When ash was falling from the sky and a smoky sky turned the city of Sydney an orange hue, it was our friendly neighbours of the Shoalhaven region who were battling some of the most ferocious bushfires Australia has seen in modern history. And when the city went quiet amid a nation-wide lockdown in response to the pandemic, it was the tourism industry of the south coast (as well as many regions across the country) that was decimated. When you travel just over two hours drive from the centre of Sydney, you will find the quaint area of Jervis Bay, quietly rebuilding after a tumultuous summer and silent autumn. And despite what has occurred, the coastal townships that make up the region are welcoming visitors with the same positivity as before 2020, perhaps more hopeful and eager than ever.
It is a glorious Friday morning when I roll into Husskison. The small coastal oasis is singing with the sounds of birds, water is calmly lapping over the sandy shore and the main strip of the town is bustling with locals and tourists alike. Upon checking in at the stunning Bed & Breakfast of Dolphin Sands – just a 10 minute stroll to any number of local attractions and food offerings – I make my way to the jetty where I embark on a two-hour tour Whale Cruise with Jervis Bay Wild. The light is bouncing off the calm, clear waters – I’m told it is perfect conditions for a day on the water – and the boat is softly rolling along with current as we make way for the Tasman Sea, commonly known by Australian’s as ‘the ditch’.
From May to August, whales migrate north to the warm seas of Queensland from the Antarctic to safely give birth to offspring. From September to November these whales embark on the great southern migration with their calfs. The east cost of New South Wales marks the halfway point of this long journey with Jervis Bay a unique area to view the majestic creatures as they rest in the less-choppy waters. Peak season for such experience is September and October however humpback whales can be seen in most months. The bay is also home to wild Dolphins which were spotted jumping alongside the boat as we returned from spotting two young whales. Other tour operators also include Dolphin Watch Cruises and for the more adventurous at heart, snorkelling at Dive Jervis Bay.
The afternoon then had us ferried (or bussed along the Princess Highway) by Wine Knot Tours, Michael taking the time to showcase the very best from the Shoalhaven Wine Region. Blessed with rich, fertile soils and warm temperatures throughout the growing season, many vineyards also sit on north-facing slopes that are well exposed, well drained and well ventilated. The art of wine making is quite literally in its nature, with award-winning wine varietals include Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The first stop was Cambewarra Estate at the foothills of the overlooking Cambewarra Mountain which boasts a cellar door, restaurant and high tea. Tables are dotted throughout the stretching rows of vines and provides a perfect afternoon when the winter sunshine is out. Just further up the highway is Silos Estate and as the name suggests, the cellar door and bar is built surrounding an erect silo. Alpacas are seen grazing in paddocks surrounding the space where guests are invited to a wine tasting of the estate’s extensive wine offerings – the dessert wines are a must try – accompanied by the regions best cheese. The business is also a leader in sustainability with one of the largest lots of Tesla charging stations available in Australia. Other wine destinations within the region includes Mountain Ridge Wines, Coolangatta Estate and Cupitt’s.
The land that provides habitat to the Shoalhaven region is the traditional custodians of the Yuin People and for a cultural experience to open your mind to the history of Australia, Djiriba Waagura provides multifaceted Aboriginal Cultural Programs. From commercial tours and camps to on Country cultural experiences and education based programs and services, the core vision is to empower the local and visiting community with a strong focus on the youth. Fitting for a sunny Saturday morning, a group of journalists were taken on a bush walk which enlightened us not only to the likes of bush tucker and processes of the ancestors, but the true meaning of caring for the land for future generations. As bushfires ripped through the same country just six months prior, it was incredible to listen to those who have historical experience with back burning practices.
The offering of Jervis Bay and surrounding communities such as Berry provide a number of activities for all. From the adventurous looking to hike through the coastal landscape, the foodie looking to explore the wine region, or the person looking simply to relax, there is roughly 100 beaches to choose from. Whether it be for a weekend or a week, if you can, support local tourism and visit the Whale and Wine region of Shoalhaven. Grab the local foodie map, an empty esky and a fill it with the very best wine, cheese, sweets and produce of the region.