It’s been very wet here in Merimbula. Since we arrived two days ago, we have had over 100 mm of rain (4 inches). Everything feels damp, the ground is sodden and some roads are closed. Even this poor bedraggled Wattle Bird sheltered under the verandah of our cabin for an hour or two. Fortunately, we are not further north as many towns have up the road had over 100 mm of rain in just one day and flooding is severe.
It’s been a good time in this wet weather to have a cabin in a holiday park as we have lots of room, a full kitchen, living area and a big bathroom. It wouldn’t have been nearly as comfortable to sit out all this rain in a motel room.
Merimbula is a charming seaside holiday and retirement town that lies on the hills around Lake Merimbula on the mouth of the Merimbula River. The main appeal of the town is the diverse set of water-based activities that include fishing, swimming, surfing, boating, lake cruises, scuba diving, sailboarding and canoeing. However, with the current weather, very little of this is taking place right now. Merimbula is a very commercial town with a steady traffic flow and more accommodation options than you could imagine.
The lake is well utilised by oyster farmers. This area, known as the Sapphire Coast, is famous for its award-winning oysters and is one of the most prominent oyster-producing areas of Australia, with millions harvested from the lakes each year. This is the perfect growing environment for the Sydney rock oyster.
Yesterday morning, the rain was so heavy and continuous that we decided not to go out and we used the time to do some laundry and catch up with some emails. By the afternoon, the rain had reduced from a downpour to gentle rain and periods of drizzle, so we decided to drive north a few kilometres to Tathra – a quiet holiday town with a good beach and boat launching ramps.
Until the early 1950s the major form of transportation along the New South Wales South Coast was by ferry and passenger steamer. There were a series of wharves where the ships would berth, deliver and pick up goods and passengers, before sailing further up or down the coast. The wharf at Tathra is the only one of the original coastal steamer wharves remaining.
This weather system has developed some very rough seas that are pounding the coast.
We were going to continue on to Bega and then back to Merimbula but when we arrived back at the same road junction where we had turned off half an hour earlier to go to Tathra, we saw that the road to Bega had suddenly been closed.
This morning, the weather had cleared to occasional showers and at times there were even patches of blue sky. We took advantage of the change in the weather and drove south to Eden to do a little exploring. (Yes, the plant nursery there is indeed called ‘The Garden of Eden’}. The wind was still strong and the surf was high.
Just after leaving Eden, we saw a sign pointing down a road to ‘Quarantine Bay’. We set off to see if there was a white elephant there as well. (The Victorian Government have just spent hundreds of millions on a new Quarantine station near Melbourne Airport. it is still only partly open although the peak of the pandemic has well and truly passed, Perhaps it could be used for Boy Scout jamborees, housing people from Ukraine, or used to house drunken sailors while they are in port.) There was, however, no such structure at Quarantine Bay – just a rocky headland and a sheltered harbour.
A little further south is the historic area of Boydtown. This was one of those grand nineteenth century entrepreneurial dreams that never came to fruition. A dream by Benjamin Boyd to create a thriving port, to build an elegant hotel and to construct a huge tower for spotting whales. It all came to nothing. Today the remnants are fascinating. An elegant, and recently modernised, historic hotel. A tower which was never completed and is now a folly of dramatic proportions and an historic relic of an old whaling station all set on the edges of the beautiful Ben Boyd National Park with its quiet beaches, rugged shoreline and lonely Green Cape lighthouse. It is a reminder of how some grand dreams never become a reality.
When we first went to the Seahorse Inn in the 1980s it was empty and rundown. It was originally built in 1843 using convict labour. Shore whaling and oil extraction had been established on the bay for fifteen years and Ben Boyd added the hotel to his other enterprises. However the cost of establishing Boydtown began to affect him financially and in 1849 the liquidators were called in. The Seahorse Inn was abandoned that year and the incomplete hotel lay vacant for nearly a century. In 2002 it was upgraded at a cost of around $4 million. Today it is a charming, luxury boutique hotel with a restaurant, a cocktail lounge and a brasserie.
We tried to drive onwards through the Ben Boyd National Park to visit the famous Ben Boyd Tower on the headland near Honeysuckle Point. We drove along a well made road for about 15 kilometres only to find that the road to the tower was closed. The tower apparently stands 23 metres high and was constructed from Pyrmont sandstone brought by steamer from Sydney. It was originally built as a lighthouse but the government considered it unsuitable and consequently it was never used although it did serve as a whale-spotting site.
Near the road junction to the tower was a giant wood chipping plant with an enormous pile of logs ready to be chipped and exported. The plant is owned by Allied Natural Wood Enterprises (an Australian company) that describes itself as a world class wood products export marketing and logistics company. I took a photo of a small section of the log pile but an aerial photo from their website gives a more complete view of the operations on the headland opposite Merimbula.
There are some relics of whaling sites around the bay but the roads into them were too boggy for us to drive on.
We stopped for lunch in Eden where there is a harbour with a fishing fleet, pilot station and sea going tugs that assist ships coming to pick up woodchips.
At nearby Pambula, we stopped at the long beach near the caravan park. We had stayed here when our kids were little. I’m convinced that God comes from Australia as he hasn’t made beaches like this one anywhere else!
I like the little town of Pambula far more than Merimbula. It’s a quiet, gentle little town that has a ‘small town’ main street and feel. The town spreads across the Pambula River Valley and has a rather sweet, unspoiled charm.
In the hills behind Pambula is a little village named Wyndham. We drove the thirty kilometres to it as we we had some time to spare and nothing else to do. (It was too cool and windy to spend much time on the beach anyway). The road took us through some pastoral country and some stretches of rain forest. The village didn’t offer very much. It basically consisted of a primary school, pub, hall, a few houses and two tiny churches.
It’s clear that this part of the country has received a lot of rain. The grass which would normally be dry and golden brown at the end of summer is now vibrant green.
Of course, all the creeks and streams are flowing rapidly.
On the way back to our cabin, disaster struck. We stopped at a couple of oyster farms to buy a dozen of them for dinner, only to find that they were closed. Here we are in the oyster capital of the Saphire Coast and we can’t buy any! It seems that all the silt that has been washed into the lakes at Merimbula and Pambula has meant that oysters cannot be harvested until the water clears. That might take a few weeks and we will be long gone by then. We were so looking forward to a feast of oysters with a drizzle of lemon juice and a good grinding of black pepper.