The ultimate travel guide for a NSW South Coast road trip: from Sydney down to Merimbula!
The South Coast of New South Wales, Australia, is filled with beaches, forests, mountains, vineyards, and a diverse array of wildlife.
It also has buzzing little towns, delicious local food, and plenty of cozy airbnbs and peaceful campgrounds.
The South Coast begins just south of Sydney and stretches down to the Victorian Border. At about 400 km long, the South Coast consists of four main coastal regions: Illawarra, Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla, and the Sapphire Coast.
In this NSW South Coast Road Trip Guide, I’ll list the highlights of these four regions and recommend some of my favorite spots!
I truly believe road trips are one of the best ways to experience Australia. So hopefully this guide inspires some fellow travelers or even Aussie locals to get out and explore this beautiful country!
NSW South Coast Road Trip Guide
Before listing the best NSW South Coast destinations, I’ll provide some quick advice on how to plan your road trip.
Getting Around the NSW South Coast
Visiting the South Coast of NSW is incredibly easy from Sydney.
The Illawarra Coast begins just south of the city, and many of the highlights here can be visited as day trips from Sydney.
If you don’t have a car in Australia, rent one at the start of the trip.
You can rent a car in Sydney, which costs around $50 a day on average. Prices will fluctuate, of course. December-February is peak tourist season, so car rentals will be more expensive then.
A cheaper option may be to rent a car in Wollongong, a small city just one hour south of Sydney. Catch the train from Sydney to Wollongong and rent a car from there to cut costs.
Do you need a 4×4 for a NSW South Coast road trip?
No. You’ll come across a few dirt roads with potholes, particularly when visiting remote beaches or hiking trails inland. But these roads are still manageable without a 4×4.
Google Maps on your phone should be sufficient for navigation. There is reliable cell service in the majority of the region.
The Princes Highway is the main road that runs along the entire NSW South Coast. You’ll spend most of your time on this road!
How Many Days for a NSW South Coast Road Trip?
This is a hard question. You could easily spend a month or more slowly traveling along the coast and soaking in all the beauty. Or you could spend a solid two weeks seeing just the highlights.
If you want to explore the whole coast, I would recommend at least two weeks.
If you don’t have that much time, you can easily spend 1 week on just one section of the coast.
My boyfriend and I just spent 5 days exploring just the Eurobodalla Coast and Sapphire Coast and it was amazing.
So whatever time frame you have, pick and choose the highlights that you want in your itinerary most and really enjoy them without rushing.
Accommodation on the South Coast
During your road trip, you can choose which accommodation suits your budget.
Airbnbs are perfect for those who want to spend a bit of money and live in comfort. So many locals rent out their homes for reasonable prices, so there are tons of options.
For budget travelers, I recommend camping. Sadly there aren’t many hostels in this region of Australia (with the exception of Wollongong).
So if you have a tent or a van big enough to sleep in, camping is the cheapest option.
The South Coast is packed with national parks, most of which have really nice campgrounds. The average cost of a campsite is around $17 per person or $25 per campsite.
It’s rare to find free campgrounds, but they’re still cheaper than an airbnb.
Besides, sleeping under the stars and waking up to the sound of kookaburras is a pretty incredible experience.
The Best Places to Visit on a NSW South Coast Road Trip
Here’s the best part of a NSW South Coast Road Trip Guide: the destinations!
Scattered along the length of the coast are charming towns and gorgeous natural sights.
I’ll list the best places that I have personally visited, though I’m sure there are plenty more amazing spots that I haven’t seen. I’ll also include some of the best camping spots.
The list will be organized into the four sections of the coast, and will run in geographical order from North to South.
The Illawarra Coast
Beginning directly south of Sydney and stretching all the way to Kiama, the Illawarra Coast has lots of entertainment and hiking opportunities.
I lived in this region for about a year, so check out some of my other articles for more highlights and things to do here!
Just 30 minutes south of Sydney is Stanwell Park, a quiet little beach community nestled between massive hills.
Drive up to Bald Hill at the northern end of Stanwell Park Beach, or hike the Wodi Wodi Trail at the southern end. Both will give you lovely aerial views of the beach, ocean, and hills.
- Recommended Camping Spot: Bulli Beach Campsite, $36 per night, this campsite is about halfway between Stanwell Park and Wollongong. You could also stay at Keiraleigh Hostel in Wollongong!
As the third-largest city in New South Wales, Wollongong is packed with excitement. But it doesn’t feel as busy or crowded as Sydney.
Highlights of Wollongong include the Botanic Gardens, the Wollongong Art Gallery, the Friday morning Forager’s Markets, and the Thursday Night Eat Street Markets.
The city is also home to two lighthouses, and two beaches: City Beach and North Beach.
Kiama is a quaint town framed by vibrant green fields and a rugged, rocky coastline.
The most famous attraction here is the Kiama Blowhole, and the Little Blowhole is a close second.
Both blowholes are natural phenomenons where ocean water rushes into rock crevices and is somehow pushed up and out of the rocks like a water volcano.
If you visit during stormy weather when there is lots of swell, you can see Kiama’s blowholes in all their glory.
- Recommended Camping Spot: Surf Beach Holiday Park, campsites around $35 per night but call them for more info
About 20 minutes west of Kiama is the Minnamurra Rainforest. It’s a short detour off the coastal drive, but it’s a good move if you want to do some hiking and witness a change in scenery.
The Minnamurra Rainforest Center is the hub of activity, and numerous hiking trails begin here.
I recommend the hike to the gorgeous Minnamurra Falls. It’s a relatively short hike, around 1 – 1.5 hours round trip. The walk is steep, but doable for people of all ages.
It’s fascinating how drastically the environment changes as you enter Minnamurra. Massive ferns and towering jungle trees surround the walking trails, and you can feel an increase in temperature and humidity. Pack lots of water for your hike!
The Shoalhaven Coast
The Shoalhaven Coast has some of the best beaches in all of New South Wales. You’ll also find a few wineries and local farms here offering fresh local food, drinks, and produce.
This adorable little town makes a great pit stop on a NSW South Coast road trip.
The main street has lots of creative shops and nice cafes, as well as an ice creamery and a local pub.
Berry is pretty small, so you don’t need to hang out here for more than a few hours or so. But be sure to visit the famous Berry Donut Van for soft, freshly-made cinnamon donuts!
The perfect destination for a relaxing beach day, Jervis Bay has calm, flat, turquoise waters and world-class beaches.
Complete the White Sands Walk, a path that snakes through the bush and passes Blenheim Beach, Greenfield Beach, Chinamans Beach, and the famous Hyams Beach.
Jervis Bay is also great for whale-watching. So if you’re there between the winter months of May through October, you can book a whale watch for around $50.
You can also visit the small towns of Huskisson and Vincentia for shopping and eating in Jervis Bay.
- Recommended Camping Spot: Green Patch in Booderee National Park, $13 park entrance fee
These three small towns are right next to each other, so I’ve combined them into one stop.
Full of historic architecture, unique shops, and delicious restaurants and cafes, Milton is one of the nicest towns in the Shoalhaven region.
Mollymook Beach is one of the best in the area, and Ulladulla has lots of beaches that are great for surfing.
Drive a few minutes inland from the coast to find the classy Cupitt’s Winery and the rustic Milk Haus cafe. Or drive about 40 minutes inland and embark on the challenging but exciting hike up Pigeon House Mountain.
Murramarang National Park
Between Ulladulla and Bateman’s Bay, this national park is situated right next to the coastline.
This is a great spot to hike and stretch the legs during your NSW South Coast Road Trip. The Pretty Beach to Pebbly Beach Hike is particularly scenic and challenging.
It’s also so easy to spot wild kangaroos here. All you have to do is drive along the woodland roads and walk along the beaches and you’re sure to spot some!
- Recommended Camping Spot: Pretty Beach Campground $24 per night for 2 people, unpowered campsite
The Eurobodalla Coast
After the Shoalhaven Coast, continue driving South past Bateman’s Bay and you’ll enter the Eurobodalla Coast.
Now you’re getting into the far south coast of NSW. You’ll find lots of pristine beaches and campgrounds with very few crowds here.
This small town is perfect for camping and exploring. The Moruya River runs through the area, which is a great spot for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing.
Shelley Beach, South Head Beach, Pedro Point, and Bengello Beach are fun for walking, swimming, surfing, and fishing as well.
All the campgrounds in this area are beachfront, peaceful, and relaxing.
- Recommended Camping Spots: North Moruya Head Campground, $17.50 per person per night. Or a bit further south is Congo Campground, $24 per site.
This small area makes a beautiful stop while driving south from Moruya.
Bingie Bingie Point has amazing views and interesting information boards about the area’s nature. You’ll probably also spot some kangaroos here.
Bingie Beach and Coila Beach are usually deserted, so those spots are perfect for a swim in solitude.
The Bodalla Town Center is tiny. It has a pub, a dairy factory, and a few shops. But it’s incredibly charming and worth a visit.
Bodalla Dairy Shed is the highlight, as this area of NSW is famous for its dairy production.
You can taste and purchase delicious, unique flavors of cheese and ice cream (The chili and wattleseed cheese, as well as the Queensland lemon myrtle cheese, are life-changing!)
Another lovely stop in town is the Bodalla Lavender Shop. It’s a quirky store that mixes antiques and vintage items with locally-made lavender products.
As one of the biggest towns in the Eurobodalla Region, Narooma is another popular stop on a NSW South Coast Road Trip.
It has some big shops for stocking up on supplies and food, as well as really nice seafood restaurants.
The oddly shaped “Australia Rock” is a famous landmark here, and the Wagonga Inlet is framed with nice walks, lookout points, and tourist shops where you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and more.
- Recommended Camping Spot: Mystery Bay Campground, $17.50 per person per night. Drive 10 minutes south of Narooma and camp in this magical forest campground, with secluded beaches just a short walk away.
If a village from a fairy-tale ever came to life, it would look like Tilba Tilba. A short detour off the Princes Highway will bring you along a quiet road that winds through vibrant green hills.
Turn off the road when you see signs for Central Tilba, which is the main hub of the area. It’s only one short street, but it’s filled with enchanting shops and buildings.
There’s a bakery, a tea room, some nice jewelry and home goods shops, a leather shop, and more.
You don’t need more than 30 minutes in Central Tilba, but the overall scenery is too charming to miss.
The Sapphire Coast
The Sapphire Coast of NSW is accurately named. Here, the deep blue ocean looks so captivating everywhere you go, making it one of the most beautiful areas in the state.
Spend your days here enjoying the fresh seafood, swimming in the cerulean sea, and soaking up all the wilderness.
Camel Rock/Horse Head Rock
Just a 15 minute drive south of Tilba Tilba is one of the best photo opportunities on the South Coast.
Near Wallaga Lake, park at Camel Rock Beach Car Park and grab your camera!
Head onto the beach, which in itself is absolutely stunning and great for surfing or swimming. Walking north along the beach, you’ll see Camel Rock. This camel-shaped collection of rocks is surrounded by soft sand and turquoise water.
There is also a short bushwalk that winds up over the headland. From up there, you can see the large, horse-shaped boulder known as Horse Head Rock.
This adventure should only take about 30 minutes of your day, and the views are worth it.
Bermagui is a pleasant town that definitely deserves a spot on any NSW South Coast Road Trip.
This is the perfect town for grabbing lunch, treating yourself to an ice cream, and refueling.
Stop by the famous Blue Pool for a dip; this large ocean pool is surrounded by rugged cliffs and you can often see seals or dolphins playing in the waves.
You can also stroll along the Fisherman’s Wharf, or head out to Dickinson Park for a picnic.
Mimosa Rocks National Park
This lush national park just south of Bermagui has so many incredible campgrounds. Every campground has beach access, and there are lots of nice bushwalks scattered throughout the area.
You can stay in an Airbnb in Bermagui if you like, but I recommend immersing yourself in the wilderness and staying at one of these spots:
All 4 of these cost $24 per site. See the NSW National Parks website for more info!
As one of the major towns on the NSW South Coast, Merimbula is full of nice restaurants, fun beaches, and all the major shops you may need.
Short Point Beach, Bar Beach, and Middle Beach are some of the best spots for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing.
I recommend treating yourself to at least one nice dinner and ordering some fresh fish and oysters; they’re incredible down here. My Valentina Restaurant is elegant and has some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted!
- Recommended Camping Spot: Hobart Beach Campground in Bournda National Park, 15 minute drive north of Merimbula, $24 per night
Just south of Merimbula is the adorable, quiet town of Pambula. While visiting Merimbula, it’s worth driving down here just to meander through the town and check out Pambula Beach.
Pambula town center has some nice shops and cafes. Wild Rye’s Bakery is a great place to stop for a coffee and a pastry.
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After Pambula, you can continue south to Eden, the last major town in NSW. Or, you can head back up towards Sydney.
Other resources I recommend before traveling to Australia:
- Applying for your visa (All visitors need one!). Check out iVisa.com for more info, or the Australia Immigration website.
- Buying travel insurance. I use Squaremouth Insurance to find the best and most affordable plans.
- Booking an affordable hostel on Hostelworld for your first few nights in Australia (Most people fly into Sydney. If you’re on a budget, staying in a hotel will be very expensive here!)
For more articles about travel in Australia, check out:
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