So-called for its deep-blue, sun-sparkled waters, the Sapphire Coast unravels in a spectrum of ultramarine hues from Bermagui to beyond Eden on the far South Coast of New South Wales. Less than a six-hour drive south of Sydney and a little over six hours from Melbourne, this gemstone stretch is a perfect escape at the halfway point between the two cities.
There are myriad ways to discover the region, whether it’s slurping coveted local oysters plucked from pure waters, floating below the blue with local sea life, skimming across the surface on a SUP, or roaming the incredible buffet of local produce on offer.
Here’s how to make the most of your visit to the state’s south-eastern corner.
What to see and do
The Sapphire Coast is encrusted with gem-like beaches – and you’ll see them all and more sparkling below you on a scenic flight with South Coast Seaplanes, taking in the arresting vista of sacred Gulaga mountain before touching down on the sparkling clear waters of Narooma. Afterwards, dive right into a feel-new experience at nearby Bermagui’s natural wonder, the Blue Pool. Beckoning at the base of a dramatic rocky cliff face, this ocean-fed, rock-edged pool was expanded from its natural size in 1937. Now, at 50 metres, it offers a protected snapshot of marine life.
For a truly unforgettable snorkelling adventure in these wildlife-rich waters, slip beneath their glittery surface at Montague Island (Barunguba). Here, you can swim amongst friendly Australian fur seals with Seal Swim Australia and Underwater Safaris – and quickly learn why these playful pranksters are known as the ‘puppy dogs of the sea’.
Prefer aquatic adventures that stay (mostly) above the water? Slip onto the beautiful Bega River on a serene, half-day kayaking tour or a stand-up paddle board lesson with Coastlife. In Merimbula, you can hire your own boat at Sunny’s Kiosk and set off on your own discovery adventure. Or, let the experts of Merimbula’s Headland Fishing Charters do the driving while you concentrate on reeling in a big one.
Feel the thrill of getting close to the sea’s biggest creatures with the family-owned Sapphire Coastal Adventures, who offer whale-watching cruises from both Merimbula and Bermagui during the peak of the annual humpback migration (August to mid-November). Further south, Eden is also a whale-watching mecca – and you can experience these bouncy giants with Cat Balou Cruises. Afterwards, pop into Eden’s intriguing Killer Whale Museum, which spins almost-fictitious-sounding yarns that no good storyteller could resist sharing.
Nature enthusiasts will relish the untouched landscapes of the Sapphire Coast, with 70 per cent of the area made up of National Parks. Hiking trails can be found plunging into forests, heathlands, and clifftops with great frequency, including the popular Light to Light Walk in Beowa National Park. For guided experiences into the heart of this wild wonderland, eco-friendly adventure specialists Navigate Expeditions offer bushwalking, kayaking, e-biking and speciality tours, as well as glamping.
For an inspiring look at the region’s arts and culture, visit the South East Centre for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Bega – formerly known as the Bega Regional Arts Gallery –set to reopen this autumn following an extensive redevelopment.
Back on the coast, you can take a deep dive into the area’s maritime history at the only remaining deep-water timber wharf on Australia’s east coast, Tathra Wharf, built in the 1800s. Once a docking station for steamships carrying cargo and passengers between the Bega Valley and Sydney, the wharf is now more popular for its cafe-gallery, The Wharf Local, and the fascinating Tathra Wharf Museum, open each weekend.
Tathra is also a great base for mountain biking, with the Bundadung Mountain Biking Network the place to put your pedal power to the test. Before you hit the trails, get kitted out at Tathra Beach and Bike.
Where to eat
Sapphire Coast oysters are prized for their briny-ness that washes over palates with the terroir of their pristine environment. Find out everything there is to know about farming these delicious bivalves and shuck your own with Captain Sponge’s Magical Oyster Tours on the Pambula River. Nearby at Broadwater Oysters, sign up for the Tide-to-table: Gourmet Oyster School for some shucking good fun on Pambula Lake.
During harvest season, you can also taste fresh Sydney rock oysters from family-owned Tathra Oysters’ Little Shop Behind The House in Tathra, or order them at local restaurants including Pividori’s Tathra Beach.
The delicious delicacies also play a starring role in Narooma’s standout epicurean experiences. Every May the banks of Wagonga Inlet become a gourmand’s wonderland as local growers, chefs and shuckers come together for the Narooma Oyster Festival, with live music, competitions, markets stalls, kids entertainment and more than 70,000 sumptuous shellfish consumed here every year. And, all year round, The Oyster Farmer’s Daughter and Quarterdeck Narooma offer ocean-fresh fare paired with creative cocktails at the water’s edge.
In Eden, buy local produce at Sprout Eden, which also has a cafe menu that’s an eloquent reflection of the season. For a special meal, plan a lunch or dinner at Mimosa Wines – a family-owned vineyard, cellar door and restaurant in Murrah, where local produce is folded into elegant signature dishes, such as local hiramasa kingfish confit.
Merimbula transforms into the Mediterranean on a visit to the soothingly toned dining room of Valentina, where you can feast on chargrilled scampi and whipped cod roe, and gaze across the sapphire waters reminiscent of European summer holidays.
Where to drink
True to its name, the multi-award-winning North of Eden’s micro distillery is located on a working farm in Stony Creek, a 50-minute drive from Eden. All its gins are made in 200-bottle batches and feature ingredients grown on the farm or foraged locally. With most of its bar and cellar door seating outdoors, sunny days provide a golden opportunity to soak up the rays as the ice clinks melodically in your glass. If craft beer is more your thing, pull up a seat at the historic Tathra Hotel, which is home to the Humpback Brewery.
At first glance, this sweet, weatherboard cottage in Merimbula may appear to be a destination for the Devonshire tea set, but look again and you’ll find Dulcie’s Cottage – a merry bar happily shaking cocktails and shucking oysters until late most nights.
Where to stay
The Sapphire Coast is a popular family destination, with plenty of campgrounds and self-catering holiday apartments to choose from among the region’s accommodation options.
If your escape allows for a little more luxury, book one of the stylish, serviced apartments that make up Coast Resort in Merimbula, where resort facilities include two pools, tennis court and barbecue areas. Nearby, the Hillcrest pairs contemporary luxe amenities with retro-chic touches to create a uniquely reimagined resort-style motel, where you can kick back at the fire pit or pool, and have a hit on the tennis court – all while taking in the sweeping Merimbula views.
Murrah’s Mimosa Wines also has two charming cottages across the vineyard from its restaurant; The Farmstead can sleep nine and The Vineyard Cottage sleeps four. For a holiday house with character, consider Clifftop at Tathra Beach. This two-bedroom, 1960s-era home set on the cliffs above Tathra Beach has a wonderfully retro beach house vibe. For boat-shy would-be whale watchers, a stay at the beautifully preserved Green Cape Lightstation Keepers’ Cottages in Beowa National Park outside of Eden, is the premium location for spotting one of these magnificent mammals on dry land.
Nestle up to nature on a romantic farm stay at Currajong Retreat, where you can glamp in a stylishly appointed safari tent overlooking the Towamba River. Come winter, there’s a fireplace to soothe the chill, and, in summer, sink into the outdoor bath under sparkling night skies.