Break at the beach
Hooked on a NSW south coast holiday house
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