by Gayle Dickson
A taxi horn blared as I stepped out of the hushed confines of the Observatory Hotel in Sydney, annoyed that another cabby had apparently stolen his fare. Morning traffic was building up to rush hour as I crossed town in my pre-arranged cab to Kings Cross where my Avis rental car awaited.
As much as I was thankful for the trusty GPS system, I have to admit that heading south out of Sydney wasn’t half the ordeal I’d envisaged thanks to clear sign-posting. About the only snag I encountered was scrambling to turn on the car radio as I duly obeyed the flashing signs at the entry to the tunnel – any warnings, incidents, delays or similar are broadcast through the car radio.
Clear of the city traffic, I settled down to enjoy my drive of discovery along the Grand Pacific Drive. This was my first encounter with anything more southern than Sydney’s airport, so was all new territory. Once I hit the Princes Highway, I turned the GPS off. Who cared how far it was to Wollongong, or what time I’d get there – there was so much to discover along the way!
The Royal National Park, apparently the world’s second oldest purposed national park, starts just south of Sydney airport. The region is a wonderland of heaths, cliffs, grasslands, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, beaches and rock pools, crisscrossed by numerous walking trails.
I was informed by some locals that while a few beaches are used for nude bathing, only the one at Werrong is legally sanctioned.
At Bald Hill I discovered spectacular views and the memorial to Lawrence Hargrave, the engineer and aeronautical pioneer renowned as Australia’s pioneer of flight. It was also here that I met with Steve Melchor, owner of Just Cruisin’ Harley Davidson Motorcycle Tours. Opting for something a little different, I selected a sidecar ride from those on offer by Steve, donning a leather jacket and trusty helmet. Wow, what a spectacular way to see the coastline, and the weather was decidedly fine which made it all the more fun! Steve knowledgeably pointed out things that I would have missed completely had I been in the car on my own, as well as filling me in on local “gossip”. Steve offers a range of tours or you can tailor one to suit.
Arriving in Wollongong at lunch time, Diggies Café proved a great spot to indulge in a hearty serving of mushroom risotto and a tall, cold drink while watching some local kids head out with the surf lifesaving school while others skidded around the grass with a football. I swear more than half of town was out for a stroll, bite to eat or casual lunch meeting.
It was time to head for the hills into the Southern Highlands as I made my way to Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk, an elevated steel canopy walk stretching some 1,500m through the rainforest on the escarpment. I had wondered whether I’d have the nerve to walk to the end of the cantilevered section, but the view alone was worth it, and it was even better from atop Knight’s Tower. Thank God it was a calm day – although I was politely informed that the structure could withstand winds of up to 280kph!
Safely back on terra firma, I figured I’d earned a strong drink and headed for Coolangatta Estate in the Shoalhaven area, the site of the first European settlement on the south coast of NSW. The first grapes were planted in the mid-1800’s by Alexander Berry at the foothills of Mt Coolangatta, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s when Greg Bishop planted a vineyard of Sauvignon Blanc that the viticulture side of things really took off. Today, the range of entirely estate-grown wines has grown to include Semillon, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Savagnin, Chambourcin, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo has more recently been planted.
The Estate is a destination unto itself – a range of accommodation options are housed in convict-built buildings that have been lovingly restored, wedding ceremonies are performed in the historic Great Hall, Alexander’s Restaurant plays host to diners, and the conference and function rooms are popular for larger gatherings and corporate getaways. Needless to say, I didn’t walk away empty handed, safely stowing my stash of wine in amongst my luggagebefore hitting the road again.
By now it was mid-afternoon and I figured it was time to find somewhere to rest. I headed back inland towards Kangaroo Valley. In what seemed almost the middle of nowhere, I discovered the charm of Crystal Creek Meadows, a luxury cottage and spa retreat that made me wish I wasn’t on this trip alone! Christopher showed me into my cottage which overlooked the billabong. To ensure complete privacy, dinner was already in the freezer along with dessert and a collection of organic and fabulously fresh produce for breakfast.
Left to my own devices, I indulged myself in locally made butter chicken with fragrant jasmine rice before quaffing down a very generous portion of delicious ice cream. Once the coffee had brewed, I headed onto the large porch, lit a candle, grabbed the complimentary bottle of port and almost nodded off listening to the bush and billabong come alive.
I dragged myself from the chair, drew a deep bath into which I tipped a lavish quantity of the complimentary aromatic and soothing aromatherapy crystals, then climbed into bed for a very restful night’s sleep. ??I awoke very early the next morning, well before sunrise, and was greeted by a thick, swirling mist. I had planned to try and find the local platypus sanctuary, but I wasn’t brave enough when I couldn’t see three metres in front of me. Instead, I prepared a lavish breakfast, enjoyed a walk around the gardens and then packed the car and set off again. After all, there was still so much to see!
Passing through Nowra, I made my way to Huskisson on Jervis Bay (and, yes, they do saw JERvis and not JARvis!). I found a parking spot that didn’t have a time limit on it and headed for the offices of Dolphin Watch Cruises who have been operating out of Huskisson for over 20 years. Matt Cross filled me in on the various tours they offer and I was pleased to hear that a boat was heading out that afternoon for a 2.5-hour dolphin spotting and scenic cruise – ah, someone else could “drive” and I could just chill!
I just had time to grab a very tasty lunch of fish and chips before making my way down to the wharf. I hopped onboard the 17m catamaran Spirit of Jervis Bay, found a spot to portside as I wanted to feel the full impact of the sun – the slight breeze was coming from the other direction too, which meant I wouldn’t need my jacket. Other tourists soon had the vessel around half full.
We hadn’t long left the confines of the mooring before an American raised the first dolphin spot alarm. Our skipper was quick to respond, turning the boat to follow the small pod. It wasn’t long before a couple of the adults were “playing” with us.
Did you know that when the dolphins swim at the bow of the boat, that’s the only time they ever sleep? The thrust of the water keeps them going – they aren’t really swimming at all! Hence why they’ll seek the boats out and appear to play along – a great sight for tourists with cameras at the ready, and a welcome respite for the dolphins.
My two hours onboard sped by all too rapidly, the time filled with spotting pod after pod of dolphins. I’m told that there are residents numbering around 60, and loads of visitors – and, of course, the whales call in here on their migratory path, too. This means that, unlike many other regions around the world where spotting a dolphin is a rather hit-and-miss affair, at Jervis Bay you are almost guaranteed to see a pod or two at least. As for the whales, my timing wasn’t brilliant – the best time to spot them in this bay is May through December, so I’ll just have to come back!
The sun, salt and spray had taken their toll and I was ready to find my bed, have a shower and sort out my dinner. I headed back inland towards the Currambene Creek and Paperbark Camp. And this is where my Aussie tale got interesting … possums, wallabies and spiders … but more on that next issue, so stay tuned!
GETTING THERE AND AROUND:
Qantas offer daily services to Sydney from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. For the latest airfares visit w: Qantas.com, phone 0800 767 400 or contact your bonded travel agent.
Avis car rentals, w: avis.com.au or avis.co.nz?
Just Cruisin Tours, w: justcruisintours.com.au
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