Before the novel covid-19 brought the world to its knees, Australians were dealing with a much older and arguably more visceral enemy.
One of the worst hit areas was the South Coast of New South Wales, which encompasses cities, towns and hamlets from Gerringong in the north to the Victorian border to the south. Much of this area is enclosed by native bushland, which when combined with a lack of rainfall and dense layers of parched undergrowth created ideal conditions for these fires to take hold.
Homes were cooked, entire towns destroyed and many lives regrettably lost. What’s more, these fires tore through the South Coast just when many small businesses were getting primed for peak tourism season, so that on top of losing valuables, property and stock to the bushfires, they also missed out on much-needed tourist dollars that would normally sustain them for the rest of the year.
A few months down the track though and despite global turmoil due to the coronavirus, the same locals who were forced to abandon the region are welcoming tourists back with open arms. And given the quality of waves in the area, a lack of domestic travel options and a delayed ski season, now would seem the perfect time for a South Coast surf trip.
Assuming you’re coming from Wollongong, Sydney or even further north, the first port of call should be a beach break at Minnamurra by the name of Mystics. With a rivermouth at one end and a headland at the other, it’s flush with wedgy lefts and rights that would make even the most hardened wave rider giddy with excitement. It doesn’t hurt to mention that the spot itself is also absolutely stunning.
After surfing to the point of exhaustion, you can then cruise further south and grab a meal at the Perfect Break Café in Gerringong. Located under the same roof as Natural Necessity Surf Shop, this is the place to be if you love healthy, wholesome, freshly prepared vegetarian food that’s guaranteed to fill you up.
A quick trip down south isn’t complete without a stop off in Jervis Bay. While the swell needs to be at least double overhead for the waves here to work, it’s worth a visit just to check out the whale watching tours, have a beer at the Jervis Bay brewery or take a guided walk through Booderee Botanic Gardens, Australia’s only Aboriginal-owned botanic gardens.
Once you’ve dusted off the cobwebs, had some tucker and toured the Bay, it’s onto the more bushfire affected areas of the South Coast, beginning with the popular coastal hamlet of Bendalong. More a smattering of fibro holiday homes than an actual township, Bendalong has long since been a popular surf spot for travelling shredders. There are a bunch of waves around the area but the most consistent is Back Beach, which has been known to absolutely fire under the right conditions. Side note: the fishing and diving ain’t half bad either.
If Bendalong is too crowded or the banks aren’t living up to their reputation, Lake Conjola and the famous left hander at Green Island is less than 20 minutes down the road. Lake Conjola was one of the most fire-ravaged communities in the area with 1 in 3 homes destroyed. David Ford’s was but one of the many houses that succumbed to the flames, losing nearly 300 priceless vintage surfboards in the process.
The next destination is Bawley Point, which is home to a ledgy reef break. If you’re keen to get coned and love a righthander, this spot is not to be missed. Before you get there though, make the obligatory stop at Hayden’s Pies in Ulladulla to try the best pies on god’s green earth. Original, handmade and stuffed with local ingredients, we guarantee that you’ll love every pastry on their menu, although the butter chicken pie is particularly outstanding.
To round off your South Coast surf trip we have the towns of Durras, which is in the picturesque Murramurrang National Park, and Broulee, located about 30 minutes’ drive further along the highway. Like Lake Conjola, these towns have suffered greatly due to bushfires. Consequently, a visit to either one of them will ensure you score some pretty decent waves and inject a bit of cash into the local communities.
Of course, beyond just surfing and stuffing your face with good food, there are many other tourism-dependent businesses that could do with a little help. Choose to stay in local accommodation or caravan parks rather than just camp out in a carpark. Don’t feel like buying a few souvenirs or shopping for items that you might be able to get your hands on back home is beneath you.
Most of all though, remember that the people on the South Coast are still healing. Be cool in the lineup and support small businesses in the area. You’ll get a kick out of exploring such a beautiful part of the world and the locals will no doubt be thankful for your decision to visit.