Narooma is one of the most underrated destinations on the Far South Coast of NSW. Lying 350 kilometres from Sydney and 684 kilometres from Melbourne, it doesn’t get that much tourist traffic, yet there are so many amazing things to do in Narooma, you probably won’t have enough time to do them all.
The first thing you notice about Narooma is the brilliantly emerald colour of the water in its bays. I nearly jumped out of the car window when we drove into town across the Wagonga Inlet Bridge over the almost unearthly vivid waterway. It comes as no surprise that the name Narooma is thought to be derived from the Aboriginal word meaning ‘clear blue waters’
Most of Narooma’s attractions are all about the dramatic coastline, wildlife and being out on the water. You can snorkel or dive with Australian fur seals at Montegue island, watch pelicans, stingrays and seals from the wharf, explore spectacular rock formations, go fishing, swimming, and snorkelling just about anywhere.
We visited Narooma on a long weekend road trip from Sydney and spent two days exploring the town and the surrounding countryside. Most places we visited took me by surprise either with their dramatic beauty or with quaint charm. Narooma is the perfect combination of both.
So if you are looking for a relaxing yet adventurous break away from the crowds, Narooma perfectly fits the bill. And to help you plan your adventure, here are my favourite 11 things to do in Narooma.
Snorkel with seals
Seals are everywhere where there is water in Narooma: frolicking in the waters of the inlet, camping out on the rocks of the bar crossing breaker (near Australia Rock) and occasionally snoozing on the footpath at the waterfront.
They are fascinating animals to watch as they waddle clumsily on land and dance gracefully at sea. But the best way to encounter Narooma’s seals is by taking a ‘snorkelling with seals’ tour to Montague Island. The island is home to seals’ breeding colony and they congregate there in large numbers. Snorkelling with seals at Montague Island is one of the most popular things to do in Narooma. You could say, it is the town’s specialty.
We took the trip with Lighthouse Charters Narooma and Montague Island Discovery Tours for $110 per person and spent two hours swimming with seals and cruising around Montague Island (plus an hour for everyone to get into and then out of the supplied wetsuits).
Wazza, our skipper took us to the sheltered Pebbly Bay, anchored the boat, and sent us off to meet the seals. There were dozens of seals chilling on the rocks and quite a few playing in the water. This was clearly the seals’ world and we were no more than passing visitors.
As soon as you jump off the boat and look down underwater, you forget who and where you are. You enter the world of deep valleys and underwater mountains covered with thick bushes of colourful seaweeds. The water is so clear that you can see every rock and every fish on the sandy bottom about 10 meters away.
And then the seals appear. One or two at a time they roll around in the water and summersault just for the fun of it. They are incredibly fast, agile and very graceful in the water. And most importantly, friendly and curious. Now and then one would approach you to have a look or race right past you and backflip as if inviting you to join.
The hour-long swim went by too fast, but we still had more time with the seals as Wazza took us on a cruise around the island. Riding the boat in a wet wetsuit in November is, let’s say, refreshing. A little too refreshing perhaps. So, bring a large towel to wear like a poncho if you don’t feel like violently shivering all the way back to Narooma (like I did). For more details read my story about swimming with seals in Narooma.
Check out Australia Rock
If you ask the local Naroomians, you’ll learn that the real Australia Rock is not at Uluru but at the tip of Wagonga Head, right here in Narooma. It is the town’s best-known landmark, more famous even than the seals. So what is the Australia Rock in Narooma?
Well, it is an eroded section of the headland with a hole in the middle that looks remarkably like the shape of Australia (minus Tasmania). It looks amazing at any time of the day, but it is at its best at sunset or sunrise when the sky behind it is dramatically multicoloured and the rock itself seems to glow.
There are some interesting theories about how the rock formed into such an unusual shape. While some people believe that the Australia-shaped hole is the result of hundreds of thousands years of natural erosion, others maintain that the rock was used to moor ships and once, when the swells were very high, they pulled a ship away and the anchor pushed through the hole in the rock creating the shape we see today.
One thing is clear – the rock keeps eroding and at some point, it will probably collapse altogether. To see how quickly the rock is eroding, have a look at the archival image in this story in Narooma News. In 80 years the face of the rock and the shape of the hole has changed almost beyond recognition. So seize the day and see the Australia Rock now!
Australia rock is located at Bar Rock Lookout (1 Bar Rock Rd, Narooma), a 10-min walk (or a 2-min drive) from Narooma waterfront and the public wharf.
Explore Glasshouse Rocks
Narooma Surf Beach and the Glass House Rocks are one of the most unexpectedly spectacular locations on the Far South Coast of NSW. It’s not that the rocks are simply picturesque, it is the contorted shapes that these rocks have been forced into by the emmence forces of the continnental plates collision millions of years ago.
The most incredible rock, in my opinion, is the chevron folded formation, locally known as the Kangaroo Rock. The zig-zag or chevron folding pattern obvious in this formation is the result of the collision of an ancient Pacific tectonic plate with the eastern edge of the Gondwana plate.
The short (1.5km return) walk along Narooma Surf Beach will take you past a number of remarkable rock formations, some rising out of the surf between the beach and the ocean and some protruding from the headland onto the beach.
The rocks standing in the surf, haven’t been eroded away from the headland, they have been brought here by the Pacific tectonic plate when it collided with Gondwana coastline. According to the Geological Society of Australia, these rocks are 510 and 440 million years old – far more ancient than the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road.
Visit Montague Island
Montague Island has to be at the top of your Narooma bucket list. Whether you snorkel with seals off the island or take a walking tour of the island, make sure you don’t miss it.
It lies 9km, or a 20-min boat ride, south of Narooma and is part of Montague Island Nature Reserve. Washed over by Narooma’s famous brilliant blue-green waters, the island is home to the breeding colonies of Australian fur seals and Little penguins, and a wide array of coastal bird species. Between May and November, you can also spot Humpback whales as they cruise past on their epic migration.
It is also the second biggest island off NSW east coast (after Lord Howe Island). In a way, it is NSW answer to South Australia’s Kangaroo Island.
There are a few options for visiting Montague island with Montague Island Tours. The 4-hr Morning tour departs at 8.30 am and includes a 2.5-hr tour of the island with visits to the graveyard, seal colony, a historic lighthouse and the southern end of the island. The 3-hr Afternoon tour gives you a shorter visit to the island. And from September to January there is an Evening tour that includes a 1-hr visit to the lighthouse and the seal colony as well as an opportunity to see the Little Penguins as they return to shore after spending the day in the ocean.
Meet the wildlife at Narooma Wharf
In Narooma you don’t have to travel far to meet local wildlife. Just make your way to the waterfront and Narooma public wharf and you’ll see pelicans, cormorants, schools of fish, funky blowfish and, most likely a seal or two, and maybe even a stingray.
The best show in town is put on when the fishing boats come back to the wharf and the fishermen throw scraps of fish to the waiting audience.
Just before our boat departed for Montague island, a fisherman came to use the fish cleaning table by the wharf. Immediately, half a dozen pelicans and about a dozen cormorants gathered infront of him waiting for a snack. Just as eager, a bunch of us were standing behind the man waiting to see the ‘show’.
The man didn’t disappoint. He waved a piece of fish in the air in wide arcs infront of the waiting birds and, like on command, the birds followed the movements of his hand with their heads keeping their comically giant bills open. Just like the YouTube cat videos.
So as you stroll around Narooma waterfront, keep an eye out for the fishermen at the cleaning tables. But even without the fishermen, there are usually a couple of seals around, a few pelicans and cormorants, oystercatchers and other waterbirds.
Look for stingrays at Mill Bay Boardwalk
If you are looking for an easy walk in between your adventures, take the Mill Bay boardwalk and you will discover schools of fish, stingrays and octopi in the shallows. The water along the boardwalk is so clear that it’s like snorkeling without getting wet.
The boardwalk stretches for 4 kilometers from Apex Park on the northern side of the inlet to Quota Park on Riverside Drive and then to Rotary Park near Narooma public wharf. If you decide to walk the entire length of the boardwalk and return to your starting point, it will take about 2 hours at a leisurely waddle.
You can also walk smaller sections of the boardwalk, or extend the walk by continuing to Australia Rock at Wagonga Inlet entrance at the southern end of the walk or going for a swim at Bar Beach at the northern end. For a break, stop at one of the cafes at Fosters Bay.
Swim at Narooma Bar Beach
With the colour of the water so irresistibly inviting, you will want to go for a swim in Narooma. And you are in luck – Narooma Bar Beach is one of the safest beaches on Eurobodalla coastline. It’s naturally enclosed and further protected by the break wall at the northern end.
Narooma’s clear waters make almost any shallow area a perfect snorkelling spot. Bar beach is no exception. Plus, since it is protected from the swells, it is a good place for kids to learn to snorkel. They can find schools of fish, squid, jellyfish and even an occasional sea horse here.
The beach is also patrolled by lifeguards, so it is as safe as it gets. Which, considering how dangerous Narooma bar is for navigating, is a legitimate concern.
To reach the beach, you can either drive and park at the Apex Park car park or you can walk along Mill Bay boardwalk to the western end of the beach. The facilities at the beach include public toilets, picnic area, children’s play equipment, barbeques and a boat ramp.
Take a dip in Bermagui’s Blue Pool
The Blue Pool in Bermagui is rated as one of Australia’s most beautiful rock pools, but because of its location (370 kilometres from Sydney and 647 kilometres from Melbourne), it doesn’t get much press. The plus side to its remoteness, of course, is that it doesn’t get crowded.
We discovered the Blue Pool on an afternoon drive around Tilba and Bermagui and even after spending a couple of days surrounded by Narooma’s mesmerizing waterways, we were blown away by the brilliantly-colorful pool.
Despite it’s name, the Blue Pool is actually not blue but deep green-green. To truly appreciate it, you have to see it from the cliff top Lookout first. It is located near the carpark, just off Pacific Drive. In the context of its surrounding landscape the Blue Pool looks like a pressing gem stone. It’s vivid emerald water is set off by the honey-colored rocks and the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean.
To reach the pool for a swim or a snorkel, follow the stairs from the carpark down to the water level. There is plenty of marine life in the pool, so if you bring your snorkelling gear, give it a go.
Find a secret lookout in Central Tilba
Once you are done exploring Narooma’s plentiful natural attractions, it’s time to visit some of the adorable villages in the surrounding countryside. And the first village you will want to check out is Tilba. There are actually two villages near one another: Central Tilba and the smaller Tilba Tilba. If you have time, visit both. They are conveniently located between Bermagui and Narooma so you can visit them as part of your trip to Bermagui.
But if you only have time to stop at one village, head to Central Tilba. It’s a quaint little settlement (pop 80) that seems to have been frozen in time since the gold rush in the late 1800s – its main street is lined with perfectly preserved heritage cottages now occupied by artisan shops and cafes. Even the public toilets are cute as a button in Central Tilba.
Like seemingly all little villages, Central Tilba has a penchant for tea. Out of a dozen shops and cafes in the village, two are tea specialists – The Tilba Teapot Cafe and Eumun Tea – a specialist tea room with over 200 specialty teas and a large and eclectic collection of teapots and teaware to choose from.
You can easily spend a few hours exploring Central Tilba’s quirky shops, having a cuppa at the tea rooms and sampling different flavours of cheese at ABC Cheese Factory.
Before you leave the village, make sure to visit the Water Tower lookout. It’s unsignposted but easy to find. Head up the hill along Station Street next to Dromedary Hotel, walk through the gate and keep walking uphill through another stock gate to the water tower. It’s no more than a 5-min walk and the views of the surrounding lush green countryside are quite spectacular.
Sample spicy cheese at Bodalla
Heading north from Narooma (24km), visit Bodalla village. It is another quaint 1-street village like Tilba, only Bodalla’s specialty is milk and cheese. Most of the inland area of the Far South Coast is a dairy-producing region and there are plenty of local flavors to sample in the villages. And while our international borders remain closed this is as close as you will come in Australia to feeling like you are traveling through French countryside. Just pack your own baguette and a picnic blanket.
In Bodalla, you’ll find cheese tasting at the Dairy Shed. And the must-try flavour here is the famous ‘spicy cheese’. The coffee served at the shed is as good as at Sydney’s gourmet cafes and it is made with fresh milk from the farm. Just make sure to order well in advance, if you are used to Sydney’s ‘fast lane’ baristas.
If you visit around 10 am or 4 pm, you could bottle-feed the calves at the Dairy Shed, just ask in the store. There are also cute enamel jugs and mug on sale at the shed as well as a variety of local produce like jams and honey.
Take a stroll through Mogo
Further north (59km from Narooma), Mogo is heritage village that is cute as a button. If you are driving to Narooma from Sydney, Mogo would be a perfect stop on the way. Or if you are looking for a short road trip from Narooma, you could combine Mogo and Bodalla for a morning or an afternoon drive.
Like most of the heritage villages along the Far South Coast, Mogo was established when gold was discovered in the 1850’s in the cabbage tree creek. During the gold rush, Mogo was quite a buzzy town with several hotels, churches and a public school.
Once the rush was over, Mogo slowly declined and became an unremarkable backwater village. Until a few artists and craftsman decided to settle here in the 1980 and the village started to bloom again as an artisan community. The heritage buildings have been restored and new shops were built in a style complementing the surviving miners’ cottages.
Today, the cottages along Mogo’s main street house quirky shops and adorable cafes. So if you are looking for a spot of shopping and a relaxing cuppa, in a historic village, Mogo is the place. There is even a Husband Seat outside of Mogo Trading Post complete with a beach umbrella to provide some shade.
Tours to Explore Narooma Coast
If you prefer to explore the region on an organized tour, here are the best options depending on your interests and available time:
- Private Tour of Eurobodalla Coastal Highlights
- Private Half-Day Tour Eurobodalla Coastal Highlights
- South Coast Photography Tour
As you can see, there is no shortage of things to do in Narooma and in the surrounding countryside. The region is packed with spectacular sites, adventurous experiences and chill out options. The only thing you’ll wish for is more time in the area.
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