Eden, on the Sapphire south coast of New South Wales, is one of those places that invigorate the spirit. It has a nice feeling about it. Maybe reaching our destination after a long drive from Newcastle had something to do with it, or maybe being on holiday gave us a heightened sense of wellbeing. In any event, my wife Margaret and I liked Eden for a lot of reasons and we’d go back there any day.
It’s an odd fact of life, but the New South Wales south coast seems to get prettier and more inviting the further along it you travel. The drive from Bega to Eden comprises some of the state’s comeliest farmland and Eden is the last town of any consequence before the highway intersects the Victorian border. So restful to the eye and the mind is this landscape that it reminded me of similar country I’d seen around Stanley, Tasmania – pretty much 10 out of 10 on anyone’s ‘quaint’ scale.
In short, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, none of the promotional claims made
for the south coast and its many wonders are an exaggeration.
But Eden hasn’t always had an easy life, and it doesn’t have one now. This is a town in the process of reinventing itself. Far fewer trawlers tie up at the Eden dock these days when, once, they were three-deep – a result of government intervention, licence buy-backs and reduced fish quotas. The local timber industry, especially wood chipping, is in decline too and, so, the shift in economic reality has meant that Eden now relies more heavily on tourism than it used to. Fortunately for us, though, this revitalisation expresses itself in the town’s neatly-clipped public lawns, abundant playing fields, wonderful coastline and, in this instance, the very classy Garden of Eden Caravan Park.
As husband and wife managers Shane and Tammy O’Malley explained as we sat on a bench outside the office of this Top Tourist Park, next to a tennis court, a putt-putt golf course and a solar-heated swimming pool with two fountains, things have changed around here in the past 20 years and you have to keep your standards up if you want to keep your customers. That’s why this park has under-floor heating and piped music in the amenities block. It’s also why the place feels like one big garden with a swimming pool at one end and Lake Curalo at the other; why dogs get a free pooch bath; and why a man and his best friend can stroll casually along the Allan Gibson boardwalk, all the way from the Garden of Eden to within barking distance of the dog-friendly section of Aslings Beach.
They seem to have thought of everything in this well-cared-for travellers’ haven. I was surprised to see a baby room and an amenities block for the disabled. The park boasts 130 powered and sullaged sites, many large enough to accommodate the flashest motorhomes and fifth wheelers, said Tammy. There are also 100-or-so unpowered sites and plenty of space for camping and camper trailers. Car and boat owners get a place of their own to wash their vehicles, and pretty much all the sites are drive-in/drive-out.
This is a four-star facility but, short of installing their own amusement park, supermarket, helipad and Rolex showroom, I can’t imagine what else Shane and Tammy might do to take the Garden of Eden to the next level…
FIVE MINUTES WITH THE MANAGER
This park is impressive, Tammy. You and Shane must have worked very hard.
We’ve been here four years now and yes, we have put in long hours. The gardens and all the trees were established before we arrived, although we’ve improved on them, but I think the most notable thing we’ve done is making sure that everything works well. We put in a new pool, upgraded the electrical system to a much more powerful one and replaced all the underground piping so that everything ticks over smoothly. Shane doesn’t like ‘mechanical problems’.
Were you and your husband always in the caravan park business?
Not really. This is our first park as managers but I worked here for three years before we actually took over so I already knew how the place ran and what had to be done every day. That was a big advantage.
You told me earlier that the Garden of Eden has been here since you were a little girl.
That’s right, it has. I was born in 1975 and it was here then. I couldn’t tell you for sure when it was built but I guess it would be around the early ’70s.
Is it a good life, managing a park as large and elaborate as this one?
I like it, and I think Shane does too, although sometimes we’re both pretty tired at the end of a long day, and some problems can be really frustrating, especially in the busiest parts of the year. But it is a good life, yeah. You get to meet lots of interesting people and you wouldn’t believe some of the stories they tell us.
You have a fair bit of competition from other parks, if not in Eden itself then in the vicinity. Is it an advantage being a member of the Top Tourist Park group?
No doubt about it. We’re the only Top Tourist Park in town so, naturally, we get all the TTP members coming through. I’d say probably 80 per cent of the people coming through our boomgate are members. People are always looking for a discount of some sort these days, even if it’s only $1 and they have to spend $20 on petrol to get it. Weird, I know, but that’s the way it is. We get a lot of repeat business. It costs us a lot of money every year to be in the group, that’s true, but it’s certainly good for business.
As a dog owner, I’m interested in your pet-friendly policy. I’ve noticed that a lot of park managers are almost paranoid about animals, but being dog-friendly seems to be working nicely for you.
If we didn’t have a section of the park reserved for people with dogs, we’d be crazy, and we’d lose a lot of money. About 50 per cent of the people who come here have dogs. In fact, our dog section is often busier than other parts of the park. It’s a big part of what we do here and, to be honest, it just doesn’t cause a lot of problems. Maybe twice in four years we’ve had to tick someone off about leaving their dog unattended or letting it bark at someone. I think it’s because the kind of people who travel with their dog generally look after it and don’t want it getting in any trouble.
Okay, so let’s go back to town for a minute. How’s Eden getting on, Tammy? It’s faced serious problems and had to meet them head-on, the decline in the timber and fishing industries for example, but is it a nice place to live?
Yeah, we think it is. It’s a very sociable little town with almost everything you need without having to go too far to get it. We don’t have a McDonalds here yet, and don’t want one, but a Bunnings would be nice. The people are very sports-minded here and with national parks on both sides of town, and plenty of boating and fishing possibilities, there’s always something to do.
I noticed how sports-minded you lot are! The caravan park backs on to an AFL footy field which backs on to a skate-boarding ramp which backs on to a netball club and they’re all about 50m from the Pacific Ocean and Aslings Beach. Not a bad line-up is it?
·Eden is situated on the Princes Highway on the NSW south coast, or as locals call it, the Sapphire Coast. It’s around three hours from Canberra and about halfway between Sydney and Melbourne. Follow the Princes Highway and you can’t miss it.
·There’s plenty to do in Eden and much of it, naturally enough, is water-based. Activities include fishing, swimming, sailing, diving, surfing and boating. If you don’t trust water you can bushwalk in the Ben Boyd National Park, toddle through a rainforest or just flop around and do what tourists do.
·The Whale Museum on Imlay Street is a well-stocked repository with fascinating relics from Eden’s past. Whale watching from tour boats draws keen crowds during October and November.
·Eden’s Two-Fold Bay is one of the world’s deepest natural harbours, while the coastline is spectacular, accessible, and the water as clean as I’ve seen anywhere in Australia.
· Eden’s Tourist Information Centre is at the corner of the Princes Highway and Mitchell Street. As these excellent facilities always seem to be, this one is staffed by friendly ladies with plenty of inside knowledge. From here you can book charters and accommodation and acquire maps of the local area.
· Eden’s Tourist Information Centre: (02) 6496 1958, firstname.lastname@example.org.
· Cat-Balou Discovery Cruisers: 0427 962 027, 0427 260 489, www.catbalou.com.au.
· Whale Museum: (02) 6496 2094, www.killerwhalemuseum.com.au.
· Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre: (02) 6496 1699
Originally published in Caravan World# 516, July/August 2013.