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Driving Australia's New South Wales

© Scott Riley Driving Australia’s New South Wales

Photo: Scott Riley

Day 2, a loop from Mollymook to Huskisson (100 miles)

Up close, kangaroos are less the cuddly cartoon animals they’re made out to be than frighteningly large wild beasts with the scowl of a nightclub bouncer and the hindquarters of a mule. By up close, I mean from a distance of about five feet, which is where I found myself Monday morning in Murramarang National Park. I’d awakened to a symphony of birdcalls, breakfasted on passion fruit and sencha tea (I’m not nearly that abstemious; my bacon never arrived), and left Bannisters with the goal of reaching the park before the kangaroos vanished for the day. I needn’t have hurried. On Pebbly Beach, they linger under old-growth trees late into the afternoon. After my face-to-face encounter, I jumped into my rented Ford Falcon—remember those?—and headed back to Princes Highway on a dirt road where I spotted seven more kangaroos in the underbrush.

Batemans Bay sits on an estuary of the Clyde River. A cross between a tourist town and a working fisherman’s village, it seemed both relaxed and orderly, like Key West gone Canadian. At the Pearly Oyster Bar, a retail shop and restaurant that’s owned by an oyster farm, I ordered a dozen Sydney Rocks for $11 and checked them out with scientific detachment. They were larger than average, mildly briny, perfectly good but ultimately disappointing: no match, I thought, for American Chincoteagues or France’s Belons. Unsated, I crossed the road to the North St. Café and Bar, a tiny establishment of a few metal tables. Soon I was feasting on squid salad with dried cherries, followed by pan-fried John Dory and vanilla-bean panna cotta with poached fruit. The meal was satisfying, but the friendliness of the patrons is what I’ll remember. Without fail, everyone who stepped inside flashed me a smile. Either unfamiliar faces are an uncommon sight in this corner of Australia, or locals here are just wired that way.

Heading back north after lunch, I guided my Falcon into the wild. The inland loop roughly paralleled the highway over rutted dirt roads, and it featured a stream that needed fording. I took the risk, bumping along the Clyde through dense forest, then held my breath as I rumbled through foot-deep water. I emerged in an open pasture of vibrant green backed by the impossibly blue sea, colors I’d encountered only in a box of crayons. The detour had taken 90 minutes, but it felt like I’d visited another world, a primeval Australia that had hardly changed in millennia. Had I rudimentary knowledge and keener eyes, I’m sure I would have spotted one example after another of flora and fauna that don’t exist back home, and probably never did.

Twenty minutes up Princes Highway, Hyams Beach is reputed to have the world’s whitest sand. And it is white, platinum-blond white, bridal-gown white. I took a late-afternoon walk, the sand squeaking under my feet, and reveled in the wide-open arc of beach, the waves rolling in to shore, the gulls clattering.

Paperbark Camp, my hotel just north of Huskisson in nearby Woollamia, had an entirely different feel. Guests stay in luxury tents—some have king-size beds and soaking tubs, and all are powered by solar energy—and sleep zipped up tight against mosquitoes. Clutching my wind-up flashlight in the darkness, I walked beneath the pinpricks of unfamiliar stars to the Gunyah, an indoor-outdoor wood-and–corrugated-iron restaurant that serves as the hotel’s centerpiece. I ate a kangaroo starter (no, not a pang), followed by a curiously appealing mix of squid, beef, chilis, and seaweed. Only the spooky techno music undermined the eco-safari setting.

Day 3, Huskisson to Sydney (115 miles)

I skipped breakfast at Paperbark for my long-awaited bacon at Fresh at the Bay, served with a harbor view. North of there, the highway splits. I chose the inland route and followed it behind Cambewarra Mountain. Rounding a bend in bright sunshine, I saw clouds filling a valley hundreds of feet below, looking like a pile of cotton balls. And then I was in that mist, driving through the tidy town of Kangaroo Valley in a drizzle. It felt like England between the wars.

I passed a traditional candy shop, the Fudge House & Ice Creamery (I stopped, I sampled), and a row of finely detailed hobbyhorses outside a woodworker’s studio. A roadside meadow might have doubled for Hampstead Heath. It was still summer on the coast, but here it had turned to fall. Leaves had gone tan and brown, and the temperature felt like it had dropped 20 degrees. I drove over Hampden Bridge, a passable imitation of London’s Tower Bridge, and suddenly longed to be back in that sunny Australia I’d left behind.

If I made cursory work of nearby Fitzroy Falls and its glorious, 269-foot drop into the Kangaroo River, I knew I could reach the city by lunch. I opened the Good Food Guide, then called Iceberg’s Dining Room & Bar, which serves exquisite Italian food and overlooks Bondi Beach. Inspired, I pushed north with a purpose.

Bruce Schoenfeld is T+L’s wine and spirits editor.

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