The third-largest city in New South Wales boasts a proud industrial heritage and a world-class university, but did you know that Wollongong is also the perfect base for a short break? Here are seven ideas for making the most of the beautiful coastline and countryside within easy reach of ‘The Gong’.
1. Walk on water at Sea Cliff Bridge
The Sea Cliff Bridge is part of the Grand Pacific Drive, which runs along the NSW south coast from the Royal National Park to Jervis Bay. A photographer’s dream, the modern 665-metre bridge overhanging the Pacific Ocean is fun to drive but even better to walk. From Wollongong it takes half an hour by car to reach the southern end of the bridge, or you can catch a bus (Premier Illawarra #2) from the city centre to Coalcliff for pedestrian access to bridge’s northern end.
Once on the ocean-side elevated walkway, you and your camera will be treated to wonderful views out to sea, back towards the cliffs and hills, down into the clear waters, and over the sinuous curves of the bridge itself. Admire the scenery further with a cold beer in the garden of the nearby Scarborough Hotel, or stop at the pretty village of Austinmer for coffee and a swim on the way back to Wollongong.
2. Pedal to Thirroul
At just over 17km long, the Wollongong to Thirroul Bike Track makes a fantastic outing in the fresh air for riders of all ages. In terms of scenic beauty, this track has it all: ocean, beaches, lagoons, rockpools, creeks, woodland, and views of islands and lighthouses. There are also plenty of cafés, kiosks, water refill stations and picnic spots along the way.
The paved track is mostly flat with only a couple of gentle gradients, and there’s usually a sea breeze to cool you off if you raise a sweat. A super-easy ride for experienced cyclists, the route is manageable even for those who just bike occasionally. Watch out for pedestrians, as the track is also a hiking path.
3. Hit the heights of the Illawarra Escarpment
The Illawarra Escarpment is a unique geographical feature that forms an imposing backdrop to the city of Wollongong. Averaging 500 metres high, the escarpment’s ancient sandstone walls stretch all the way from Bald Hill in the north to Macquarie Pass National Park in the south, providing the area with scenic drama and heaps of recreational opportunities.
Home to the largest patch of rainforest in the Sydney basin, the escarpment abounds in leafy bushwalking trails, many of which – like the Forest Walk to Sublime Point Track – include spectacular lookouts and idyllic picnic spots. This is also prime hang-gliding territory. The escarpment provides a perfect launching pad for some of the most beautiful flights imaginable.
4. Step back in time at Shellharbour Village
Drive due south from Wollongong (across the Windang Bridge) and within half an hour you’ll reach Shellharbour Village. Not to be confused with the modern city of Shellharbour, which sits about 5km inland, this quaint village hugs the coast. With its heritage buildings and neat little harbour, it’s a throwback to the seaside towns of yesteryear – except that the coffee and dining options are much, much better!
There’s also plenty of boutique shopping along the main thoroughfare – Addison Street. From here, it’s a ten-minute drive or forty-minute walk south to beautiful Bass Point, where bushwalking tracks offer spectacular ocean views and interpretive signboards reveal the area’s rich indigenous history. At the easternmost edge of the park, the crystalline waters of Bushrangers Bay Aquatic Reserve and its unique undersea cliffs teem with marine life.
5. Go on a surfing safari
Wollongong and the surrounding coastline are blessed with an abundance of fabulous surfing beaches. For those new to the sport, Australian Surf Tours offers individual and group lessons at lifeguard-patrolled City Beach in downtown Wollongong. Independent mid-range surfers will find consistent waves to the north of the city at Bulli Beach, or down the coast at Bombo Beach (just outside the historic seaside town of Kiama).
Experienced surfers can choose from a plethora of well-regarded reefs, points and breaks. Outstanding options (both unpatrolled) include The Farm – located within the highly scenic Killalea State Park, and for the extremely skilled! – fast and furious Boneyards at Cathedral Rocks.
6. Splash out at Jamberoo
More thrills are to be had at the south coast’s much-loved water park, Jamberoo. There are all manner of rides and slides with lots of surprises. The only certainty is that you will get wet! This is a great place for families, with options to suit both small children and teenagers. As the Jamberoo motto says: this is ‘where you control the action’. Bring your own picnic lunch to keep costs down and arrive early if you want to nab a day locker for your gear.
7. Soothe your Soul at Nan Tien Temple
For something completely different, take time out from your Wollongong schedule to visit the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. Located just 10 minutes’ drive from the city centre, the Nan Tien Temple stands out as a splash of colour within its light industrial setting. The temple is also an oasis of peace that lets you step away from the modern world and succumb to the calming influences of Chinese Buddhism.
Take a guided tour to see the spectacular pagoda, shrines and lotus pond, or book a one-day retreat for a fuller immersion in the spiritual ambience. The café-style Dew Drop Inn Tea House serves fine teas and delicious vegetarian meals, and the grounds are perfect for a tranquil wander. As at all Buddhist temples, modest dress and quiet behaviour are expected.
Accommodation in Wollongong
Are you looking for a place to stay in the beautiful coastline city of Wollongong? Situated in Towradgi Beach, Comfort Inn Towradgi Beach is close to several attractions and activities in this area. An excellent option is Quality Suites Pioneer Sands – the perfect place to stay if you’re in the mood to explore Wollongong and Illawarra regions.
About the writer
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph (Escape) and The Australian (Travel & Indulgence). In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed her to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.