“Below the misty Mt Dromedary, the highest point on the South Coast of New South Wales are two quaint little towns steeped in history and natural beauty which have become major tourist attractions and are well worth a visit”.
Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba are 365 km south of Sydney and are accessed via the Princes Highway. Leaving the highway 10km south of Narooma a loop takes you to Central Tilba and then to Tilba Tilba, 2km further on and then back to the highway. Nestled in the green undulating foothills beneath Mt Dromedary, better known to the locals as Gulaga, these two little villages are surrounded by lush dairying areas only minutes from the coast. The mountain was first spotted by Captain Cook in 1770. At the time he noted in his journal: “At 6 o’ clock we were abreast of a pretty high mountain laying near the shore which on account of its figure I named Mt Dromedary. The shore under the foot of the mountain forms a point which I named Cape of Dromedary“.
For thousands of years the aboriginal people of the area (The Yuin people) have believed the mountain symbolises the mother and provides the basis of aboriginal spiritual identity. Tilba Tilba is the original name of the district and is said to be a Thawa Aboriginal term for “many waters“. The mountain is a site of great spiritual significance to the Yuin people and in May 2006 the NSW Government formally handed back Gulaga National Park ownership and management to the aboriginal communities on the Far South Coast. Iris White is chair of the park’s board of management and plays a vital role in its governance. Iris has lived all her life below her sacred Gulaga. “We grew up knowing that we have a spiritual connection to Gulaga and that Gulaga is significant as Mother Mountain”, she says. “This place is not just my physical home but also my spiritual home”.
In the early days, the fertile lands saw the establishment of dairy farming as a prominent industry which prompted settlement and began initial development of the towns. A gold find was reported at Mt Gulaga in 1853 and after reef gold was discovered in 1860 prospectors rushed to the district. Some of the prospectors settled in Tilba Tilba where a Post Office was opened in 1873 with Richard Bate as the postmaster beginning the Bate family presence in the area. (Jeff Bate a local politician achieved fame by marrying Prime Minister Holt’s widow, Zara). The main street of Central Tilba is named Bate Street honouring this prominent family. Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba became booming and colourful settlements and because the towns were rapidly established all the buildings except the cheese factory were all timber. When gold mining died in the early 1900s the houses remained untouched. The dairy industry continued and Tilba became the home of world famous cheese.
Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba Today
Today Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba offers an opportunity to step back in time and visit perfectly preserved heritage villages featuring a range of unusual shops and galleries all surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. Central Tilba is restored and well maintained with a host of unique shops ranging from antiques, traditional crafts and woodworks to modern jewellery and contemporary art, there is something of interest for all visitors. The entire village was classified by the National Trust in 1974 as the Central Tilba Conservation Area and since then tourism, supporting a variety of new businesses has become the district’s main economic focus. Recently, “River Cottage Australia” was filmed just outside Central Tilba bringing notoriety to the region. Walking down the main street, Bate Street, is like being in a time warp as you walk past old Victorian houses now brightly painted and the interiors turned into gift shops, cafes and coffee lounges. Give yourself a couple of hours to enjoy the ambience of this tiny village. Establishments not to miss are, the Bate General Store, situated on the corner as you turn into Bate Street, the Dromedary Hotel and the ABC Cheese Factory. Tilba Tilba which is 2km further down the road is much smaller than Central Tilba but nevertheless just as interesting. Here you encounter Pam’s Store and the proprietor Cliff whose family has owned the store for generations. It’s a genuine old fashioned general store where visitors can purchase just about anything they need including take-away food. Visitors can also have an eat-in extended menu for the authentic Tilba dining experience. The walking track up Gulaga also begins from behind Pam’s Store and close by are Foxglove Gardens set on 1.4ha and features beautiful gardens and a 100 year old cottage.
The Dromedary Hotel
Half way down Bate Street sits the prominent Dromedary Hotel and a visit to Central Tilba isn’t complete until you have dropped in for a drink and/or something to eat. The Drom was built in 1895 not as a pub but as a coffee palace and was called, The Palace Hotel. It is said to be built from recycled wood from the ships that docked at Bermagui Harbour. The name was changed to the Dromedary Hotel in 1936 after the nearby Mt Dromedary. Over the years the old hotel has been a favourite stopping off place for travellers on the Far South Coast. Call in, it can’t be missed as it is painted brightly and is two stories high. Views from the upper verandah are quite spectacular.
ABC Cheese Factory
The ABC Cheese Factory is located at the end of Bate Street and has adequate parking for visitors. It was established in 1891 by Samuel Bate and has recently returned to local ownership. Nic and Erica Dibden, the new owners, have breathed life into the building, the industry and the community. The ABC Cheese Factory now offers visitors the opportunity to watch cheese making and milk bottling through glass windows and to purchase honey, taste the cheese and drink milkshakes made from the local herd of Jersey cows. The range of cheeses include specialist cheddars, camembert, havarti, Romano and cream blue as well as a feisty cheese called ‘Firecracker’. “We have 22 staff, which is a lot for any business on the coast and especially for a business in Tilba,” Erica says. “I feel like we are heading in the right direction and if we continue to grow it will be in a measured way because we want to remain a boutique business and help keep the district prosperous”.
Bushwalking In The Area
There is a couple of walks in the district for fit visitors. A short walk behind The Dromedary Hotel takes you up to a water tank with views to the south and lovely views over Central Tilba. A much longer walk begins behind Pam’s Store and takes you up Mt Gulaga. Walkers access the walk via a private road passing through grazing land. It’s a 5 hour return trip passing through dense rainforest with steep sections at the end. At ‘Halfway Rock’ the Battery Trail leads 1.6km off the main track around the side of the ridge to the foundations of the mine and the manager’s residence. Return to the track and 30 minutes later you reach ‘The Saddle”, a great place to have a rest and read the interpretative board. Also in this area are ‘The Tors’ which are magnificent granite monoliths sacred to the Aboriginal people of the area. Make sure this site is treated with respect. Push on to the summit with spectacular views to the coast, along the way enjoying the magical rainforest and a variety of birdlife. The walk is challenging and only for fit walkers but the views from the top overlooking the towns of Narooma and Bermagui are spectacular and well worth the effort. Make sure you have a beverage at Pam’s Store on your return.
Places Of Interest Around Tilba
If you are visiting the region for a day or longer there is plenty to see and do. Apart from beautiful Narooma to the north of Tilba with its variety of trips to Montague Island there is also Bermagui to the south. When at Bermagui a visit to ‘The Blue Pool’ is a must. There is a turn off just south of Tilba and this coastal road takes visitors across a quaint wooden bridge at Wallaga Lakes and on to Bermagui. A short side road on the way takes you to Camel and Horse Head Rocks. The turnoff is signposted and well worth the short drive. Closer to Tilba is the Tilba District Cemetery established in 1901 on the farm ‘Haxted’, owned by Horrex Read, an icon of the district and buried at the cemetery which is in a beautiful setting overlooking the sea. Many of the Bate family are also buried here. Mystery Bay and the beach of 1080 are opposite Tilba on the coast and are well signposted on the Princes Highway and a ‘must see’. Another place of interest is Najanuga (Little Dromedary) and is the smaller of the two mountains but still striking. It is the rocky outcrop just to the east of Gulaga and Tilba and can be seen from the highway. It is a stunning element in the regional landscape with excellent views from Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba.
I have travelled the Princes Highway, heading south, many times over the years and never took the time to explore the beautiful Tilba area but in recent years family have moved here and it has given me a chance to spend some time wandering this beautiful part of the world. I would suggest if you are in the Tilba region spend some time having a look around. There is plenty of accommodation in the area ranging from caravan parks, campgrounds, hotels, bed & breakfasts, guesthouses, cottages and cabins. I would suggest Narooma Tourist Information Centre or the Central Tilba Emporium General Store as your first stop to pick up any information required. See you on the beautiful South Coast but be careful of the weather as the winters can be chilly.
The Tilba Region is approximately 365km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway.
Tourist Info Centres:
Narooma on the Princes Highway. PH 02 4476 2881
Bate’s Emporium General Store. Bate Street Central Tilba PH 02 4473 7290
National Parks. Narooma PH 02 4476 0800
Places of interest around Tilba:
Narooma, Montague Island, Bermagui, Corunna, Mystery Bay, 1080 Beach, Wallaga Lakes, Camel and Horse Head Rocks and Foxglove Gardens.
Places to stay in the region vary from caravan parks, campgrounds, bed & breakfasts, cabins and cottages. Contact the Tourist Information Centres.
Tilba Growers Markets:
Held every Saturday in the Big Hall from 8am until noon.
Tilba Easter Festival:
Held on Easter Saturday each year. Bate Street is closed to traffic and open to a huge array of culture and activities.