Bannisters restaurant in NSW attracts big crowds

THE frozen food section in the Ulladulla supermarket was a coveted refuge from the intense heat outside.

Bushfires and record temperatures blistered the coastal town and much of New South Wales' south coast.

The highway was closed, national parks were evacuated and people told to stay put for a day or two.

Ulladulla is a commercial fishing port about three hours' drive south of Sydney and a handy stopover point for yachties.

Daily fresh seafood was one of the attractions for British chef Rick Stein when he and his wife opened their clifftop boutique Bannisters restaurant at nearby Mollymook.

Stein had backpacked around the area on his early visits to Australia and decided to open this restaurant in 2009 close to his nearby holiday house.

With our adventures limited by the encroaching bushfires, it was sensible to have a nosey at the retreat, which encourages rich listers to helicopter south from Sydney for some top-class tucker.

Down the end of the resort's grass reserve, a group of people had congregated. It looked like a television crew and, sure enough, there was Stein, clad in a mauve shirt, gesticulating as he delivered his thoughts to the lens about some dish he had concocted.

While Ulladulla, a few kilometres to the south, has a wide variety of eateries, Mollymook does not have a great choice.

It's a quiet town of about 1500 residents with most choosing to dine at the golf club and leaving the five-star grub at the north end to Stein's high rolling guests.

As there's not much in between, just a few takeaway places, many locals and visitors shuffle off to the adjoining towns for their evening fare.

As we tried to head north the next day, the fire service stopped our progress. Bushfires had straddled the highway. No matter. Milton had enough sights to occupy us for a few hours.

Kiwis who travel to Sydney and hanker to explore a bit further seem to venture out west towards the Blue Mountains and its environs or north towards Gosford and the Hunter Valley.

Heading south made a nice change; past charming towns like Gerroa, Berry, Huskisson and secluded villages like Pebbly and Hyams Beach. Further down are areas like Batemans Bay and Broulee, which are more appealing to holidaying Victorians, while inland settlements like Mogo are monuments to the Gold Rush days.

Mogo provides a history lesson without getting in the time capsule. Examples of 19th-century architecture abound among the handicraft, art gallery and cottage industry exhibits.

A wildlife preservation programme operates at Mogo zoo while would-be prospectors can also look for nuggets at the operational goldmine.

Those who have travelled the south coast and districts of New South Wales reckon they have already found their treasure.

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GETTING THERE: Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Qantas and Emirates fly between Auckland and Sydney daily.