We were recently invited to experience beautiful and unspoilt Shoalhaven on the New South Wales South Coast and it’s not hard to see why this region is one of Australia’s most-loved surfing and family travel destinations. We all have fond memories of holidays at the beach in summer, and the Shoalhaven is an ideal place to relive those special times and make some new memories with your children.
Instead of flying into Sydney or Canberra and hiring a car, we decided to take a road trip in a Holden Captiva that Holden were nice enough to let us take for an extended test drive. Travelling from Victoria we passed through Albury (where we stayed for the night), Holbrook (where we climbed on the Big Submarine), Gundagai (where we saw the Dog on the Tucker-box), Canberra (for another overnight stay where we visited Questacon and the National Dinosaur Museum), Goulburn (where we saw the Big Merino) and Sutton Forest (we want to go back and explore this picturesque village) on our way to Nowra and Culburra Beach (our home for the next two days).
The Shoalhaven is just two hours from Sydney and Canberra (so flying in makes it really accessible if you are from interstate and don’t want to drive) and boasts unspoilt beaches, fun activities and delicious eateries to satisfy even the fussiest of little eaters!
With our copy of Shoalhaven Tourism’s “Surfing Shoalhaven” guide in hand we researched all the best beaches and waves, road trips and activities on offer in the region so that we could plan the most amazing stay – a holiday that has left us wanting to return and explore some more!
Shoalhaven Zoo is located in the town of Nowra about 2 hours drive south of Sydney. With more than 100 species of native and exotic birds, reptiles and mammals, the Shoalhaven Zoo is the largest zoo on the NSW south coast.
Opening hours: 9am to 5pm every day except Christmas day. Animal shows start at 11am.
Address: 23 Rock Hill Road, North Nowra NSW 2541
Cost: Adults – $25.00 Aged 16+ Seniors & Pensioners – $20.00 Upon presentation of a valid seniors/pension card Students – $20.00 Upon presentation of a valid student card Children (Aged 3-15) – $15.00 Family – $70.00 2x adults & 2x children
The Shoalhaven is home to more than 100 beaches so a visit to the beach is a MUST whilst in the region. We were lucky enough to be staying in the quiet beachside town of Culburra Beach (which is located 20 minutes from Nowra) and our holiday house was located two blocks back from the water.
Alegría and Isaac LOVE the ocean and it didn’t take long for them to be playing in the shallows or with a local dog named Sam!
The people were friendly and relaxed, whilst the coastline made a stunning backdrop for an impromptu photography session.
Jervis Bay Bike Hire – See the Bay in a Different Way!
Jervis Bay Bike Hire is a mobile business offering a variety of bikes, from BMX bikes for the kids to tandem bikes for the adults. As they are a mobile business there is no shop frontage so you need to order your bikes in advance by phone or email. Same day delivery is available providing the order is received before 11am and is subject to availability. They even deliver free of charge if you are staying close by or you can choose to pick up if you are staying outside of their delivery area.
We hired two ‘heist’ bikes (suitable for adults 168cm tall and above), as well as a ‘chariot’ and a ‘tag-a-long rider’ for the kids (helmets and locks are also provided with each bike). The ‘heist’ bikes were required for both the chariot and the tag-a-long rider to attach to, although if you have older kids (they even hire scooters!) or are going by yourself they had some great adult bikes to choose from.
We enjoyed a fun morning exploring the sights of Jervis Bay and feeling the fresh air on our faces whilst we rode our bikes around the Bay.
The bike track is very well maintained and we even stopped off at Nelsons Beach for a play in the super soft, white sand (there is a toilet block and playground here as well) before we headed back and said goodbye to our wheels. The kids loved both the chariot and the tag-a-long rider. Alegría and Isaac took turns having a go in each and even though Isaac couldn’t reach the pedals of the rider, that didn’t stop him from having a go!
Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and pack some sunscreen, water and snacks.
Going for a bike ride is a great way to explore Jervis Bay, we thought it might be a “little” out of our fitness range but it was a highlight of our holiday. We all had such a great time!
Cost: from $30 per day for children’s bikes and $40 per day for adults bikes (discounts available for multiple days). Accessories such as the chariot and tag-a-long rider are extra.
Our whale watching tour was run by Dolphin Watch Cruises / Eco-Whale Cruise who are located in Huskisson, NSW.
We were told that whale watching is an experience that is not to be missed when visiting the Shoalhaven between May and November. Unfortunately, we were visiting the area a week or two before the majority of the whales made their way back to Antarctic waters during the Southern migration, so whilst there had been successful whale watching trips in the days prior to our trip, on the day we didn’t see any whales.
What we can tell you though, is Sam and the crew from Dolphin Watch Cruises / Eco-Whale Cruise offer a friendly and well run tour business and we wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them.
Don’t forget to bring along some sunscreen, a hat, your camera and warm clothes / closed shoes. To say it gets chilly on the water is an understatement!! It is FREEZING! The crew gave out red ponchos and if it wasn’t for them then we would have been miserable! We were still cold, but it was nothing compared to how we were before we got the ponchos. Don’t be a hero (like Tim) and think you will be okay as Tim froze for 2 hours and was only warm when we turned around to head back to shore.
As their business name suggests, they run dolphin tours all year round. There are resident pods living in Jervis Bay, so if you want guaranteed animal sightings then a dolphin tour would be the way to go.
Address: 50 Owen St Huskisson NSW 2540
Phone: (02) 4441 6311
Cost: Adults – $65.00 Aged 15+ Concession – $62.00 Children – $32.00 Aged 2-14 Family – $165.00 2x adults & 2x children
As our holiday was very much a beach holiday, we couldn’t resist heading to Greenfields Beach in the Jervis Bay National Park. Greenfields Beach was listed by the Guardian UK as one of 12 best beaches in the world earlier this year– taking a coveted place alongside the world famous Bora Bora in French Polynesia, Starfish Beach in Panama and Source d’Argent in the Seychelles. The Guardian UK also named Greenfields Beach as one of its “50 best beaches in the world”, as chosen by its readers. The only Aussie beach to make both lists, Greenfields Beach is described as being “framed by a dense forest of gum trees and a small sandstone cliff” and we just had to see it for ourselves!
There are amenities such as outdoor showers and toilets, ample car parking, and a picnic area with amazing views all the way to Point Perpendicular. Greenfield Beach is the most wheelchair accessible beach in Jervis Bay National Park, with a flat and grassy picnic area and access to the beach via a short boardwalk.
Greenfields Beach is nestled between the already famous Hyams Beach and the town of Vincentia. The kids loved running on the white, squeaky sand and playing in the shallows. It really is a beautiful beach and the perfect place to spend some time with your family!
Mollymook Beach Surf School
We couldn’t visit all of these beautiful beaches listed in our copy of Shoalhaven Tourism’s “Surfing Shoalhaven” guide without actually going Surfing IN the Shoalhaven! So, we packed up our car and said goodbye to our accommodation in Culburra Beach and travelled an hour south to Mollymook to meet our surfing coach Geoff Hansen from the Mollymook Beach Surf School.
The Mollymook Beach Surf School was first established in 2010 and is led by Geoff Hansen, the principal coach. Geoff has been delivering surf lessons in and around Mollymook since 2006. He has been a surfer for 36 years and is well-respected in the local surfing community.
We met Geoff and Katharine for our two-hour private surfing lesson in the pouring rain! As Geoff happily told us, surfing is one of the only outdoor activities you can do it the rain and it doesn’t matter! All our equipment, including a wetsuit and surf board, was provided and in no time at all we were all ready!
The kids helped to wax our surfboards, and then we went down to the beach for some on-the-sand instruction before we hit the waves! Geoff and Katharine were fantastic instructors and made sure we had the required knowledge and assistance for us all to stand up on our boards!
Isaac was a little jumping jack and popped up without a worry in the world, until one too many wipe-outs had him heading for the beach for a play. Alegría spent the entire 1.5 hours in the water and at 6 years old could have a future in surfing (if only we didn’t live 2 hours away from our nearest surf beach)! Tim and I LOVED the experience, we were a little nervous about the kids, but 5 minutes with Geoff and Katharine and our worries disappeared.
We have not stopped talking about our surfing lesson and had the BEST time! Amazingly, even though it was “Death On A Stick” weather conditions, we saw whales playing in the distance which made for a perfect end to a fantastic experience.
I CANNOT recommend a surfing lesson with Geoff (and Katharine) and Mollymook Beach Surf School highly enough. We have been RAVING about it!! If you think that it will be too cold, or the kids are too young, or the weather is terrible, or you aren’t fit enough or any other excuse you can come up with then STOP! Give it a go. I feel the cold, and Geoff gave me a thick wetsuit and I wasn’t cold at all. Isaac is 3 and can’t swim but still had an amazing time. Tim and I are not the fittest people you will meet but we had a fantastic time. Alegria still talks about how to spot a rip, go under the waves and where to stand on the board. Honestly, learning to surf was a sensational family holiday experience.
If you want to surf in the Shoalhaven area, then the “Surfing Shoalhaven” guide makes interesting reading. It’s available to download from www.shoalhaven.com.au/surf, and provides surfing etiquette tips, surfing conditions and maps, local suppliers, stories of the champions and so much more!
Aussie surfer Tyler Wright is the 2016 WSL Women’s World Champion and grew up in Culburra Beach whilst learning to surf in the Shoalhaven.
“Some of my fondest memories I have are of daily surfing sessions with my brothers and sister. At the time, we couldn’t comprehend that we’d all end up where we are now. We were just over the moon to be out there with everyone at our local beach.” – Tyler Wright, Australian Professional Surfer, No. 1 in the world.
Phone: 0411 392221
Cost: Adults – $90.00 Aged 17+ Children – $75.00 Aged up to 16
WHERE TO EAT
There are so many fantastic places to eat all over the Shoalhaven. You will be spoilt for choice! We have picked our favourite breakfast, lunch and dinner venues so that it one last thing you will need to worry about!
BREAKFAST: – Seasalt Café, Culburra
When you have adventurous day ahead of you, a beautiful, wholesome breakfast is exactly what you need! Seasalt Café is a small business located in the heart of the seaside village of Culburra. Seasalt Café opened in December 2012, and has successfully grown into a busy kitchen feeding locals and holiday makers. The menu includes a variety of meals suitable for all tastes and they have a toybox to keep the kids entertained whilst you wait for your meal!
Address: 151 Prince Edward Avenue, Culburra Beach NSW 2540
Phone: (02) 4447 4650
LUNCH: Pilgrims Café, Huskisson
Following your morning exploring Jervis Bay, it’s time to refuel before your afternoon’s itinerary. Pilgrims Café Huskisson is a popular café with the locals. The menus include delicious meals for all tastes, from pancakes and granola to burgers, pies and wraps. Perfect to take with you or sit back and admire their postcard perfect views!
Address: Shop 4, 57 Owen Street, Huskisson NSW 2540
Phone: (02) 4441 6118.
DINNER: Bannisters Rooftop Bar & Grill, Mollymook
Treat yourself to an exceptional meal from the famous Rooftop Bar & Grill at Bannisters Pavilion. The Rooftop’s menu is inspired by Mediterranean, Southern Californian and Mexican cuisines, complemented by seasonal cocktails, craft beers and an amazing wine list. You HAVE to try the eggplant chips with burnt onion aioli! There’s also a special children’s menu that includes dessert and a drink! The staff are friendly and are happy to bring colouring pages and crayons out for the kids so you can sit back, relax and enjoy the view!
Address: 87 Tallwood Avenue, Mollymook NSW 2539
Phone: (02) 4455 3044
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the “The Batch”, which is a lovely self-contained holiday house located just 500m from Culburra Beach and 700m from Warrain Beach so it is perfect for a family beach holiday.
It is comfortable home away from home where we all felt relaxed with everything that we needed as a travelling family. The Batch is located in a quiet street where the only sounds you will hear are the waves crashing and the birds singing.
There is a cosy wood fire for those chilly winter evenings (we didn’t use it as we were concerned about the kids as it is right in the middle of the room, but the heater worked wonderfully so we were not cold at all!).
The yard is fully enclosed so the children could play freely – it would be perfect if you were travelling with your dog as well.