Road trip: Sapphire Coast, NSW

By Australian Geographic Adventure 8 December 2015
Reading Time: 4 Minutes Print this page
This part of the NSW south coast has everything you need to ensure an action-packed road trip.

THE NSW SAPPHIRE Coast is one of Australia’s best-kept secrets when it comes to a superb adventure destination. There are myriad adventure activities on offer: hiking (day or overnight), paddling (sea kayaking, canoeing, river kayaking and SUP), mountain biking, road cycling, surfing, diving, fishing and forest drives to remote riverside campsites. All you need to do is figure out how much time to spend there.

The drive 

Australian Geographic Adventure’s adventure road trip will be seven-days long, and entail a loop starting from, and finishing at, Merimbula. We’ll loop south through Pambula for a quick surf, before heading south to Eden for a few days of paddling and hiking. From here, we’ll drive inland to Southeast Forests National Park (NP) for a couple of days of bush camping near pristine wild rivers, before making our way back to the coast for some two-wheeled adventures at, firstly Bermagui then to the MTB mecca that is Tathra. It’ll be an action-packed seven days, so feel free to extend it. Otherwise, let’s get going!

Water, water, everywhere 

Merimbula sits in the middle of a number of paddle locations. Merimbula Lake is great for family paddlers, canoeists or those who are keen to throw a line in off their kayak, while the Big Blue of the Pacific Ocean sits on its eastern side and there are myriad short and longer kayak trip options here as well. Ocean Wilderness runs a number of sea kayaking trips from Merimbula, catering for beginners through to those who wish to up their skill levels on something more challenging. It’s a great way to see this beautiful coastline from a different perspective. We’d recommend the Merimbula to Ben Boyd NP return trip for sure.

Merimbula has a number of accommodation options, ranging from powered campsites through to luxury townhouses and units. It really depends on your budget. The accommodation options are matched by the excellent cuisine choices; whether it is ultra-fresh seafood you crave, or international cuisine, you’ll find it here.

A whale of a time 

From Merimbula it is 20 minutes south on the Princes Highway to the former whaling town of Eden. The township sits next to Twofold Bay, the third-deepest natural harbour in the southern hemisphere, one of Australia’s best whale-spotting locations (from September-November) and also a brilliant kayaking destination. Again, you can paddle independently or guided (Ocean Wilderness, run day trips and can also design custom paddle trips). A great independent paddle would be from Eden’s pretty wharf, across Twofold Bay, and then down to magical Bittangabee Bay, one of Ben Boyd National Park’s brilliant campgrounds.

Speaking of Ben Boyd, the tower named after this early pioneer is the kick-off point for the Light to Light Walk. We’d opt for the northern section of this as a day walk – from Ben Boyd Tower to either Saltwater Creek campsite, or on to Bittangabee. This section of the Light to Light is the most picturesque by far as it hugs the coastline nearly all the way. Oh, and don’t forget to pack your fishing gear. Eden, like most of the region, is famous for its fresh seafood. And nothing beats catching your own.

Deep in the woods 

The Sapphire Coast’s towns are famous for being squeezed between the Pacific Ocean coastline and a series of national parks, state forests and wilderness areas. Nestled behind the towns is the massive South East Forests National Park, covering 115,177ha. This park comprises five formerly separate national parks and is separated into several sections that abut state forests in the area. Camp at either Six Mile Creek or Postmans Campground and you’ll be right beside beautiful streams in relatively remote locations.
Exploring the park is easy: access is via Eden or Pambula (or Cooma if you’re driving from inland; keep an eye out for the Postmans Track sign on the Monaro Highway) and the firetrails and roads in the park are suitable for 2WD vehicles (the track to Postmans is rated 4WD-only when wet/after rain). There are waterfalls, massive gum trees, beautiful river valleys, rainforest walks (Goodenia Rainforest walk is awesome) and lookouts such as the one at Myrtle Mountain to give you an insight into this wild national park.

Step outside the park and you can also camp at Newtons Crossing campground, right next to the Wallagaraugh River. It is only a small campground (around five sites) but there is great swimming to be had here and plenty of bush to explore.

One trail, two trails, three trails, four… 

For a surf town, Tathra is an amazing mountain biking destination. You can ride the extensive Bundadung trail network right behind town (literally a five-minute ride from the town’s campgrounds and holiday accommodation) in the morning, and then jump on your watercraft of preference – SUP, surf, sea kayak – and enjoy the ocean during the day, before hitting the trails again in the afternoon.

The Bundadung trail network is the result of the hard-working Tathra MTB community and the Bega Aboriginal Land Council (Bundadung translates as ‘wombat’). It comprises more than 50km of sublime singletrack and is rated one of Australia’s best trail networks (The Tathra Enduro, with 25km, 50km and 100km options – as well as kids events – is on June 6-7 this year). Drop in to Tathra Beach & Bike for a map – there is a mix of beginner Green, intermediate Blue and expert Black rated trails – and then go and ride. The trails at Tathra will keep you busy for any number of days but if you want to ride some more, then the fishing village of Bermagui also has enticing trails, thanks to the local Bermagui Dirt Surfers. For us, we’d spend at least three days at Tathra (with a Bermagui side trip) before heading back to Merimbula, with a stop-off at yet more MTB trails at Mandeni Fun Park (10km network) and the Manna Park Mountain Bike Course, a 7km test of your skills.

After all this paddling, walking, driving and riding, a final night in one of the Sapphire Coast towns enjoying some more fresh seafood is a brilliant way to finish what must qualify as one of the great Australian adventure road trips.

Fast facts

Time: Seven to 10 days 

When to go: All year 

Getting there: The Sapphire Coast runs from Bermagui in the north, to Wonboyn in the south. Bermagui is around five-and-a-half hours from Sydney; Wonboyn is five hours from Melbourne. Regional Express (REX) flies to Merimbula three times a day from Sydney and once a day from Melbourne. 

Accommodation: National park/state forest campgrounds, town-based caravan parks, hotel/motels and resorts. 

Vehicle: Any vehicle type is sufficient for most of the roads on this loop. Note: There are a couple of fire trails in Southeast Forests National Park that require a high-clearance vehicle.

Map: Hema Maps South East NSW

More info: