Nowra, around 17km from the coast, is the largest town in the Shoalhaven area. Although there are prettier South Coast towns, it's a solid, laid-back regional centre and can be a decent base for the surrounding attractions of Berry, Kangaroo Valley and Jervis Bay. Nowra's conjoined twin, Bomaderry, is the southern terminus of the South Coast rail line.
Lovely little Cowra is synonymous with being the site of the only land battle fought on Australian soil during WWII, when, in August 1944, more than 1000 Japanese prisoners attempted to break out of a prisoner-of-war camp here. During the surprise attack, 231 Japanese were killed or committed ritual suicide; four Australians were also killed.
Eden’s a sleepy, appealing place with real local character set on magnificent Twofold Bay. Often the only bustle is down at the harbour when the fishing boats – and, once the wharf is extended, cruise ships – come in. Around the surrounding area are stirring beaches, national parks and wilderness areas.
Kiama & Around
Kiama’s sculpted coastline includes numerous beaches and crazy rock formations, including a famous but often underwhelming blowhole. The town is characterised by its likeably daggy, laid-back vibe and magnificent mature Norfolk pines. Inland are viewpoints and outdoor activities in the forested highlands.
With a lush, cool climate (even in summer), a wealth of historical attractions, some seriously posh nosh and luxe lodgings, the compact area known as the Southern Highlands makes for a wonderful day trip or weekend break from Sydney – especially if you've got someone special with you and you want to impress. For the lowdown, see www.southern-highlands.com.au.
Gosford & Around
The largest town along the coast between Sydney and Newcastle is the transport and services hub of Gosford. Nearby, relaxed Avoca has a lovely beach and an old cinema, while Terrigal has a beautiful crescent-shaped beach with good surf, a bustling town centre and a variety of top spots to refuel.
A protected National Surfing Reserve, Lennox Head's picturesque coastline has some of the best surf on the coast, with a world-class point break. Its village atmosphere and laid-back locals make it a mellow alternative to its boisterous and well-touristed neighbour, Byron, 17km north, and you can also get well-made coffee and a rather good feed.
A quintessential inland Australian town, Deniliquin, also known as 'Deni', lies along a wide, lazy bend of the Edwards River. Here you'll find an attractive river beach and some appealing riverside walks amid the red gums. There's also a famed and ever-growing festival dedicated to that curious Aussie obsession, the ute.
Ulladulla & Mollymook
Ulladulla is a fishing-focused town with a picturesque coastal location. Adjoining it to the north, Mollymook has a gorgeous beach and is a favourite summer destination for Sydneysiders. There are some excellent places to stay and eat in town and other great beaches nearby.
Mittagong & Bowral
While the twinned towns of Mittagong and Bowral are separate entities (as locals would be keen to declare), they're so inextricably intertwined that it makes sense to look at them as a pair. Together they form the heart of the delightful Central Highlands. Mittagong is the smaller of the two, 5km to the north, and has a more down-to-earth vibe.
Loosely regarded as the birthplace of the Australian nation, it was at the Tenterfield School of Arts in 1889 that Sir Henry Parkes delivered the speech that led to the Federation of all Australian states in 1901. Its other claim to fame is that entertainer Peter Allen (the 'Boy from Oz'), was born here: golden oldies may remember his famous song 'Tenterfield Saddler'.