Into The Deep Blue Yonder—travelling to the Sapphire Coast, NSW

Sapphire Coast trip - Merimbula Beach

We’ve always said we travel for food! Driving seven hours south, almost to the border of NSW and Victoria, we’re off to the beautiful Sapphire Coast. About the halfway mark between Sydney and Melbourne, this region is home to some of the best oysters in the world!

But it’s not just the oysters we’re making the trip for; the region’s annual food festival, EAT is on.

This four-day tribute to the Sapphire Coast’s providores and culminates in a food stall street party right on the water.

We’re also checking out a local motel that’s been fixed up, plus an a glamping retreat some 45 minutes inland that promises a digital detox we can’t wait to get into.

There may also be a roadside pie or two along the way!

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx

Best pies in NSW between Sydney and the Sapphire Coast

TL-BR: Hayden’s Pies, Ulladulla; Wild Rye’s, Pambula; Tura Beach Bakery, Tura Beach; Tilba Bakery, Central Tilba

We’ve made the most of the long-haul drive to the Sapphire Coast.

Tapping into the handy resource of a local Facebook group—Best Pies NSW & ACT—we’ve done a bit of a pie safari. I tell you what, things have come a long way from the dry, month-old puck of pastry, slowly dying in a servo.

Earnest Arthur in South Nowra, Tilba Bakery in Central Tilba, Tura Beach Bakery, Wild Rye’s in Pambula and Hayden’s Pies in Ulladulla—make a note of all of these places. Their pie work is outstanding.

Enjoy the Best View in Town sign, Hillcrest Motel

We’re staying in the lovingly restored Hillcrest Motel high up on the rise looking out over Merimbula, its famous lake and its beautiful ocean frontage.

Giving us vibes of the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs and Bannisters by the Sea in Mollymook, Hillcrest has many of the original features combined with clever modern renovations.

A drive-up reception, kitschy bathroom tiles and the car spot in front of your door hark back to Hillcrest’s ‘70s origins, but with them come the trappings of something altogether more luxe.

Along with the lovely rooms and spacious lounge, there’s an LA style pool, fire pit and even a tennis court.

Safir House spa in Merimbula

There’s no spa or wellness facility on-site at the motel, but in town, Hillcrest owner Caspar Tressider has set up Safir House.

Offering infrared saunas and ice bath treatments, this is the place to come to revitalise.

Christina at Tidal Restaurant's Seafood extravaganza, Merimbula

Tonight, we’re at Tidal Restaurant and Wine Bar right on the waterfront in Merimbula. Part of EAT Festival’s line-up, this evening Tidal has scrapped its usual a la carte menu for a Seafood Extravaganza!

This light, airy restaurant with its huge windows flung open to allow the sea air is the perfect spot for such a meal, and chef Gavin Swalwell and his partner and restauranteur Fiona Myers welcome us with classic Sapphire Coast warmth.

Seafood extravaganza at Tidal Restaurant, Merimbula

As well as the sumptuous, beautifully plated dishes of scallops, tuna carpaccio, sea urchin, lobster and, of course, oysters, we hear from two fascinating guests of honour.

Mick ‘Banjo’ Young tells us his story of how he came to be an oyster farmer in 1991 after selling his theatre restaurant in Melbourne. He planned to live in the city and spend weekends here, but then never left. He’s called Banjo because he plays the banjo. Fancy that!

Ryan Morris is a second-generation abalone diver for ATSSU Divers, who also catch sea urchin. He talks us through bringing urchin to market and how it takes at least 17 people to process each animal. It explains the cost of sea urchin, even though many see them as an intrusive pest. They’re also very tasty!

Jim and Christina at EAT Festival Merimbula, Sapphire Coast

Lining Fishpen Road, the narrow street that follows the waterline round to Merimbula Beach, EAT Festival is already underway when we arrive at 9.30 this morning. Food and drink stalls proffering all kinds of locally made produce tempt us.

The one thing that strikes us about EAT—apart from it’s amazing location—is this is the first food festival we’ve been to where no one is selling chips.

Food and crowds at the EAT Festival Merimbula, Sapphire Coast

Focus is so laser-aimed at local produce and stand-out dishes, it’s hard to know where to begin. Whether it’s J-Bird Cantina in Merimbula selling tonkotsu ramen or artisan donuts from Eastwoods in Bermagui, beers from Frogs Hollow Brewery or gins and vodka from Nine Circles Distillery in Pambula, everything’s got a sense of craft and a sense of place.

Even our friends from Tidal are here offering Narooma lobster and sea urchin, and the bar area by Longstocking Brewery is also stocking North of Eden gin—one of our absolute favourites.

Jim and Christina at Wheeler's Seafood Restaurant and Wine Bar, Pambula

This evening—our last in Merimbula—we’re heading back to the beautiful Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Oysters Bar just outside Pambula.

When we were here last, it was in the middle of winter and all the windows were closed. Although it gave the restaurant a cosy feel, being here in summer with all the windows up and the sun setting, we get to see this place at its best.

The food here is excellent, especially its oysters. Wheeler’s is also an oyster farm and has a seafood takeaway shop round the corner, which has been here forever.

We get started with some oysters (the mignonette is unparalleled by the way) and bruschetta with a twist that turns this usually humble entree in to something up there on the Richter.

Incredible bruschetta at Wheeler's Restaurant, Pambula

House-made ciabatta is charred to the point where it’s almost caramelised, tempered with creamy house-made ricotta. It’s then topped with juicy cherry tomatoes and thin slices of pickled zucchini and tiny cubes of zucchini too.

Finished with fresh mint and pungent basil, and umami-laden chisels of garlic crisp, this is a dish to die for!

Fish and chips at Wheeler's Restaurant, Pambula

Humbled by the humble, we’re still talking about the bruschetta when our mains arrive. We’ve both gone for fish and chips, though Christina has chosen grilled kingfish compared to my beer battered flathead.

Both are stunning dishes and just enough to fill us to the brim. There’s not even enough room for dessert, though our friend Dani here recommends the trio of sorbet.

If—unlike us—you can fit more in, read our full review of our first time at Wheeler’s Restaurant here.

Coffee and scenery at Sunny's Kiosk, Merimbula

This morning, we’ve check out of Hillcrest, but rather than leaving immediately, we act on a final tip-off from Caspar. Right on the shores of Merimbula Lake is Sunny’s Kiosk, where Caspar swears is the best coffee in town.

The coffee is indeed excellent, but compared to the views from the little timber deck jutting out over the lake, the coffee might as well be water. We sit for a flat white and stay for a second, taking in the views before we hit the road.

Currajong Retreat sign

But that’s not the end of the trip for us. A little southwest of Merimbula—hidden amongst the valleys and hills of the Sapphire Coast hinterland—is Currajong Retreat.

Seated up from the banks of the Towamba River, this remarkable country escape offers glamping on a whole new scale.

Currajong Retreat collage - inside the tent and on the balcony

There are currently three ‘tents’ here, though calling them tents seems a bit strange. There’s a full bathroom suite in each retreat along with an enormous balcony big enough to hold a barbecue, table and chairs, loungers and a huge deep-fill bath with room to spare.

There’s also a full queen-size bed, a sofa, a dining table, kitchen and even a slow-combustion wood-heater fireplace inside. Tent? Or canvas-walled luxury cabin?

Either way, it comes with extraordinary views out over the valley and a pair of powerful binoculars to help you spot wildlife.

Christina and the Towamba River at Currajong Retreat, Sapphire Coast

The best part is everything’s included here. You can pack snacks if you like, but you’re unlikely to need them. Even booze, if you wish to drink, is on the house. The only thing not included is wifi or phone coverage. That’s right, this is a digital retreat in as much as a physical one.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner all come delivered to your door so there’s nothing else for you to do other than relax. It’s wonderful.

You can go for a walk around the 100-acre property if you like or head down to the river for a dip, but there’s no pressure.

Jim and angora goats, Currajong Retreat, Sapphire Coast

One thing we’d highly recommend and that Jenny, who’s in charge of this element of your visit, will almost insist on, is a visit to the goats.

Currajong has around 450 Angora goats, all of whom are splendid and most of whom are so friendly, you’ll want your own by the end of your stay.

We leave Currajong feeling so refreshed, it’s hard to pick up our phones again and enter back into real life.

But soon, we’re back on the road, heading north for the city. It’s been a wonderful getaway, and if you haven’t been to the Sapphire Coast yet, take this as notice!

Jim and Christina on the Sapphire Coast

We visited the Sapphire Coast as media guests of a number of stakeholders, but our experiences and opinions remain our own.

2 Comments

  • Reply March 23, 2024

    Ken Butcher

    Those pies looked great! Excellent edition thank you

    • Reply April 4, 2024

      Mr Romance

      Oh those pies!! Can’t wait for the next roadtrip now! x

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