One of the big problems with caravanning can be finding the perfect place to stay. A place that is off the beaten track, but not so far away that you will damage your van getting there. It needs to have reasonable facilities, won’t cost the earth and isn’t crowded beyond comfort. You’d think it would be easy finding such a place, but it isn’t, especially if you live in one of our larger cities. Now, we can’t answer for all states, but we can offer a suggestion if you live in or near Sydney: Coolendel.
Located on the upper reaches of the Shoalhaven River, 32km west of Nowra, Coolendel is about a three-hour drive on comfortable, sealed roads – until you get to the last 12km, when you will have to deal with a bit of dirt. The road here is winding, but not dangerously so, and can be easily navigated by vans of all sizes. The bends tend to slow people down, so corrugations and pot holes are minimal and that part of the drive passes easily.
OASIS OF GREEN
Once inside the gates of Coolendel, you will find a green oasis nestled in a sweeping bend of the river, with great resources for children and adults and plenty of room to enjoy them in. This is not a formal camping ground, in that there are no marked sites and it doesn’t have power – just find somewhere you like and settle in.
The 50ha property is a mix of grass and patches of native bush. The latter ensures there is plenty of wildlife to see: wombats, kangaroos, wallabies, goannas and possums, bower birds and numerous other flying creatures are common. There is also a healthy population of peacocks, which will wander into the camp, adding to the feeling that you’re really getting away from it all.
The great feature of the region is the Shoalhaven River. At this point in its course, it still flows vigorously, bubbling over pebbles and stones. It is popular to carry an air mattress around to the western side of the bend and float around with the current to the eastern side, where the river starts to broaden out as it makes its way towards the sea. Canoes – which can be hired – and kayaks are popular, especially for picnic trips down the river on its broader reaches.
The rapids and small beach behind the park entry office are the most popular swimming places, with areas for the adventurous to jump off into a deep pool, for children to float around the small rapids in safety on some sort of inflatable, or to simply soak quietly to get away from the heat of a summer’s day.
This is a very family-friendly resort, so make sure you bring the kids’ pushbikes as there are several kilometres of excellent dirt roads within the park, making a great circuit for peddlers.
The river also supports a healthy population of Australian bass so, if you’re into fishing, bring your lures and enjoy yourself.
DRIVE, RIDE, WALK
In an environment such as this, backing onto Morton National Park means that there are plenty of trails to be walked, or fire trails to be driven if you have a 4WD. If you have access to the latter we’d suggest the Old Burrier Fire Trail, which takes you up a steep climb to McKenzie’s Lookout and some great views out over the almost untouched wilderness
There are walks that will take just a couple of hours and can be tackled by anyone with reasonable health, to more energetic adventures, up to the 100km Two Rivers Walk to the Clyde River. Ask at the Coolendel office for pamphlets and maps.
Also think about spending a little time at the old Grassy Gully or Yalwal goldmine site, which you will have passed through on your drive in. There are the remnants of old buildings, mine sites and workings scattered through the bush. Some are fenced, near the road, but away from there take care as there are some open shafts. If there’s water flowing in the creeks, give a little thought to trying your hand at panning.
Coolendel co-owner Arthur Moorehouse told us of an elderly Aboriginal man who used to come into Nowra a number of years back, from up in this part of the country, carrying chunks of pure gold that had apparently been cut off a much larger lump, but he would never reveal his source. Maybe you could be the lucky one to stumble upon it.
Facilities include plentiful freshwater taps, hot and cold water showers, flushing toilets, a large undercover cooking area, a well-stocked shop for all your basic needs (bread, milk, ice, gas, firewood) and a public phone. In addition, there are two cabins and a large bunkhouse to cater for larger group bookings.
There is no mobile phone reception in the resort itself, but it can be reached from a couple of the high points on the road in.
There’s plenty of room to find a place to drop the jockey wheel and roll out the awning at Coolendel, except over major public holiday long weekends, which can be booked out.
Originally published in Caravan World #510, January 2013.