For many living in the arc between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, the south coast of NSW is a region rich in happy memories. It's full of caravan parks and holiday homes enjoyed by atide of holidaymakers, as they partake of the gems this beautiful landscape has to offer.
Curving yellow beaches; tall, cool eucalypt forests marching down to the shore; deep, dark and moist valleys dissected by bubbling streams; coastal rivers running into the ocean; lush green paddocks filled with fat cows; tumbledown weatherboard barns and wide sweeps of national park.
What's not to love?
So it was with relish that we took up the offer of a week along this magic strip of coastline, as we put two very different but equally competent campers through their paces. Along for the ride were photographer John Ford and his wife, Heather. My wife, Jan,and I were buzzing about the possibilities ahead as we towed out of the driveway on a cool and overcast morning with a Challenge 10th Anniversary camper hooked to the tow bar.
Our idyllic expectations were dampened by the forecast of rain and showers, with sunshine predicted only for the following Friday,at which point we would be making the 300km journey home from Moruya. But our faith in the south coast to deliver a great trip remained strong.
We teamed up with John and Heather at Kiama, in the car park of the famous blowhole. They had driven up from their home at Narooma, picking up an Ultimate XTrk camper trailer on the way.
Kiama sits just beyond the spreading urban development that has consumed the coast south of Wollongong over the past 30 years. It's a pleasant base from which to access the many tourist joys of the region, including the Minnamurra Rainforest, Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk and Jamberoo Recreation Park.
However, with the Pacific Ocean living up to its name on this particular day, the blowhole was out of action. After a few photos around the harbour we headed south along the coast, past the beachside hamlets of Gerringong and Gerroa, and then inland through the antique shops and cafés of Berry. We turned west, and headed up over the Cambewarra Range.
The climb is steep and twisting as it navigates the face of the mountains embracing the lush green retreat of Kangaroo Valley, and from the top there are some spectacular lookouts. Yet despite thepopularity of the area, and the many thousands of tourists who pour through every year, it remains a quiet backwater.
After a pie and a coffee in the hamlet we went looking for backdrop to shoot the campers. We found it off a small side road -a green clearing next to a crystal clear stream that would havemade a great campsite had we not had other obligations ahead. We had barely got the photos on the memory cards when the drizzle arrived, and with it the promise of worse to come.
With the afternoon slipping away and the rain increasing beheaded up over Cambewarra Pass, towards the city of Nowra, and looked with horror on a vast mountain of black cloud. Grey walls of rain were pouring onto the whole Jervis Bay region to south. If that was coming our way we were about to get very wet.
We made it to the Top Tourist Park at Shoalhaven Heads, the Mountain View Village, in semi-darkness at 4.30pm, and promptly erected both campers in a scramble. After a hearty dinner out of the wind inside the Challenge's roomy interior, the rain arrived,and it wasn't long before we all headed to our beds.
At 2.00am I was awoken by what sounded like a freight train as about of wild weather, akin to a small hurricane, hit us. The Challenge shook but stayed
firm as we were whacked by gust after gust. After half an hour an improperly installed spreader bar came free and
there was a general clatter of poles - we raced outside in the horizontal rain to collect the poles and restrain guy ropes and flapping canvas.
The next morning was as overcast as the previous day as we drove south towards Ulladulla, a booming tourist town growing behind a secure boat harbour that embraces a prosperous fishing fleet. By now the rain had eased and there were patches of blue sky, and with time slipping away we decided to give our trailers a test in tougher circumstances.
We turned inland south of town and it wasn't long before we wherein heavy dust, indicating the rain had been limited to the coast.Eventually we reached Shallow Crossing, a 100m causeway across the Clyde River, which looked like a good spot to grab some shots.
John made a passing comment about wading out to get the right angle, to which I flippantly agreed, thinking he was joking. The next I knew he was stripped to his underwear and up to the nether regions in the cold, dark water. The things we do to get the right shots!
After thawing John out and waiting for him to get into warm clothes we continued along what is called The River Road. This winds along the sinuous banks of the Clyde, heading south towards Nelligen, inland from Batemans Bay, our next destination. It was late afternoon and everything was in shadow, but this drive would be beautiful in full sunshine. It's marked on our list of places to return to.
That night we checked into the Pleasurelea Top Tourist Park at Batemans Bay and settled in for a much calmer night.
Batemans Bay is another popular tourist spot that draws many holiday makers, especially from Canberra, which is only 150km away.They are drawn by the many pristine beaches and holiday resorts along the coast to the south and in the national parks to the north.
The next morning, in glorious sunshine, we headed up the coast to some of those scenic spots. At the pristine Pretty Beach and Pebbly Beach we enjoyed the kangaroos and the swarms of parrots that appeared at the first sign of a biscuit. We then headed up the long and dusty climb to Big Bit Lookout to take in an overall coastal view, then drove back south through Batemans Bay and along the scenic coastal drive to the Moruya River, then inland to the town of Moruya.
Here we had accommodation booked at the Riverbreeze Tourist Park, but first took time to travel up the road to Ultimate's headquarters. Executive Manager Jason Stevens gave us a factory tour of this impressive facility before we headed back to Riverbreeze park.
We soon found out this was Ultimate territory, first running into Sue and Brian, who were proudly spending their first night in their new Ultimate they'd just picked up, and later meeting Heinz and Denise, who were up from Melbourne to pick up their new Ultimate the next morning. They were very excited to see some of the shots we'd taken of their trailer undergoing final construction-that afternoon.
The next morning we were up to catch the sunrise, then returned to Ultimate to return its trailer. We said our goodbyes to John and Heather, and headed north to Sydney and home.
It was with reluctance that we headed back to the big smoke,with its crowds and hustle and bustle. But we knew that even in spite of, and maybe even partly because of, some of the wilder autumn weather we'd met over the past week, the south coast of NSW was a place we'd be heading to once more, and in the not too distant future.