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Bermagui, NSW

Holiday and fishing town on the Bermagui River famous as a destination for deep sea marlin fishermen.

Given that it is a very substantial drive from both Melbourne and Sydney, it would be reasonable to think that the charming fishing town of Bermagui should have avoided the fashionable rush to "seachange" lifestyle. Yet, even a decade ago, houses were being built and sold for more than $1 million and this out-of-the-way place could no longer claim that it had escaped the rush to build holiday homes by the sea.

Historically the town is a magnet for deep sea game fishermen. The warm spring currents bring marlin and yellow fin tuna close to the coast and charter boats from Bermagui take deep-sea and big-game fishers out to sea. The American author Zane Grey (he was a famous writer of westerns - Riders of the Purple Sage was his most successful book) was largely responsible for establishing Bermagui as a world famous marlin fishing destination. He was the patron for the Bermagui Sport Fishing Association in 1936 and 1937. He wrote of his experiences in An American Angler in Australia (1937). The town park is named after him and the local hotel has photographs and memorabilia of his time in the town. Today Bermagui is a fishing and a tourist town.

Location

Bermagui is located 381 km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway and Wallaga Lake Road. It is 648 km from Melbourne.

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Origin of Name

The likely explanation for the town's name is that it is a corruption of a word 'permageua' which was used by the local Dyirringany Aborigines. Unfortunately no one knows what the word means although some sources claim it possibly means "resembling a canoe with paddles".

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Things to See and Do

Bermagui Lookouts
Driving around the headland which lies to the east of the town along Scenic Drive is an opportunity to enjoy panoramic ocean views from a number of excellent lookouts which are all clearly signposted. The dramatic cliffs with their twisted, honey-coloured rocks form an impressive foreground to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Particularly impressive is the Michael Lerner Lookout which is 3 km south of Bermagui. Lerner was a friend of Zane Grey and a keen Blue Marlin fisherman. The lookout has excellent views over the coast.

Horseshoe Bay and Blue Pool
Horseshoe Bay and Blue Pool are located on the headland to the east of the town and can be accessed by driving around Scenic Drive. Horseshoe Bay is situated on the northern side of the headland and is recognised as the town's safe surf beach. The excellent Beachsafe Surf Life Saving website notes: "The 500 m long north facing beach is bounded by steeply dipping 450 million year old metamorphic rocks, which have been truncated to form rock platforms. Both headlands provide parking and good views." Check out http://beachsafe.org.au/beach/nsw625 for more details.

The Bermagui Blue Pool was originally called the Blue Hole because on a clear day it looked distinctively blue. Today it is a large saltwater pool which was expanded in the 1940s. It lies off Scenic Drive on the southern side of the headland. For more details check out http://www.sapphirecoast.com.au/point-of-interest/bermagui-blue-pool.

Camel Rock
You really have to have a vivid imagination to see this rocky outcrop as a camel (it looks more like a nesting emu - if, indeed, it looks like anything) but it is worth visiting. It is easily located by heading north on Wallaga Lake Road and taking the turnoff to Camel Rock. The first Europeans to sight the formation were Bass and Flinders in 1798. They named it Camel Rock. Today it is an isolated and beautiful part of the coastline. There is a car park and the beach is popular with surfers. The nearby rock pools are ideal for exploring and the beach is patrolled in the summer months.

Deep Sea Fishing
Historically the town is a magnet for deep sea game fishermen. The warm spring currents bring marlin and yellow fin tuna close to the coast and charter boats from Bermagui take deep-sea and big-game fishers out to sea. The American author Zane Grey (he was a famous writer of westerns - Riders of the Purple Sage was his most successful book) was largely responsible for establishing Bermagui as a world famous marlin fishing destination. He was the patron for the Bermagui Sport Fishing Association in 1936 and 1937. He wrote of his experiences in An American Angler in Australia (1937). The town park is named after him and the local hotel has photographs and memorabilia of his time in the town. There are a number of fishing charter services available in town. Check out http://www.bermagui.net/business.html under "Fishing Trips, Charters".

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Other Attractions in the Area

Montreal Goldfield
The Montreal Goldfield is located 7 kms north of Bermagui on the Wallaga Lake Road. Its very legitimate and unique claim to fame is that it is the only goldfield in Australia that extends into the sea. Gold was discovered on the beach in September, 1880 and a small gold rush followed with miners travelling from Sydney on the boats which plied the coast. A portion of the goldfield has been preserved as a community project and the tour by trained volunteer guides makes the field come alive as they tell of the history and geology as the visitor wanders along the 250 metre track through the tree fern and bloodwood forest on boardwalks, views old mine shafts and tries to imagine what this bushland must have been like when 2,000 miners were digging and gouging at the land. Admission to the site is by guided tour only.  A tour leaves at 2.00 p.m. each day and takes about 75 minutes. For more details check out http://www.montrealgoldfield.org.au. Tours can be booked through the Bermagui Visitor Information Centre, tel: (02) 6493 3054.

Cuttagee Lake
Cuttagee Lake and Beach is located 7 km south of Bermagui and is noted as a good fishing location for flathead, whiting, bream, tailor, luderick, trevally and salmon. The sheltered area near the single lane bridge is ideal for children. There is additional information at http://sapphire-coast.com.au/bermagui-camping-accommodation/where-to-fish-at-bermagui/cuttagee-lake.

Gulaga National Park and Goura Nature Reserve
The 1999 Management Plan by the Department of Environment explains: "Wallaga Lake National Park, Goura Nature Reserve and Bermaguee Nature Reserve are located on the south coast of NSW ... near the town of Bermagui. Goura Nature Reserve lies on the lower southern slope of Mount Dromedary (Gulaga), Wallaga Lake National Park occupies the western shores and part of the catchment of nearby Wallaga Lake and Bermaguee Nature Reserve covers most of the catchment of Baragoot Lake, a small estuary south of Wallaga Lake.

The three areas conserve samples of open forest, rainforest and estuarine wetland which provide habitat for a diverse range of native animal species, most notably the threatened long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus) and koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) ... Wallaga Lake and Mount Dromedary are important landscape features in Aboriginal culture. The park and Goura Nature Reserve protect part of this cultural landscape and contain a number of Aboriginal sites in their natural setting ... Wallaga Lake is popular for local recreational use and tourism. The park protects the western shores and provides lake shore picnicking and walking opportunities." The area was handed back to the traditional Aboriginal owners, the Yuin people, in 2006. For more information check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/NationalParks/parkHome.aspx?id=N0165.

There is an  8-km walk along the coast from Bermagui to Wallaga Lake which passes through wetland flora and fauna reserves and the remnants of the Montreal goldfields.

Wallaga Lake was formed when two river valleys were flooded at the end of the Great Ice Age and the river mouths were blocked by a large sandbar. It was frequented by Aborigines for thousands of years and there are an estimated 60 middens on the lake's foreshores, many dating back 6,000 years.

There is no access to Merriman Island, in the middle of the lake, because of its significance for the Yuin people. "A focus of tribal culture the island is associated with the story of King Merriman, widely known amongst the Aborigines of the south coast. According to legend King Merriman lived on the island while his people lived on the shores of the lake. His power derived from his ability to understand a black duck, his moojingarl, which forewarned him of forthcoming dangers. One day it told him of a group of warriors coming from the far south to do battle. King Merriman remained on the island and hid in the reeds while the other men took the women and children to a place of safety. The first to sight the approaching warriors the King warned his men who fought a fierce battle but lost. The opposing tribesmen then set out for the island. King Merriman threw powerful spears, and a boomerang which severed the arms and heads of his opponents before returning to him, but it was not enough. He then turned himself into a whirlwind and flew off. He passed over the fierce Kiola tribe and their wise men correctly divined his presence and that it meant the defeat of the Wallaga people and the advance of another tribe. King Merriman journeyed on to the Shoalhaven tribe to warn them but the Kiola tribe defeated the invaders and the King, whose power was finished, stayed for a time at the Shoalhaven then travelled away.

Mount Gulaga
Mount Gulaga which is 797 metres above sea level was named Mtount Dromedary by Captain James Cook who believed it looked like a Dromedary Camel. It can be reached from the village of Tilba Tilba by a track, built by gold miners in 1894, which winds to the top. It is a difficult walk through rainforest and the sacred rock sites on the top are strange and quite magical. The views from the top tend to be "glimpses" as the trees are quite dense and there is no specific lookout. There is detailed information about the track at http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/south-coast/batemans-bay-and-eurobodalla/tilba-tilba/attractions/mount-gulaga-mount-dromedary-walk.

Mimosa Rocks National Park - Aragunna
There can be no better place to understand the idyllic pre-European life of coastal Aborigines than Mimosa Rocks in the Mimosa Rocks National Park which stretches south of Bermagui for 17 km in a strip of coastal beaches, caves, cliffs, rocky coves, massive offshore rock stacks, headlands, lagoons, coastal lakes and a heavily wooded hinterland, including patches of rainforest. At Aragunna, on the boardwalk which leads from the car park to the rocks, a plaque explains the history of a large shell midden on the edge of a rocky beach. There, under the acacias and banksias, on a grassy bank above the beach the local Aborigines, the Yuin people, regularly set up camp. Immediately behind the camp is a fresh stream and the nearby rocks are rich with crustaceans, molluscs and fish. The signage at the midden explains that it contains ‘‘the shells of the seafood that Aboriginal people ate over thousands of years. They showed the people what the last visitors ate and so helped in managing food resources. Middens could provide a well-drained area to camp in wet weather. They are also sometimes birthing places and burial places.” A true coastal paradise.

The entire national park is still remarkably undisturbed. The park supports diverse birdlife including honeyeaters, lorikeets, wrens, thornbills, ducks, cormorants, great egrets, sea eagles, goshawks, crested terns, silver gulls, pied oystercatchers, hooded plovers, topknot pigeons and brown cuckoo-doves. There are also sugar gliders, ring-tailed possums, brushtail possums, bandicoots, wallabies, echidnas and goannas. Snorkelling, surfing, rock and beach fishing, swimming and bushwalking and coastal bird watching are popular activities. Camping areas with picnic facilities can be found at Middle, Gillards and Aragunnu Beaches and at Picnic Point. There are also picnic locations at Bithery Inlet, Moon Bay and Nelson Bay. Shipwrecks, notably the Mimosa in 1863, have occurred along the coast. In 1908 the Bega sank somewhere between Tathra and Bermagui. Heading south, the approach to the Picnic Point site along Wapengo Lake Road passes through banksia and stringybark forest. Middle Beach is popular with surfers. Nelson Lagoon is beautiful in the spring with its wattles in full bloom. Moon Bay, 250 m from the car park at the south of the park, is popular with surfers.

Wadbilliga National Park
Lying inland from Bermagui via the Cobargo-Bermagui Road and the Wandella Road (Bourke's Road) is the impressive Wadbilliga National Park which was created in 1979. It is characterised by rugged mountain ranges, broad plateaus, deep river valleys, wet sclerophyll forest, heathland, bogs and numerous pockets of rainforest. It is an untouched wilderness area which is home to 122 species of native birds as well as swamp wallabies, echidnas, possums, platypus, eastern grey kangaroos and wombats.

Many of the highlights of the park can be seen from the Cascades Camping Area (for more details check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/NationalParks/parkWalking.aspx?id=N0048).

The most impressive feature is the Tuross Falls  which tumble over boulders down 35 metres. They can be accessed easily from the Cascades Camping Ground. The viewing platform is only 300 m from the ground and it takes around 15 minutes to reach it.

More difficult is the 4 km Tuross River Walk which also starts from the Cascades Camping Ground. Although it is only 4 km (2 km each way) it is of medium difficulty and will take around four hours. It is typical of the geology of the area which is noted for its deep, steep-sided river valleys.

This is a genuine wilderness experience. The park's pristine state means that exploration is mostly by foot. It is ideal for  experienced bush walkers who enjoy lengthy walks and are prepared for an overnight stay. Note that heavy rains can render roads and river crossings impassable, so it is best to enquire about local conditions before setting off. The National Parks and Wildlife Service office is located on the corner of Graham and Burrawang Streets, Narooma, tel: (02) 4476 0800.

The Strange Story of Mystery Bay
The crime novelist Arthur Upfield lived at Bermagui during the 1950s. He included the town in his novel, The Mystery of Swordfish Reef  (1960). The story was probably inspired by a mystery which still hangs around the town. It concerned the fate of Lamont Young, a geologist sent from Sydney in 1880 to analyse and assess the new goldfields near Bermagui. Deciding to explore the coast to the north of the town, Young and his assistant accepted passage on a small boat with the owner, Thomas Towers of Batemans Bay, and two of his friends. Somewhere to the north of Bermagui all five disappeared. Eyewitnesses spotted the vessel at Mutton Fish Point, observed that it was motionless and that there appeared to be only one person aboard. When the eyewitness returned up the coast he noted that the vessel had run aground on rocks and seemed to be unoccupied. The alarm was raised and the authorities found that the boat contained five bags full of clothing, Young's books and papers, a bullet in its starboard side and some vomit. There was no sign of the five men. Over the following weeks there were searches, rewards were posted, government inquiries were instigated and there was wide media coverage. All that was discovered was the remnants of a fire, some food and three shirt studs. The mysterious disappearance of the five men was never solved. A monument was erected at the site in 1980 to mark the centenary. To travel to Mystery Bay drive north to the Princes Highway, continue for 7 km along the highway and then take the sign posted turnoff to the right.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was inhabited by the Dyirringany people of the Yuin Aboriginal language group.

* The first European to pass along the coast was Captain James Cook in April, 1770.

* The first Europeans to walk through the area were the survivors from the wreck of the Sydney Cove who reached the area around April 1797. Only three reached Sydney alive.

* In 1798 George Bass and Matthew Flinders sailed down the coast and named Camel Rock.

* The port at Bermagui was established in the 1830s primarily to serve the local dairy farmers. By the 1840s it was used to ship tallow from the boiling down works which were located near the mouth of the Bermagui River.

* The town, planned in 1867, quickly developed into a fishing harbour.

* By the 1870s the government had built a wharf on the river.

* Gold was found on the Bermagui River in 1880 by Canadian prospector, Henry Williams. Within three weeks 2,000 miners were on the field.

* In 1880 the geologist Lamont Young and a crew of four mysteriously disappeared off the coast never to be seen again.

* By 1884 the goldrush was over.

* In 1888 the sea wharf in the harbour was built. Timber and dairy products were shipped from the wharf.

* In 1937 the American western writer Zane Grey, who was responsible for the town becoming a popular game fishing destination, wrote of his experiences in An American Angler in Australia.

* In 1943 Arthur Upfield published The Mystery of Swordfish Reef which was set in and around Bermagui.

* In 1943 a Japanese submarine sank the SS Iron Knight off the coast near Bermagui.

* In 1948 the tuna industry started in the town.

* The crime novelist Arthur Upfield lived at Bermagui in the 1940s and 1950s.

* In 1959 the fishing harbour was constructed.

* The outdoor scenes for the amusing 2001 film, The Man Who Sued God, starring Billy Connolly as a lawyer who becomes a fisherman, was filmed in Bermagui.

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Visitor Information

Bermagui Visitor Information Centre, Bermagui Community Centre, Bunga Street, tel: 1800 645 808 or (02) 6493 3056. Open 10.00 am - 4.00 pm daily.

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Useful Websites

There are useful local websites. Check out both http://www.bermagui.net and http://www.visitbermagui.com.au.

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