Break at the beach

Hooked on a NSW south coast hol­i­day house

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA - KA­T­RINA LOB­LEY

Long be­fore ar­riv­ing at Werri Beach — a vil­lage most Sydneysiders strug­gle to pin­point even though it’s just 130km south of the city — I hear the fish and chips are fa­mous. Imag­ine my de­light, then, when I re­alise that Werri Beach Fish Shop is a hop and a skip from my (hol­i­day) home away from home.

Sun­dara Beach House is also on Pa­cific Av­enue, the ocean­front road that traces the sweep of the beach be­hind the dunes. Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Barn­aby Joyce would have a field day de­scrib­ing the mish­mash of ar­chi­tec­ture, from his beloved brick-and-tile and weath­er­board-and-iron to old-school beach shacks squeezed be­tween shiny, multi-storey man­sions.

My six-bed­room beach house is one of the newer builds. Even though I’ve stud­ied Sun­dara’s web­site, I’m awestruck upon open­ing the front door. The sight­line stretches all the way down the hall to the Bud­dha statue at the end of the 10m salt­wa­ter pool. The first im­pres­sion is of daz­zling, sum­mery white.

Al­ready, four nights, even with in­vited friends drop­ping by, seem nowhere near enough.

Sun­dara’s owner, Me­lanie Horner, once worked for NSW’s tourism body and it’s a pedi­gree that shows in a mul­ti­tude of thought­ful touches. A tiny li­brary off the kitchen holds books for adults and kids, with brochures show­cas­ing nearby at­trac­tions. There’s dis­creet sig­nage on kitchen draw­ers de­tail­ing what’s in­side, a com­pen­dium an­swer­ing ev­ery pos­si­ble ques­tion about the house and its ap­pli­ances, hairdry­ers in all four bath­rooms and stacks of coastal coffee-ta­ble books and mag­a­zines.

First things first. Where is the mas­ter bed­room? A sweep of the ground floor re­veals a bed­room, a de­signer kitchen el­e­vated above the lounge-din­ing area and, be­yond the fold­ing glass doors, a fancy bar­be­cue and an­other ta­ble over­look­ing the pool and spa. Be­yond is a games room that’s also a self-con­tained flat (per­fect for park­ing an an­ti­so­cial teenager).

Back in­side, and up­stairs is an­other liv­ing area — this one with views over the beach strung be­tween dra­matic head­lands. I pop into an­other three bed­rooms be­fore dis­cov­er­ing a pas­sage lead­ing to the mas­ter wing. Its bath­room fea­tures a rain shower, twin van­i­ties and a tub (from which you can watch tele­vi­sion), a walk-in wardrobe and a bed­room with lou­vres that open to al­low the scent and sound of the ocean to roll in.

The salt air makes me hun­gry, but cook­ing din­ner is my idea of hol­i­day hell. Luck­ily, Kiama lies be­hind Werri Beach’s north­ern head­land. On a Sun­day af­ter­noon, tourists are milling around the fa­mous blow­hole and is­su­ing a col­lec­tive “Ah!” each time it blows, as if it’s a sur­prise. Peo­ple clam­ber over rocks, ig­nor­ing the signs warn­ing of death or se­ri­ous in­jury. A jet-skier ven­tures near the blow­hole’s in­let and I ready my cam­era, in case the next geyser pro­pels him into the air.

A friend and I re­pair to an out­door ta­ble at El Co­ra­zon Cocina de Mex­ico to shoot the breeze over mar­gar­i­tas in jam jars and plate­fuls of beans, rice and pulled pork. On the way out, we ad­mire the eatery’s Frida Kahlo wall­pa­per and statue of La Ca­t­rina (the Dap­per Skeleton).

There are more days to fill be­fore I can get my hands on those fish and chips (out­side of school hol­i­days, the shop shuts on Mon­days and Tues­days). I pot­ter south through Ger­ringong to Ger­roa.

Like Werri Beach, it com­prises a few res­i­den­tial streets cling­ing to an im­pres­sive beach. Seven Mile Beach’s waves are gen­tle enough that Surf Camp Aus­tralia brings back­pack­ers here from Syd­ney to give them what’s of­ten their first ex­pe­ri­ence of Aus­tralian waves. I join them as they ar­rive for a five-day camp.

As we wan­der down to the sand with long­boards un­der our arms, an 18-year-old from Es­sex — who says he is yet to speak with a sin­gle Aus­tralian — asks if there are croc­o­diles. He looks crest­fallen when told no. “I re­ally want to surf with one,” he says. If he knew more about Aus­tralian surf cul­ture, he’d ask if Sally Fitzgib­bons, a lo­cal pro surfer, was around. Pri­vate surf­ing lessons are avail­able from Land’s Edge Surf School.

Our group les­son is cut short by light­ning and thun­der rolling in from the south, but the sun is back by the time I tackle a sec­tion of the Kiama Coast Walk. The 22km track, which runs from Min­na­murra to Werri La­goon, trails past Bombo Head­land’s strik­ing hexag­o­nal basalt col­umns. The track is squelchy near Kiama Heights, thanks to those storms, but that doesn’t stop hik­ers and dog own­ers me­an­der­ing up and down rolling green hills that all but dis­ap­pear into the sea.

Back at Sun­dara, we body surf, find the out­door shower at the house’s rear, and flop into that frangi­pan­i­fringed pool. The books I’ve brought re­main un­read as I tick off more at­trac­tions.

At Ger­ringong’s Crooked River Wines, the Oak Room Eleven restau­rant is clev­erly an­gled away from the Princes High­way so that din­ers soak up views only of grapevines and hills. I pair oys­ters (from Greenwell Point, near Nowra) and lamb with the es­tate’s sav­agnin.

A friend rec­om­mends the har­bourfront Kiama Farm­ers Mar­ket (Wed­nes­days, 3pm-6pm). I roll along, re­luc­tantly, as I like food mar­kets about as much as cook­ing. But I end up with bags of good­ies that in­clude a creamy nat­u­ral yo­ghurt from The Pines, a lo­cal ar­ti­san mi­cro dairy. The yo­ghurt’s milk comes from Hol­stein cows that roam pad­docks with ocean views.

Those who care to ven­ture be­yond a 10-minute drive from Sun­dara could join Jervis Bay Wild’s South Coast Pas­sage tour, which leaves from Huskisson (about an hour’s drive). Af­ter buss­ing to Cur­rarong, we board a rigid in­flat­able boat to skirt around Beecroft Penin­sula and into the bay. Along the way, we nose into sea caves, cruise past bask­ing fur seals and gain in­sight into the an­tics of rock fish­er­men who have in­serted lad­ders and knot­ted ropes into the sheer cliffs to ac­cess lower plat­forms.

We’re de­canted into Huskisson’s Portside Cafe, where I lunch on flat­head and fries — even though it means a dou­ble fish-and-chips day. Yes, Werri Beach’s star at­trac­tion is open again, and I scoot in as soon as I have re­gained my ap­petite. The court­yard is pretty at dusk and there’s just enough light to read the story of the shop’s his­tory stuck on a no­tice­board.

In the 1960s, lo­cal fish­er­men would bring their catch to Bar­bara Pike and wait in her lounge room while she cooked the fish for 10c a fil­let. Af­ter the en­ter­prise be­came a busi­ness, Zelda Pryor came to work at the shop and stayed 30 years. When Zelda passed away in 2010, her two daugh­ters and their hus­bands bought the place.

This his­tory makes me feel good, but not as good as when I peel back the lay­ers of butcher’s pa­per and yes­ter­day’s news to find mouth-wa­ter­ing fish and im­pos­si­bly crisp chips.

Werri Beach, I think I just joined your fan club.

Ka­t­rina Lob­ley was a guest of Sun­dara Beach House and Kiama Tourism.

Look­ing down to Werri Beach and Ger­ringong, top; Sun­dara Beach House and its 10m salt­wa­ter pool, middle; the pied cor­morants in Jervis Bay off Huskisson

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