Robyn and Ian Reidy revel in one of the NSW South Coast's lesser known gems – the small township of Bermagui.
Approaching Bermagui on the NSW South Coast was a real buzz – the first port of call on our trip north from the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria that Ian and I had not sailed into previously on our Beneteau 423, New Horizons.
Our original plan was to spend two or three nights here before continuing our slow trip north. But after two nights we looked at each other and decided three nights was nowhere near enough in this beautiful area.
After spending two weeks in Eden, where we shifted from the jetty known as the Moorings Jetty to East Boyd Bay as required by the weather, we were on our way to Bermagui. The sail took about seven hours, during which we saw a pod of four whales and a solitary seal; we cherish these magic moments when we see these awesome animals out in the ocean. The whales were making their way north for the winter, and because we had been told they were far out to sea when going north we hadn't expected to see any so close inshore. We had spoken to a cruising couple in Eden who had experienced a minor encounter with a whale, bending the prop shaft, and were happy that the whales came no closer than 200m.
Ian had phoned the fishing co-op in Bermagui before we left Eden, and they assured us there were a couple of fishing boats in the harbour we could raft up to. As we approached the entrance I radioed to the Bermagui Coastal Patrol and Alan guided us to our position next to a trawler. Quickly a man appeared on deck and helped us tie up to his boat at the end of the jetty and showed where to plug in for shore power. We introduced ourselves to Matt and learned he is renovating this ex-fishing trawler with plans to take it north for surfing and diving trips. He later took us on to the catamaran tied up behind us. It is a Chamberlain 14m craft that Matt and his dad built from cedar planking, with a bit of help from other craftsmen. It took them six years to build and they sailed it down from Mooloolaba late last year; how satisfying it must be for them to achieve such a project. It was a real credit to them and an interesting contrast to our mass-produced craft.
After our boat was secure we walked to the coastal patrol to thank Alan for his assistance and then to the fishing co-op to make ourselves acquainted with them. Sue was very friendly and showed us around the facilities. Future plans are to demolish these buildings and rebuild the fishing co-op. The toilet and shower facilities will also be replaced and included will also be some new shops.
As with so many fishing towns, the number of boats working out of Bermagui is decreasing. This area will benefit enormously with upgraded facilities and become a very popular spot for boating people travelling north or south. The harbour has an easy entrance and is a safe haven in adverse weather. It would be tricky to enter during a strong northerly, but otherwise the breakwater allows a smooth passage. As with any strange port, a chat with a few locals before arrival is invaluable.
Having not showered for some time ,the prospect of a hot shower without having to pump out the water appealed enormously. It was as good as we had anticipated, and we both felt very refreshed after. Needing to stretch our legs we then went for a walk up to the main shops but found several not open because it was a Monday in winter; we could understand retailers taking some time out in the off season. Matt tells us the gelati bar is famous, but at this time of year it only opens over the weekend. Bermagui has just about every type of shop you need to reprovision, including an IGA supermarket, bakery, newsagent, surf shop, restaurants, cafés, hardware and beauty salons.
The fishing co-op has a shop attached that sells fresh fish and takeaway. That wonderful smell of freshly cooked fish and chips was too good to resist, and we so enjoyed our lunch there sitting outside in the sunshine. We met up with Phil, Michael and Marco (on Phil's' Roberts 31) and joined them on a table outside the co-op. We had seen each other anchored in East Boyd Bay near Eden the previous week, and these three men were going back to Moruya the next morning. They came on board that evening for a drink, and we said our goodbyes then because they were leaving very early the next morning.
We were eager to start exploring the surrounding area and went to the centrally located information centre. A very friendly woman showed us maps of the area, and we selected the appropriate ones for us. Not having a car does restrict your boundaries but on other hand it allows you to slow down a lot. Walking is not just healthy and enjoyable, but one notices so much more and has more opportunity to interact with the locals.
One of the walks we enjoyed was around the cliff overlooking the harbour entrance and along the beach at Horseshoe Bay to the far side of the main street. The sand is so clean and the water so clear we felt this is as good as it gets anywhere. Looking at the weather map that evening and the strong wind warning we were very happy we had decided to stay longer than originally planned. The newsagent hires out DVDs, so we indulged in some of these for a couple of evenings' entertainment. Sunsets are around 1700 hours at this time of the year, and we find it gets cool outside but very snug inside, especially as the saloon heats up with a meal in the oven.
The Blue Pool is a saltwater swimming pool to the southeast of the harbour (behind the cemetery) and Matt tells us it is very busy in the warmer months. It is certainly an ideal location to cool off in the lovely clear water. The waves break over the rocks at the side, and there are signs warning not to use the pool in rough weather. We had a great walk the next morning exploring the rocks and taking lots of photos of this part of Bermagui. Although we already had several photos of the harbour entrance, we took more from this different angle and gained a better appreciation of the layout of the land around Bermagui. On other days we had several enjoyable walks, leaving the harbour and heading north over the bridge, past the lagoon that is under rehabilitation and then returning along the beach to the rocks at the side of the harbour entrance. We could visualise hot summer days with many people swimming and enjoying the clean sand and water.
Bermagui has two AFL teams in juniors and seniors reserves. Being Victorians, we have an interest in this sport, so we spent some time Saturday morning watching the juniors. In the afternoon Eden played Pambula in the seniors section, so we watched most of this game too. The canteen at the ground was a bit limited so we visited the bakery for afternoon tea. How is it that small towns always seem to have such great bakeries? They had a good selection of cakes and pastries, and it was easy to justify the extra calories with all the walking we are doing.
Matt very kindly picked us up one morning and drove us to Camel Rock, where we had an interesting walk around the cliffs. There are spectacular views of the ocean from the top of the cliffs and turning around 180° we had a contrasting view of Wallaga Lake and the surrounding areas. He was pleased the surf wasn't running because he would have been tempted to grab his wetsuit and go for a surf rather than back to work on his boat.
Later that day as I was on the deck of our boat doing some cleaning I spotted a beagle dog. As I have a warm place in my heart for them, I stopped to watch him and said hello to his owner. We later met Jack and his dog “Biggles” on another jetty, and he invited us to his home for a drink. We accepted his invitation and had an enjoyable time discussing his years of sailing and our current trip heading north. He asked if we would like to go to Tilba Tilba the next afternoon for tea – naturally we accepted his kind offer. We learned so much about this stunning area, including the meaning of the name Tilba, which means windy. When the name is repeated it then means windy windy! We had a scrumptious afternoon tea at a lovely café and enjoyed visiting the shops there. The woodcraft display would be the best we have seen anywhere and the assistant informed us they stock goods from all over Australia. It was probably just as well we were returning to the boat, where we certainly have no spare room to keep any more knickknacks; otherwise, we could have bought two or three lovely pieces as gifts for friends.
The Bermagui Hotel overlooks Horseshoe Bay, and we went there on a couple of occasions. It was very pleasant to have a couple of drinks before returning to the boat for dinner, sitting in the saloon admiring the view over the ocean. Saturday night we also dined there and enjoyed the live music from Vince Melouney. A couple of local people introduced themselves to us and we discussed (as you do) – boats!
As we needed to do some banking Ian caught the bus to Bega one day while I visited the laundromat to catch up on some washing. The trip in the bus took just over an hour through some very interesting countryside; this is such a beautiful part of Australia. Bega is a bigger centre than Bermagui and many of the locals go there for the few goods they are unable to purchase here.
Finally the day came to move on because our goal of reaching the Whitsundays within 12 months was at risk.
Bermagui exceeded our expectations and we were glad to be able to spend 10 days there instead of the three we had initially planned. We found it to be a friendly town, where we enjoyed the harbour, the hospitality of the locals and the generally friendly atmosphere of the town. We will certainly return there again by sea or by road.