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Pajero Sport adventures to the NSW South Coast

  • 16 December 2020
  • 20 min read

There is a point on the road from Sydney to Batemans Bay where the experience switches from being merely a journey to becoming a proper drive, and it is at that point that you are truly thankful you're at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.

But this is a roadtrip with a difference. The communities on the South Coast of NSW were among the hardest hit by the bushfires of 12 months ago. Then, when the rain finally came, so did catastrophic flooding. As if that wasn't enough, Covid arrived soon after, with visitors told to stay away as our nation grappled with a pandemic. 

At last, though, green shoots have appeared, and the community - with the help of visitors from across Australia - are at last finding their feet again, but they still need our help. If you are considering a trip to the South Coast, now is the time to take it.

The freeway out of Sydney towards Goulburn is by far the easiest way to extract yourself from the grind of city traffic, which all seems to be occurring somewhere just beneath you anyway, from the commanding seat of the Pajero Sport, but it’s not exactly a road that makes demands of the driver, or provides involvement in return.

Road Trip day 1. Road Trip day 1.

On big, wide and smooth freeways, of course, you can just sit back and indulge in the comfort and space of this properly family sized Mitsubishi. With the kids plugged into their iPads in the back seat - via either a USB charging point or the kind of three-pin power-point plug you’d find at home, a fantastic inclusion and one rarely seen in any vehicle - you can also enjoy some blissful quiet time with your partner.

Check out the beautiful Kayaking location in 3D

Truly, the phrase “silence is golden” only really hits home once you have children, and the quietude offered by a modern car, connected to modern devices, makes you wonder aloud at how unimaginably spartan the car trips of your childhood were. 

What child would choose to suffer through endless games of “I Spy” when they can just watch My Spy the movie instead?

Fortunately, the parents in the front aren’t left out when it comes to tech and entertainment, and using the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality means you can hook up your phone and enjoy either a Podcast or your favourite tunes through the powerful eight-speaker stereo (just remember to fade the sound to the front, so the kids don’t yell at you).

The navigation map on the lush 8.0-inch touchscreen shows pretty much a straight line until you reach Goulburn and take the turnoff to the Braidwood Road, the point at which your drive comes alive.

As the road narrows, the corners open up and the undulating hills show surprisingly green vistas, with wind turbines sprouting from the tops of ridges. 

It is at this point that you really start to appreciate just what an involving driver’s car this Pajero Sport is, and why it wears a Sport badge. 

The powerful 2.4-litre turbo-diesel engine delivers you a wave of torque that you can surf up hills, or use to power out of bends, while the eight-speed transmission makes all the right choices for you, or, if you want to really push along, you can make the shifts for yourself and hold each gear a bit longer, using the shift paddles behind the steering wheel. 

A left turn onto the Kings Highway takes you through picturesque Braidwood, where the kids demand a stop at Trappers Bakery, which is rightly famous for its old-school high-top white bread, which is so large it looks like a prop for a movie about giants. 

Soon enough you are at the top of the Clyde Mountain, often clouded in mist but today sparkling in early summer sun, and looking like a driver’s delight. An absolute favourite of motorcyclists and car enthusiasts, this section of the Kings Highway offers corners of all kinds, some of them so perfectly smooth they feel like they’ve been stolen off a race track. 

Even through the tightest of hairpins, the Pajero Sport sits beautifully flat and the children, encouraged to shut down their screens and take in the stunning views that stretch all the way to the ocean on a day like this, are barely shifting in their seats. 

The happiest person in the car is the driver, of course, as he marvels at just how well a big, seven-seat SUV can handle a winding mountain descent like this, while delivering fantastic feedback through the steering wheel.

The mountain finally spits you out at beautiful Batemans Bay, where the iconic steel bridge is slowly being replaced by a modern arc of concrete. 

The Innes Boatshed is another must-stop location for adults and children alike, not just because the fish and chips are so good, and so fresh, but because the deck at the rear is always surrounded by pelicans - very much the flying icons of the Bay - and also regularly visited by stingrays, which appear, almost magically, from underneath your feet into the sparkling water below.

The wildlife encounters have peaked the children’s curiosity and when they climb back into the Pajero Sport their questions about how big pelicans are and whether stingrays are dangerous are quickly answered by a single press of the Siri button on the touchscreen, via Apple CarPlay

The drive out of the Bay to our next stop takes us back onto the Princes Highway and through what locals call “the Mogo Bends”, a series of rising and falling corners that once again show the Mitsubishi’s dynamic abilities. 

This is also where the scars left by the devastating bushfires of early 2020 can clearly be seen, although the fluffy regrowth that leaps up the trunks of the still blackened trees makes them look like Mother Nature herself has put bandages on them.

Topping a rise, your jaw can only fall open at the width and breadth of the path the fires cut through here, destroying businesses on the edge of the Bay, and reducing homes and shops in the beautiful little village of Mogo to ashes. The rebuilding is clearly underway here, but in one case you can still see that a fireplace and chimney are all that survived of one home. 

Stopping to spend some money here - in the spirit of the Empty Esky initiative (which encourages people to visit areas like the South Coast, but to buy your supplies when you get there) - seems like the right thing to do, and the coffee from the retro caravan set up by the Mogo Brew Crew is excellent. As are the cookies for the kids.

Mogo Brew Crew. Mogo Brew Crew.

There’s no time for a stop at the Mogo Zoo, sadly, as that’s a whole day in itself, but there’s plenty of pointing and marvelling at the grazing water buffalo as we flash past. 

Our final stop for the day is Region X Kayak Hire at stunning Mossy Point.

Region X Kayak Hire. Region X Kayak Hire.

We’ve barely got the towels out of the car - a job assigned to the little ones, who love using the Mitsubishi Remote Control App to open and close the tailgate, a job that would be tricky for them to reach if it weren’t for this clever technology - when a tiny toddler on the boat ramp yells: “Sting-RAY! Dad, LOOK!”

A baby stingray thrills the kids at the Mossy Point Boat Ramp. A baby stingray thrills the kids at the Mossy Point Boat Ramp.

In seconds, we’re all gazing down into the water as this stunning browny bronze creature glides lazily beneath us. There are so many rays in this stunning stretch of the Tomaga River that Region X has developed special glass-bottomed kayaks so that visitors can get up close and personal with them, without getting wet. 

A baby stingray thrills the kids at the Mossy Point Boat Ramp. A baby stingray thrills the kids at the Mossy Point Boat Ramp.

The hugely friendly and knowledgeable business owner, Josh Waterson, takes us out for a kayak tour as the sun set turns the water into a gold and orange mirror, and everyone declares themselves instantly in love with the South Coast.

The day finishes with a dip in the pool at nearby The Lodge hotel in Broulee, which feels like a little piece of Thailand, with its many Buddha statues, and excellent Thai food prepared on site by one of the hotel owners, Nally Mehner, who took it upon herself to feed the local community in the chaos of the fires, refusing to take cash and insisting people donate to the firefighters instead - a move that raised more than $4000.

Road Trip day 2. Road Trip day 2.

Day two involves a dip at the epic Broulee Beach in the morning before a shorter drive, but even more evidence of the fires. It seems barely anywhere down here was untouched by the flames in some way, but much like the trees themselves, there’s a sense of new shoots of life bursting forth, as the tourists come back and local businesses welcome them with open arms.

Our destination for the afternoon and evening is the Holiday Haven Lake Conjola, part of another community that was hard hit in 2020. More than 100 homes were burnt in January, and the fires were then followed by the biggest floods the town has ever seen, before Covid pretty much shut down this pretty holiday park, which sits right on the impossibly bright blue waters of the lake.

Holiday Haven Lake Conjola. Holiday Haven Lake Conjola.

There’s plenty of splashing about, and more pelicans, here for the kids to enjoy, before a night in one of the park’s fabulous Safari Tents, which feels like a very Aussie version of an African adventure.

Wish You Were Here? Explore the Pajero Sport at Lake Conjola

Everyone is sad to be leaving the South Coast the next day, but sure that they will be back. 

Road Trip day 3. Road Trip day 3.

The run home to Sydney features plenty of almost English-looking green pastures, dotted with dairy cows, a quick stop at Kiama’s famous blowhole and then one last treat for the driver, a detour over the incredibly picturesque Sea Cliff Bridge - the star of seemingly every second car advertisement - at Stanwell Park, and then a blast through the Royal National Park, yet another driver’s delight, as well as a feast for the eyes.

Incredibly, with the miserly fuel economy of its diesel engine hitting just 8.5 litres per 100km for the whole trip, the entire journey, with several detours for photos, was made without a single stop to fill up. Although we did have to stop repeatedly to feed the humans.

While the long weekend away was a combination of relaxation, engaging with nature and eye-opening sights and scenery, it was also one that ended with that particular sense of satisfaction you get from knowing that you’ve done a good thing.

After the year that’s just been, tourist areas like the South Coast need visitors to come, stay, spend and enjoy themselves more than ever, and to keep coming back. Which we certainly will be.

As the South Coast comes back from the toughest year in its history, we speak to local business owner, and firefighter, Josh Waterson, whose Region X Kayak Hire business was almost taken out by the three strikes of bushfires, floods and Covid 19, but says that, thanks to the generosity of average Australians, is now coming back stronger than ever. Josh has lived through ordeals that might have crushed lesser men and somehow come out smiling, and grateful, on the other side.

Josh Waterson runs Region X Kayak Hire, which helps tourists to explore the beautiful Tomaga River and meet its many friendly stingrays, and he’s also a fire fighter. He has the wind-worn look and unbothered drawl of someone who loves working outside and would just about do his job for free, but for much of 2020, he’ was barely able to work at all.

“It’s been a challenging year for all the businesses on the South Coast, with bushfires to kick off our traditional busy period, then when the rains finally came and put out the fires, they caused floods, and then, of course, we had Covid,” he says.

“The fires are near to everyone’s heart and memory here, because we all lived it, everyone experienced it, and it’s definitely left some trauma.

Waterson’s family were evacuated, twice, while he was out fighting fires, an experience he describes as “super intense”.

“Definitely some big days as fire fighters, exhaustion, dehydration, mental exhaustion, and then of course the worry of family and friends and loved ones and colleagues and the trauma they were all going through as well. 

“And it went on so long, it was a real drawn out siege between fire and nature and us.”

Eventually, the rains put out the fires but brought floods, erosion and burnt debris washing up on blackened beaches.

Covid 19, and the total shutdown it caused, was the final punch for Waterson and many like him. “You really had to wonder at that point whether you would even have a business again,” he sighs.

“Lots of people were in that situation of having no income, not being able to pay the mortgage, lots of us were on a knife edge, worried they might not get through.”

Now, though, there are not just new shoots of life for the South Coast, many businesses are booming like never before as big-hearted Australians arrive in record numbers to help.

“We’re seeing visitors over the last few weeks where it’s their first trip ever to the South Coast of NSW, people from the far west of NSW, everywhere,” Waterson smiles.

“I think people are wanting to come and visit communities that were devastated by the fires and the floods and the shutdown, so there’s that wonderful sentiment of ‘let’s go help these people, and spend’.

“We have people coming in and saying, ‘You guys are doing it tough, I’d like to book a kayak tour, but what else can I buy? And here’s a $5 tip for that coffee, that kind of thing. 

“It’s been amazing to see. Truly, the human spirit is just a magical thing.”

It’s been a similar story of new light after darkness for Marco and Nally Mehner, who run the Lodge Motel in Broulee, which shut down as a business after the fires but offered sanctuary to many families who’d lost their homes. Nally, who also runs a caravan at the hotel selling Thai food, also managed to feed the local community, refusing to take money but asking anyone who could to donate to the Rural Fire Service instead. They raised more than $4000.

Marco spent 25 years in the German army and after the horrors he’d experience in Kosovo and Afghanistan, he said the fires were only “a little scary”.

“A lot of people were panicking, but I was really quite calm and we managed to help a lot of guests who were unable to get out when the fires came,” he says.

The hotel has essentially empty for much of the year, thanks to Covid, but in the past few months it’s been more heavily booked than ever before. “Suddenly it’s been like we need twice as many rooms as we’ve got, people pouring in from everywhere, from Wagga, from Sydney, Canberra, we’re getting people we’ve never seen before, so we can’t complain. I’ve never seen the winter season so fully booked in advance, it’s fantastic.

“And people have been so generous, it’s really good to see that people still have a warm heart and want to come and help this community that’s had such a hard year.”

Of all the areas on the South Coast savaged by the fires, you could argue that Lake Conjola was the worst, and most frightening, as it’s a one road in and out hamlet, and that road was the path the flames followed as they tore into the town, destroying more than 100 homes and cutting off the residents entirely.

Plenty of holidaymakers were trapped, terrified, at the Holiday Haven resort, where manager Brad McDougall managed to keep them alive, and sane.

“It was a surreal experience, it was so dark during the day the street lights came on, and the road was shut down so everyone was stuck, but we managed to get people out after three days, then the only people here were the locals who’d lost their homes,” Brad recalls.

After what he calls “the trifecta” of fires, the biggest floods on record in his town and Covid, however, things have turned around spectacularly.

“Our winter was easily the best on record and a lot of people are getting down South who don’t normally come at that time of year and they’ve realised how nice it is, still, in winter, so I reckon that’s going to flow on,” Brad enthuses.

“We normally get a lot of international tourists, too, backpackers, and we’re still getting a few coming down from Sydney who obviously can’t get home!”

After touring the South Coast and meeting with those who not only survived but managed to keep their businesses alive, long enough to see them thrive again, it’s impossible not to be moved by, as Josh Waterson says, the human spirit.

More specifically, however, it illustrates a particularly Aussie kind of spirit. The desire to do the right thing and pitch in to help those in need. Everyone felt a sense of loss when those fires ravaged Australia, but those who weren’t directly affected felt a real desire to help those who were, and it’s still playing out on the South Coast today. Aussies have grabbed the idea of the Empty Esky - the suggestion that you go on holiday with no supplies and buy them all from locals when you get there - and embraced it warmly.

After the year we’ve had, as the sun starts to shine on us again, it really does feel like the lucky country. And the South Coast of NSW truly is one of its most memorable parts.