Arts, Culture & Heritage
From culturally significant galleries to quirky museums; from historic Australian firsts to important heritage sites; the NSW South Coast unites tradition and creativity, time-honoured tales and contemporary journeys. The region’s Aboriginal culture dates back tens of thousands of years and has shaped many of the experiences available here. In recent centuries, the region has been the site of aviation excellence and maritime feats.
From Sydney, the South Coast is best reached along the Grand Pacific Drive, an ocean-hugging route among the most scenic in Australia. Not long into your journey you’ll reach Stanwell Park, where aeronautical pioneer Lawrence Hargrave made history in 1894 by taking flight under the train of four box kites.
On your way toward Wollongong, make a pit-stop at the Bulli Black Diamond Museum & Heritage Centre, an old station now housing railway and coalmining artefacts significant to the region’s history. Continue on to the Wollongong Art Gallery, which showcases an impressive collection of Aboriginal paintings and sculptures, alongside works by the likes of applauded landscape artist John Olsen.
Planes and trains await in the Illawarra. To see them in that order, stop first at the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society Aviation Museum, which features both flying and static aircraft, including the Qantas 747-438 that first flew nonstop from London to Sydney, plus a B47 you can pretend to pilot. Each May the region hosts the ground-shaking Wings Over Illawarra airshow – a must for plane-spotters.
Nearby in Albion Park, ride a steam train at the Illawarra Light Railway Museum, which also hosts attractions just for kids. If you’re lingering, among the region’s calendar musts are the many dynamic programmes at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre.
Kiama & surrounds
Many come to Kiama for its record-breaking Blowhole, but linger to browse the Pilot’s Cottage Museum (filled with maritime history) and National Trust-listed Terrace Houses. Built in 1886 for quarry workers, these attractions are today home to boutiques, galleries and cafes. Follow the Kiama Coast Walk to see the Aboriginal Dreaming Poles, erected by the descendants of local indigenous groups, and engraved with animals, fish and fruit.
Just south is Gerroa, where aviator Charles Kingsford Smith made history in 1933, using Seven Mile Beach as the runway for the first commercial flight between Australia and New Zealand. Drive west into the Kangaroo Valley and the Pioneer Village Museum, a collection of history-filled cottages located next to Australia’s last surviving wooden suspension bridge.
You’re not far from the white shores of Jervis Bay, where the Maritime Museum houses a surprising collection of nautical instruments and equipment, plus historic vessels like the Lady Denman, a Sydney Harbour ferry built in Huskisson.
One of Australia’s greatest painters, the late Arthur Boyd found inspiration in the South Coast countryside, where his heritage-listed Bundanon Homestead sits on the banks of the Shoalhaven River. Visit on Sundays to check out Boyd’s studio and stroll through the estate’s English-style gardens. A short drive away in Nowra, find more aviation history at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, taking you on a journey through time with the Royal Australian Navy.
Batemans Bay & Eurobodalla
Farther south is the Eurobodalla region, which found wealth in the 1850s when gold was discovered here. In this part of the state you’ll find the heritage villages of Tilba Tilba and Central Tilba, known for their historic timber buildings and elaborate gardens. The setting is the foothills of Mount Gulaga, a sacred mountain for the Yuin Aboriginal people. Join Ngaran Ngaran Cultural Awareness for an immersive tour combining National Park explorations and Dreamtime stories.
Whales may be spotted along the South Coast from May to November, but they particularly love the Sapphire Coast from September, when they come here to feed young. Join whale-watching tours, or follow the lead of locals, and spot these enormous creatures from historic timber Tathra Wharf, then discover more about the area’s connection to the sea at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.