The South Coast is a real life Pinterest board of dream destinations. Some parts – fringed with rainforests and waterfalls – look like they belong in the Amazon. Others, with some of the best beaches on the planet, look like they could be in the Maldives. All this without leaving the country or even the state. And if that doesn’t have you convinced, how about the fact that you can get up close with wallabies and penguins for the best fur-baby selfies of all time? Thought so. Let’s go.

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    Budderoo National Park & Berry

    Couple relaxing on a large rock

    Budderoo National Park

    Tim Clark / Instagram @timclark1

    After a short two hour stint down the Princes Highway, detour 20mins inland to stop #1, Budderoo National Park. Swing by the jungle-like Minnamurra Rainforest then head up the road to Carrington Falls to test your timelapse. A leg stretch along the Missingham lookout track leads to some amazing views of the Kangaroo Valley with a staggering 50m drop down to the gully. If it’s hot enough, go for a quick dip at Nellies Glen.

    Back on the highway, another 30 mins and you’ll reach Berry, a South-Coast rite of passage and a must-visit town for anyone who considers themselves a food aficionado. It’s fantastic for a pub meal and a fresh donut: The Berry Famous Donut Van (yes, that’s its actual name) has been here for 55 years for a reason. Miss it and you’ll regret it!

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    Jervis Bay

    Man diving into the crystal clear sparkling Jervis Bay water.

    Red PointJervis Bay National Park

    Tim Clark / Instagram @timclark1

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    Make your friends jelly with pics of literally the whitest sand in the world (Hyam’s Beach, Jervis Bay is in the The Guinness Book of World Records, so you know it’s legit). And if you surf it’s all about Blackrock Surf Break, where you can experience how NSW’s local breaks give Oahu’s Pipeline a run for its money.

    Did you know: If this white-sanded wonder is too crowded, next door’s Chinaman’s and Greenfield beaches are just as epic but a little less lively.

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    Lake Conjola

    Lake Conjola Entrance Road

    Lake Conjola

    Andy Hutchinson

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    Conjola National Park is the South Coast’s neglected middle child. It’s lakes, ocean and forest are usually overlooked in favour of their famous north and south neighbours, Jervis Bay and Mollymook. It’s the kind of place where you stumble across a riot of wildflowers or an echidna on your way to the beach, and places are romantically named Swan Lake, Monument Beach and Manyana.

    Next door Narrawallee Creek Nature Reserve is an oasis of calm, so stop by Pattimores Lagoon if you want to feel extra chill.

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    Milton and Mollymook

    Driving through the National Park

    Tim Clark / Instagram @timclark1

    You’ve now made it three hours south of Sydney to Milton, a historic country town, and Mollymook, an expanse of reef and sheltered swimming waters. When you combine the two towns it makes for the perfect turf-n-surf blend of country getaway and tranquil swimming holiday.

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    Bawley Point

    Whale leaping out of water

    Humpback whale breaching

    Bawley Point

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    If you’re at Bawley Point in winter (and you’re lucky enough) you’ll catch famous white humpback Migaloo doing his annual frolic up the coastline. Any other time of year, make day trips out to Gannet Beach for swimming, Murramarang National Park for bushwalking, and Mimosa Hill Farm, where you can pick some wildflowers.

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    Surfing Kangaroos - Pebbly Beach

    Kangaroo on beach

    Pebbly BeachMurramarang National Park

    Mike Jarman

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    Okay so they don’t actually surf. (And unfortunately most of us don’t have kangaroos hopping around our backyards, either.) But seeing a combination of two of our most iconic natural wonders – ’roos and the beach – is still incredibly cool.

    Depot Beach and the nearby Pebbly and Pretty Beaches, in Murramarang National Park (try saying that fast 3 times) are home to a large population of eastern grey kangaroos, who are usually happy to have a sniff, take a photo with friendly daytrippers – but remember, kangaroos are wild animals, so always approach and treat them with care. Stop in on your way between Ulladulla and Batemans Bay, or book a cabin.

    Did you know: If you want to see what life was like here 12,000 years ago, Murramarang Aboriginal Area is home to the largest midden on the South Coast. It’s one of NSW’s most important Aboriginal sites – and according to Dreamtime legend, it’s also home to a serpent that created the land.

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    Batemans Bay

    Couple playing in the water

    Batemans Bay

    Tim Clark / Instagram @timclark1

    It’s almost impossible to come to Batemans without getting out on (or in) the water. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, around 40mins up the Kings Highway is Monga National Park. Never heard of it? This is no newbie national park. In fact, the ancient plumwood trees and temperate rainforest go back to Gondwana Age. Which is why it makes our must-see list. The Penance Grove boardwalk is the perfect retreat from the heat and holiday crowds. If you head down from October to December, you might even see a rare Monga waratah (a claw-like flower) in bloom.

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    Narooma

    Australian fur seals Montague Island Nature Reserve

    Australian fur seals

    Montague Island Nature Reserve

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    There’s a huge dormant volcano on the South Coast – and it’s amazing. You can hike up to the summit of the scene-stealing Gulaga (formerly known as Mt Dromedary) and scope out views of the entire Gulaga National Park and the ocean next door. Back at sea level, the swirly green-blue waters of Wagonga Inlet make it obvious how Narooma got it’s name: it comes from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘clear blue water’. So clear you’ll see octopi, dolphins and manta ray from the Mill Bay boardwalk. No kidding.

    Then there’s Montague Island. The reserve, 9km off Narooma, is home to NSW’s largest colony of fur seals (aka puppies of the sea) as well as thousands of little penguins and seabirds. The Lighthouse Keepers’ Cottages here makes for a wistful and romantic excursion: it feels as though you’re in an old-world maritime novel. There is no way to drive to the island, but your transport will be arranged when you book your accommodation.

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    Eden and Ben Boyd National Park - TOP PICK

    We saved the best till last: Ben Boyd National Park’s Pinnacles take top honours here. These eroded red-and-white cliffs are a Sapphire Coast icon, and they’re especially snapshot-worthy against a blue sea or sky backdrop. So head straight for the lookouts or get up close on the loop walk. There are a few man-made must-sees, too, like Ben Boyd’s unfortunate tower, and Green Cape’s lighthouse and cemetery, which commemorates the victims of the 1886 Ly-ee-Moon shipwreck.

    The park’s divvied up into north and south sections, with the old whaling town of Eden smack in the middle. Make sure you say hi to Old Tom in the Killer Whale Museum, he’s something of a legend in these parts.