After spending most of our lives driving north on NSW getaways, The Thirsty Travellers took a detour south over Easter to beautiful Narooma.
The pictureseque town in the Eurobodalla region is around five hours south of Sydney, although you might have to factor in a little longer if you’re battling holiday traffic.
However, it’s worth the trip. The region is filled with stunning natural beauty and great food. It’s also one of the favourite haunts of billionaire hospitality titan Justin Hemmes, who owns a pub, two restaurants and a motel there. He’s predicting the town will one day rival Noosa as a holiday paradise.
Travel writer Fiona Carruthers interviewed Hemmes for the Australian Financial Review last year about his affection for the town.
“Narooma has become my second home and the backdrop to so many of my happiest memories with my family,” Hemmes said. “I think it is one of the most beautiful spots in the world, with a unique landscape, crystal clear waters and an amazing community of people who call it home. It has been an absolute privilege to spend so much time here over the past six years and I’m excited to now join the local business community.
“One of the silver linings to come out of the last year is a heightened appreciation for our own backyard, an excitement to explore our spectacular country and its coastline. We are so lucky to call Australia home.”
While I’m not convinced Narooma is the next Noosa due to its remote location – I’m sure it’s far more accessible when you own a private plane – I agree with Hemmes that it’s a pretty special part of the world.
We booked three nights at the motel Hemmes bought in the town – The Whale Inn, pictured above – and made reservations at Justin’s three restaurants – Lynch’s Hotel, Queen Chow and The Quarterdeck.
The Whale Inn was an instant win for me when we arrived at sunset. It’s perched on the hill overlooking the bay. We scored a room with a separate living area and balcony overlooking the gorgeous coastline.
The motel isn’t super glamorous, but spacious, well-appointed and the view is fabulous.
After checking in, we wandered across the road to the pub – aka Lynch’s Hotel – which was originally built in 1895, making it one of the oldest and most historic buildings in town. We ordered delicious fish pies and pink wine for our dinner.
The pub was only acquired recently and hasn’t been given a makeover yet. The only Merivale touch is a new menu – out with the Nepalese curries that we were keen to try and in with traditional pub food like parmies and steaks … including a $99 one!
The next morning we visited Surf Beach, which was beautiful but closed to swimming due to dangerous surf. It was still lovely to wander along the pristine sand.
Surf Beach has two amazing sites of ancient geological significance and beauty at either end of the sandy stretch. At the southern end lie the imposing Glasshouse Rocks, dated between 510 and 440 million years old. At the northern end of the beach there is a display of igneous pillow lava, which formed through the lava flow of a submarine volcano.
After exploring the sandy sights, we did a bit of beach hopping down the coast, including beautiful Hankerchief Beach for a quick dip and then a stickybeak at Mystery Bay.
The waves at Hankerchief Beach delighted me as they were filled with shoals of shimmering fish. Fortunately we were very close to shore for our splash and not in danger of becoming shark bait!
Later in the afternoon we walked out to the breakwater at Wagonga Inlet and perched on the rocks to watch about 10 seals basking in the sun. We were entranced by the huge, lazy creatures.
There’s also a popular selfie spot on the rocks at the mouth of Wagonga Inlet featuring a rock formation that looks a little like a map of Australia.
Dinner that night was at our motel’s restaurant, Queen Chow, which also has sister venues in Sydney at Enmore and Manly. We feasted on dumplings, salt and pepper squid, roast duck noodles and balmain bug omelette with fried bread. The omelette was probably our favourite of all the dishes, spicy and complex.
Our Hemmes-centric trip to Narooma struck gold again on Saturday when we had lunch at The Quarterdeck.
The venue is the first commercial purchase the billionaire made in Narooma – an old boat shed that has been converted into a tiki bar and restaurant. The view is sublime, with a 270 degree panorama of the lake and the rolling green hills surrounding it.
As for our lunch. we ordered spicy fried chicken wings with chipotle dipping sauce; snapper ceviche with avocado, jalapeno, cherry tomatoes, tiger’s milk dressing and crisp tostada; battered whiting tacos with pico de gallo, shaved cabbage, harissa, mint and coriander crema; grilled citrus pork belly tacos with spicy pineapple salsa and coriander; and Passion Fruit LIIT Slushies with Absolut, Havana Club, Beefeater, triple sec, lemon and passionfruit.
In the late afternoon we wandered over to the other non-Hemmes pub in town, The Narooma Hotel, which has a fantastic deck area with views of the inlet. We sipped our drinks while watching stingrays and seals eating off cuts from the fishing boats at the wharf.
Then we ducked across the road to watch a movie at the sweet local Kinema.
The next morning I was determined to watch the sunrise Glasshouse Rocks, but the beach was only accessible through a graveyard. I arrived in the darkness and started searching around for a white fence that I’d been told marked the beginning of the track down to the beach.
Couldn’t find it for the life of me, then an older couple appeared … I don’t think they were ghosts … and showed me the way.
I scrambled down the hillside using my phone as a torch and emerged onto the pristine beach, which I had to myself as I strode towards the Glasshouse Rocks.
It was absolutely gorgeous on the beach in the early morning light, despite the combination of low clouds on the horizon and no clouds in the sky keeping the sunrise from being a total stunner.
Such a wonderful way to end our lightning trip.
There were a few things we ran out of time to do. I’d have loved to book a boat ride to Montague Island to snorkel and swim with the seals. Depending on the season, between 400 and 2000 New Zealand and Australian fur seals inhabit the iconic granite rocks on the special wildlife sanctuary. I’d have also loved to explore the Mill Bay Boardwalk in North Narooma.
Another great reason to visit Narooma is coming up in the next few weeks – the Narooma Oyster Festival from May 6 & 7. The program includes Chef Colin Fassnidge, world champion shucker, fisherman and renewables expert Stephen Nolan (Galway, Ireland), and Farm to Fork’s Courtney Roulston.
Other events are a Seafood Long Lunch, Oyster Festival After Dark and Conversations with the Deep in the Weeds Food Podcast crew. Festival favourites are back too, such as the Ultimate Oyster Experience, Champagne and Oyster Cruises, Oyster Alley, Rock Oyster Lounge, Australia’s Shucking Championships, Australia’s Biggest Oyster and the popular cooking program. There’s live music by the Sunbears, Chloe Kay & the Crusade and more, a food market, kids zone, arts precinct and Friday fireworks.
Maybe next year!