Saturday, December 15, 2007

Batemans Bay, New South Wales

I’m sitting on the dock of the bay,
Watching the tide roll away,
I’m just sitting on the dock of the bay,
Wastin’ time…
(Otis Redding)

The drive across to the coast from inland Canberra to beautiful Batemans Bay for the Easter long weekend was uneventful and quite slow, with the learner driver at the wheel. We avoided any traffic by leaving home early. After a stop to retrieve an L plate that sailed off the car, neatly missing a grazing kangaroo before settling into a patch of purple Patterson’s Curse growing wildly along the edge of the road – and a quick u-turn to go back for the learner driver’s license, we were on our way. The hazy morning sky was filled with hot air balloons floating over Lake Burley Griffin and slowly swirling past the monumental Telstra Tower.

Within fifteen minutes we had passed through the wide streets of Queanbeyan, a large country town next door to Canberra. Driving over the bridge above the town’s river, we saw a large flock of geese waddling into the water and honking noisily at the smaller ducks sailing sedately in their wake.

From Bungendore to Braidwood, which are both filled with antique and craft stores and newly renovated old Australia type cottages, (it being an easy commute to the big smoke, Canberra) we drove through drifts of early morning mist that wafted across Ireland green paddocks filled with grazing cows, horses and sheep. We saw large herds of kangaroos feeding on the lush green grass.

After an easy glide down the Clyde Mountain Range, we slowly drove down the twisty mountain road which winds through thick rainforest growth until we crossed the bridge over the Nelligen River. Within five minutes we were actually in Batemans Bay.


The harbour at Batemans Bay

Yachts, trawlers, two jet skis and a lone kayaker were in the water to one side of us, on the drive up the esplanade. As I looked at all the new development – a host of apartment buildings accompanying the new shopping mall, I thought back to twenty years ago, when this area was still a sleepy little fishing town. Back then, visitors would stay in tents, caravans and little holiday houses.

Now it is much more up market, with pay parking and shopping malls, while still somehow retaining an air of tranquility. Hotels and glossy apartments with smoked glass balconies attached to the new Italian look stucco façade vie for space along sections of the water’s edge and more and more eateries seem to spring up each time we visit. There is a flourishing restaurant business here, each one with a wide range of gourmet dining from around the globe.

But time and time again, we are drawn to the locally famous Boat Shed, where the catch of the day was literally caught just hours earlier, by the proprietor’s son, who owns one of the trawlers moored in front of the building. Pelicans, cormorants and seagulls wheel and dive as the fishing boats ply to and fro, laden with their catch.

We also dine over the weekend at the locally famous Starfish Deli, which dominates the corner of the esplanade and serves great meals, snacks or just a slow and satisfying cappuccino, as you sit under a large sail umbrella and listen to the masts creak and the unfurling of a sail as the locals take to the water for a leisurely cruise.

Our appetites satisfied with Australia’s favorite seaside dish, fish and chips, we turned to the real reason for this trip – fishing! The hardest decision of the day was deciding on the perfect type of bait. Choices included pilchards, whitebait, squid, prawns or sand worms. After studying his tide chart avidly, obtained at the nearby harbour and marine store, and discussing the ins and outs of high versus low tide fishing, the learner driver perfected his casting off the jetty outside the hotel.


While I’m keen to fish too, I also enjoy the change of pace, the scent of sea air and the views of the yachts bobbing up and down in the gentle swells caused by the small cruise boats as they pass. There’s nothing quite like sitting on a jetty, fishing rod in hand, watching a yacht go by so close you can almost touch it, with dolphins arching up from the water as they lead the boat out to the ocean.

There is a variety of activities for the active visitor. On this particular long weekend visit, we made the round of a golf course – it didn’t take us long, as it was Putt Putt golf. Although I didn’t win – not by a long way, I made the eighteen holes in a score that was the record for the previous day!

Nearly everyone we know has a house, or has a relative with one, or an apartment or a caravan, here at the coast. Canberrans often retire to Batemans Bay, or one of the nearby towns. We find plenty here to do and see, and it’s just under a two hour drive from home. Others turn north, up to Jervis Bay with its beautiful national park, or go as far south as Merrimbula.

Nearby attractions include the Mogo Zoo which we have been to twice, a small bird and animal park, local markets, little museums and art or antique galleries, and of course, miles and miles of scenic beaches. There is no shortage of things to see or places to eat. The nearby Nelligen River has houseboats to rent and small boats for fishing can be rented by the hour.

One of the highlights for us is to go to Denhams Beach. A few minutes drive past Batemans Bay, after Batehaven and Casey’s Beach, it’s often frequented by a pod of dolphins which we see most times we go there. A further few minutes drive south and you reach Guerilla Bay, a spot for divers to come for diving lessons. At low tide you can walk across a little spit of land to reach a small cliff where you can scramble up to great views of the ocean. I hear it’s a great place for whale spotting but we haven’t seen any yet.

The Dive Shop where you arrange lessons or diving excursions is right next to our hotel, Mariners on the Waterfront, which can put together weekend packages for you. At regular intervals throughout the day, while fishing from the jetty outside the hotel, you see the anglers rapidly hauling in their lines as the dive boat returns another lot of satisfied customers back to town. You can also charter boats for fishing.

The hardest thing about a getaway to this little piece of paradise is leaving it to return to the real world of bustling Canberra. On one beach getaway years ago, I bought a t-shirt with a slogan that says it all: “Batemans Bay – pack everything. I’m never coming home.”

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