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Published March 16th 2016
Surf, sand and seals on the Sapphire Coast
When you live in Canberra, long weekends and public holidays are a good excuse for many to pack up the car and head to the coast. Batemans Bay is the most popular choice, only 2 hours drive from Canberra with beautiful beaches up and down the coastline to explore. Another great option is Merimbula, a beachside suburb 3 hours away on the Sapphire Coast. Although it is further to drive, it is worth the extra effort to enjoy the long sparkling beaches, waterside cafes, markets, wildlife and a variety of accommodation options to choose from. Described as the "Gem of the Sapphire Coast", this popular beachside location is a relaxing place to visit all year around.
The road trip to get to Merimbula is an eventful one, as you drive through a variety of landscapes and creep through small historical towns to get there. The road trip leaves Canberra via the Monaro Highway and then you follow the signs to the alpine town of Cooma. The highway then starts to wind its way slowly up, rising in elevation up to the Snowy Mountain region and Great Dividing Range, 1110m above sea level. With plenty of spinifex and not many trees, it is obvious that this spartan landscape is cold place in Winter. If you do this trip in cooler months, take an extra coat in the car as it is even colder at elevation when you pop out for a pie at any one of the bakeries along the way.
Revive with coffee & cakes at the Nimmitabel Bakery
Just over halfway through the trip is the small historic town of Nimmitabel, established in 1840 and a highlight of our family's road trip. When you drive into the town you can't really miss the Nimmitabel Bakery with it's large Asian elephant statue to the side of the bakery - an unusual sight in this remote alpine village! With delicious Black Mountain coffee and tasty sausage rolls, pies and cakes to choose from, a stop at this Bakery is a handy rest stop before descending down to the Sapphire Coast.
The scenery changes on the drive down Brown Mountain to sea level with rainforest ferns on the side of the road and towering trees overhead. The drive down the range is very steep in parts, so if you are concerned about the brakes on your car, get them checked before you go. The roads are excellent however, with views your passengers will enjoy. At the bottom of the range there is a turnoff to Merimbula through the historic town of Candelo and the lush and green Bega Valley. Kids will enjoy spotting the happy cows who will soon produce milk for local maker, Bega Cheese.
As you drive into Merimbula there are simply hundreds of accommodation options to choose from including drive-in motels, caravan parks and apartments as well as luxury accommodation. Choose to stay close to town with views of the inlet or drive over the bridge and stay at the waterfront area on the other side, just minutes from the beach. This area along the water is called Fishpen and has a popular scenic walk - perfect for early morning stroll before breakfast.
Oyster farms and birdlife along the Fishpen waterfront area
If you are interested in staying in this area, a popular 4 star choice is Sails Luxury Holiday Apartments with friendly owners, tropical gardens and inlet views. On our last visit we stayed in these centrally located apartments in a 3 bedroom apartment with extended family and we had plenty of space (more than we needed!) with views out onto the resort style pool and inlet.
Sails, located just over the main bridge from town
Just walking distance away is a popular café for breakfast and lunch, Cranky Cafe, where the staff are anything but cranky. With tasty food and coffee, this café opposite Merimbula Beach keeps the locals and tourists coming back for more. Each time we have visited Merimbula, we have always made a point of going to Cranky's for breakfast before going across the road to the beach and playground (soon to be upgraded). In the evening, grab some takeaway from next door and enjoy fish and chips on the beach - a relaxing end to a perfect day.
In Merimbula itself there are dozens of cafes and food outlets to choose from, with Waterfront Café on The Promenade a popular option as well as Poppy's Café. If you drive around to the other side of the inlet (follow the signs to the Aquarium) there is a cliff-top kiosk called Bar Beach Kiosk which overlooks the family-friendly Bar Beach swimming cove below. This kiosk has the best views in Merimbula and is open for breakfast and lunch.
If you drive south exploring the area, 20 minutes from Merimbula is the whaling town of Eden, a town rich in history. Visit the lookout and spot whales, enjoy fresh seafood down at the port and walk around and The Eden Killer Whale Museum to learn more about the history of this whaling town. Also, just out of Merimbula is the popular Magic Mountain fun park for kids big and small. There are also wildlife parks to visit to meet local native animals and have a BBQ in their grounds.
Finally, another reason we love the Merimbula is the unexpected wildlife to see. On the road to the Aquarium, we spotted something black make its way gingerly across the road, before curling itself up into a ball on the opposite embankment. This made our holiday, to see such an iconic Australian animal in the wild...
Another highlight was spotting a tired seal sunning itself just by the bridge between the Fishpen and Town Centre. We were told by local's that this seal has been around town for the last year, much to the delight of tourists and locals alike.
Merimbula is a relaxing and scenic destination for an overnight trip from Canberra, long weekend away or a week-long holiday. Keep an eye out for local wildlife and enjoy fresh seafood straight from the boat. Join a fishing trip off the reef with Fishpen Charters or try SUP'ing for the first time from Mitchies Jetty. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy discovering more gems in this stunning stretch of coastline, only hours from Canberra - but feels like miles from care.
Or just have a snooze in the sun like this tired local