The South coast’s stunning environmental landscapes sweep from leafy forests to tumultuous surf breaks, as the steep slopes of the escarpment intersect with sandy stretches. City-side natives too often forget this indisputable beauty, with the rising greenery just west of the urban sprawl a near mystery to some. Though, there are many who regularly partake in eco-activities come the Saturday sun, scurrying along rocky track in chase of waterfall or descending sun scorched steps to Alize-blue bays.
Some such folk are Led By Locals, a fresh-faced boutique tourism cooperation on the South Coast formed by some school time chums and nature nerds whom have been environmentally entrenched since childhood. Isaac Jansens, Adam Skorulis and Ben Beverley make a team that hopes to broaden the experiences of new to the area students and Sydney weekenders. Launching over the weekend, Horse trotted along with the amigos three to a variety of vista locations along our unfolding escarpment. Present and capturing the Kodaks was good vibe reverberator, photographer and friend Michael Evans. A killer day was had by all as we were led in merry gang from waterfall watch to escarpment indulgences and bay side burgering, before we sat down and spoke about what wide-eyed dreams and motivations are charging their entrepreneurial endeavouring.
What is Led By Locals?
I: Led by Locals is a brand new, small eco-tourism business running day-trips to showcase the natural wonders of the Illawarra and South Coast. Its aim is to provide a unique ‘locals’ insight to the wide range of landscapes on offer in our area, to a wide range of people. Whether you are new to the Illawarra, visiting for a short stay, or a long term local that hasn’t had the opportunity to explore. A ‘Led By Locals’ day trip will show areas of natural beauty and local significance encompassing both landmark attractions as well as those on the road less travelled. Our trips include an Aussie BBQ lunch, morning and afternoon tea.
Who is involved? How do you know each other?
I: Ben Beverley, Isaac Jansens and Adam Skorulis. Adam and I have been high school chums, and we both met Ben through working at Jamberoo Action Park about 5-6 years ago. All of us grew up around the Kiama area.
What made you launch Led By Locals?
A: A combination of factors. I love living in the Illawarra, and as Isaac has mentioned, the thrill of sharing the places that make your home special to you is unreal. There are also currently no other companies in the area providing the service we aim to deliver, and with a push from local government to brand the Illawarra region as an adventure tourism destination we see Led By Locals as a great opportunity.
I: It’s the sort of thing that I do anyway for friends who come to visit from overseas, and I get a real buzz from showing-off the place that I call home – especially the secret spots that no-one else knows about!
Where did this idea come from?
I: All three of us were sitting out in the surf at The Farm one morning. Ben had just returned from a little trip to Europe and was inspired by a rugged man he met who ran his own paragliding business in the French Alps – doing what he loved, on his own terms, surrounded by natural beauty. Talk of local business ventures flowed freely that morning and from there the idea was born.
What do you hope to see come from Led By Locals?
A: For Led By Locals to be recognised as providing an engaging and exciting experience for each and every person that comes on a trip. To have a diverse customer base ranging from day tourists and international visitors, to university students, to specialised school groups, and even long-term locals looking to connect with the natural beauty of our region. We’d love for the business to grow to the extent where we can provide trips 7 days a week and expand our itinerary of adventure activities.
I: I would love for it to become a recognised brand of small, locally based ecotourism – that uses local knowledge and local people to give guests to the region an understanding of the area as a whole and not simply to tick off the main attractions. Down the track I would love to see us grow and get our own bus, soft top surfboards, mountain bikes and rock climbing equipment to take people on a much wider range of adventures that will allow them to experience the region in a much different light.
On Sunday we saw some pretty incredible vistas. Where is the best vista you have ever seen?
A: The view from the top of Gerringong Falls, on the Budderoo Plateau in the Illawarra Region, on a rainy windswept day was one of the best and worst views I have experienced. We were soaking wet by the time we rode the 12km to the top of the falls and were met with a valley so clogged with cloud and rain that we could hardly see 10m down the falls. Just as we were about to leave and trudge home, the clouds cleared and the whole of the rich green gorge with its steep rocky sides was exposed below us. We probably only had about thirty seconds of view before the next cloud bank rolled in, but that little glimpse on that rainy miserable day was pretty spectacular.
I: Ever? The Grand Canyon, Arizona. Totally scorched into my visual memory, so impressive that it seemed 2D. Locally, Morton National Park on one of the many large conglomerate peaks in the region. Looking out over the Dry Sclerophyll Forests as the sun is setting, I can easily imagine dinosaurs calling out through the valley, a big brachiosaur’s head poking up through the canopy. Absolutely love it!
B: So many to choose from! Looking down from the top of the Alhambra in Granada, driving through Yosemite Valley & Paragliding off Mont-Blanc at Chamonix are definite highlights but nothing beats the view at home from Minnamurra headland.
You’re all local boys, having grown up in and around the Kiama area. Are the locations you take people to places you grew up with? How do you know so much about the outdoors? Is this something you have been exposed to from a young age?
A: I would say it was a combination between places I grew up with and places that I have learned about and discovered with friends at a later age. I am fortunate enough to have parents with passionate interest in the outdoors, and from a young age was exposed to places such as Barren Grounds and the Minnamurra Rainforest, as well as many of the beaches and rocky swimming holes along the coast. More recently, independence gained with age (getting drivers license) has allowed more adventurous trips and discoveries, as well as a greater appreciation of the scale of scenically beautiful destinations in our region.
Growing up in Jamberoo (a small community nestled in the foothills of the escarpment in the southern Illawarra), there was quite a lot of outdoor education done at the primary school I went to. As well as exposure from family friends who worked as park rangers or were involved in the indigenous history of our area.
Being involved in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award through my high school years helped develop practical skills such as those necessary for overnight hiking and encouraged further outdoor learning and independent adventuring.
On top of this, we have all done degrees in biological and earth sciences at the University of Wollongong. With the skills and knowledge gained in the completion of these degrees complimentary to that gained from personally exploring our great outdoors.
I: When my parents moved out to Australia from England they fell in love with the Australian bush and wanted to explore every nook and cranny of it from the Kimberley to the South West Coast of Tassie. I can remember always kicking up a big stink whenever they’d say, ‘Come on, we’re going up to Barren Grounds today.’ I’d always be so sulky and grumpy for the whole car ride, kicking rocks, scuffing my shoes along the walk. By the time we got back to the car, I didn’t want to leave! I’d found a stick that I had to look after otherwise it would die, I’d fallen in love with a feather, or my clothes were so dirty I couldn’t possibly get into the car…
Yes, so many childhood memories of the area. As I became more and more independent I began to explore myself – searching out the little goat tracks that led down the cliffs from on top of the escarpment and into Kangaroo Valley. I still am.
B: As far as I can remember I’ve loved the outdoors. I grew up as a child on the Shoalhaven River in Nowra & spent a lot of time at the Beach, bushwalking & camping along the South Coast. I spent my teen years in Kiama, a keen Surfer & diver & after school I began studying at the University of Wollongong, focusing on Earth & Biological Sciences.
Why do you love Wollongong and the south coast?
A: We live in the best place in the world! Wollongong is a world-class city nestled between the picturesque escarpment and a gorgeous coastline. With a fantastic variety of outdoor activities and some breathtaking hidden gems it’s hard to find something not to love!
I: Every time I come home from being away, I am ALWAYS amazed at the natural beauty of the area. It’s got everything… The ocean and the “mountains” all squished together in a narrow strip of coast. And there’s so much bushland around that it doesn’t take much to lose yourself and get lost in the sounds and textures of the bush or paddle your worries away or find a wicked, cowabunga rock hole to jump in. It just doesn’t take much to feel like you’re a million miles away.
B: Come on our trip & you’ll see!
What are your favourite spots? Are there any you want to keep to yourself?
A: The waterfalls on top of the Illawarra Escarpment (the main mountainous feature seen to the west of the coast) would be some of my favourite spots; they are beautiful and seem to just fall away in to these awesome rainforested gorges. The secret paths to the pools at the bottom are a serious locals secret… The beaches up and down the coast as well! There is always an option for a protected swim out of the wind and great options for surfing and snorkelling with sandy beaches divided by rocky headlands.
I: The Carrington Falls area is a special spot for me, mostly because I’ve spent a lot of time there exploring up and down the valley along Kangaroo River Kangaroo and jumping into frigid swimming holes with my closest amigos. There are other spots too, but I’ll have to show you….
B: My favourite spots are around the Jervis Bay area. Hopefully to be included in future trips.