Fact one: Jervis Bay is nine times bigger than Sydney Harbour. Fact two: Jervis Bay is the deepest bay in Australia. Fact three: Jervis Bay has twenty kilometres of pristine, white-sanded beaches curving around its shores. And, except for during a few busy weeks in summer, there's hardly anyone on them.
Found 200 kilometres south of Sydney, Jervis Bay's 102 square kilometres of water are fringed with national parks and crowded with dolphins. Its underwater creatures are among the luckiest in Australia — they live in a marine park, where fishing is illegal. Whether you're paddling, snorkelling or lazing on the beach, you're bound to meet dolphins, rays, weedy sea dragons, Port Jackson sharks, fish and, from late autumn, whales.
When you're not in (or on or under) the water, there are bushwalks and villages to explore. Whichever way you do your weekender, don't forget to slip, slop and slap. Summer might be officially drawing to a close, but the sun isn't even thinking about moving on yet. Check out Pretty Shady for some skin-saving gear.
Jervis Bay's prettiest villages are along its southwestern edge. The locals reckon the sand here is the whitest in the world. Like one guy said, "Replace the eucalypts with palms and you could be in the Maldives." For proximity to restaurants and shops, stay in Huskisson, but if it's bushland and bird song you're after, go to Hyams Beach.
Back in the 1920s, a bunch of fishermen built a group of pocket-sized dwellings there, just 60 metres from the water. Now, they've been transformed into the Hyams Beach Seaside Cottages. From the outside, they look like they belong to a troupe of fairytale characters. Painted dusky pink, baby blue and canary yellow, they line up along a diagonal, their little porches affording ocean glimpses. Inside, each is an impossibly cute, perfectly formed realisation of the tiny house movement's dream. Polished wooden floors and an ultra-comfortable, queen-sized bed with a brass head conspired in a cosiness to inspire Bilbo Baggins's envy. Nearly a century's worth of history is nodded to in eclectic antique furnishings, including train-rack style shelves, wooden towel stands and chequered tiles. For post-swim relaxation, there's a spa bath and, for the winter months, an electric log fire.
Travelling with mates? JB Beach Houses gives you a choice of six holiday homes. You'll find their two light, airy, roomy Boathouses just 500 metres from the beach and right on the edge of national park. At Boathouse Two, you're greeted by a spacious deck, slung with a hammock — a dreamy place to watch birds, read and do-nothing your weekend away. Inside, an open-plan lounge room and kitchen take up the first floor. A staircase leads to a lovely, loft-style master bedroom, passing a second bedroom on its way. There's space for up to six sleepers altogether and two bathrooms. Larger parties can rent both Boathouses at once.
For the big picture and to get your bearings, grab your hat and start with a 90-minute Dolphin Watch Cruise, which leaves from Huskisson Wharf. Jostling with international tourists for Instagram supremacy, you'll voyage into the middle of Jervis Bay, searching for its 120 resident dolphins. You'll return with a good idea of just how epic the bay's proportions are. And, if no dolphins show up, you'll score a free return cruise. The company also offers eco cruises, sail charters and twilight barbecue trips.
With your curiosity piqued, you'll want to get nearer to the shore line, visit remote beaches and see wildlife up-close. Been planning on learning how to stand-up paddleboard? Jervis Bay's still, clear, safe waters are an excellent place to start. Book a lesson with Jervis Bay Stand Up Paddle, run by local couple, Mel and Jason McManus. They have a knack for showing you it's much, much easier than you think. After learning the basics, you'll take a mini-tour, watching out for eagle rays and blue gropers diving beneath your board, and swim at a secret beach. Don't forget your sunscreen and rashie.
To go further afield, take a half-day or full-day tour with Sea Kayak Jervis Bay. Energetic, funny guide Tracy Gibson will give you some helpful paddling techniques, fill you in on some trivia-comp-winning facts about the bay and let you travel in as relaxed a fashion as you like. In between two, one-and-a-bit-hour long paddling sessions, you'll stop for coffee, cake, fruit and a dip at a stunning beach. If you're feeling intrepid, venture away from the shoreline to Bowen Island. It's illegal to disembark, but there's stacks to see from your boat, including fairy penguins — 5000 breeding pairs live there.
On land, there are walks a-plenty. For a gentle stroll, take the White Sands Walk and Scribbly Gum Track, a 2.5-kilometre loop, taking in Hyams, Greenfields and Seamans Beaches. More strenuous adventures are to be had in Booderee National Park, which stretches across Jervis Bay's southern headland. Hit Cape St George Lighthouse for dizzying cliffs, diving sea eagles and tragic sailors' tales. Go to Green Patch for more white sand, possums, kangaroos and camping. And, for surf, make tracks to Cave Beach or Steamers Beach, both outside the bay.
Back in town, you can get into some cruisy two-wheeling, thanks to an easy, 5-kilometre long, bayside share path that runs between Vincentia and Huskisson. Grab a bike from Jervis Bay Bike Hire.
EAT AND DRINK
With all that paddling, walking and cycling to do, you're going to get hungry. Good news is some of Jervis Bay's best food isn't far from your digs. At Hyams Beach Cafe and General Store, you'll not only meet the bay's cutest dog, Albert, you'll also find delicious, delicious meals. Owners Sue and Chris, who run the cafe with their daughter, Phoebe, grow much of the produce on their farm. Order a burger and you'll be rewarded with a Titanic stack of lamb (or chicken), salad and vegetables, lathered in house-made sauce and framed in soft Turkish bread. Meanwhile, a dessert chef from Paris creates perfect sweet hits, like salted caramel-chocolate tarts and delicate lemon meringue cradled in soft, crumbly pastry. On weekend nights, expert local chef Gary Fishwick takes over the kitchen, with a three-course dinner menu, featuring locally-caught seafood.
In Huskisson, drop by Pilgrim's Vegetarian Cafe. First set up in Milton in 1980, it's now a three-branch mini-chain, with the third member in Cronulla. The reason Pilgrim's does so well is that it takes simple vegetarian staples like burgers, wraps and fresh juices and makes them tastier and healthier than you thought possible — and hands them to you in generous serves. Even carnivorous surfers come here for their pre- and post-surf fuel-ups.
Just across the road at Supply, breakfast and lunch are accompanied with beautiful bay views. The brekkie salad is a blanket of fresh baby spinach and roquette, piled with slices of grilled haloumi, avocado and roasted tomato, sprinkled with moreish almonds and dukkah, and topped with two flawlessly-poached, local, free-range eggs. If you're going on a picnic or need some supplies for your holiday house, request a hamper, which comes loaded with local cheeses, eggs, sourdough, tomatoes, chutneys, pates and fruit.
Hanging out for a late afternoon tipple? The Huskisson, right on the water, is the spot for it. Following an extensive reno, the pub's now got a massive, well-shaded deck and floor-to-ceiling windows, so the views are panoramic.
Come dinnertime, The Waterhouse is popular with locals. There's a cracking wine list, covering both conventional and adventurous tastes, and the wait staff are skilled at recommending matches. Drop by on Sunday for live acoustic sessions, programmed by well-known singer-songwriter Paul Greene.
Want something a bit fancier or romantic? Reserve at Gunyah, at Paperbark Camp, which you'll find just east of Huskisson, in the pint-sized village of Woollamia, on the banks of Currambene Creek. Designed by Nettleton Tribe, an architecture group based in Sydney, this warmly-lit, timber-filled restaurant feels like a treehouse for grown-ups. It's built on stilts and positioned just under the canopy — book a balcony table for the highest chance of seeing possums and stars. The menu is a set, three-course affair. Soft, slow-cooked lamb is bathed in spiced eggplant and pine nuts, while a rich chocolate and hazelnut delice joins the sprightly company of sour cherry ice cream and chocolate soil.
Image: Wharf Road.
On the way home, leave yourself time for a long lunch at Wharf Road. Perched on the banks of the Nowra River, it's one of the South Coast's four hatted restaurants. You may well be familiar with the talents of head chef David Campbell — he ran Surry Hills's The Book Kitchen before moving down this way, and he also runs Berry's Hungry Duck. Start with a selection of extraordinarily creamy local oysters, labelled according to origin (so you can make comparisons), before moving onto a ceviche of blackfish, charred corns and potato skins, served on a pink, Himalayan salt brick. Heading into the main course, you'll start to notice some explosive, smoky flavours. A custom-built, South American-style barbecue drives the menu here, as does a fearless passion for new ideas. Think alpaca sausage sandwich with truffle mayo and charred abalone mushrooms with a luxurious combination of slow-cooked egg, almond cream and yellow chilli butter. As for that drive back to Sydney...
Jasmine Crittenden travelled as a guest of Destination NSW.
Top image: Dollar Photo Club. Images: Peter Saw unless specified.