I never feel like I've really started my annual pilgrimage to the coast until the yowie mobile crosses the Nelligen Bridge. It's only then that I finally stop worrying about whether or not I locked all the windows or whether I programmed the irrigation system to water Mrs Yowie's prized zucchini patch.
As you cross the bridge, you can smell the salt in the air; see the mangrove roots poking out of the tidal flats and watch kids somersault off the nearby wharf into the water. It's like entering another world - a carefree world of long summer days lazing on the beach.
With so many creeks, rivers, lakes, lagoons and swamps, you can't travel far on our south coast without having to cross a bridge. While some of the bridges at town centres like Batemans Bay and Moruya are landmarks in their own right, my favourite bridges - the old, rickety and often one-lane wooden variety - are often found off the beaten track.
The South Coast is one of the last bastions of these old rattlers, for elsewhere in Australia they have mostly been replaced by modern concrete structures. Canberra author Klaus Hueneke shares my love of these creaky crossings in A String of Pearls (Tabletop Press), his photographic expose on the South Coast.
"They are the gateways to slow holidays, slow food, slow art galleries and slow sex," Hueneke writes. Now, while I can't vouch for his last point (this is a family newspaper after all), I do agree with Hueneke that "they may not be great for drivers in a hurry but they have a charm, history and design now missing from many places".
Oh and then of course there is the auditory aspect, "they rattle when you go over them!" exclaims Hueneke, who also waxes lyrically about "the stark horizons they create - sand below and sky above - a photographer's dream".
It seems that the further south along the coast you venture, the more of these old wooden bridges have survived. The old wooden bridge certainly evokes another era - one with a slower pace of life. So today, as many of you embark on or continue your holiday road trips along our eastern seaboard, I share with you my top five wooden bridges of the south coast.
1. Runnyford Road Bridge
Spanning the little-known Buckenbowra River (which flows into the Clyde), this wooden bridge really does rattle and shake like an old steam train. Hueneke says, "It has supports for two lanes but only one lane was ever decked in sleepers." It is about 12 kilometres south of Nelligen on the Runnyford Road towards Mogo.
2. Towamba Bridge
This bridge has two interesting design features. First, it is very low without handrails so that floodwaters can flow easily over the top without washing any of the bridge away, and secondly it has peculiar little side platforms where pedestrians or bike riders can seek refuge from cars and trucks. It spans the pretty Towamba River and is 31 kilometres from Eden along the Towamba Rd.
3. Wallaga Lake Bridge
Built in the early 1890s at the request of Tilba cheese producers to help transport their product to the Bermagui steamer wharf for easier access to the Sydney market, this bridge, which spans Wallaga Lake, has a distinctive Loch Ness monster-type hump in its middle.
Some locals say that its unusual design is to allow small boats to sail beneath it, but long-term Bermagui resident Errol Masterton says he was always told "the hump was an engineering feature to help distribute strength across the entire length of the bridge". Masterton, who has seen "many a flood leave just the hump poking above the water level", also claims "it is the oldest wooden bridge on a major thoroughfare in NSW". The humped bridge is 12 kilometres north of Bermagui on the Wallaga Lake Road, however a word of caution if you are approaching it from the north - beware of the sweeping bend. Masterton recalls at least three trucks and 17 or 18 cars missing the corner and his dad having to winch them out of the water in the 1950s and '60s. Thankfully, it is better signposted these days.
4. Cuttagee Bridge
Straddling Cuttagee Lake this is one of the Sapphire Coast's iconic timber bridges. The nearby beach with its shallow waters is a popular spot for young children and it is great for canoeing and fishing. This bridge is seven kilometres south of Bermagui on the Tathra-Bermagui Road.
5. Tyrone Bridge
You've got to hunt around a bit to find this one. The rustic appearance of this old rattler is more than appropriate for nearby Nerrigundah which is one of the last signs of civilisation before entering the wilds of Deua National Park. It's about nine kilometres south-west of Bodalla on Nerrigundah Mountain Road, via Eurobodalla Road.
Wooden bridges: Have I missed any? Have you got a favourite south coast bridge or a story from a bygone era when the only way across most of our coastal waterways was by a punt? If so, I'd love to hear from you.
Klaus Hueneke's A String of Pearls (Tabletop Press), which promotes the beauty and fragility of our south coast, is available here.
This story was first published in 2013.