When we set off on a summer road trip to the NSW south coast, we felt like the only beach-lovers left in the state yet to set foot on the area's most famous beach, said to have the world's whitest sand.
Like most other holidaymakers in the area, three hours south of Sydney, we were excited to see what all the fuss was about. But in the end, we left as we had arrived – without the Hyams T-shirt – but certainly not feeling robbed of a soothing dose of coastal beauty.
The shores of this part of the Jervis Bay area around Huskisson – near Hyams – are made up of a string of beautiful beaches, none of which have been loved-to-death in quite the same way as their sister in the spotlight. (Overcrowding and traffic jams around Hyams are so bad over summer, nearby streets are intermittently closed to cars). In any case, we discover it's not all about the beaches.
Just 10 minutes from the sand, tucked into the farmland behind the coastal strip, we stay in two delightfully different rural accommodations with more charms than a Swarovski display cabinet.
The Woods, off Bayly Road near Tomerong, is a quirky, multitasking property, offering glamping under fairy lights or stylish three-bedroom cottages and a personality that raises a smile around every corner. A wedding venue, a day spa (set in a vintage train carriage) and a working farm, visitors to The Woods are treated to pink lanterns hung between trees, duck-egg blue sheds, oversized outdoor chess, a pool and a children's playground, all presided over by a mob of more than a hundred kangaroos.
Signposts directing you from your cottage to the main road are printed with lines from Dorothea Mackellar's poem My Country, while others around the property point to ''moo cows", games and a secret forest. Not exactly your average farm stay, The Woods has a delightful sense of fun and overflows with instagrammable features. Hanging egg chairs, fire pits, bikes, a chook shed, ducks, a lavender garden, alpacas, ponies and covetable outdoor furniture and decorations make for a multi-post proposition. What to select? Which stylish detail to snap?
Walk the grounds, read the signs, chat to glampers, this property is a poster girl for how to make a farm stay ultra-hip.
The next night we swap quirky cool for the grown-up elegance of Bundarra Farm House, a sprawling luxury mansion with vaulted ceilings, a vestibule the size of a dance floor and interiors straight from the glossy pages of style bibles. Grand yet warm, Bundarra has four bedrooms, three stylish bathrooms, an outdoor kitchen cabana and a master suite you won't forget any time soon. Off the main bedroom, enter an en suite fit for a five-star hotel and survey the sweeping grounds from your claw-foot tub, the room's panoramic windows framing the countryside so picturesquely you'll be fantasising about a tree-change before the water begins to cool.
As a base camp for large groups, Bundarra is hard to beat, being just 10 minutes from Huskisson and all its distractions. Despite its relaxed holiday town vibe, Husky, as it's called by the locals, is full of stylish homeware and furniture shops, fashion boutiques and decidedly upmarket eateries, fuelled in part by an influx of Sydney chefs and restaurateurs to the area. Even Merciers Gelato and Coffee Bar Store, an Airstream van turned-dessert-and-coffee-pop-up is run by an ex-Surry Hills foodie. In a cute summer night's twist, ice cream here comes with outdoor movies under a soaring palm tree.
We enjoy a top-notch evening meal at The Quarters, new to Currambene Street, and chat to owner Jono who moved to town with his wife late last year. Set in a 100-year-old cottage, Jono and partners Simon and James have nailed the beach-house vibe with chic holiday-style interiors and an enticing cocktail menu.
Earning his stripes in the eateries of Surry Hills, Jono enticed a former chef from Paddington's Four in Hand pub to join him in his seaside venture, the pair producing a menu laden with delectable modern meat and seafood dishes.
We enjoy another lovely meal amid the romance of the bush at The Gunyah restaurant at Paperbark Camp just off Woollamia Road. Paperbark is a glamping site of 12 canvas safari-style tents set among eucalypts and paperbark trees and the restaurant sits at canopy height in the middle of the camp. Our open balcony table offers a sublime bush backdrop to enjoy our food from the entree of house-baked chocolate and walnut bread, through our lamb main to the finale of lemon meringue tart with rhubarb. The fine fare is paired with the friendliest staff imaginable and, as the evening progresses, the white tree trunks fade with the light, the surrounding bush grows large and tweeting birds give way to chirping crickets.
For all its upmarket attractions, the lure of Jervis Bay is its natural beauty, best enjoyed through the simple, affordable pleasure of cycling. Our seven-kilometre ride from Huskisson to Plantation Point along a shady, shared bike and pedestrian path has to be one of the most picturesque coastal rides in the state.
After being supplied with bikes, helmets, a map and excellent beach-hopping tips from the folks at Jervis Bay Paddle Sports Co, we cross the road and set off along the spectacular Round Bay Track. Coasting through picnic lawns and playgrounds, we cross the bridge at Moona Moona Creek, where kids are jumping with glee into the water to the cheers of bystanders. With a string of pretty swimming coves on the left and wish-list beach houses on the right, riding this track is a double head-turner for day-trippers happy to travel light.
At the end of the ride, our lunch is waiting under a picnic tent set up by Liz Sismore, whose genius new business, Hyams Beach Hampers, makes heading to the beach with just a towel seem so unimaginative.
Her cosy, chic cocoons can be set up on any of the beaches along the bay, with prevailing weather and winds on the day informing the best locations for picnickers. Today, Liz has set up "camp" in a corner spot, giving us protection from today's southerly for a solid three hours.
In the Esky we find blueberries, flatbread, cheese, quiche, lemon tart, olives, almonds, caramel fudge, and water bottles, plus the added convenience of beach towels. In other words, everything you might need for a decidedly fancy day at the seaside. Kicking back on inflatable lounges, a large rug keeping the sand out of our food, we throw the supplied Frisbee to each other and watch the stand-up paddleboarders ride the gentle waves. I make a mental note to try copying a version of this set-up when we get home to Sydney.
"Quite often we suggest the best beaches on the day – Murray's for example in the National Park is very beautiful and protected, and we love Greenfields, which has similar white sand to Hyams," says Liz, who agrees the area has plenty of beaches just as beautiful as Hyams.
As stunning as they are, the beaches are but a part of the aquatic lure of the area. The bay itself is another star attraction and on our last day we step aboard Las Brisas, a 10-metre Seawind 1000 ultra-luxury catamaran to breathe in its enormity.
Departing from the Woollamia boat ramp, expert sailors Cindy and Alan Nebauer guide the craft up Currambene Creek towards Huskisson, through the spit and into the bay proper. A nicer nautical pair would be hard to find (it was as if we were spending the day with old friends) and they regale us with tales of their international ocean-going adventures as the expanse of Jervis Bay unfolds on all sides.
After 90 minutes of soaking up the sunshine, expert local commentary and hors d'oevres, we drop anchor off Booderee National Park for a swim. We're rewarded for braving the chilly water by basking on deck in the warmth and silence as we sail back to Husky, already planning when we can return to do all this again.
The Woods Farm features eight cabins, each with three bedrooms, a kitchen, lounge room, bathroom and laundry. Houses from $350 a night; Glamping tents from $220 a night. See www.thewoodsfarm.com.au
Bundarra Farm House is a three level homestead that can accommodate up to 20 people in four large bedrooms. From $1800 a night for up to 12 guests, $100 per extra guest. Dogs welcome with prior approval. See listing at visitnsw.com
The Quarters is open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday, lunch Friday to Sunday and breakfast on the weekend. See www.thequartershuskisson.com.au
The Gunyah restaurant at Paperbark Camp is open for breakfast and dinner every day. Bookings essential. See www.paperbarkcamp.com.au
Half-day (4.5hr hour) sightseeing cruise of Jervis Bay $1300. See www.jervisbaysailingcharters.com.au
Angie Kelly was a guest of Destination NSW.
See also: Former nude beach named Australia's best