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Nowra, NSW

Major service centre for the Shoalhaven region

Nowra is now the centre of Shoalhaven City, an administrative entity which stretches from Shoalhaven Heads in the north to Milton-Ulladulla in the south. It doesn't make any sense culturally as it incorporates three distinct cultural urban centres - Nowra-Bomaderry which is essentially a large, commercial service centre; Jervis Bay which is a collection of attractive holiday villages around the pristine coastline of the bay; and Milton-Mollymook-Ulladulla a mixed dairy-fishing area which has become a popular holiday destination.

Nowra lies on the southern shore of the Shoalhaven River and Bomaderry is on the northern shore to the east of the Princes Highway. Combined the two linked towns are a significant population centre on the South Coast matched only by Wollongong and the Batemans Bay area.

Approached from the south Nowra looks like an American city with service stations and low level industry stretching from HMAS Albatross to the edge of the city. Nowra's primary economic raison d'etre is a combination of middle level industry and HMAS Albatross. The latter is the home of the Royal Australian Navy's Fleet Air Arm, the country's largest operational Naval establishment and the Navy's only Air Station. The Manildra factory at Bomaderry is the largest producer of ethanol in Australia.


Nowra is located 160 km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway.


Origin of Name

The first attempt to turn the word 'nowra' into English letters resulted in the explorer Charles Throsby writing 'nou-woo-ro' in 1821. It was reputedly a Tharawal First Nations word meaning either "black cockatoo" or "camping place".


Things to See and Do

Nowra Historical Walk
There is a very comprehensive Nowra Historical Walk available for download at http://www.heritagetourism.com.au/tyhm/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/NowraWalk.pdf. It includes no fewer than 43 buildings all within 16 blocks (four across from Kinghorne Street to West Street and four down from North Street to Douglas Street). Many people familiar with Nowra will find this surprising as the centre of the town seems modern. The historical map shows great concentrations of historic buildings surrounded by such forgetful modernities as the Stockland Nowra Shopping Centre and Nowra Mall. So, just persist.

1 & 2. Werninck Historical Cottage and Marriott Park
Edged by the Princes Highway, this central park which was secured by the council in 1937 and designed by a local jeweller in 1945,  is an ideal place for a picnic or a rest from a long journey. The main attraction is Werninck Historical Cottage, now known as the Werninck Craft Cottage, which dates from around 1900 and was continuously occupied by the same family until 1984 when the local council purchased it, restored it and opened it to the public so people could see what life in Nowra was like around 1900. It was built by Joseph Turner for his son-in-law Thomas Werninck.

3. Nowra Museum
Located on the corner of Kinghorne and Plunkett Streets, the Nowra Museum, run by the Shoalhaven Historical Society, is housed in the old police premises (1900), open Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from 1.00 pm - 4.00 pm. It was opened as the local museum in 1980.

4. Nowra Court House
Located next door to the Museum (in front of the Police Station) in Plunkett Street, the Court House dates from 1896 and was designed by the Government Architect of the time, Walter Liberty Vernon.

5. Marriott Oliver
Located next to the Court House and looking remarkably simple and unpretentious are the solicitors Marriott Oliver in a house that was built in 1861 as the local court house and police lockup. It became the residence of the local police sergeant in 1905.

10. Meroogal
Located on the corner of West Street and Worrigee Street is 'Meroogal', an historic, timber, gothic-style house managed by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. Built in 1885 it contains original household contents collected by four generations of women in the Thorburn and McGregor families. To check when the house is open for inspection tel: 02 4421 8150 or check http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/meroogal for details.

12. Hanging Rock Lookout
Located at the end of Junction Street with fine views over the Shoalhaven River this well-known landmark is 46 metres above the river.

25. Nowra Uniting Church
Located in Berry Street and surrounded by modern buildings this simple stone church, originally a Wesleyan Church, was consecrated in 1878.

28. School of Arts
Located further along Berry Street this handsome building was designed by Cyril Blacket (son of the famous James Blacket) and built at the cost of £2,500 in 1892. The more modern art gallery - which is excellent - is over the road.


Other Attractions in the Area

River Cruises
Shoalhaven River Cruises offer scenic cruises which depart from the Nowra Public Wharf on the Shoalhaven Explorer. Either tel: 0429 981 007 or (02) 4441 5660 or check out http://www.shoalhavenrivercruise.com for times. It is complicated. The time of departure for the Upriver Cruise can range from 9.00 am through 10.00 am to 10.30 am and the Downriver Cruise usually departs at 10.00 am. Days also vary. The Upriver Cruise lasts for two hours and heads upriver to Red Rock. The Downriver Cruise lasts from 3 to 3.5 hours and goes to Greenwell Point. There is also a Twilight Cruise.

Shoalhaven Zoo and Adventure Park
Previously known as the Nowra Wildlife Park, the Shoalhaven Zoo is set on 16 hectares overlooking the Shoalhaven River and includes over 100 species of native and international animals. There are a number of special shows including a Marmoset Monkey Feeding, a Furry Friends Show, a Crocodile Feeding, a Reptile Show, a Koala Show and a Dingo Feeding Show. All the details, including an informative video and the entry prices, are available at http://shoalhavenzoo.com.au/ or tel: (02) 4421 3949. The zoo and Adventure Park are open daily from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm.

Bens Walk
Bens Walk, established by Ben Walsh during the Great Depression, is 5.5 km long. It commences at the Shoalhaven Showground, following the shoreline in a westerly direction then heading south along Nowra Creek which runs through the middle of the reserve. There are excellent views from Hanging Rock Lookout, an overhanging rock formation with views across the river. Nowra Creek is spanned by a suspension bridge which provides access to the Depot Farm Reserve. Check out http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/south-coast/jervis-bay-and-shoalhaven/nowra/attractions/bens-walk for more details.

Bundanon is a glorious, Georgian-style two-storey sandstone homestead (1866) situated on 1,000 acres (404 ha) of land on the banks of the Shoalhaven River. It was, for many years, the home and studio of distinguished Australian artist Arthur Boyd. Along with the gardens, grounds, some antique furniture, the studio and some artworks it was donated to the Australian people by Arthur and Yvonne Boyd in 1993. The gift included most of the family's furniture and important works of pottery and sculpture and literally hundreds of paintings by Boyd, his wife Yvonne and his family and friends including Emma Minnie Boyd, Merric Boyd, Doris Boyd, Penleigh Boyd, Martin Boyd, Guy Boyd, David Boyd, Polly Boyd, Jamie Boyd, Lucy Boyd as well as Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester, John Perceval, Charles Blackman and others. The house and gardens are open every Sunday, from 10.30 am to 4.00 pm, Visitors can go on a conducted tour of the house (which lasts around half an hour), visit Boyd's studio, have a picnic on the lawns, go for a walk to the nearby cedar forest or the banks of the Shoalhaven River below the famous Pulpit Rock (subject of some of Boyd's most famous paintings). No pre-booking is required. For further information regarding open days or mid-week bookings call (02) 4422 2100 or check out www.bundanon.com.au which is comprehensive and detailed. The house is located at the end of a private road that runs off Bundanon Road. To get there follow Illaroo Rd out of town (the turnoff to the west on the northern side of the bridge). You will come to a sign posted branch to the left into Hughes Rd then another left turn into Bundanon Road which is a single lane.

Nowra Hill Lookout and Commodores Walk
Located south of Nowra off Albatross Road, Nowra Hill is accessed by walking 500 metres up Commodores Walk which is at the edge of HMAS Albatross. There are impressive scenic views across Nowra and an orientation table which was erected in 1987 and has clear directions to every landmark in the surrounding area.

Australia's First Canal at Comerong
The sign at the ferry across to Comerong Island reads: "On 21st June 1822, Alexander Berry attempted to land the dinghy from his 15 ton cutter, 'The Blanche', at Shoalhaven Heads. Two men drowned, one being Thomas Davidson - who together with Berry and Hamilton Hume had previously ascended Pigeon House Mountain. Berry then sailed up Crookhaven River but was stopped by a sandspit from entering the Shoalhaven River. Undaunted the crew hauled 'The Blanche' across the spit. Four days later Hamilton Hume and three men were left at the isthmus to cut a passage using only hand tools. The canal, 207 yards long, was completed in 12 days. This was the first canal in Australia. The river has since cut the passage wider and deeper to its present dimensions making it now the real entrance for the Shoalhaven River."

Comerong Island Nature Reserve
There is a free ferry across to Comerong Island. The road around the island is a narrow, ungraded sandtrack which is impassible for 2WD vehicles if it has been raining. The Nature Reserve is worth visiting as tover 90 species of shore birds have been identified in the estuary and "27 species are subject to international agreements for habitat protection." In the island's rainforest it is possible to see figbirds, topknot pigeons, olive-backed orioles and spangled drongos. There are also white-bellied sea eagles, peregrine falcons, brown goshawks and black shouldered kits as well as honeyeaters, wattlebirds and thornbills. The Nature Reserve covers four islands in the Shoalhaven River delta: Mangrove Island, Nobles Island, Haven Island and Comerong Island. The artificial deepening of Berrys Canal in 1822 resulted in the mouth of the Shoalhaven River silting up and the Crookhaven River became the main river entrance.

Greenwell Point
Located 13 km east of Nowra, Greenwell Point has become famous for its oysters. In 1883 a man named George Haiser started the oyster cultivation which continues to this day. Jim Wild, who has a shop at the end of the Nowra Bridge on the Princes Highway, has been the world-champion oyster shucker (the art of oyster-opening). Greenwell Point is a sleepy holiday and retirement village with a number of boat ramps for anglers wishing to launch their vessels.

HMAS Albatross and the Fleet Air Arm Museum
Located 10 km south of Nowra via the Princes Highway (it is clearly signposted) is HMAS Albatross, "the largest operational Naval establishment and the Navy's only Air Station. The primary task of HMAS Albatross is to support the three Naval Air Squadrons, which provide air support to the fleet. HMAS Albatross is also home to the Fleet Air Arm Museum (formerly known as, and now incorporating, Australia's Museum of Flight)." The original airfield was built during World War II and occupied by the RAAF, US Army Air Corps and the Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force. The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm arrived in October, 1944. It was commissioned in August 1948.

The base is home to the Fleet Air Arm Museum which is open daily from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm . It is spread over 6,000 square metres and contains an impressive collection of over 30 historic military aircraft and extensive aircraft artefacts. For more detailed information check out http://www.navy.gov.au/fleet-air-arm-museum.

Cambewarra Lookout
The road from Nowra to Kangaroo Valley passes over Cambewarra Mountain which has one of the best lookouts of the Shoalhaven and South Coast. The view includes Coolangatta Mountain to the north and, on a clear day, can include Pigeon House Mountain near Ulladulla to the south. The lookout is open daily from 10 until dusk. There is a coffee shop and the Cambewarra Range Nature Reserve offers excellent bushwalking. For more information check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/cambewarra-range-nature-reserve. The area is ideal for birdwatching.



* For thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans the Tharawal people occupied the area.

* The first Europeans into the area were the survivors of the wreck of the Sydney Cove who walked up the coast to Sydney. In the wake of their journey George Bass, the famous explorer, made his way down the coast in 1797. He named Shoals Haven.

* Lieutenant Kent and assistant surveyor-general James Meehan surveyed and mapped the area in 1805. At the time the area was characterised as being verdant rainforest.

* By 1811 cedar cutters were floating their logs down river to Greenwell Point where the timber was loaded onto steamers.

* In 1812 George Evans travelled up the coast from Jervis Bay to the Shoalhaven River. He crossed the river in a bark canoe and continued up the coast and up the Illawarra escarpment to Appin.

* In 1818 the explorers Charles Throsby, Hamilton Hume and James Meehan were given the challenge of finding a route from the Southern Highlands to Jervis Bay. With assistance from local Aborigines they descended into the Kangaroo Valley, crossed the Shoalhaven River and successfully reached Jervis Bay.

* In 1822 Alexander Berry was granted land at Mount Coolangatta. He cut a canal to join the Crookhaven and Shoalhaven rivers.

* In 1824 ex-convict Mary Reibey applied for a grant in the Burrier area south of the Shoalhaven River.

* In 1829 Prosper De Mestre took up 1300 acres on the southern shore of the Shoalhaven.

* In 1852 the Nowra township site was gazetted.

* The first church in the district, an iron-frame Presbyterian building at Numbaa, was erected in 1855.

* In 1857 town blocks went on sale in Nowra, many sold for £4 a block.

* By 1861 a post-office service had been established. That same year the racehorse Archer, bred in Braidwood but trained at Terrara by Etienne de Mestre, won the first Melbourne Cup and repeated the feat the following year.  It has been claimed that Dave Power walked and rode Archer the 550 miles to Melbourne in just over three weeks.

* In 1865 a church of bark slabs with an iron roof was built by the Shoalhaven Catholic parish.

* By 1866 there was a regular ferry operating to cross the Shoalhaven River.

* The first local newspaper was established at Terrara in 1867.

* By 1870 the town had nine hotels, four general stores, a town hall, a post office a butcher's, two banks, a flour mill and numerous other establishments. This year also saw a severe flood on the Shoalhaven.

* In 1875 St Andrew's Presbyterian Church was built at Nowra.

* In 1881 the first Shoalhaven River Bridge was erected of wrought iron, prefabricated in Delaware in the USA and shipped to New South Wales by sea.

* In 1885 Nowra was proclaimed a town.

* A suspension bridge was constructed over Nowra Creek in 1887.

* In 1891 Bomaderry township was laid out at its present site.

* In 1893 Bomaderry became the terminus of the south coast railway line. A coach service from Nowra to Bega commenced operations that year. Covering 320 miles, it required 150 horses and 40 coaches.

* In 1894 the town got its own water supply

* The courthouse opened in 1897.

* In 1902 the first factory of the Nowra Co-operative Dairy Company was established.

* Cambewarra Lookout was created as a tourist attraction in 1910.

* Electricity was connected in 1927.

* A second bridge across the Shoalhaven was constructed in 1980.


Visitor Information

Shoalhaven Visitor Information Centre, 42 Bridge Rd, Nowra NSW, tel: 02 4421 0778.


Useful Websites

The Visit NSW website has lots of useful information. Check out http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/south-coast/jervis-bay-and-shoalhaven/nowra.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

4 suggestions
  • The Shoalhaven stretches from north of Shoalhaven Heads (half way along Seven Mile Beach, which is a place of historical significance in its own right due to its use in the early days of aviation and motoring as a landing strip and test track for breaking the world land speed record) to North Durass which is well south of Milton-Ulladulla.

    • While this is true – as least in terms of the council definition of the City of Shoalhaven – it is not correct in the minds of the locals. Many locals in Mollymook (where I was Australia Day Ambassador in 2015) bitterly disagree. They are not part of the Shoahaven. It does not represent their interests. I feel that the true definition of the Shoalhaven is the coastal lands on either side of the Shoalhaven River – but the local council disagrees!

      Bruce Elder
  • The Grotto Walk stretches from the edge of the Shoalhaven Zoo to the Nowra Golf Course which includes stunning cliffs (popular with rock-climbers), rainforest and beautiful views of the Shoalhaven River. Lyrebirds, echidnas, and many birds make it their home. It is a gem of Nowra.

  • Terrific regional art gallery with regular exhibitions.

    Sandy Robson