Nora is the seat and commercial center of the city of Shoalhaven, a small town nestled on the towering rocky banks of the Shoalhaven River.
Local farms, a Pacific Coast presence and a thriving wine region all provide this part of NSW with world-class food and drink.
Fenced by high cliffs, the river is an attraction in itself, offering scenic lookouts and peaceful cruises.
Explore the coast and its many habitats at the massive Jervis Bay Marine Park, or visit historic museums such as the Bundanon Homestead, where painter Arthur Boyd’s studio is located.
1. Shoalhaven Zoo
Located on the cliffs above the Shoalhaven River, this zoo houses the most diverse fauna on the South Coast.
This 6.5-acre zoo is a great opportunity to see and encounter native Australian animals such as koalas, echidnas, a variety of kangaroos and kangaroos, kookaburras, quokkas, emus, sea turtles, saltwater crocodiles and wild dog.
Shoalhaven Zoo is also known for its exotic inhabitants such as lions, meerkats and marmosets.
To take it a step further, you can book a range of special encounters at the Ultimate Aussie Experience, feeding lions, hand-feeding marmosets, cuddling meerkats and handling Australian animals such as koalas, dingoes and kangaroos.
2. Nora Treetop Adventures
An adventure-filled high ropes course hangs from the canopy of the Nora Park Zoo.
To navigate from tree to tree, you’ll have to pick your way through a variety of tricky aerial challenges, such as cargo nets, rope bridges, and swing bridges, while flying foxes zip through tree canopies at high speed.
Trees Adventure is suitable for everyone ages 4 and up, and the courses are designed in such a way that you can choose the difficulty level that works for you.
When you go, you’ll be able to see the zoo’s animal enclosures and scramble along the cliffs along the Shoalhaven River.
The 2.5-hour course includes preparation and a short tutorial.
3. Fleet Aviation Museum
HMAS Albatross is the main naval air station for Fleet Air Arm, the aviation branch of the Royal Australian Navy, just outside Nora.
The base’s museum has a fleet of 34 aircraft, collected since the mid-1970s.
Some of these options include World War I-era Sopwith Puppies, two McDonnell Douglas Skyhawks, two shipborne Fairey Gannets, de Havilland Sea Venom, de Havilland Sea Vampire, and MiGs 15. As a Naval Aviation Museum, the helicopter features are important, with five Westlands, two Sikorskys, three Bells, a Bristol 171 Sycamore and a Eurocopter AS350.
The planes are neatly arranged in hangars, marked with detailed information, and accompanied by a wealth of equipment, photos, documents and weapons dating back to the dawn of naval aviation.
Built in 1886 for local widow Jessie Catherine Thorburn and her four daughters, this weatherboard house is absolutely palatial by Nora’s standards.
Over the next century, the property will be passed down to four generations of women, all of whom have added character to the building.
Meroogal maintains the most complete collection of Victorian furniture and other household items in the NSW city area.
Balconies and balcony railings, arched sash windows, cast iron fireplaces, wallpaper, paneled doors and ceilings feature many late Victorian details.
Personal possessions and diaries tell you a lot about the women who lived in Meroogal, and the delightful gardens have been restored to their 1920s layout.
5. Bens Walk
Starting at the Nowra Showground, this well-lit but scenic walk will take you back on a 5.5km loop along the Shoalhaven River.
The route, a Depression-era working initiative of the 1930s, employed homeless people to camp in caves here and connected the fairgrounds to Shinora.
On the way, the Bens Walk will take you through riverside forests, gorges and idyllic meadows.
A real high point is overhanging rocks, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
There is an interesting suspension bridge over Nowra Creek that you can cross to the picnic area.
Originally constructed in 1886, the building was renovated a century later.
6. Hanging Rock Observation Deck
Closer to the fairgrounds, you’ll come across a massive rock wall with natural cracks that allow walkways to pass.
Enter this crack and on the other side you’ll be able to look around for miles around a bend in the Shoalhaven River.
The Hanging Rock Observation Deck is located on a stone platform surrounded by mature trees and is 46 meters above sea level.
The lookout faces west, so the view at sunset is particularly beautiful.
7. Shoalhaven Regional Gallery
If you want to learn about some culture, Nora is home to the entire Shoalhaven area arts hub.
Inside are four exhibition spaces, with the main gallery hosting national and regional collections, invited or curated exhibitions, or exhibitions that introduce you to the wealth of talent in Nowra and nearby towns.
The Foyer, East and Access galleries are wider and there is always something worth checking out.
Keep in touch with the Shoalhaven Regional Gallery’s schedule for workshops, tours, talks and events to inspire young artists.
8. Jervis Bay Marine Park
More than 100 kilometers of coastline southeast of Nora is protected as a national park.
Much of it consists of the huge Jervis Bay, partly because of its narrow entrance, but also because of its unique currents, which have sparkling transparent waters.
The park has a variety of habitats, from beaches to coral reefs, rock platforms, estuaries, mangroves, open ocean, seagrass meadows, kelp forests, and more.
This allows a richness of nature to flourish, including more than 210 species of fish, a variety of marine mammals, and a variety of birds and reptiles.
As for things to do, you can find deserted beaches, dolphin and whale watching, diving, fishing, boating, and more.
9. Shoalhaven River Cruise
Based in Nowra Public Wharf, this company offers regular travel options along Shoalhaven throughout the year.
As you raft down the wide river on the Shoalhaven Explorer, you can see stunning examples of unspoiled jungle, spectacular sandstone outcrops, rural industry, farmland, massifs and wildlife.
The Shoalhaven Explorer seats 58 passengers and includes a trip to Greenwell Point including freshly baked fish and chips, morning tea cruise, twilight cruise and a 2.5-hour upstream cruise to Red Rocks.
10. Nowra Fresh Fish and Meat Market
The South Coast has great produce, especially seafood.
If you want to grill and want to stock up, this family-run business is a great place to start.
The market is full of prawns, lobster, squid, octopus, scallops, salmon, snapper, tuna, snapper…the list goes on.
The oyster bar is staffed with professional shuckers, and the ultra-fresh sushi and sashimi might catch your eye.
For meat, you’ll find a variety of beef, lamb and chicken, as well as crocodiles, emu, rabbits and goats.
11. Shoalhaven Coast Wine Region
Nora is located in the wine region that stretches along the NSW south coast and flows into its hinterland.
Viticulture in this part of Australia has not been around for long, but the region is beloved by wine lovers for its year-round pleasant weather, stunning ocean views and plentiful dining options, as well as seafood straight from the Pacific Ocean.
The ocean helps keep the heat from getting too high, allowing grapes like Chardonnay, Chambord, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz to thrive.
Chardonnays from the Shoalhaven coast have a hint of peach and tend to be very drinkable, pairing perfectly with the region’s seafood.
Some of Nowra’s winery moments include Two Figs, Cupitt’s Estate and Mountain Ridge Wines.
12. Banda Farmhouse
In 1993, the famous landscape painter Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) and his artist wife Yvonne gifted this vast land on the Shoalhaven River to the Australian people.
This is in line with Boyd’s belief that he “can’t have a view”, and he hopes the public will draw the same inspiration from the place as he does.
You can visit Boyd’s studio and homestead, which dates back to 1860 and is on the National Heritage Register.
Shown here are works from the Bundanon collection, while the upstairs gallery has regularly updated private exhibitions.
The property also has an education center and an artist-in-residence complex with four art studios, a writer’s cottage, dance studio, musician’s cottage and silversmith’s studio.
Visiting the homestead, you can walk into the bushes and river, and linger on a picnic.
13. Crookhaven Point Lighthouse
From Nowra, you can drive all the way to the Crookhaven Estuary, which is part of the Shoalhaven Estuary.
At the top of Crookhaven Heads is a lighthouse built in 1904 to replace a timber-framed building from the 1880s.
As of 2020, the building and its caretaker’s cottage are in poor condition, although there are rumors of restoration in the next few years.
But if you don’t mind the steps, the main reason to visit is to take in the fantastic views from a pair of lookouts at Crookhaven Heads, across coral reefs and rocky outcrops into the Pacific Ocean.
14. Shoalhaven Recreation Center
The region’s main performing arts destination is also located in Nora.
Opened in 2008 with a bright glass façade, it remains an architectural statement more than a decade later.
In the auditorium and studio theatres, there is a string of busy performances in classical music, drama, dance, live performances, musicals and comedy, as well as a plethora of children’s activities from performances to drama classes.
The centre is a flexible venue that can also host a variety of events, sporting events, dinners, conferences, etc., without you having to go here to perform in the café and two bars with daily specials and a wide selection the spirit of.
15. Nowra Farmers Market
Nowra’s Farmers Market is not an event, but a permanent store that relies on an entire network of local producers and buyers to ensure impeccable freshness.
Depending on the season, fruits and vegetables like lemons and spinach will hit shelves within hours of harvest.
This ultra-fresh produce is accompanied by top-notch specialty and deli products from Australia and around the world.
These include a wide variety of cheeses, cured meats, olives and meat sauces, as well as rice, tea, couscous, spices, bottled preserves and exotic sauces.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Nora, Australia
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