It’s early. Not even 8am. Ridiculously early for a Saturday morning. I’ve left The Boy gently snoring to come and explore – drink in the day’s early tranquillity, a refreshing salve to our hectic Friday. There’s a stillness in the air and the bleached-out morning sky, and the sand feels cool and damp beneath my toes.
We’re at Jervis Bay, an idyllic inlet on the New South Wales coast, about three hours south of Sydney. (It’s correctly pronounced ‘Jarvis’, as in Cocker, like the bloke it was named after, but it’s fine to go with the phonetic version.)
From my vantage point the white beach stretches away to either side, lapped by a glassy sea. The dunes fade into the distance, backed by the eucalyptus forests of the national parks at the north and south heads. It’s quiet but for the twitter of lorikeets and the obligatory chortling kookaburra. It’s a scene straight out of an Australian advertising campaign.
But I’m not alone. A puppy bounds down the path behind me with the exuberance that only dogs can muster, followed by his master, a baseball-capped gentleman pushing 50. He stops to bid me “G’day” while his charge gambols along the foreshore. “Lovely morning” (agreed), “perfect for a swim” (um, maybe), “just the temperature to get the heart racing” (yeah mate, whatever).
“I’ll trust you to control yourself,” he concludes with a wink, pulling off his t-shirt and shorts with a practised flourish, revealing a sun-wizened torso and black Speedos.
I succeed in controlling myself, but decide it’s definitely time for coffee, so make my way along the squeaky beach into town. Huskisson is the main centre for exploring the area, a cheerful gaggle of shops hawking dive gear and dolphin cruises, organic cafés and pizza joints, a supermarket, an RSL and the delightfully named Husky Pub.
I locate the bakery with little difficulty, and prise The Boy from his bed with the smell of freshly baked banana bread.
An hour or so later, having convinced The Boy we didn’t come away to watch Saturday morning television, we’re driving into Booderee National Park (it’s $10 for a two-day pass).
As well as the Botanic Gardens and miles of eucalyptus-scented bush trails, there’s the achingly-white beach at Green Patch, excellent surf at the curving bay of Cave Beach, and majestic views from the wind-lashed cliffs at Cape St George.
So whether you’re a beach babe, a surf dude or a bush ranger, this small patch of paradise epitomises the Australia of your dreams.
Back in Huskisson late in the afternoon, I find myself cast adrift with The Boy, peering through the transparent bottom of our canoe. The clear, quiet waters of Jervis Bay are famed for their marine life – it’s a popular spot for diving – and these canoes offer a bird’s eye view, so to speak.
As well as the resident seals and dolphins, humpback whales often take a break from their annual migrations here, and the cutely-camouflaged weedy sea dragon is regularly spotted by scuba divers.
Tonight, though, there’s nothing to be seen but gently undulating seaweed and pink anemones. I’m reminded of a previous trip to the bay when I forked out $40 for a dolphin watching cruise, only to trawl the bay without seeing so much as a dorsal fin and find the pod hanging out by the beach on our return. (This was with a different boy, and I judiciously refrain from mentioning it.)
Still, it’s soothing to drift in the shallows, dipping the paddle every now and again, trailing my fingers in the water and listening to the lapping of the waves on the keel.
Back on dry land, we take a stroll back along the beach, hand in hand, revelling in the warm sand between our toes and the cooler evening air against our skin.
By the time we head back to our beachside cabin the first stars are pricking the pastel sky. It’s the Australia that advertising campaigns are made of – and this time, I’m right in the poster.
Hitting the Road
The turn-off for Jervis Bay is on the Princes Highway, about three hours south of Sydney.
But this is a journey that shouldn’t be hurried – take time to meander through the picturesque coastal resorts of Illawarra and Shoalhaven, or the tranquil escarpments of Kangaroo Valley.
Taking the coast route, make your first stop the Royal National Park. As well as miles of unspoilt bush land to explore, there’s boating on the river at Audley, a smudge of white sand at Wattamolla, and excellent surf at Garie Beach.
Continuing on the coast road, the Grand Pacific Drive is clearly marked. Hugging the cliffs and at times winding on stilts above the shoreline towards Wollongong, this is a drive that’s grand indeed. It’s worth grabbing some gelato at Austinmer, and catching the view from the lookout at Bulli.
South of Shellharbour stop at Minnamurra Rainforest Centre for an excellent boardwalk among massive trees and waterfalls, and at Kiama to check out the blowhole. And if you’re still not sick of the sand thing, Seven Mile Beach is – well, just that.
The inland route is no less impressive. Detour into the country town of Berry for the best in tourist tat and Aussie rustic charm. Then take your pick of the scenic roads that wind across the rolling hills of Kangaroo Valley on your way back to the Hume Highway, and north to Sydney.