Merimbula region things to do: Off the beaten track on the Sapphire Coast

You can fly direct from Sydney and Melbourne to this coastal region that will be boosted by half-price flights.

How much can you cram into six kilometres? Quite a bit, if you choose your terrain wisely.

"There's a lot see here," Cam Read promises at the start of our hike through the Mimosa National Park, north of Merimbula, and he's not exaggerating.

Our path takes us past soaring spotted gums and tree ferns that stand seven or eight metres high which, according to Read, makes them well over a century old. We see yellow-tailed black cockatoos and king parrots chasing each other through the canopy, and delicate hyacinth orchids nestled amid the undergrowth. We walk along hidden beaches and gaze down at tranquil bays that the Indigenous people used as birthing places. And all along the way there are water views – views across sheltered inlets and open water and even the mouth of the Bega River.

By far the oddest thing we come across are the traces of a long-vanished house, a grand construction that was home to the maker of Ford Pills, the laxatives in a yellow tube that were a household staple into the 1970s.

The Ford mansion – which included gardens where some of the ingredients for the pills were grown – has long since disappeared, reclaimed by the bush, but Read points out the few visible remnants, including a double row of cypress pines that look intimidated by the eucalypts that throng around them.

"These used to line the driveway – the front door would have been right over there," he points.

I've been to the Sapphire Coast plenty of times, but this is the first time I've heard of the mansion lost in the bush.

"We're all about showing people the things they don't know," says Read, who launched the Sapphire Coast Guiding Co two years ago with his partner, Tess Miller, to offer hiking and biking trips.

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"There are national parks around every major town in this area, and each one is different, so there's always something new to discover."

The Merimbula region is the only place in NSW to feature on the federal government's newly announced list of destinations that will qualify for half-price airfares as part of a push to boost tourism. With Qantas launching new flights from both Sydney and Melbourne to the South Coast destination, there's now an even greater incentive to head to this region.

Read and Miller are not the only entrepreneurs doing things differently on the Sapphire Coast. Later that afternoon we stop in at North of Eden distillery, launched two years ago by a couple of tree-changers, Gavin Hughes and Karen Touchie. Their London Dry-style gins feature homegrown ingredients such as finger limes and kurrajong seed, as well as foraged seaweed, and they have already made a splash. North of Eden's range has scooped up medals at the world's most prestigious gin competitions including the London International Wine and Spirits Competition and San Francisco's World Spirit Competition.

More artisanal beverages are on offer at Longstocking Brewery and Oyster Bar, just south of Pambula. Joey Cunningham and Peter Caldwell took over the micro-brewery three years ago and have turned it into an inviting indoor-outdoor spot which is a favourite with locals. Order up a dozen Broadwater Oysters (grown just down the road) as you take their range of beers and ciders for a test drive. The pear cider is particularly refreshing, while the IPA and the stout both meet with our approval.

The local dining scene is booming too. Standouts include Banksia at Pambula, where set menus are served in an elegant repurposed bank building, and Mimosa Wines, perched on a hill high behind the road between Bermagui and Tathra. The chic building has magnificent views as well as a polished menu with desserts courtesy of a sous-chef who honed his craft in some of Berlin's Michelin-star restaurants.

Some of our most memorable experiences, however, are the simplest. On our final morning we rise early for a kayaking tour along the backwaters near Eden, savouring the bird song and the splash of fish as we drift past forested banks. Jenny Robb of Kiah Wilderness Escapes, who has been guiding tours of this region for six years, says a kayaking tour along the estuaries offers a different perspective on the Sapphire Coast.

"There aren't many places in the world where you find forested coastlines – it's a really lovely environment to explore," Robb says. "And it's so quiet. You can see people change as they drift along – you can watch their bodies relax."

DETAILS

FLY

Qantas flies direct to Merimbula from both Sydney and Melbourne. See qantas.com

STAY

Coast Resort Merimbula is set just a few minutes' walk from Merimbula Beach. One-bedroom apartments start from $350. See coastresort.com.au

TOUR

VIP Private Tours offers airport transfers and a range of private luxury tours. They can also create an itinerary to suit your interests. See viptours.net.au

The writer was a guest of Qantas Airways and Destination NSW.

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