking pretty Bar Beach.
Fish and feast in Bermagui
Bermagui is a pretty harbour town on the northern tip of the Sapphire Coast, sitting under the watchful eye of Mount Gulaga (also known as Mount Dromedary). It's a fishing hotspot, with the continental shelf being just 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) offshore, its closest point to the Australian mainland. Hop on a boat charter and throw in a line for big game, deep sea or reef fish. There are plenty of beautiful white sandy beaches around town perfect for swimming and surfing, or take a dip or snorkel in the Blue Pool, an idyllic natural rock pool. Head to Wallaga Lake, the largest lake in southern New South Wales, for swimming, boating, bushwalking and camping. It has special significance for the local Yuin Aboriginal people. In the middle of the lake lies Merriman Island, named after Yuin elder King Merriman, and many Aboriginal middens and artefacts have been found around the lake. The island isn't accessible to the public but you can admire it from afar. Head to the Fishermans Wharf right on the harbour to try some of the fresh catch at Saltwater Cafe, or to Il Passagio for modern Italian.
How to get there
The Sapphire Coast is a three hour drive from Canberra via Cooma, or a six hour drive from Melbourne or Sydney. You can fly into the regional airport of Merimbula with Regional Express, which connects daily to Melbourne and Sydney. You can catch a bus from Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne with CountryLink, VLine and Premier Motor Service.