Culburra Beach has a place for everyone families, dogs, anglers and all budgets, writes Paul Myers.
It may not have the status of Palm Beach and Whale Beach or Central Coast hot spots such as McMasters and Avoca, but what the South Coast's Culburra Beach lacks in glamour it makes up for in affordability and diversity.
As people choose to stay closer to home and search for good-value beach holidays, Culburra is increasingly on the radar of travellers from Sydney, Canberra and southern rural regions. It's got everything that more highly regarded destinations can boast except perhaps close proximity to Sydney but is much cheaper.
Known until 1916 as Wheelers Point after the first white settler, it became Culburra (meaning sand in the local Aboriginal dialect), which, in itself, is a good reason to visit. An added bonus is the beach is off-leash dog-friendly between 4pm and 8am and on-leash at other times.
Designed by Canberra's town planner, Walter Burley Griffin, Culburra's wide sweeping semi-circular streets and set-back houses give an impression there's more to the somewhat sleepy town of 3500 people than is initially apparent.
Well, there is and there isn't.
Entering town on the road from Nowra, you don't see most of the physical attractions: Culburra's long cream-sand beach; Penguin Head guarding Warrain Beach and the lookout, which has majestic north-south views to Shoalhaven Heads and Point Perpendicular; ocean-fed Lake Wollumboola with its variable water depths depending on in-flows; the well-patronised beachside caravan park adjacent to the Crookhaven Heads lighthouse; or the mouth of the Crookhaven River, which has safe boating but somewhat tricky access to the ocean. The several thousand visitors who swell the population at peak holiday times tend to be spread out among these attractions.
The diversity is part of the charm, but you certainly don't go to Culburra to be noticed, or for the shopping.
Indeed, many people who rent one of the many excellent beachside homes nestled behind the sandhills protecting Culburra's main beach are more likely to stay in their temporary abodes or on the beach rather than venture afar.
With a wide choice of accommodation, it's not hard to find something that meets every budget, even right on the beach. Among many excellent choices are two properties within a few doors of each other, located mid-beach, with direct beach access and wonderful views. The Lighthouse is a two-storey timber building with an A-frame top level that sleeps eight people, is comfortably appointed and rents for about $400 a night in high season. The other, Pantai Indah (meaning beautiful beach in the Indonesian dialect of Bahasa), is superbly appointed with a large open kitchen and dining area overlooking the sea. The owners provide bikes, tennis racquets and a surf ski for guests' use. It, too, sleeps eight and rents for about $600 a night in peak season. Both properties, as with all Culburra's beachside accommodation, are perfect for children and dogs, with many properties promoted as pet-friendly.
Another rental option in the same area is Boyd's Beach House, which was the home of artist Arthur Boyd and is cleverly designed to reflect its surroundings.
The sandhills can get mighty hot, even when temperatures are below 30 degrees, so footwear is a good idea, and locals say red-bellied black snakes make occasional appearances. Bluebottles occasionally come to shore with an east wind.
The only other word of warning is that Culburra, like many long sweeping beaches, can be susceptible to rips and, occasionally, big swells. So it's best to surf at the patrolled southern end of the beach or around Penguin Head at the northern end of Warrain Beach, where the Culburra Beach and Nowra Surf Club is located.
Almost daily in summer you'll see pods of dolphins lazily heading north and, in winter, migrating humpback whales are an ever-present sight.
Prime coastal locations aren't complete without good fishing and Culburra is no exception. Every morning in summer the boat ramp at Orient Point, where the Shoalhaven and Crookhaven rivers meet before flowing to the sea, is busy from daylight to dusk with trailers unloading and loading fishing craft. Some boaties choose to stay in the river or motor towards Greenwell Point and the entrance to the Shoalhaven River, where there are plenty of leatherjackets and smaller fish. Better equipped and more seaworthy craft usually head to the open sea where marlin, tuna, other game fish, decent-size snapper and other varieties are abundant. Fish-cleaning facilities next to the boat ramp attract an ever-present flock of pelicans.
Culburra's proximity to other attractions is a plus. Hyams Beach and Booderee National Park in Jervis Bay are less than an hour's drive, oyster and prawn suppliers along the river at Greenwell Point sell fresh seafood, and Nowra is a 20-minute drive for supplies.
Otherwise, whatever the weather conditions, a stroll along the beach or feet up reading a good book with the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean is hard to beat especially when you're not paying through the nose for such simple pleasures.
Culburra Beach is 185 kilometres south of Sydney and 25 kilometres east of Nowra. Travelling south, take the Princes Highway to Nowra, cross the Shoalhaven River, turn left onto Greenwell Point Road and follow the signs.
All essential supplies can be bought in Culburra Beach but for extended stays, stock up in Nowra or at Greenwell Point for fresh seafood.
Accommodation options can be found on lovemelovemydog.com.au and stayz.com.au. Crookhaven Heads Tourist Park has cabins for rent as well as camp sites, phone 44472849.