A food and art lover's paradise on the NSW South Coast

Street art: Indigenous artist Matt Adnate celebrated Nowra's rich Indigenous history with a portrait of a young Aboriginal boy.

Street art: Indigenous artist Matt Adnate celebrated Nowra's rich Indigenous history with a portrait of a young Aboriginal boy.

Maybe it's because I'm not a lie-on-the-beach type of person, but I've always preferred the NSW South Coast to the state's North Coast.

For a start, the drive south along winding, coast-hugging roads always seems more interesting than the mainly motorway-bound drive north, which is often inland.

Perhaps not being on the main route south between Sydney and Melbourne has its pluses.

Hence I had no qualms about accepting a recent chance to write about the NSW South Coast from an arts and culinary perspective. Hell, someone had to do it.

I'll leave a visit to the coastal jewels of Mollymook and Huskisson for another day, and concentrate instead on Nowra, the area's main centre - a regional city with some 35,000 population, including nearby Bomaderry and Shoalhaven Heads, and seemingly permanent home to much of Australia's ocean-based air defence.

And so it was no wonder that I found myself at South Nowra's Fleet Air Arm Museum, located, appropriately enough, in Albatross Road.

It was hardly cutting-edge high art but it was certainly interesting and well worth the hour or so of allocated time, just to browse the collection of wonderful flying machines and to gain an appreciation of the skills and risks taken in protecting our immense sea border.

Then it was time to meet Kristy Mayhew, the Shoalhaven Council's tourism-marketing specialist and my right hand for a couple of days.

The meeting was over lunch in the spectacularly located Wharf Road Restaurant right by the old iron bridge over the Shoalhaven River in Nowra, and fortunately the quality of the food, ambiance and service quite lived up to the setting.

GUIDANCE: Kristy Mayhew was writer John Rozentals' right hand for a couple of days.

GUIDANCE: Kristy Mayhew was writer John Rozentals' right hand for a couple of days.

Kristy, who proved a delightful luncheon companion, and I took the easy way out. We let the restaurant select our dishes and 'just feed us'.

With a menu that could include delights such as Berrima Bay baby octopus (served with silverbeet, almonds and ink mayo) and rare duck breast (served with pine-mushroom risotto, hazelnuts and marscapone) they certainly had plenty to work with.

Kristy also guided me to the Shoalhaven Regional Gallery, which is housed in an old Nowra TAFE building and is very much the heart of the district's artistic endeavour, housing not just a strong collection of its own but also featuring a changing parade of visiting exhibitions.

There I met Bridget MacLeod, its Curator, who nudged Kristy and laughed as I postulated that people didn't head to the South Coast just to swim. We got on well, and the brief exploration of the gallery was a joy.

Sure, the carpark out the back contains the obligatory Woolworths but it also starts and ends a stroll of street-art media, including an opening work by Melbourne Indigenous artist Matt Adnate, who celebrates the area's rich Indigenous history with a portrait of a young Aboriginal boy.

The all-too-brief visit certainly made me rethink thoughts heard a couple of nights previously - that Nowra itself was a cultural desert.

And then it's on to Shoalhaven Heads and accommodation at Bangalay, which I wrote about in a previous article.

  • Disclosure: John Rozentals was a guest of South Coast Tourism. For further information on the region, consult www.visitnsw.com.
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