Page 1 of 5: Wollongong
If it's off-road rugged beauty you're after, point the compass squarely in this direction.
The spectacular and nonchalant South Coast, stretching 400km by road to the Victorian border, remains a parallel universe to its rowdy northern counterpart. Sure there are holiday-hectic beaches, like Wollongong, Kiama and Ulladulla, but they're tempered by the quiet, easy allure of fishing towns like Eden and Batemans Bay and the sharp tang of history wafting from settlements like Berry. By detouring, often only slightly, off the main roads into the staggeringly beautiful national parks, it's possible to find secluded beaches, remote mountain tops and rugged bushland where isolation reigns supreme.
Wineries have spread their green leaves over the countryside and sea-changing city chefs have transported their culinary expertise here. Ecotourism is definitely in, and there are myriad swimming, surfing, whale-watching and diving opportunities.
Wollongong, 80km south of Sydney, has the best of both worlds. The population (it's NSW's third-largest city) is big enough to support a host of restaurants and bars, arts, culture and entertainment, while its coastal position ensures a laid-back beach-side lifestyle lacking in larger cities.
The 'Gong' is thankfully shedding its reputation as being home to Australia's biggest steel industry, and the stunning natural beauty of the area now attracts attention. There are 17 patrolled beaches all unique and a spectacular sandstone escarpment that runs from Royal National Park south past Wollongong and Port Kembla. The recently opened Grand Pacific Dr makes the most of the landscape and the whole combination makes for a host of outdoor activities: excellent surf, safe beaches, bushwalks and sky-high adventures to name a few.
Orientation & information
Crown St is the main street. Between Kembla and Keira Sts is a two-block pedestrian mall. Keira St is part of the Princes Hwy. Through-traffic bypasses the city on the Southern Fwy.
Visitor Information Centre
Southern Gateway Centre
Princes Highway, Bulli Tops NSW Australia
T. +61 2 4267 5910
F. +61 2 4267 5912
Freecall 1800 240 737
Wollongong's fishing fleet is based at the southern end of the harbour, Belmore Basin
. There's a fishing cooperative here (with a fish market and a couple of cafés) and an 1872 lighthouse on the point. Nearby, on the headland, is the newer Breakwater Lighthouse
North Beach and Wollongong City Beach have breaks suitable for all visitors and are walking distance from the city centre. Look for the Acids Reef break on North Beach for more of a challenge. Up the coast, the options are varied and less crowded, with fun beach breaks at Coledale and Bulli beaches, and reef breaks at Sharkies (also at Coledale) and Headlands. The risk of meeting a finned friend at Sharkies is minimal, but surfers have occasionally encountered humpback whales surfacing close to shore.
Check out www.wannasurf.com for a full rundown on local waves and www.swellnet.com for a five-day forecast.
Quizzical kids can indulge their senses at the Science Centre & Planetarium (4283 6665; www.sciencecentre.uow.edu.au; Squires Way, Fairy Meadow; adult/child $10/7; 10am-4pm), or meet and greet a Tassie Tiger at Symbio Wildlife Gardens (02-4294 1244; www.symbiozoo.com.au; 7-11 Lawrence Hargrave Dr, Stanwell Tops; adult/child $18/9; 9.30am-5pm), north of town. Futureworld (4426 9147; www.futureworld.org.au; Mill St, Coniston; 10am-4pm) has a fantastic interactive eco-technology exhibition.
Along the highway, Nan Tien Buddhist Temple (4272 0600; www.nantien.org.au; Berkeley Rd, Berkeley; 9am-5pm Tue-Sun) has weekend retreats, vegetarian cooking classes, meditation and Tai Chi.
Southwest of Wollongong, the Illawarra Escarpment is a state recreation area. There's no vehicle access, but the spot is good for bushwalking. The Wollongong NPWS office can provide information on bush camping.
Just south of Wollongong, Lake Illawarra is very popular for water sports including windsurfing. Further south is Shellharbour, a popular holiday resort, now overrun with tacky housing.
Taupu Surf School
(4268 0088; Mon-Sat) runs courses at Thirroul and North Wollongong starting at $125 for three lessons.
A bird's-eye view of the coastline is perhaps the best. Sydney Hang Gliding Centre (4294 4294; www.hanggliding.com.au; 8am-8pm) has tandem flights ($165) from breathtaking Bald Hill at Stanwell Park. If the adrenalin still hasn't kicked in, you can skydive from 14,000ft and land in the sand with Skydive the Beach (4225 8444; www.skydivethebeach.com; Stuart Park; tandem jumps from $275).
Cockatoo Run (1300 653 801; www.3801limited.com.au; adult/child/family $40/30/110; Wed & Sun) A heritage train that travels inland across the Southern Highlands.
Just Cruisin' (4294 2598; www.justcruisintours.com.au; tours per person from $30) Solo and sidecar Harley tours.
Detour: Grand Pacific Drive
Is the big smoke doing your head in? If so, ditch the traffic just out of Sydney for a cliff-hugging coastal drive to Wollongong. At Loftus, take a left off the Princess Hwy into Farnell Ave towards the Royal National Park
(the world's second oldest), where you can visit tranquil beaches at Wattamolla
, picnic at Bundeena
or stretch the legs on one of the many walking tracks.
Continue on to Otford and Bald Hill for eye-catching coastal views, then follow Lawrence Hargrave Dr to the spectacular new Sea Cliff Bridge, a ribbon of road that swings out from the cliff over the water. It has a pedestrian footpath perfect for dolphin and whale watching.
Further on, the small seaside towns dotted along the coast from Coalcliff to Bulli have superb beaches for swimming, surfing and soaking up the atmosphere. Pop into the pub at Scarborough, surely one of the best in Australia, with beer, BBQs and brilliant views or, for something a little more sobering, a gelato at the Fireworks Café on the beach road at Austinmer.
Coledale, Bulli and Corrimal have camping sites slap bang on the beach, or you can continue on to Wollongong for the night. From here you can rejoin the Princes Hwy.
Getting there & away
All long-distance buses leave from the bus station
(4226 1022; cnr Keira & Campbell Sts). Premier Motor Service
(13 34 10) operates daily buses to/from Sydney ($15) and Eden ($66). Murrays
(13 22 51) travels to Canberra ($31). CountryLink
runs buses to Moss Vale from outside the train station, and CityRail
runs frequently to Sydney's Central Station ($9) and south to Kiama ($6), Gerringong ($7) and Bomaderry/Nowra ($9).
Wollongong Illawarra Regional Airport has QantasLink (13 17 13) flights to Sydney and Melbourne.
Two local bus companies, Pioneer Motor Services
(13 34 10) and Dions
(4228 9855), service the local area. The main stops are on Marine Dr, and the corner of Crown and Keira Sts. Bringing a bike on the train from Sydney is a great way to get around; a cycle path runs from the city centre north to Bulli and south to Port Kembla.
Wollongong to Nowra
This region has some great beaches, state forests, and, in the ranges to the west, the big Morton National Park
. It's a popular family-holiday area, but it isn't yet as crowded as parts of the north coast and much of the tourism is confined to weekenders from Sydney. Lake Illawarra
is popular for water sports.
Further south is Shellharbour, a popular holiday resort and one of the oldest towns along the coast (its name comes from the number of shell middens, remnants of Aboriginal feasts, that the early Europeans found here). There are beaches on the Windang Peninsula north of the town and scuba diving off Bass Point to the south.
Kiama & around
Kiama is a pretty town at the epicentre of some good beaches and quaint villages both rural and seaside. The Kiama Area visitor centre
(4232 3322, 1300 654 262; www.southcoast.com.au/kiama
; 9am-5pm) is on Blowhole Point, so called because of a blowhole
that can spurt water up to 60m. In 1889 local freak Charles Jackson drew huge crowds for his shtick of traversing the mouth of the blowhole on a tightrope.
There's a good lookout from the top of Saddleback Mountain, and waves at Surf and Bombo Beaches, and at Werri Beach, 10km south in Gerringong.
Minnamurra Rainforest Centre and an NPWS visitor centre (4236 0469) are in beautiful Budderoo National Park (4236 0469; car/motorcycle $10/4), about 14km inland from Kiama. On the way to Minnamurra you'll pass through the old village of Jamberoo, which has a nice pub. South along the coast, Gerringong and Gerroa have their fair share of picture-postcard scenery.
If you're driving, take the beach detour via Gerringong and Gerroa and rejoin the highway just north of Nowra.
Berry & around
Inland and about 20km north of Nowra, this comely town is worthy of a stopover for its plethora of great eating venues, two pubs fit for shouting a round or two, and smattering of National Trust-classified buildings.
Pottering Around (4464 2177; 97-99 Queen St), opposite the Great Southern Hotel, has some tourist information, or try www.berry.net.au.
There are scenic roads from Berry to pretty Kangaroo Valley. Mild to Wild (4464 2211; www.m2w.com.au; 84 Queen St) organises adventure tours such as half-day self-guided mountain-bike rides ($40) and kayaking trips ($20) in the area.
There are several nearby wineries, including The Silos (4448 6082; B640 Princes Hwy, Jaspers Brush; 10am-5pm Mon-Sun), where the original cow barn now houses the cellar door, and Bundewallah Estate (4464 3600; 204A Bundewallah Rd; 10am-5pm Wed-Sun). Hotel Berry (4464 1011; 120 Queen St; 11am Sat) runs a short, sweet and cheap wine tour ($15). The Shoalhaven Jazz & Blues Festival is held mid-October at Cambewarra Estate Winery (4446 0170; www.shoalhavenjazz.com.au; Illaroo Rd, Cambewarra; from $35), northwest of Nowra.
As you head south from Fitzroy Falls the world disappears over the edge of a steep escarpment and the road descends alarmingly to deposit you in the unbelievably picturesque Kangaroo Valley. Pegged in by a fortress of rainforest-steeped cliffs, the valley floor is carpeted by cow-dotted pasturelands, river gums and gurgling creeks. In perfect harmony with its surrounds, the slow country town of Kangaroo Valley itself, with its old pub, bakery and general store, feels lost somewhere between 1920 and 1980.
The formal entry to the valley is the castellated sandstone-and-iron Hamden Bridge (1898), a few kilometres north of the town. Next to the bridge is the walkabout Pioneer Museum Park (4465 1306; firstname.lastname@example.org; Hampden Bridge, Moss Vale Rd; adult/child/family $4/3/10; 10am-4pm Fri-Mon Oct-Easter, 11am-3pm Fri-Mon Easter-Sep), which provides a visual encounter with rural life in the late 19th century. A collection of historical buildings includes an 1860s homestead, a blacksmith's forge and a reconstructed dairy.
If you want to get a little more personal with the landscape, go canoeing, mountain biking and bushwalking in and around the Shoalhaven and Kangaroo Rivers. Kangaroo Valley Escapes (0404-807 991; www.kangaroovalleyescapes.com.au; Moss Vale Rd; tours half day $30-80, overnight $65-75) offers environmentally conscious guided tours that you design yourself, combining various rigorous activities. It also hires out canoes (half-/full day $25/50) and mountain bikes ($30/50).
Kangaroo Valley Safaris (4465 1502; www.kangaroovalleycanoes.com.au; 2210 Moss Vale Rd; full day $35-60) rents out one- to three-person canoes and provides transport to/from specified points on the Shoalhaven River. It also runs overnight canoe camping trips (two-/three-day trips $75/105 per person).
Kennedy's Bus Service (4421 7596, 0403-040 029; 7 Flinders Rd, Nowra) has one bus a day from Moss Vale to Kangaroo Valley (adult $6, 45 minutes), continuing to Nowra.
Nowra sits about 17km from the coast and is the largest town in the Shoalhaven area. Although it's not top of the pops in terms of beach holidays, it is a handy base for excursions to beaches and villages around the region.
The Shoalhaven visitor centre (1300 662 808; www.shoalhavenholidays.com.au; Princes Hwy) is just south of the bridge and has internet access for $5 per half-hour. There's also an NPWS office (4423 2170; 55 Graham St).
South of Nowra, Jervis Bay is a pleasing stretch of coastline with white sandy beaches, bush and forest. Huskisson
(population 1600), one of the oldest towns on the bay, has a handful of excellent eating venues, plenty of adventure-based activity and delightful surrounds that make it a great place to spend a night or two.
The Lady Denman Heritage Complex (02-4441 5675; Dent St; www.ladydenman.asn.au; adult/child $8/4; 10am-4pm) has interesting history on Jervis Bay and a maritime museum. On the first Saturday of each month it hosts a growers market.
June to November is prime whale time in Jervis Bay, and Dolphin Watch Cruises (1800 246 010; 50 Owen St) has the best reputation for whale (three hours $43/28 adult/child) and dolphin-watching trips (two hours $20/15 adult/child). Jervis Bay is also popular with divers, and Deep 6 Diving (1300 139 850; www.deep6divingjervisbay.com.au; 64 Owen St) charges $90 for two boat dives plus equipment hire.
Remarkable Booderee National Park (its name means 'plenty of fish'), occupies Jervis Bay's southeastern spit, a stunning area combining heathland, small rainforest pockets, sparkling water, white sandy beaches and a Botanic Garden. In 1995 the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community won a land claim and now jointly administers the vast park.
Off Jervis Bay Rd, Scottish Rocks and Murrays Beach are exceptionally beautiful secluded spots.
The Booderee visitor centre (02-4443 0977; Jervis Bay Rd; www.booderee.np.gov.au), at the park entrance, has walking-trail maps and camping information.
South of Huskisson, Hyams Beach is spectacularly white and secluded.
Around Jervis Bay
has excellent beaches and is close to Pigeon House Mountain (which has fantastic walks), but the town itself doesn't have much to offer. There is, however, good swimming and surfing nearby try Mollymook beach
, just north of town.
One Track for All is a 2km figure-eight culture track (pram and wheelchair accessible) with a series of relief carvings and paintings that tell the history of the Shoalhaven area. On the way you'll pass four magnificent lookouts.
The welcoming Ulladulla Guest House (02-4455 1796; www.guesthouse.com.au; 39 Burrill St; from $99) has local and international art lining the walls, a fantastic French restaurant and lovely hosts. At the other end of the budget is Ulladulla Tourist Park (02-4455 2457; South St; sites/cabins from $20/45), a few blocks from the town centre.
Premier Motor Service (13 34 10) runs to Eden ($42) and Sydney ($31) twice a day. Priors Scenic Express (1800 816 234) heads to local towns, including Milton and Burrill Lake.
Batemans Bay is a fishing port that has become one of the South Coast's largest holiday centres, with good beaches and a luscious estuary. The town itself is lacklustre, though, and utterly overrun with holidaying Canberrans during school holidays.
The Batemans Bay visitor centre (1800 802 528; Princes Hwy; 9am-5pm) has local art for sale and an internet kiosk. Total Computer Care (4472 2745; 10 Citi Centre Arcade, Orient St) has internet access for $3/5 per half-/full hour.
On the north side of the Clyde River estuary, just across the bridge, there are a couple of boat-hire places. Red Boat Hire (4472 5649; Wray St; 7am-7pm) hires out runabouts from $50 for two hours.
Several boats offer cruises up the estuary from the ferry wharf just east of the bridge, including Merinda Cruises (44724052; 3hr cruise).
Corrigans Beach is the closest patch of sand to the town centre. South of here is a series of small beaches nibbled into the rocky shore. Surfers flock to Surf Beach, Malua Bay and Broulee, which has a small wave when everywhere else is flat. For the experienced, the best surfing in the area is at Pink Rocks (near Broulee).
Getting there and away
Premier Motor Service
(13 34 10) runs to Eden ($35) and Sydney ($41) twice daily. Murrays
(13 22 51) and Rixon
(4474 4243) run to/from Narooma ($23) and Canberra ($24).
Narooma is an attractive seaside town that is less-developed than some of its neighbouring holiday settlements. In all honesty, when you're sitting by the water on Riverside Dr, it's hard to imagine why this place is not busier.
The visitor centre (1800 240 003, 4476 2881; www.naturecoast-tourism.com.au; Princes Hwy; 9am-5pm), incorporating the Lighthouse Museum, is just south of the bridge.
Premier Motor Service (13 34 10) buses stop in Narooma, outside Lynch's Hotel, on the run between Sydney ($53) and Melbourne ($62). Murrays (13 22 51) heads to Canberra ($37), via Batemans Bay ($23).
About 10km offshore from Narooma, Montague Island
was once an important source of food for local Aborigines (who called it Barunguba) and is now a nature reserve. Little penguins
nest here; the best time to see them is spring. Many other seabirds and hundreds of fur seals also call the island home, and there's a historic lighthouse
Narooma Charters (0407-909 111; adult/child $100/77) operates a daily 30-minute boat trip to Montague Island including an NPWS tour. Take the afternoon trip if you want to see the little penguins.
The clear waters around the island are good for diving, especially from February to June when you can snorkel with the fur seals. Island Charters Narooma (02-4476 1047; www.islandchartersnarooma.com) offers diving (from $70), snorkelling (from $60) and whale watching (from $55). Attractions in the area include grey nurse sharks, fur seals and the wreck of the SS Lady Darling.
Off the highway, 15km south of Narooma, Central Tilba is perched on the side of Mt Dromedary (797m). It's a delightful 19th-century gold-mining boomtown.
There's information and a town guide at Bates Emporium (02-4473 7290; 8am-5pm), at the start of the main street (Bates St). Further along are several craft, antique and gift shops, galleries, and food venues including the ABC Cheese Factory (02-4473 7387; 10am-4.30pm), where you can chow down on cheddar.
Nearby Gulaga National Park includes Gulaga Flora Reserve, a large portion of Gulaga (Mt Dromedary) and the former Wallaga Lake National Park. It was recently transferred to the local Aboriginal people. Trees now block the views from the summit of Gulaga, but there are many sites of Aboriginal significance worth experiencing. For an expert tour visit Umbarra Cultural Centre (02-4473 7232; www.umbarra.com.au; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, to 4pm Sat & Sun), run by the Yuin people from Wallaga Lake Koori community. Umbarra is the Black Duck and totem of the Yuin people. The centre's museum contains historical photos and displays portraying significant cultural heritage, and activities include ochre painting, didg lessons and boomerang throwing. It is 3km from the highway on the road to Wallaga Lake.
South of the beautiful bird-filled Wallaga Lake and off the Princes Hwy, Bermagui (population 1300) is a pretty fishing port. The information centre (1800 645 808; www.bermagui.net; Lamont St; 10am-4pm) is on the main street.
There are several walks around Bermagui and good surfing at Camel Rock and Cuttagee beaches.
South to the Victorian Border
Running along 20km of beautiful coastline, Mimosa Rocks National Park (5802 hectares) is an earthly paradise with dense and varied bush, caves, headlands, and beaches with crystal-clear water. Admission is free and there are basic camp sites
($7 per adult) at Aragunnu Beach
, Picnic Point
, and Middle
and Gillards Beaches
Taking in most of the coast from Merimbula north to Tathra, Bournda National Park ($6 per car) is a 2378-hectare park with good beaches, freshwater lagoons and several walking trails. Camping (sites per adult $8) is permitted at Hobart Beach, on the southern shore of the big Wallagoot Lagoon. Contact the Merimbula NPWS office (02-6495 5000) for more information.
Merimbula's impressive inlet (or lake) is its central focus and somehow, by focusing on the rocking boat masts and sky-blue water, it's easy to forgive the glaringly new holiday apartments dotting the hillsides.
The visitor centre (6495 1129; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat, to 4pm Sun) is at the bottom of Market St, and can book tours and activities. Dragnet Internet Café (6495 2666; 3/11 Merimbula Dr; per hr $5; Mon-Sat) has internet access.
The NPWS office (6495 5000; cnr Merimbula & Sapphire Coast Drs; 9am-5pm) provides information on bushwalking in the area.
There are daily flights to Melbourne and to Sydney with Rex (13 17 13). The airport is 1km out of town on the road to Pambula.
Premier Motor Service (13 34 10) buses stop near the lakeside BP on their way to Sydney ($64) and Melbourne ($53). CountryLink (13 22 32) runs to Canberra ($46), and Deane's (6495 6452) runs to/from Bega ($10) and Eden ($9).
Once a haven for fishermen and woodchippers, this charming seaside town is now jumping on the tourism bandwagon. A stubby holder and a deckchair is about all visitors will need to complement Eden's 1.5km beach, and the surrounding national parks and wilderness areas are quite breathtaking.
The helpful Eden visitor centre (6496 1953; Mitchell St; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, to 4pm Sat & Sun) is in the same building as the library (9am-5pm Mon-Fri, to noon Sat), which has internet access for $4 per half-hour.
Eden comes alive at the start of November with the Whale Festival (www.edenwhalefestival.com).
Premier Motor Service (13 34 10) buses between Melbourne and Sydney ($79) stop opposite the Caltex service station. Bus bookings can be made at the visitor centre.