Once the do­main of min­ers, the Coal Coast of south­ern New South Wales has un­der­gone a sea change. CARO­LINE BAUM taps into a rich vein of new eater­ies and cafés.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - News -

A road trip in WA’s Great South­ern re­gion re­veals a land that speaks of the quin­tes­sen­tial Aus­tralian sum­mer.

Since lo­cal surfers dubbed the 30-kilo­me­tre stretch be­tween Wol­lon­gong and Stan­well Park the Coal Coast a decade ago, the name has stuck. It refers to the clus­ter of set­tle­ments – Coal­cliff, Wom­barra, Coledale, Austin­mer – sand­wiched be­tween the ocean and the tow­er­ing Illawarra es­carp­ment, each with its own beach and pool hewn from rock shelves by the re­gion’s orig­i­nal min­ers. Keen for a place to bathe af­ter a dusty day un­der­ground, they blasted the sand­stone with dy­na­mite pinched from the mines and con­cealed in their trousers. Or so the story goes.

Orig­i­nally the re­gion was la­belled, blandly, the Leisure Coast by tourism author­i­ties keen to mar­ket its charms as it trans­formed from heavy in­dus­try hub to hol­i­day and sea-change play­ground within two hours’ drive of Syd­ney. As a re­brand­ing ex­er­cise, at least the Coal Coast has the ad­van­tage of his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy. For two cen­turies, long­wall coal min­ing, fol­lowed by steel­mak­ing, dom­i­nated life in Wol­lon­gong and its north­ern exburbs. Sev­eral mines have closed in the past decade, how­ever, and the num­ber of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs in the re­gion has dropped by more than a third in the past six years. Wild brawl­ing be­tween ri­val gangs at pubs be­tween Clifton and Scar­bor­ough made way long ago for more peace­ful ac­tiv­i­ties: hang-glid­ing at Bald Hill (above the beach where avi­a­tion pioneer Lawrence

Har­grave first lifted him­self four me­tres off the ground in his box kite) and climb­ing the Wodi Wodi track for views from Sub­lime Point.

Thir­teen years ago the old coast road be­tween Coal­cliff and Clifton, which was prone to rock­falls and mud­slides, was re­placed by the sin­u­ous bends of the Sea Cliff Bridge. Ris­ing on gi­ant con­crete stilts, it re­booted the ap­peal of this sleepy coastal stretch as a daytrip­ping des­ti­na­tion for Syd­neysiders, is and the per­fect van­tage for sight­ings of mi­grat­ing hump­back and minke whales. Sea-change gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, mean­while, has picked up pace from Stan­well Park to Bulli, as fi­bro shacks and min­ers’ cot­tages make way for ar­chi­tect-de­signed week­enders.

Still, the re­gion re­mains al­most de­fi­antly re­sis­tant to ur­ban pol­ish and pre­ten­sion. This is a place where it’s al­most manda­tory to en­joy a meal with sand be­tween your toes, your hair stiff with surf salt. Tellingly, though, the qual­ity of cof­fee and bread have im­proved dra­mat­i­cally. So many cafés have opened in Thirroul and sur­rounds it could have been called the Caffeine Coast, and what was once white-sliced ter­ri­tory is now sour­dough cen­tral. A freshly risen batch of bak­ers in­cludes Wade Younger of Coal Coast Sour­dough in Port Kem­bla, and Daniel Watts, whose char­coal loaves sell out quickly at his new Bread Cir­cle bak­ery in Austin­mer. They’re among a roll­call of en­trepreneurs launch­ing new ven­tures on the “near” South Coast.


Chef Andy Burns blurs the lines be­tween fine and ca­sual din­ing in this ap­peal­ing hy­brid with a spare, Nordic-inf lu­enced in­te­rior and smart-ca­sual vibe. The tight menu leans to­wards Ja­pan and Ko­rea – salmon with yuzu granita, white soy and pick­led kohlrabi, for in­stance – and is pep­pered with na­tive in­gre­di­ents such as salt­bush, sam­phire and sea let­tuce, the lat­ter in a dish of yel­lowfin tuna, Tas­ma­nian wasabi and sea-let­tuce fu­rikake. Five house-made misos, in­clud­ing chick­pea and pis­ta­chio, pro­vide hits of umami, and the bar serves sake and an all-Aus­tralian wine list. 1/179 Keira St, Wol­lon­gong, NSW, (02) 4295 0903, baby­facek­


It’s the laid-back vibe and at­ten­tive ser­vice as much as the All­press or­ganic cof­fee and Thor­ough­bread loaves that dis­tin­guish this new café owned by Norby and Sandy He­witt. Their crew re­mem­bers cus­tomers’ names and cof­fee pref­er­ences, and serves caffeine with su­pe­rior al­mond croissants, cin­na­mon scrolls, Por­tuguese tarts and gluten-free triple-choc brown­ies by Mad­house Bake­house. It’s dog-friendly, eco-friendly (they have a keep-cup dis­count and take­away cof­fee grounds for com­post­ing), and just plain friendly. 190 Lawrence Har­grave Dr, Thirroul, NSW, bread­e­


Opened in 2016 on the site of a run­down newsagency on the main drag of Coledale, a vil­lage pop­u­lar with young fam­i­lies, Earth Walker & Co ar­rived in a burst of en­ergy and ideas. Night yoga ses­sions, ex­hi­bi­tions of lo­cal artists, work­shops on weav­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy, and a stead­fast com­mit­ment to lo­cal sup­pli­ers and pro­duce have turned Earth Walker into a com­mu­nity hub. Its sig­na­ture sweet-potato burger with peanut sauce comes on an ac­ti­vated-char­coal bun; the pop­u­lar Earth­bowl fea­tures lo­cally grown greens and heir­loom beet­root, black tahini and na­tive suc­cu­lents in­clud­ing sea­spray and karkalla. Look for baked goods by Arthurs Baker in Port Kem­bla (visit the baker’s stall at the Coledale Mar­kets at Coledale Public School on the fourth Sun­day of the month); the fruit for house-made tarts, mean­while, is sup­plied by nearby Darkes For­est or­chards, where vis­i­tors can pick their own. Store co-own­ers Ciara Kul­mar and Bianca Poscol­iero have teamed up with War­ra­wong un­em­ployed youth and refugee scheme Green Con­nect to of­fer “fair food” veg­etable boxes – ideal for a hol­i­day rental pantry along with one of Daniel Watts’ Bread Cir­cle loaves. Open daily 7am-4pm and for din­ner Fri­days and Sat­ur­days in sum­mer. 749 Lawrence Har­grave Dr, Coledale, NSW, (02) 4622 1684


Build­ing on the suc­cess of their café Sandy­good­wich, launched in Wol­lon­gong in 2012, Yon Miller and Emma Hu­ber have opened a fam­ily-friendly diner with a no-frills menu of wood-fired, slow-roasted meats and ro­bust side dishes. Start with far­i­nata or ri­cotta cro­quettes spiked with sage salt and parme­san, per­haps, then set­tle in with hearty Mid­dle Eastern and Asian-inf lu­enced dishes; roast chicken with kim­chi comes with se­same cu­cum­ber pickle, a shoul­der of lamb with green olive tape­nade. Vege­tar­ian and gluten-free dishes in­clude roast egg­plant with chick­peas and shak­shuka, car­rots with curry leaves, labne and gin­ger, and baked pump­kin with cin­na­mon, tahini and cur­rants. Chil­dren are greeted with crayons and butcher’s pa­per. 1/323 Princes Hwy, Bulli, NSW, (02) 4283 7739, sandy­good­


This bar in the Thirroul Beach Mo­tel draws a loyal crowd with live mu­sic, from doo-wop a cap­pella to “South Coast hill­billy Gothic bal­lads”. Craft beers go well with the likes of bour­bon-glazed chicken wings and pork belly slid­ers. 222 Lawrence Har­grave Dr, Thirroul, NSW, (02) 4268 5406, jose­


A wood-fired oven turns out the best pizze in town at this lively laneway eatery in a con­verted ware­house. Ex­pect top­pings such as fen­nel salami, ’nduja, zuc­chini f low­ers, goat’s curd and San Marzano toma­toes. A gen­er­ous help­ing of gnoc­chi comes with peas and pancetta, with sides such as shaved cab­bage salad with dried figs and pecans, and chunky po­lenta chips with Gor­gonzola and cau­li­flower sauce and kale dust. Fin­ish with a Ne­groni granita (or whipped Nutella for kids). Take­away is avail­able but it’s bet­ter fun to eat in and en­joy the cock­tail shak­ing, sharp ser­vice and peo­ple watch­ing. 5 Crown Ln, Wol­lon­gong, NSW, (02) 4229 7829, knead­in­


Op­po­site the Bread Cir­cle bak­ery, this nou­veau-hip­pie café serves Sin­gle O cof­fee in ce­ramic ves­sels hand­made by lo­cal artists. The ser­vice is un­hur­ried (and some­times hit and miss), the food homey and sim­ple, us­ing lo­cally grown greens from Pope’s Pro­duce in Woonona. Favourites in­clude the doorstop toastie of Bread Cir­cle sour­dough with cashew but­ter, roasted cau­li­flower, roasted pump­kin, mi­cro-greens and dukkah, and muffins of ri­cotta and fresh fruit. Hun­gry surfers re­fuel with baked eggs with bor­lotti beans cooked in a rich tomato sauce. The boho vibe ex­tends next door at In­dian home­ware and cloth­ing store Haveli, and across the street at Mala Beads. 38 Moore St, Austin­mer, NSW, yooy­­street­gen­eral


A Cin­derella makeover has turned this mod­est 1940s fish and chip shop into a lively fish café with a bar serv­ing light meals such as ce­viche and sashimi, court­yard ta­bles and a kids’ beach cubby. With seafood from Shell­har­bour mar­kets, chef Gra­ham Ette el­e­vates chip-shop fare: grilled, crumbed or bat­tered catch of the day, fish tacos with chipo­tle mayo and fen­nel slaw, Nepalese fish curry, and a pret­tily de­con­structed prawn cock­tail with sea­weed salad and puffed grains. When it gets busy at week­ends, or­der take­away and stroll across the road for a beach pic­nic. 216 Lawrence Har­grave Dr, Thirroul, NSW, 4268 6008, south­

PRE­VI­OUS PAGES Sea Cliff Bridge, Stan­well Park. Clock­wise from left: Baby­face in Wol­lon­gong; Bald Hill look­out, Stan­well Tops; Austin­mer; mush­rooms and grains with cau­li­flower and black gar­lic at Baby­face; pas­tries from Bread, Espresso &.

Austin­mer Beach. Top left: Earth Walker & Co. Op­po­site, from top: Knead­ing Ruby; sweet-potato burger on a char­coal bun at Earth Walker & Co; South Sailor.

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