Tathra , Merimbula and a Merry Whale

by Rosemarie John and Joseph Ellis on October 2, 2016

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Tathra , Merimbula and a Merry Whale

In the picturesque little town of Tathra, the azure tides of the south coast wash over a  golden sand beach that is enveloped in dense greenery (of woodland) as far as the eye can see.  As the waves lazily lapped the aureate shores, we drove in from Eden with the sea breeze caressing our faces. The breeze also carried with it the fresh, salty smell of the ocean and the chorus of the seagulls – perfect tonic for a tired soul.

We were headed to our accommodation for the night, Tathra Beach House Apartments, owned and run by Rob and Lesley White. Perfectly located opposite Tathra’s famous surf beach, this award winning  property  with landscaped grounds and native gardens is a splendid place to reside while holidaying in the area.

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The apartments are perfect for a couple or a family and comes with a well equipped kitchen, laundry, complimentary Wi-Fi and other serviced amenities. We got an apartment overlooking the sea and the sunset from our balcony was breath-taking.

It was a lovely two-bedroom apartment perched atop the side of a hill and tonight the ocean was in a mood to sing. The  apartment had provided tea, coffee and fresh milk. The laundry had a washing machine, a dryer and detergent powder. Pretty thoughtful, because we could  wash some of our clothes from the previous day’s trip.

After settling in, we headed to the beach, right in front of the apartment complex. It was such an idyllic beach and it was pity we were visiting it so late in the evening. It would be a great place to spend during the day and time was not our friend. The whales were the priority on this trip. The sun had set and we took one last look at the beach and headed off for dinner.

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Dinner was at Fat Tony’s.

Operating in a heritage building dating back  since 1906,  Fat Tony’s is owned by  the cheerful, athletic and now very famous whale whisperer Antony Little.  Fat Tony’s is a fabulous restaurant serving some exquisite cuisine. “All ingredients are sourced from local farms, and our oysters are usually from Tathra but during winter we source them  from Pambula Lake,” said Anthony Little who moved to Tathra when he was three.

Anthony is a sparkling personality. He has a joyous laugh and is enthusiastic to share his time and knowledge. We choose a nice cosy  corner spot  in the restaurant and listened to his recommendations on the menu. After making our choice and while we sipped at our beverages, Anthony showed us a YouTube video of a whale that appeared right beside him while he went for a short paddle a few days prior. We watched in awe and hoped we too could encounter a friendly whale the next day.

Our appetisers arrived and boy were they presented beautifully. We had local rocks oysters three ways; natural with fresh lemon, fat with bacon, cheese and sweet chilli and with pink grapefruit, mint and mild chilli dressing. They colours popped and we couldn’t wait to savour them. It was hard to pick a favourite but what we can say is that oysters are a must order when at Fat Tony’s. Each lift and tilt of the shell was an explosion of flavours, they uplifted our spirits and they tasted of the sea. Bliss!

We also had a Taste Plate made up of grilled Turkish bread, chef’s dip, grilled zucchini, corn fritters, crispy onion bhaji, marinated olives and feta. The corn fritters and onion bhaji were crunchy and crumbly, it was a lovely contrast from the oysters. It was perfect finger food while we talked about whales and the mystical creatures that they are.

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“Our catch of the day is Dory”, said Little. “I recommend our grilled fish served on our Mediterranean quinoa salad, finished with aged balsamic reduction and fresh lemon,” he adds. It was a wonderful choice, the boneless fish fillets were soft and we loved that the reduction and salad did not over power the taste of the Dory.

Fattucini was our other main! We loved what it was called and it looked bright and refreshing on the plate. Al-dente pan tossed fettuccini with char grilled zucchini, garden peas, spinach leaves with semi dried tomatoes, parsley and roast garlic cream – yum!

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We returned to the apartment, parked our car in our designated garage, climbed the stairs past the outdoor spa and swimming  pool and prepared for bed. The sea was singing a lullaby and our bed for the night was extremely comfortable. The sound of the ocean lulled us into a deep sleep. Late in the night I dreamt about whales and I swear I heard them sing…

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Early next morning we drove to Merimbula Marina which is a 40-minute drive from Tathra. It was time get back on our whale trail.

The morning was crisp and bright with the sun and the seagulls high in the sky. The boats in the marina bobbed up and down watched by hopeful pelicans expecting a morsel or two tossed at them by people on the boats.

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After a quick breakkie at a local Maccas,  we hurried down the pier towards a vessel named “Sensational”. Run by Jess and Simon Millar, Sensational is a fast and comfortable powerboat that seats 20 passengers plus crew, its built to ensure a more personalised and intimate experience with the whales. Our skipper on board was Glen and after a safety briefing, we set off into the blue.

“Watch the albatrosses!” yelled Glen above the din of the motor. “ The whales are bound to be there,” he added. We saw large birds hovering at a distance and Glen deftly manoeuvred the craft in that direction. Then, we saw them.

Four large whales racing each other to the albatrosses’ fishing grounds. We raced with them and they swam, their great flukes flapping the air. Their sleek oily skin breaching the sea every second. It’s a fascinating sight, one that will be etched in our memory forever.

“Look dolphins!” screamed someone and behold we saw six or seven dolphins swimming at break neck speed, hurtling behind the whales, like mad teenagers racing on motorbikes on a dirt track. They came straight at us and dived under the boat, surfaced from the other end and sped off towards the whales.

We were astonished.

We tried to follow them as far as we could but they were fast. We turned course and headed off towards another direction where the sea birds hovered. The water was calm and serene but suddenly there was a sprout. Huh! We said, who could that be? And then she appeared out of nowhere, the merriest whale we saw on our entire trip!

The children in the boat went absolutely crazy with delight when they first spotted her. She swimming quietly by herself. The noise drew her close to inspect. She swam next to our boat and went under it and appeared from the other side. She dived again and disappeared.

A branch/log was floating in the water on our right and we had seen her dive somewhere near it. A few moments later she spyhopped us from under the branch. Her beady eyes peering at us. And then as if to impress us she lifted the branch off the water, but let it go. Perhaps the branches pricked her. She dived again, swam under us and reappeared on the left side of the boat.

We were in awe.

She was about 17 feet long and about eleven years old as per Glen’s estimate. Weighing 37 tons, she was nearly as long as our boat.  She found some floating sea weed and started playing with the seaweed. It almost looked like she was trying to wear the sea weed on her head like a crown. She kept swimming all around us, playing with sea weed and the log. It was clear that she was seeking attention because we saw her looking at us.

She was quite an exhibitionist.

Her showmanship was so good that we soon forgot the other whales in the area and stayed with her and she just wouldn’t leave us. She swam so close to the boat that we could almost touch her. (By the way, it’s illegal to touch them). We were all in ecstasy and we forgot how long we stayed with her.

When the time came to say goodbye, it was we who left her. She was happy to forget her lunch and stay with us.  We turned and left the affable creature and returned to the shore. The bay was full of whales and dolphins. Some think they don’t feed in these waters, but from what we saw today, they seem to be feeding alright.  In a couple of months they will leave these waters and migrate to Antarctica and its best to enjoy their company while it lasts. One can never tire watching them.

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After bidding goodbye to Glen, we jumped into our car and headed off to investigate Nelson’s beach located inside Mimosa Rocks National Park north of Tathra. Turning off the Tathra Bermagui Road, a smaller dirt road called Nelson Lake Road, led us to the parking bays before a 250m trek to the beach.

Nelson’s beach is named after a mysterious disappearance over 130 years ago. Pistol toting George Nelson was a drover (one who drives cattle or sheep to the market) disappeared in the area and was never seen again.  He was  feared by the locals and the disappearance let to the naming of the area.

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But despite the tragic event, Nelson’s beach is anything but unfortunate. It is a beautiful untouched seaside with turquoise waters and peaceful surroundings. Its serene and calm and except for an occasional lizard in the grass and passing sea gulls the beach is undisturbed. It’s a secluded gem of the Sapphire Coast.

After an hour of sea gazing we were back on the road, heading to Bermagui, a coastal town  nestled under the shadow of Mount Gulaga, once an active volcano 60 million years ago.

Where to stayTathra Beach House Apartments located at 57 Andy Poole Dr, Tathra NSW 2550

Where to eatFat Tony’s located at 1/15 Bega St, Tathra NSW 2550

What to do – Whale Watching with Merimbula Marina located at Public Jetty, Market Street, Merimbula NSW 2548

Where to find more information about Tathra and Merimbula Sapphire Coast website.

Travel and Beyond were guests of the Sapphire Coast Tourism Board. All opinions are our own.

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