New South Wales: Small town with a whale of a tale

By Shandelle Battersby

Hunted no more, whales still bring in the dollars, writes Shandelle Battersby.

The skeleton of Tom, an orca who would help whalers round up their prey in return for his share of the feast, resides in the Eden Killer Whale Museum. Photo / Tourism NSW
The skeleton of Tom, an orca who would help whalers round up their prey in return for his share of the feast, resides in the Eden Killer Whale Museum. Photo / Tourism NSW

The charming New South Wales fishing port of Eden has always looked to the great whales for its wealth.

When it was founded in 1818 it was a whaling port - Australia's first - and whaling remained the major industry until the 1920s.

These days it's whale-associated tourism - with fishing - that brings in the dollars as tourists flock to see both reminders of whale hunting in days gone by and live whales frolicking offshore.

The whale connection is probably what gave the tiny settlement the edge in the battle to be chosen as a port of call for the huge cruise ships that ply the Australian coast.

The day we visit on Holland America's luxury cruise ship, Volendam, Eden is cold and wet, but it's easy to see why the area attracts holidaying families during the summer months. The white sand beaches of Twofold Bay are beautiful, the nearby Ben Boyd National Park is lush and unspoilt, and the quaint township has a sleepy, relaxed feel.

The Volendam must anchor at sea and we are ferried to shore on the ship's small boats, deck by deck, in an orderly fashion.

A bus takes visitors to the main tourist attractions, including the Mary MacKillop Hall and Museum. This is a restored building dating back to the 1860s which the recently canonised Australian nun visited after the death of her mother aboard the ship the Ly-ee-moon, which sank south of Eden at Disaster Bay in 1886. The bus also stops at the main surf spot, Aslings Beach, which is home to a maritime heritage walk, a historic log cabin used by the Girl Guides for many years, and the town's small shopping precinct.

As well as displays on the history and nautical heritage of the region, the nearby Eden Killer Whale Museum houses the skeleton of Old Tom, Eden's most famous orca who helped herd migrating humpbacks and southern right whales into Twofold Bay for the area's whalers to dispatch.

Twofold Bay, the third deepest natural harbour in the world, is the proud centrepiece of this tiny town.

The Cat Balou catamaran is one of several tour operators offering sightseeing cruises in the bay, and during a 90-minute trip we pass by many of the area's highlights including settler Ben Boyd's tower which was built as a lighthouse but mostly used as a look-out by whalers, and Edrom Lodge, the private residence of local entrepreneur and benefactor John Logan. Logan built the 28-room homestead, which was based on his home in Scotland, over three years in the early 1900s for £34,000. Today it can be rented as budget accommodation.

But it was the local wildlife we were all hoping to see, and the trip got off to a promising start with a cheerful farewell wave from Sammy the seal who was performing duck dives to the delight of tourists down by the jetty.

The day's highlight came about an hour into the cruise when tour guide Ros pointed out the huge, thumping tails of a small pod of whales about a kilometre away. Whale sightings, particularly of humpbacks, are most common during October and November during their migration south.

This was followed by another seal sighting as we made our way back to shore, this time of a small group relaxing on rocks close to the wharf.

Back in Snug Cove we piled excitedly off the Cat Balou, thrilled with the show the whales had put on for us - but Eden had one last treat in store as a pod of leaping dolphins accompanied our boat back to the Volendam.

It was a perfect farewell.

CHECKLIST

Further information: Volendam and Zaandam will be based in Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the South Pacific during the 2011-12 cruising season. For more information on Holland America's cruises see a travel professional or call Francis Travel Marketing on (09) 444 2298.

Eden is on the south coast of New South Wales, about a six-hour drive south of Sydney or seven hours east of Melbourne.

- NZ Herald

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