travel

There's a place on the New South Wales South Coast that's almost as Byron as Byron.

Stayz and Tourism Australia
Thanks to our brand partner, Stayz and Tourism Australia


Not everyone is suited to life in captivity. 

Not everyone spent mid-March to mid-June baking sourdough and perfecting living-room-floor Pilates and taking audio French lessons as they put the final touches on the spare-room transformation. 

Some of us - and you know who you are - spent "iso" climbing the walls, snapping at each other, scratching at the door, gasping for some space, longing for an open horizon. 

And judging by the immediate rush of city-escapees flooding from capitals the minute they could, there were many more of us prepared to bash down that cage door than anyone was prepared to admit.

My family was among them.

For months, the furthest myself, my partner Brent and our two primary-school-age kids had strayed from our little unit was to visit a park one suburb over, a daring exercise in whether you could weather the disapproving looks of anyone who didn't think sibling children should wrestle each other on a soccer field during a pandemic. 

So when we drove south on our first trip out of Sydney since the world closed down, we all felt exhilarated by the unfamiliar sensation of space and freedom, even if we were only passing a servo-sized Maccas.

It's hard to overstate the healing power of an Australian road trip. Pale green gums flashing past against a bright winter sky, feet up on the dash, music blaring, family singing, family sniping, family fighting. Food stops. Oversized bags of chips. Turn-taking with the entertainment, the one timeless element the constant hum of "How much longer, are we there yet?" from the back seat.

And it was like that, again, when my little crew took the #RoadTripPledge, a commitment to explore our beautiful country, launched by Stayz in partnership with Tourism Australia. We took the pledge to escape months of confinement not only so we could breathe, but that we could go and help bring some life back into places that had lost everything well before the virus visited - bushfire-affected areas.

ADVERTISEMENT

It's hard to imagine now, when every bit of emotional effort has been spent fighting pandemic anxiety - and the urge to stockpile toilet paper - that just a few weeks before we'd even heard the term COVID-19, there was only one news story consuming Australian media - and Australians themselves - a once-in-a-generation bushfire emergency that destroyed not only many homes in many towns in regional Australia, but also countless livelihoods, any enduring sense of safety, and the financial stability of many locals.

Now our delayed ability to help is here, if COVID has left us able. With the lifting of restrictions comes the chance for us to spread out and spend if we can. Spend on the things that matter - our own sanity and the wellbeing of others. 

"Going down the coast" is what Sydneysiders do when they exit for the weekend, or the summer. That could actually mean they're going anywhere from the Royal National Park to the Bega Valley. Stunning country that includes rolling eucalypt forests and glorious valleys, jagged mountains and endless empty beaches. Towns and villages and wildlife and waves. And almost all of it was under significant bushfire threat in the summer of 2019/20.  

The night we arrived at our Stayz holiday house at Culburra Beach - about three hours south of Sydney - there was no sign of the terrifying events of five months ago. The beach had the kind of deserted sweep that begs you to charge up and down it, cartwheeling and dragging a giant fern to sand-sketch with, if you're small, trailing behind with the dog if you're big.

We arrived at golden hour, just before the sun set, and the kids rushed that wide open space like they'd been let out of a hutch. Which, really, they were.

And just breathe. Image: Holly Wainwright/Mamamia. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Our esky was full. We'd filled it on our way down, from a local fish market, greengrocers and bottle shop. A barbecue was planned, the house explored.

The house. One of the great pleasures of holiday houses is that they are, if your city life is anything like mine, often far bigger and far nicer than your own. I don't have a big garden, a deck, a games room with fussball and pool and air hockey and darts. I don't have a choice of two living areas, both beautifully designed and decorated, or inside-outside places to plonk myself and eat, or balconies off our bedrooms. But our Culburra Beach house did.

After three months in the same five rooms, I could feel myself unfolding. On the couch, with a drink.

A backyard! Image: Supplied.

Amuse yourselves, kiddos. Image: Holly Wainwright.

ADVERTISEMENT

Culburra is on Jerrinja country belonging to the South Coast's Wandi Wandian People. It's a small-ish centre that's the hub for a few places around it whose names are familiar to holidaying Sydneysiders - Callala Beach, Callala Bay, Currarong - with its decent spray of cafes and shops. The locals call it Burradise, because it's beautiful and it's quiet and it's got ocean and it's got river, and it's got bushwalks and, importantly to ridiculous city people like me, it has an exceptionally good coffee caravan that rivals the hipster joints of Surry Hills or Fitzroy.

Burra's best coffee van. Image: Holly Wainwright/Mamamia. 

And it has a community garden that hosts live music (when not restricted by a pandemic) and a veggie food van staffed by Byron Bay exiles who've found a new nirvana. There's also a skate park, a bike track and of course, that endless beach. Burradise, indeed.

ADVERTISEMENT

Burradise Community Garden. Image: Holly Wainwright/Mamamia. 

Hold my beer. Image: Holly Wainwright/Mamamia. 

No-one whose livelihood depends on people moving around is doing OK at the moment. When the South Coast is not on fire, as it was this past summer, there's a constant tide of holiday people washing in and out. When there isn't a health crisis of global proportions, weekenders are pulling up and pulling out their wallets every Thursday to Sunday. They've all spent a solid quarter confined to lounges.

ADVERTISEMENT

The thing is, the pledge to support those places by driving somewhere and to #HolidayHereThisYear (the name of Tourism Australia's current campaign) is no hardship for those who can afford to do it. Australians being confined to their island is testing for all of us who have people we love in other parts of the world.

But it's no bloody punishment to take our holidays in Australia. People travel from all corners of the globe and spend thousands doing just that. They want a piece of this space, this beauty.

My little family spent their weekend of release breathing deeply again. And hopefully, helping to breathe a tiny bit of life into some places that need it.

FREEDOM! Image: Holly Wainwright/Mamamia. 

On our way home from Burradise, we stopped in one of our favourite places in the entire world - Kangaroo Valley. It's a little town squished in, yes, a valley, just a short drive from the coast back towards Sydney. This past January, fire came right to the town's flank, taking out hectares of the kind of country to make you weep.

For a decade, our family has come here to watch wombats, walk and do nothing in the beauty. Seeing for ourselves that it was still there, having lunch in the best beer garden in Australia, walking in the woods... Well, I felt like we were being put back together.

'Pledge' hardly feels like the right word for the promise to travel to these places that need us this year. Because for my little family, we got a lot more than we gave.

ADVERTISEMENT

Where are you travelling locally this year? Tell us in the comments below.

Join us and take the #RoadTripPledge at www.roadtrippledge.com.au. Once you take the #RoadTripPledge, spend $1000 or more on your regional Stayz booking and you can claim a $100 Visa Card. This offer is only for the first 1000 eligible bookings and ends on August 11 (unless gift cards run out sooner).

*Offer: AU residents 18+ only. Between 12.01am (AEST) 16/6/20 & 11.59pm (AEST) 11/8/20 or when stocks run out, whichever is 1st, visit  www.roadtrippledge.com.au & accept the Stayz Road Trip Pledge, follow the links to make a booking of $1,000 or more (in 1 transaction), return to website & fill out claim form incl. reservation ID. First 1,000 valid claims get $100 VISA gift card. Max 1 claim per household. Email address used for the pledge, booking and claim form must be the same email address. Total gift pool $100k. Successful claimants will receive gift within 28 days of end of offer. Claimants will get future marketing from Promoter. See website for  full conditions inc. privacy statement. Promoter: Stayz Pty Limited (ABN 41 102 711 599), L18, 175 Pitt St, Sydney NSW 2000. Permits: ACT TP 20/00754, SA T20/661, NSW LTPS/20/43940. Please always check government advisories before booking and travelling.

Holly Wainwright stayed at Culburra Beach courtesy of Stayz.

Feature image: Holly Wainwright.

Want a cheeky $50? Tell us what you think
MMSurvey
Stayz and Tourism Australia
Make your #RoadTripPledge to holiday here this year and help us regenerate regional Australian towns.
00:00 / ???