I visited the Sapphire Coast in Australia. It made me realize that I didn’t need to spend $4,000 on flights to Italy to bask in sparkling, uncrowded waters or eat top-notch seafood.
If I wanted crystal clear waters, I always visited Jervis Bay (or Italy’s Dream). I was one of those Sydneysiders who clogged Hyams Beach with selfie sticks (and Huskisson with requests for Three Quarter Oat Flat Whites). But I have now discovered that there is more to the NSW south coast than the blinding white sands of Shoalhaven. There is also volcanic rock (looking).
Yes: there’s an even cooler, less crowded, Italian-style (read: quaint spot with great seafood) alternative a few hours further up the coast.
This option? The Sapphire Coast (or as I call it, “Australian Sicily”).
A two-day trip in a 2013 Toyota Coaster, booked through Camplify, helped me figure that out.
From unexpected wildlife encounters to chilly pink sunsets (to Sydney’s lack of companions), this is why I think Australia’s Sapphire Coast (one of NSW’s most ‘sleepy’ stretches of coastline) is worth overtime driving.
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But first: what is the Sapphire Coast? The Sapphire Coast stretches from Bermagui in the north to Eden in the south. Bermagui is 5.5 hours from Sydney (unlike Jervis Bay which is only 3 hours from Sydney). Eden is 6 hours and 10 minutes from Sydney (I admit I didn’t venture that far).
My journey started in Sydney, and took me to Bermagui, then back again, with a group of friends. We left on Friday afternoon, slept near Kiama on Friday evening, then made the trip to Bermagui on Saturday afternoon. We arrived in Bermagui around 4pm on Saturday, then left Bermagui around 11am on Sunday to begin the trek back to Sydney.
Despite spending less than 24 hours in Bermagui, that was enough to convince me that the drive (if you look at it on a map, it’s almost in line with Jindabyne) was worth it. Here’s why.
We were able to experience the indescribable magic of being part of the food chain
On Saturday afternoon, we checked out Bermagui Blue Pool. We were told there had been seals around, but other than a few splashes in the distance, there wasn’t much to see.
The next morning we woke up to gray skies and rain, and went down to the pools for a quick dip, just to wake up, not expecting to see much. This time around 20 seals were swinging around, around the pools (in the open sea).
We never would have dared, but having two divers swimming nearby gave us the confidence to wander around the rocks and consider jumping in and doing an underwater squiz (from a distance).
I probably wouldn’t have started on my own. But as soon as I started getting cold feet, my friend started plotting a route in and out of the rocks. We both ended up jumping in. We kept well away from the herd of seals but soon enough a few came straight at us.
Not wanting to disturb them, we left pretty quickly. One of them followed us, creating a priceless moment when he slid alongside us, looking us straight in the eye.
Watch us swim with the seals in Bermagui in the video above
We walked out chatting (“I wonder if they think ‘that was cool!’ too?”) and wondering if they were enjoying our underwater pirouettes. I also thought how absurd it was for us to do this, given that just a few weeks ago I rushed out of surfing in Sydney, having just seen a seal, lest he attract a shark.
But for some reason (not necessarily logical), I just felt safe in Bermagui (plus: I knew I’d spend the rest of my life regretting it if I didn’t jump).
It was also very special (if very dumb) that it wasn’t part of a guided tour. We were in their environment, not the other way around – if something they checked we weird outside. Although we were aware that we should not disturb them, the encounter made me appreciate nature more than any other time in my life, as cliché as that sounds (and as little as that matters, unless come out now and become a Green Peace volunteer).
But if we want governments to make better decisions on environmental issues, then we probably want more people to have more of these encounters (in a sustainable way).
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We saw one of the coolest rock pools in the world
Although the locals would probably have laughed at us for taking so many pictures of a rock pool (I would probably find it weird that people get so excited with a rock pool in Sydney), the Bermagui Blue Pool is really something. It’s even in the rock pools hall of fame. We were also lucky because the best time of year to see it is in the fall when the water isn’t too cold yet, the horizon is ablaze with wild colors and the summer crowds have died down.
We were able to bask on rocky platforms… without spending $4,000 on flights to Italy
Take a look at some of the photos of Bermagui Blue Pool on Instagram – you’ll see what I mean… Kilalea National Park wasn’t too shabby on the way down either.
We were able to eat fresh, local seafood…also without spending $4,000 on flights to Italy
Although the seafood linguine could have been better in Italy, it would also have been much more expensive. Also: the seafood on the Sapphire Coast is world class (top tip: if you’re in Bermagui, check out the Bermagui Beach Hotel).
We weren’t locked in an Airbnb or an expensive hotel
By touring the area in our van, we were able to wake up exactly where we wanted to be each day (rather than having to drive there after waking up) and appreciate those little moments (like sunrise and sunset) on the coast you’re used to doesn’t end up happening any other way.
On Friday night we stayed in Kilalea Preserve Holiday Park, which is nestled in the middle of a tranquil national park (and is far better than car camping in Shellharbour, listening to local P-Platers do burnouts). This campground is only a short walk to Mystics, a great surfing beach the day we were there, and a short drive to The Farm, a great swimming beach (the day we were there).
On Saturday night we stayed at Reflections Bermagui Holiday Parks, which was a 10 minute walk from Bermagui Blue Pool, a two minute walk (if that) from the Bermagui Beach Hotel and a two minute walk (if that) from Woolworths. There were also hot showers and powered sites.
We had some sneaky surf on the way back
The waves weren’t as big as I had hoped for on this trip. As someone obsessed with surfing, this would usually annoy me. But I didn’t care. Swimming with the seals in Bermagui made my weekend. And we had some sneaky surfing on the way back in some nice glassy waves.
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We didn’t even see most of the Sapphire Coast, but it still blew my mind
We only saw Bermagui, really. And I still had an absolute blast. So that shows just how amazing this coastline is (and makes me want more). I now dream of my next trip, where I hope to see the killer whale museum, spot a whale, taste fresh ocean oysters, take a photo at Horse’s Head Rock, go mountain biking, go hiking, kayaking and eating more good food… Actually, come to think of it, maybe I should come twice…
There are more cool places to stop on the way home (if you live in Sydney) than you can throw in a piece of smashed avocado toast…
From Australia Rock and the seal colonies of Narooma, to Congo Beach (which makes you feel like you’re in another world), to various cheese factories, breweries, wineries and wildlife parks, there’s plenty to see. .