Bush fires have continued to tear across Australia, particularly devastating the state of New South Wales. These blazes began erupting in September, and have escalated to staggering proportions in January — burning roughly 13.5 million acres, destroying 900 homes, and killing 17 people.
In the face of turmoil, the Australian government has committed $2 billion in aid and social media has rallied support: crowd-sourcing has spurred the largest Facebook Fundraiser in history. Meanwhile, 100 firefighters from the U.S. and Canada have been deployed to provide aid — an act that was honored in projections on the Sydney Opera House. Still, the devastation is staggering and will surely affect the entire nation for years to come.
Just prior to the fires erupting this winter (summer in the Southern Hemisphere), I arrived in New South Wales for a road trip, tracing the South Coast with a group of friends, leaving behind the fire season in my home state of California. Needless to say, the kinship between the two regions currently feels palpable. As I returned home and watched as the beaches, National Parks, and even residential neighborhoods of New South Wales that I so thoroughly enjoyed get engulfed in flames and smoke, it felt more urgent than ever for me to highlight and celebrate the beauty and importance of the region. Because just as California remains a sparkling attraction for visitors and beloved by its residents — from the Santa Monica Pier to Yosemite National Park — despite wildfires, so too will New South Wales will carry on.
When the smoke clears, the state’s beauty and rich culture will remain well worth the visit. Moreover, the time to go is literally “as soon as you feel safe” — because the importance of tourism dollars in the wake of a natural disaster literally can’t be overstated.
Fires aside, New South Wales feels as if it was designed for hosting epic road trips. Scenic towns, coastal lookout points, and accommodations are all 30 minutes to an hour drive from each other, sourdough bread is abundant, and the white wine is crisp and dry. Plus, you’ll often find yourself tracing the coast, and everyone knows that there’s nothing better than pausing a road trip for a swim or surf in the ocean. And since some of the same local businesses that helped my friends and I have the adventure of a lifetime were forced to temporarily close last week, I couldn’t be more excited to shout them out here. They’ll need your tourism dollars when they reopen.
So here you go — a road trip itinerary down the south coast of New South Wales. A region where you can invest your vacation days, marvel at the beauty of the world (despite the fires), and support local communities as the region rebuilds itself.
Day 1 — Touching Down to Gerringong
Flying to Australia from the US isn’t particularly difficult these days, but it does cross a whole lot of time zones. It’s important to adjust to the time change and try to stay awake until at least 9 pm on your first night. You can do this with some leisurely sightseeing: pick up your rental car and head about an hour down the coast where you’ll be able to take a bathroom break, grab a coffee and peer out over the Bald Hill Lookout for a great photo opp. Continue along the stunning, rocky cliffside and eventually stop for lunch at the Hungry Monkey in the historic town of Kiama.
Continue up the coast to Gerringong: a coastal, pastoral farm town. Once you arrive in the town, stop for a tour at Buena Vista Farms: a family-owned farm overlooking the ocean that is continuing to grow wholesome produce for their community members amidst the fires. Here you can enjoy the stunning views or even sign up for a cooking class and learn to ferment vegetables or from-scratch sourdough bread.
Where to stay: A mid-century modern dream that looks like it came straight out of the Kardashian universe, Dovecote overlooks the ocean on a private farm. It isn’t just “some splurge” — it feels worth the trip around the world all on its own.
When staying somewhere as remarkable as Dovecote, you’ll want to enjoy the house itself as much as possible (and you’ll likely be incredibly jet-lagged) so, hire a local caterer such as Dandelion & Mallow Wholefood Kitchen, an ethically-sourced chef who can bring local, delicious fare straight to your accommodation. That’s what we did and it felt truly luxurious.
Day 2 — Booderee to Jervis Bay
Australia has some of the most stunning national parks in the world, which makes the fires all the more devastating. Though temporarily closed due to conditions (slated to re-open this week), Booderee National Park in Woollamia, just up the coast from Gerringong, is a must-see. Once it re-opens, wander the botanic gardens, thick forest, and the glistening white sandy beach, or visit the quaint nearby shops on Owen Street in the town of Huskisson.
As you make your way to the park, definitely make a stop at Coolangatta Estate — the first convict settlement on the south coast of NSW — that was restored and turned into one of the best wineries in the region. For those who love a good, dry white wine Coolangatta (and New South Wales in general) is your heaven. Stop for a tasting and head home with a few bottles to take home, or to enjoy them later that night with your friends.
Where to stay: In the thick of the forest is Bay and Bush Cottages where you will likely have kangaroos roaming in front of your cottage when the sun goes down. The cottages are delightful: once a small village, it was turned into a retreat with a bed and breakfast feel that is both secluded and charming. To learn, and indulge in, some of the local Indigenous culture, enjoy a catered dinner by Mirritya Mundya on the cottage grounds. This husband and wife duo bring a ceremonial perspective to modern cuisine, utilizing native ingredients from fish, berries, and cheeses of Australia and Aboriginal vendors in the region.
Day 3 — Jervis Bay to Mollymook Beach
Near Bush and Bay Cottages is Jervis Bay, another stretch of bushland-meets-coastal-bliss where you should definitely try stand-up paddleboarding with Jervis Bay Stand-Up Paddle. Though I was afraid of falling into a pit of stingrays the entire time, stand-up paddleboarding isn’t actually as hard as it looks and is actually kind of meditative. The scenery in Jervis Bay is particularly stunning — spreading trees drape over the shore and massive pelicans waddle about (be sure to stay up to date on any closures or necessary safety precautions, as the area has been affected by fires).
After paddleboarding, continue the road trip up the coast (about an hour) making a stop at Cupitt’s Winery for a tasting and lunch. When Cupitt’s reopens post-fires, it will surely resume its place as a NSW staple. You can also explore the nearby historic town of Milton for a mid-afternoon coffee and shopping.
Where to stay: Continue along until you reach Mollymook Beach and stay the night at Bannisters Pavilion– a gorgeous, contemporary hotel with a boutique feel. For dinner, head to the hotel’s restaurant, contemporary seafood by celebrity chef Rick Stein. The fish tacos and curry salmon are a must-try.
Day 4 — Mollymook to Kangaroo Valley
When I think of Australians, I picture all of them being able to surf like professionals. While this may not be entirely accurate, Australia is still home to many surfing legends and delivers on vibrant surf culture. When staying at Mollymook Beach, my recommendation is that you give the sport a try. Take a surf lesson from Pam Burridge, one of the pioneers of women’s surfing in Australia and an incredibly fun, laid back, and informative instructor.
After surfing and showering back at the hotel, continue on for about 1 hour 20 min drive to Kangaroo Valley. The drive to Kangaroo Valley is particularly stunning, though it’s yet to be seen just how much fire damage it’s sustained. The countryside is filled with dreamy rolling hills, rocky coastlines, and massively surreal trees — a stunning sight for visitors. Upon arriving in Kangaroo Valley, stop for lunch in town and pick up some grazing board fixings (the Aussie version of a charcuterie board): cured meats, cheeses, a loaf of sourdough for dinner later that night.
Where to stay: There’s nothing more eclectic or fascinating than staying in the heart of Kangaroo Valley at Sky Ridge. This home from the exterior looks sort of like a modern, giant shipping container, while inside it’s a floor-to-ceiling window safari dreamland. Set in the midst of five sprawling acres, the eco-friendly home overlooks the entire valley which will make you feel like you’re at the edge of the earth.
Since it’s pretty remote, it’s much easier to stay in for dinner (hence the grazing board you bought earlier) and crack open a bottle of wine from one of your winery visits.
Day 5 — Kangaroo Valley to Sydney
Near Kangaroo Valley is a region known as the Southern Highlands. Think Hamptons meets French countryside, but with jungle-esque, towering foliage. (Note that there have been road closures in the Southern Highlands, so do your research on accessibility and safety.)
Spend the day with Amanda Fry, the founder of Wild Food Adventures, and you’ll be in for a legit treat. A boisterous personality, Amanda has mastered the art of experience: she’ll take you on a customized scenic tour of the highlands introducing you to it’s beauty and, of course, it’s wine. A former PR maven turned tour guide and Southern Highlands advocate, Amanda’s love and knowledge for her home region as is fascinating and thrilling as the adventures she offers: you can do anything from eating canapes in canoes and sampling champagne under a waterfall, to foraging for a summer solstice pop-up dinner.
My group with Amanda embarked on a leisurely nature walk up to a waterfall where we met an expert guide who showed us the various native tea trees and ancient medicinal plants. Our hike was followed by lunch in the small, charming town of 6,000 people at Burrawang General Store ending on a wine tasting at Tertini, where yes, I purchased white wine for the fourth time this trip.
After five scenic days along the south coast, head back up to Sydney, which is about a two-hour drive from the Southern Highlands.
Day 6 — Sydney.
I could never quite pinpoint the vibe of Sydney, but I do know that I instantly loved it. There are streets that vaguely feel like old European neighborhoods, lined with coffee shops along the harbor. The financial district is contemporary and fast-paced. Then there are the typical trendy, hipster neighborhoods — more than most cities could ever hope to sustain. The two biggest tourist attractions in town aren’t overrated by any stretch: the Sydney Opera House and the famous BridgeClimb Sydney. The opera house inspires the same kind of awe that you might feel at the Eiffel Tower: it’s similarly crowded but stunning and overwhelming. On the bridge climb, you’ll get a perfect view of the opera house, the harbor, and the city from the top of a historic (and genuinely fascinating) bridge. I hate the fact that this word gets overused, but yes, it’s epic.
If Sydney has a Santa Monica or Venice Beach it would be Bondi Beach – the iconic suburb that normally looks like a postcard and will deserve a visit once the smoke has cleared. Celebrate the end of an epic road trip with lunch at Icebergs, a contemporary Italian-meets-sustainable-seafood restaurant with floor to ceiling windows for you to bask in the stunning views with a spritzer in hand.
For a completely different look and feel, spend the evening in Surry Hills, a trendy neighborhood filled with tree-lined streets, vibrant nightlife and exciting restaurants. Stop for dinner at Toko for a chic Japanese meal in the Izakaya-style. In the heart of Surrey Hills, you’ll be in a prime spot for post-dinner drinks or a late-night ice cream run.
Where to stay: Especially if you’re in Sydney for a short period of time, like I was, it’s handy to stay in the heart of their Downtown/Financial District at the Establishment Hotel. It kind of reminded me of LA’s own Ace Hotel: very chic, trendy, and in the thick of all the action. You’ll be walking distance to the harbor, the Opera House, and many restaurants.
The hotel itself is modern-meets-boutique chic with extremely cozy beds and delightful full breakfast options down in the garden restaurant. You’ll wake up in ten-zillion thread count sheets (after turning in the car and drinking the few remaining bottles of white wine) glad for the adventure, in love with New South Wales, and glad you helped the state’s recovery efforts.
As fires continue in New South Wales, please see here for opportunities to donate. Uproxx was hosted for this story by Destination New South Wales. However, they did not review or approve this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.