Sapphire Coast, NSW: Nine must-do highlights

THE ONE MYSTERY

It's an oldie but a goodie. What happened to a surveyor, his assistant and three boatman on this pristine and very pretty stretch of coast, now known as Mystery Bay, in 1880? Their holed boat was found abandoned on the shore after they were investigating large gold deposits nearby. These same sands with the picture-postcard views lure visitors off the main road to stop and swim here; to sit and ponder life's other mysteries, or to gaze at the seal haven of Montague Island from one of the many inlets and rock formations. Anyone familiar with NSW's Sapphire Coast, which stretches from Bermagui in the north to Eden in the south, will tell you to put Mystery Bay on your "don't miss" list. There's also an excellent great camping ground in the Eurobodalla National Park which fronts the ocean. There's little mobile coverage, no W-Fi and no shops. Easy - bring swimmers, a book and a picnic. See visitnsw.com

THE ONE ADVENTURE

A splash into the shallows and then a quiet glide across a pristine coastal estuary at sunrise, sunset, or on a day-long adventure. There's nothing quite like kayaking to perfectly meld exercise with zen-like tranquility. Spot wading birds, the odd dolphin, stingrays and fish, and break for morning tea on the banks of the Towamba River with a home-made muffin. Kiah Wilderness Escapes, just a 10-minute drive from Eden, offers something for newbies and experienced kayakers, families, couples and adventurers. But if you're unsure about your kayaking prowess, test your kayak skills beforehand at Mitchies Jetty at Merimbula Lake which has stand-up-paddle boards and kayaks for hire. See kiahwildernesstours.com.au and mitchiesjetty.com

THE ONE POOL

Bermagui's Blue Pool is so much more than its name. For a start there are two of them - one a much smaller children's pool. And sure the waters are every shade of blue, but it's the swirling ocean and sea life around these natural rock pools that make them a standout. Gauge the ocean's temperament before you venture down the stairs: some days the main pool can be too rough to swim, on others it's glassy and tranquil, and perfect for laps. But it's always mesmerising. Look to the right of the smaller pool. Seals? We'd heard about a resident colony and spotted them bobbing on the waves straight away. There are also dolphins. On calm days, bring a snorkel so you can check out the marine life that may be swimming alongside you. See visitnsw.com

THE ONE BREWERY

Local oysters washed down with a cold craft beer or a cider while you listen to live music. A wood-fired pizza enjoyed on a deck surrounded by greenery. Longstocking Brewery at Pambula has perfected the art of the chilled-out afternoon and evening. The laid back vibe is remarkable when you consider the sort of year the owners, Peter Caldwell and Joey Cunningham, originally from Orange, have had. The couple were evacuated from their home at Pambula Beach during the bushfires which also forced the closure of the brewery half a dozen times. And then came COVID-19. Now the brewery is getting back on track with the return of (COVID-safe) live music adding yet another reason to visit. City venues could take some pointers from this one. 546 Princes Highway, Pambula. See longstocking.com.au

THE ONE TOWN

The tiny town of Pambula between Merimbula and Eden punches way above its weight, being blessed with the best of the coast and the countryside, excellent eateries and a rich Indigenous, settler and goldmining history. The pretty main street is full of heritage buildings, there are 3000-year-old Aboriginal middens by the Pambula River, and the cemetery is worth a look for poignant (and some humorous) headstones. For a special night out, book a three-course set dinner at Banksia, and try Toast for interesting Mex and margaritas. Longstocking Brewery (see above) is just down the road and Wild Rye's Bakery Cafe and Coffee Roasters is worth travelling for. Pambula Beach is known for its white sands, crashing waves and The Broken Oar Bar & Grill, while on the southern side of the Pambula River you'll find pretty Severs Beach. See visitnsw.com

THE ONE RESTAURANT

There are so many good restaurants sprinkled along the Sapphire Coast that picking one is almost criminal. But the Merimbula Aquarium and Wharf Restaurant will tick everyone's boxes. Soaring ceilings, a 180 degree ocean view, excellent service and just-plucked-from-the-depths seafood make meals here memorable. The waterside restaurant, which became a shelter for some and a fire-fighting food station for evacuees during the height of the fires, overlooks its namesake wharf, so you can watch fishers catch what could be your lunch or dinner or count whale spouts in season. Enjoy a Wharf Tasting Plate with Tasmanian smoked salmon, prawns, Broadwater oysters, avocado and fresh fruit; a spicy fish burger with chilli, tarragon, lime and sweet potato fries, or a bountiful chowder while the kids explore the Oceanarium downstairs. See merimbulawharf.com.au

THE ONE THING TO EAT

The best oysters in the world? Well, shucks, yes. Broadwater Oysters sits on Pambula Lake, which boasts the Sydney Rock Oyster as a native species. Drop in to watch oysters being shucked, buy some to eat by the lake where oysters have been farmed for 100 years, or have them packed up for you to take away. Wheeler's Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar just up the road offers farm tours where you can meet farmers and taste prized Sydney Rock Oysters fresh from Merimbula Lake before sitting down for lunch. Or let the world be your oyster on Captain Sponge's Magical Oyster Tours, led by oyster farmer Brett Weingarth at his lease on Pambula Lake. Rather just imbibe? Pull up a pew at the Oyster Bar at Longstocking Brewery. See broadwateroysters.com.au wheelersoysters.com.au magicaloystertours.com.au longstocking.com.au

THE ONE WILDLIFE EXPERIENCE

A hush falls over our boat as it bobs under grey skies off Merimbula. It's raining and there's a tension in the air as we scan the water. Why would whales want to stick their heads up in this weather?' But just as I'm about to doubt our captain's assurances that whales love the rain, there's a cry and a giant head breaks the surface then a fin slaps the water as if to say "you guys - I was just kidding''. From then on the sightings on this two-hour tour come thick and fast. It's not my first time seeing whales, but as they jump and dive, slap the water and do zoomies towards the boat, I'm again convinced they are just like big puppies. Merimbula Marina Whale Watching has the added attraction of Rex the kelpie, who helps spot pods of dolphins. The season has finished but will resume in mid-August. To whet your appetite, feast your eyes on the exhibits and jaw-dropping stories at the Killer Whale Museum at Eden. See merimbulamarina.com

THE ONE CURIO SHOP

Strangers in Paradise is actually in Bermagui, though it, too, is regarded as a piece of paradise. A foray into this fabulous vintage shop can net you a treasured talking point or a gift that will keep on giving. Now which senator smuggled those senate glasses embossed with the coat of arms out of the Senate? And who used to wear that collectable jacket? And whose posterior sat on that mid-century sofa? Lose yourself among costume jewellery, vintage furniture, clothes, photographs and collectables. Corner of Lamont and Wallaga streets.

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AND ONE MORE THING

The beauty of the Sapphire Coast is that it offers low-key, unspoiled attractions alongside some of the best food options Australia can offer. The area is bustling after the bushfires - and there's no better place to buy presents and foodstuffs for the holiday season.

Jane Richards was a guest of Sapphire Coast Tourism.

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