Nowra, New South Wales: Travel guide and things to do

Located 160 km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway and 108 m above sea level Nowra is the commercial centre of the Shoalhaven District on the South Coast of New South Wales. Written 'nou-woo-ro' by Charles Throsby in 1821, Nowra is an aboriginal word reputedly meaning either 'camping place' or 'black cockatoo'.

Nowra lies on the southern shore of the Shoalhaven River, while Bomaderry is on the northern bank, east of the highway. With a combined population of 21,942 in 1991 the two towns constitute the largest population centre on the South Coast beyond Wollongong and are rapidly expanding as more and more people move to the area.

Nowra is a major service centre for the agricultural hinterland and coastal resorts in the district. It also serves the naval establishment at Jervis Bay. Dairying and tourism represent the two major industries in the area. The milk is processed into other dairy products at Bomaderry. Other local income derives from vegetables, timber, flour, light industry and a large paper mill.

Prior to European settlement the area was probably inhabited by the Dharawal Aborigines. The survivors of the wreck of the Sydney Cove walked through the area in 1797 and George Bass explored it later that year. He followed Seven Mile Beach and crossed the shoals at the entrance to the river. Unimpressed with the shallowness of the river mouth he called it 'Shoals Haven'. It is now known as the Crookhaven River.

In 1805 the coastline was mapped from the land by Lieutenant Kent and assistant surveyor-general James Meehan. They explored the area, noting the dense rainforest and stands of solid timber.

Cedar-getters were operating in the area by 1811. They floated and towed the logs down the river to Greenwell Point where they were loaded aboard waiting steamers.

In 1812 surveyor George William Evans and his party, guided by an Aboriginal man named Bundle, journeyed from Jervis Bay to the Shoalhaven River. They crossed it in a bark canoe about where Nowra Animal Park is now located and climbed Cambewarra Mountain, where Evans remarked upon the magnificence of the view, which took in Kangaroo Valley. They then descended to Broughton Creek and struck out to the coast before returning to Appin.

In 1818 James Meehan returned in the company of explorers Charles Throsby and Hamilton Hume. The men had been sent by Governor Macquarie who had taken an interest in Jervis Bay. Their task was to find a route from the southern tablelands to the Bay.

In 1822 Alexander Berry (see entry on Berry) began the settlement of the district when he obtained a land grant at Mt Coolangatta. Using convict labour he joined the Crookhaven and Shoalhaven Rivers by having a 209-yard canal dug. The first canal to be constructed in Australia it took twelve days and Comerong Island was created as a result.


Ex-convict Mary Reibey applied for a grant in the Burrier area, probably in 1824 (some sources place the application as early as 1816), one of the first south of the river. The area was called 'Purreah' by Charles Throsby in an 1818 expedition, a word said to mean 'crossing place'. Her descendants are still living in the area.

1824 was the year that Prosper De Mestre was promised land by Governor Brisbane. 1300 acres were authorised on the southern shore of the river in 1829 but he did not receive the deed until 1836, naming the property 'Terar'.The homestead, 'Mill Bank House', which still stands in Millbank Road, was probably erected at this time. A village, named 'Terrara', soon began to develop. The spelling was changed to 'Terara' in 1935. De Mestre died in 1844 and Mary and two of her sons, Andre and Etienne (she had 11 children), furthered the development of the village, which was, at that time, the largest settlement in the area. They added three wharves in 1854 and established a steam-driven flour mill in 1856.

In 1852 the Nowra township site was gazetted and the first report of gold at Yalwal was made. The first church in the district was erected in 1855; an iron-frame Presbyterian building at Numbaa. The first public school in the area was also opened at Worragee. In 1857 town blocks went on sale in Nowra, many going for £4.

In 1861 a post-office service was established at Nowra. That same year the racehorse 'Archer', bred in Braidwood but trained at Terrara by Etienne de Mestre, won the first Melbourne Cup and repeated the feat the following year. Etienne had set up a stud, stables and race track at Terrara in his twenties and held unofficial races that were professionally handled and well-attended.

Dave Power walked and rode 'Archer' the 550 miles to Melbourne in just over three weeks. In 1863 De Mestre was refused permission to enter the horse again due to a technicality. His acceptance telegram arrived just in time but, it being a public holiday in Melbourne, it was not delivered until the following day and was thus not accepted by the Victorian Turf Club. Incensed he did not enter another horse until 1867 when 'Tim Whiffler' won him the Cup again. De Mestre won two more Melbourne Cups, with 'Chester' in 1877 and 'Calamia' in 1878. His five wins were unmatched until Bart Cummings achieved the same feat in the 1970s.

In 1865 the Shoalhaven Catholic parish built a church at Nowra of bark slabs and iron roof. A ferry across the river commenced operations the following year. The first local newspaper was established at Terrara in 1867. By 1870 the town had nine hotels, four general stores, a town hall, a post office a butcher's, two banks, a flour mill and numerous other establishments. However that year also witnessed the worst recorded flooding of the Shoalhaven, convincing many more to leave Terrara for Nowra, which would soon become the primary urban centre in the district.

In 1875 St Andrew's Presbyterian Church was built at Nowra. The interesting structure still stands today. A masonic lodge was added in 1878 and a post office in 1883. The old Shoalhaven River Bridge was erected in 1881 of wrought iron, prefabricated in Delaware in the USA and shipped to New South Wales by sea. A second bridge was constructed in 1980 to cope with the increased volume of traffic.

In 1885 Nowra was proclaimed a town. A suspension bridge was constructed over Nowra Creek in 1887, the only one of its type in the state. In 1891 Bomaderry township was laid out at its present site. The Aboriginal word from which the name derives was probably 'Bunbaderra'. The meaning has variously been given as 'man throwing nulla' (a club), 'fighting ground' or 'running water'.

Bomaderry was to become the terminus of the south coast railway line two years later. The track progressed no further as the Nowra bridge was found to be too weak to support it. A coach service from Nowra to Bega also commenced operations that year. Covering 320 miles, it required 150 horses and 40 coaches. These developments contributed to Nowra's development.

Other developments of interest in the area include the establishment of a water supply to Nowra in 1894; the opening of the present courthouse in 1897 and the Nowra police station in 1900, restored and converted to an historical museum in 1980; the establishment of the first factory of the Nowra Co-operative Dairy Company in 1902; the opening of the United Aborigines Mission with an initial intake of seven children in 1908; the unveiling of Cambewarra Lookout in 1910 as a tourist attraction and the introduction of electricity to Nowra in 1927.

Things to see

Historic Buildings
On the corner of West St and Worrigee St is 'Meroogal', an historic, timber, gothic-style house managed by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. Built in 1885 it contains original household contents collected by four generations of women in the Thorburn and McGregor families. The house is open for inspection Saturdays from 1-5, Sundays from 10-5 and most public holidays (02 4421 8150).

On the other side of Worrigee St are the showgrounds, which have an impressive pavilion opened in 1905. Here the Agriculatural and Horticultural Show is held in February and the Shoalhaven City Markets on the third Sunday of each month.

If you are coming from the north turn right at the third set of lights into Plunkett St. The first intersection is with Kinghorne St. Here you will find Shoalhaven Historical Museum in the old police premises (1900), open Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from 1-4. In the school holidays it is also open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1-4 (02 4421 2021).

Other Activities
Shoalhaven River Tours offer scenic cruises which depart from the wharf on the M.V. Christine-J. Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1.30 pm, and Fridays and Sundays at 10 am. In school holidays the 1.30 pm service operates every day with an additional 10 am service on Sundays.

Slightly south, on the western side of the highway, is Harry Sawkins Park, known as 'the duck park'. There is a children's playground, toilets, and the Orchid House which is open weekends in October by appointment (02 4421 2186 after hours).

Nowra Wildlife Park
The Nowra Wildlife Park overlooks the Shoalhaven River. There are picnic and barbecue facilities and a camping reserve. There are also daily Keeper talks with the Koalas (weekdays 11.00 a.m., 1.00 p.m., 3.00 p.m. - weekends 11.00 a.m., 2.00 p.m.) where visitors can pat the koalas and have a souvenir photo taken with them. There is also a Reptile Keeper talk on weekends, public holidays and during school holidays at 1.00 p.m.). Photo opportunities holding a snake are available at this time. Open daily from 9-5 the admission is currently $14.00 for adults, $8.00 for concessions and $10.00 for children and $40.00 for a family of 2 adults, 2 children.

'Bundanon' is an historic two-storey sandstone homestead (1866) situated on 1000 acres of land adjacent the Shoalhaven River. It was, for many years, the home and studio of distinguished Australian artist Arthur Boyd. Along with the gardens, grounds, some antique furniture, the studio and some artworks it was donated to the Australian people by Arthur and Yvonne Boyd.

In an act of breathtaking generosity Boyd gave his beautiful sandstone two-storey house, its outbuildings and the property's rich, undulating Shoalhaven river flats to the nation in 1993. It was an extraordinary gift which not only included most of the family's furniture but also included substantial quantities of pottery and sculpture and hundreds of paintings by Boyd, his wife Yvonne and his family and friends including Emma Minnie Boyd, Merric Boyd, Doris Boyd, Penleigh Boyd, Martin Boyd, Guy Boyd, David Boyd, Polly Boyd, Jamie Boyd, Lucy Boyd as well as Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester, John Perceval, Charles Blackman and others. Every Sunday, from 10.30am to 4.00pm, the house is open to the public. For a modest $11 per adult, $9.90 for concessions and $38.50 for families, visitors can go on a conducted tour of the house (which lasts around half an hour), visit Boyd's studio, make themselves a cup of tea or coffee, have a picnic on the lawns, go for a walk to the nearby cedar forest or the banks of the Shoalhaven River below the famous Pulpit Rock (subject of some of Boyd's most famous paintings), purchase an art kit and try their hand and, most temptingly, purchase for quite reasonable prices, limited edition Arthur Boyd prints. No pre-booking is required. For further information regarding open days or mid-week bookings call (02) 4423 5999 or go to

The house is located at the end of a private road that runs off Bundanon Road. To get there follow Illaroo Rd out of town (the turnoff to the west on the northern side of the bridge). You will come to a signposted branch to the left into Hughes Rd then another left turn into Bundanon Rd. The entire route is well-signposted.

Activities on the southern bank of the river
On the southern bank of the river, west of the bridge, is a large reserve. Scenic Drive runs along the shoreline. Turn west off the highway into Bridge Rd (the first turnoff on the southern side of the river) and there is another turnoff immediately to your right that takes you to the riverbank. The emergency boat donated by David Berry in 1860 is located here, as are Nowra Olympic Pool and Nowra Waterways, a waterslide complex open from September to Easter (02 4421 2093).

Bens Walk (5.5 km) also commences here, following the shoreline in a westerly direction then diverting to the south along Nowra Creek which runs through the middle of the reserve. The track retraces part of the walk established in the depression years by Ben Walsh. Stop and enjoy the views from Hanging Rock Lookout, a precariously positioned overhanging rock formation with views across the river. Nowra Creek is spanned by a suspension bridge which provides access to the Depot Farm Reserve.

Around Nowra
1. Terara
Terara lies 3 km east of Nowra on Terara Road. Horse-riding lessons and bush-trail rides are obtainable from Malu Vale Stud on Millbank Rd, which runs south from the small township off Terara Rd. Bookings are essential (02 4421 5209). If you are attracted by the idea of a leisurely trot along the Shoalhaven River in a carriage, in a fashion reminiscent of bygone days, contact Terara Carriage Rides (02 4423 1757).

2. Numbaa
5 km further east is Numbaa, the site of the Shoalhaven's first farm, developed by Alexander Berry. 'Numbaa' is an Aboriginal word said to mean 'broad-leafed tea-tree'. Although little remains today there was once a thriving community with hotel, court, churches and a race track.

3. Brundee and Pyree
Still engaged in dairying are Brundee and Pyree, two of the Shoalhaven's older farming settlements. They both lie to the east of Nowra along Greenwell Point Rd, an extension of Kalandar St.

The first lease in area was taken up by Alexander Aberdeen in 1852. Brundee was originally called 'Berellan' but the name was altered in 1910. Pyree, once known as 'Swamp Paddock', is said to mean 'a place of box trees'. Jindyandy Mill is of historical interest. It was built with convict labour by Alexander Berry in 1830. Located on Greenwell Point Road in Pyree (8 km east of Nowra) it features an arts and crafts display. It is open every day from 9 to 4.30 (02 4447 1118).

4. Greenwell Point
At the end of the road lies Greenwell Point itself, a fishing village 15 km east of Nowra, named after an Aboriginal doctor, 'Greenwell', noted for his treatment of snakebites and toothaches. Originally a shipping port for the Shoalhaven, George Haiser, in 1883, started the oyster cultivation for which the area is now known. So rich is the tradition that a local, Jim Wild, is a world-champion in the art of oyster-opening. There are concrete boat ramps off West St (turn left as you enter the town) and Greenwell Point Road (follow it to its end), and a natural ramp for light boats off Haiser Rd (turn right off Greenwell Point Road just past the school and follow the waterline).

5. HMAS Albatross
10 km south-west of Nowra is HMAS Albatross, a naval air base (mostly helicopters) which has anti-submarine and parachute training schools. It was commissioned in August 1948 after the British Navy took advantage of the proximity of Jervis Bay to establish a fleet air arm base nearby. Educational tours can be organised by writing to the commanding officer, HMAS Albatross, Nowra, 2541.

Also at the base is The Australian Naval Aviation Museum open daily from 10-4. It contains an impressive collection of historic military aircraft and memorabilia. There is a display on the history of naval aviation in the new exhibition centre plus vintage aircraft, aeroplane engines, photographic displays, weapons, models, uniforms, and aviation equipment. There is a small entry charge. About four times a year family days are organised at the museum which is adjacent the runway. They involve flights by reconditioned historic aeroplanes and helicopters as well as entertainment for children. Nearby is Nowra Hill Lookout which provides 360-degree panoramic views of the area. It lies to the east of the base on BTU Road.

6. Yalwal
Yalwal lies 28 km west of Nowra. Once a substantial town the last of the goldmines closed at Yalwal in the 1920s. Some of the homes were dismantled in World War I as building materials were in short supply. The 1939 bushfires destroyed most of what remained and the former township was entirely covered by water in 1972 when Danjera Creek Dam opened. Yalwal Cemetery is all that remains from the original settlement. The graveyard was restored as a bicentennial project in 1988. The oldest grave dates back to 1854. Today there is a picnic spot near the dam with bushwalking nearby. There are toilets, barbecues and drinking water available.

The area is ideal for four-wheel drive recreational use though it is not an officially designated recreational vehicle area. The trek from Yalwal through to Tianjara Falls takes in Yarramunmun Creek Valley.

Bushmobile Tours offer four-wheel drive coach trips around the Yalwal goldfields and surrounding area in the Christmas and Easter school holidays (02 4423 0495). The Baronga Riding Academy is situated 4 km from the highway at 391 Yalwal Rd. It caters to all levels of accomplishment and is open every weekend. There are school holiday camps for children and trail rides by appointment (02 4421 3880).

7. Burrier
If you continue west along the road out of Nowra instead of turning south to Yalwal you will pass on to Burrier (19 km west of Nowra) where you can stay at Grady's Riverside Retreat, which offers canoes, kayaks and accessories daily (02 4421 3282). West of Burrier along the same through road (now known as Grassy Gully Rd) is 127-acre Coolendel Rustic Camping Area, which stretches along 2.5 km of the Shoalhaven River, 30 km west of Nowra. Here you will also find Coolendel Canoe Tours (1800-805742).

8. Two Rivers Walking Track
Also at Coolendel is the northernmost point of the Two Rivers Walking Track, so named because it moves between the Shoalhaven River and the Clyde River, 100 km to the south. It is, of course, not necessary to walk the whole 100 km. Section One covers 16.5 km, from Coolendel to the Danjera Dam Picnic Area though the walk can be further shortened by starting it at an intermediate point.

The Shoalhaven Visitor's Centre has a pamphlet which provides detailed information on the route. The walk is of moderate difficulty but has some very steep moments as it rises to a plateau from whence the views are excellent, then descends through thick forest to Yalwal and the dam. There are traces of ancient Aboriginal occupation in the area and local koori groups have been involved in the track's development.

9. Cambewarra Village
North of Nowra is Cambewarra Village at the foot of Cambewarra Mountain. It is said that the village was originally known as 'Good Dog' or 'Bullamiah'. Charles Staples owned a property called 'Cumbewarra Farm' in the 1830s. The indigenous derivation is thought to go something like this: 'Cambe' means fire and 'Warra' means high place or mountain, hence mountain of fire? This may refer to the Coachwood and Illawarra Flame Trees on the mountain slopes which bloom a brilliant red. The lookout is open daily from 10 until dusk. There is a coffee shop, picnic and barbeque facilities and toilets.

10. Vineyards
The Silos Winery and Restaurant lies 8 km north of Bomaderry on the Princes Highway. It is open daily from 10-5 (02 4448 6082).

Jasper Valley Winery on Croziers Road offers tea and coffee upon arrival as well as meals. Its hours are 9.30-5.30 and 10-5.30 on Sundays (02 4464 1596).

Cambewarra Estate Wines are located at 520 Illaroo Rd, near the foothills of Cambewarra Mountain. They are open 10-5 weekends and public holidays and, in the school holidays, from Wednesday to Sunday (02 4446 0170).

11. Comerong Island
Using convict labour Alexander Berry joined the Crookhaven and Shoalhaven Rivers by having a 209-yard canal dug. The first canal to be constructed in Australia it took twelve days and Comerong Island was created as a result. The island has been declared a nature reserve to protect the plentiful birdlife. There are two picnic areas. Access is by vehicular ferry, which operates from 7am-10pm every day. The road on the island is gravel and may deteriorate in poor conditions.

12. Shoalhaven Camellia Gardens and the Bomaderry Creek Walk
Shoalhaven Camellia Gardens in Narang Rd (behind the tennis courts) is open every Sunday from 10-3, April to September and at other times by appointment (02 4421 2274). They are the access point for the Bomaderry Creek Walk which meanders alongside the creek to a viewing platform at Bernie's Lookout. There are picnic and barbecue facilities at the start of the track.

Adventure Holidays in the Shoalhaven
A number of companies offer adventure activities in the area. Bushmobile Tours in Meroo St, Bomaderry (The Barracks Office) offer a variety of off-road tours in a four-wheel drive coach around the Shoalhaven district and much further afield (02 4423 0495).

Transcendants Adventurous Australian Tours of Nowra are available for group bookings of about 15 or more in the fields of scuba diving, white-water rafting, parachuting, and fixed-wing gliding (02 4421 8052).

Kangaroo Valley Canoe Adventures at 151 Illaroo Rd, North Nowra, furnish organised midweek and weekend canoe trips on the Shoalhaven and Kangaroo Rivers with all food, equipment and guides supplied (1800-805742).

Shoalhaven Bike Hire cater to all ages and will deliver the bicycles and helmets to your door, and pick them up (0412-603 831).

Skydiving is available at Tandem Skydive, in Moss Vale Rd, Bomaderry. Bookings are essential (044-233792). Joy flights can be booked at Aerowasp, who offer helicopter flights, seven days a week, out of HMAS Albatross (02 4423 3575 or 018-425512) or at Tiger Moth Joy Flights (015-008094).

Tourist Information

Shoalhaven Visitors Centre
254 Princes Hwy Bomaderry
Nowra NSW 2541
Telephone: (02) 4421 0778
Facsimile: (02) 4423 2950