The Crooning Whales of Bermagui

Whales! There were scores of them, all around Pelican 1, as far as our eyes could see. They seemed to be simply hanging out and generally having a whale of a time. Boisterously trumpeting their presence, they hung around in groups of threes and fours’ racing across the shimmering waters of Bermagui. While the young males blew their bugles one after another, the females were coy, spyhopping every now and then. A calf swam with her mother while she instructed her on worldly ways.

Not too long afterwards, a pod of four started singing the famous humpback song (a mystifying incantation). They churned one hot whale song after another. But there were others who were neither nurturing nor singing. They simply sauntered around and hung out as how good mates should on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

It was an overcast morning and the sun had snuggled in its grey cloud blanket. But surprisingly the wind too, decided to play truant, which is not what you want when you are on a great sailing vessel like the Pelican 1.

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We were aboard S.V Pelican 1, an amazing 62-foot sailing catamaran, whose design is inspired by Polynesian migratory canoes. The catamaran took six years to build from timber and epoxy resin and is used not just for conducting scientific research but also for people and communities to gather on-board either to share knowledge or simply experience the seas. Captained by Garry McKechnie, Pelican 1 is a ship of many tales. Their voyages are not just sensual flirtations across the oceans, but are journeys through cultural, traditional and scientific seascapes of immense beauty and importance.

As the wind picked up, the catamaran cut through the silver blue waters like a hot knife through butter. The icy gust slicked our hair back as we sipped hot coffee provided by the crew. It’s a strange sense of freedom that engulfs you as you let the wind sweep you through sapphire waters filled with Earth’s grandest life forms – the enigmatic humpback whales.

Suddenly, the wind died and the boat slowed down to a halt. It just bobbed up and down on the waves. The whales were around us but not near us. They were busy. We could see them frolic around at a distance. The rest of us on the boat settled down. Some were taking pictures, others were simply chatting away. Thinking about our drive yesterday, I fell into a reverie.

Late last evening we drove into Bermagui, a virginally beauteous town along the Sapphire Coast. It’s a town that lies untainted by the excesses of tourist activity and the proud townspeople ensure it stays so. We were told that they have a lot of tourist activity during summer but the residents clean up once they leave. Well, they do a great job, because the little town is unblemished and has a shy innocent charm about it.

We were staying at the stunning Bellbird Cottage Bed and Breakfast.

As we parked and got out of our car, the songs of a thousand bellbirds greeted us. They were hidden somewhere in the coppice among the leaves, singing to their hearts content. Their silvery voices, herald the metamorphosis of spring to summer and you feel that something has stirred in your weary slumbering soul. The air was scented with the smell of spring. We passed a small pond by the entrance to the property and past singing cicadas to the door of a lovely cottage.

Bellbird Cottage is a luxurious bed and breakfast in Bermagui.  Its owners, Gretel Bodiam and Tony Oldfield, are a lovely couple with hearts of gold. They are always excited to see you and greet you with lots of love and warmth. And what can you say about their gorgeous cottage that has all the nicest little things to make your stay memorable and comfortable.

It may take us an entire article just to describe the luxurious Bellbird Cottage. Gretel and Tony have thought of every tiny detail to delight guests. Whether it’s the tasteful décor, L’Occitane toiletries, the generous spread of coffee, ranging from instant to freshly ground or the super large bathroom with a shower space for two!

What’s special about Bellbird is that the cottage caters to individuals or couples. So if you are looking for a quiet romantic getaway with your significant other, then this is the perfect place for it.

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We spent an hour with Gretel and Tony exchanging excited banter about our whaling adventure on the Sapphire Coast. They fed us with cheese, cookies and tea. Remember this, they L-O-V-E to FEED you with the most amazing delicacies that they conjure up in their beautiful kitchen. “It’s been an overcast day,” mumbled Gretel as she poured out some tea. “Hope the skies are clearer tomorrow… the whales breach more on a clearer day,” she added.

“The catamaran that you will be boarding is a great sailing boat,” said Tony. “We have been on it and loved the experience,” he added. Tony and Gretel are experts in the area and have many a suggestion on what to see and do when in Bermagui.

As we chatted, Ky-mani the tuxedo tomcat made a regal appearance. He had come to inspect the source of the commotion. He strolled around majestically and made his august presence felt.  You need to acknowledge his presence, as he is a jealous lord. It was he that growled at his own reflection in the skylight because he thought of it as competition. He came, he saw, he conquered and he left shortly afterwards.

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Bermagui has many breath-taking spots and we plan to return to write more about Bermagui as this place has a lot of hidden treasures that can be explored.  It’s just 2.5 hours away from Canberra and is a lovely coastal town to visit. “The restaurant that you are visiting tonight is amazing too, with some great food. Enjoy yourselves,” they said.

They were speaking about Il Passagio, a modern Italian restaurant located on the Fisherman’s Warf whose food is made from locally sourced produce, available from nearby markets.

It was a splendid breezy evening and while the moon was busy painting the waters with silver hues, we settled in a comfortable table by the window overlooking the harbour. The menu at Il Passagio is simple yet elegant.

The Sapphire Coast isn’t just famous for whale watching but it is also a gastronome’s delight. There is a gourmet adventure lying await for the connoisseur of good food – a veritable food trail. In the last couple of days we have witnessed this to be true. We certainly had a small gastronomic adventure of our own so far.

That afternoon, after feasting on Bellbird’s scrumptious bites, sharing an appetiser seemed like good idea and we started with marinated Termeil mushrooms with prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and thin slices of bread from Honorbread, a local Bermagui bakery making handmade artisan sourdough. The earthy taste of mushrooms and the slightly tangy flavour of mozzarella went well with the saltiness of the prosciutto and tartness of the bread. The portion size was perfect and every bite was an explosion of flavours.

Il Passagio’s pasta is made fresh on-site and while that was tempting, we ordered pizza instead. We had our pizza topped with Termeil mushrooms, Taleggio cheese and rosemary. The fruity twang of the Taleggio cheese was divine. (The Taleggio cheese has been made since the 9th century in the Lombardi region of northern Italy.) Our other main was crumbed flathead with lemon and thyme risotto. The crunchiness of the fish and the creamy texture of the risotto were simply rapturous. Happy and contented we spent the rest of the evening strolling by shimmering waters and listening to the sound of the ocean breeze.

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We drove back to Bellbird. A lone kangaroo stood by the roadside and waved us a good night. When we entered our cottage, we saw that Tony had turned down the lights and the room was filled with a soft golden hue. There were chocolates on the bed and port wine on the table (did we not say they feed you). The bed in our cottage was so comfortable that we won’t try describing how good it is (English has its limitations). Zzzzzzzzz….

The sun crept in through the cutwork of the milky white lace curtains heralding breakfast time. Unlike most bed and breakfasts where you have to head to a communal living room for a meal, at Bellbird, breakfast is brought to you. To dine in the privacy of your own cottage in your jammies!

Drumroll please… That morning we had three-cheese soufflé omelette with grilled asparagus and baked tomatoes stuffed with homemade ricotta; fresh fruit and cranberry yoghurt; baked pear with cinnamon; coconut porridge with toasted desiccated coconut on top; strawberry muffins; bread with butter, homemade marmalade and homemade plum and ginger jam, last but not least freshly squeezed orange juice.

We had to split this spread into two breakfasts like hobbits! If we didn’t have to go whale watching, we could have had elevenses too, just like in Middle Earth.

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It was time to board Pelican 1. We walked up the gangway and met with Captain Garry. There was food and drink and Garry had us in splits with his tongue-in-the cheek remarks. He is funny, entertaining and very experienced and so is his rugged crew. They know the seas very well and can tell you more than a thing or two about her mysteries.

A cold spray the wind carried from atop a wave was deposited directly onto my face, rudely breaking my reverie!

The wind had picked up suddenly and Pelican1 sprang to life. It started riding the waves like an experienced jockey atop a young stallion. We soon caught up with the whales again with the  help of song.

A whale song when #whalewatching @sapphirecoast 🐳 #travel with @pelican1

A video posted by Rosemarie and Joseph (@travelnbeyond) on

The swift catamaran sped alongside them keeping a safe distance so as to not harm the great creatures. The sea wind whistled with a tune of its own. A tune filled with the sound of the waves and the mysterious song of the male humpback whales. You could see them, male singers, swimming off as bachelor buddies singing their tune to woo a female. A mother whale swam with her chubby baby. They breached and dove in unison.

There were other males swimming in three’s, moving like fast ships. They were diving, breaching and blowing whistles of air every now and then. We know for a fact that they are curious of humans but today they were doing their own thing. And out at sea on Pelican 1, we saw first hand the greatness of the seas and its role in the creation of life. We felt puny and were humbled to have met the whales of Bermagui.

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Back at Bellbird Cottage, we had one last drink before we hit the road. It was Gretel’s hot chocolate made from real Tilba milk and rich chocolate! Not your average cuppa and it is accompanied by homemade Kahlua biscuits and marshmallows! Sigh… this is bringing back memories.


As we left Bermagui that evening, we passed a fish and chip shop in the middle of town by the shoreline. The sun was peeking from behind the clouds; the breeze was busy rustling some leaves. Some townsmen and women were seated at the shop enjoying piping hot fish and fries.

The children were playing. Unions of seagulls were gathered cackling their demands of being fed. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in a peaceful town, and life goes on. As we headed back to Canberra, the whales bid us goodbye. “Farewell,” they crooned.

Where to stayBellbird Cottage Bed and Breakfast located at 88 Nutleys Creek Rd, Bermagui NSW 2546.

Where to eat Il Passagio located at Fishermen’s Wharf, 5/73-79 Lamont St, Bermagui NSW 2546.

What to doPelican Expeditions located at Eastern Jetty, Bermagui Harbour.

Where to find more information about BermaguiSapphire Coast official website.

Travel and Beyond were guests of the Sapphire Coast Tourism Board. All opinions are our own.

Rosemarie John and Joseph Ellis