Known affectionately as "the Gong", Wollongong is a town with a long history of mining and industry, having coal mines, steelworks and an industrial port. The city is also a regional centre for the South Coast fishing industry.
Where is it?: Wollongong is located on the eastern coast of Australia, 82 km south of Sydney.
In spite of its industrial connections, Wollongong is increasingly becoming a tourist destination, as it is located close to the many scenic natural attractions of the surrounding Illawarra region.
The city is connected to Sydney through both a rail and scenic coastal road route which take between 90 and 120 minutes, and via main roads, taking between 70 and 90 minutes. The main road connecting Wollongong is the Waterfall-Yallah Southern Freeway (formerly the F6). Passenger rail services on the South Coast railway line connect the centres of Nowra and Kiama to the south and Sydney to the north.
Lookouts: Sublime Point Lookout offers 180 degree views over the sea, the rainforest and the 17 beaches that span the coastline to Wollongong. This is one of the few places where the coastal foothills and the plateau are linked. The Sublime Point Track descends the escarpment via a series of steel ladders. Access is off Princes Highway at Bulli Tops.
Further along the escarpment at Stanwell Tops is Bald Hill Lookout, a favourite hang gliding launching site. The views down the coast are equally spectacular.
The Illawarra Coast
The Illawarra coastline itself consists of many beaches characterised by fine pale gold-coloured sands. They are all popular swimming beaches and used by both locals and visitors from Sydney. Seventeen of the beaches are patrolled. Nine of the beaches have ocean rock pools attached - providing safe and relaxing swimming away from the surf breaks. The beaches are occasionally interrupted by prominent and picturesque rocky headlands jutting into the sea.
Stanwell Tops: rests on the Illawarra escarpment, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the neighbouring village of Stanwell Park. It is bounded on all sides by state-forest reserves and other forested crown lands, which are contiguous with the Royal National Park and the Garawarra State Conservation Area.
Though Stanwell Tops is actually a small residential town, the name is generally used to identify Bald Hill, a flat area above the ocean cliff face near the village. Bald Hill, at the apex of Lawrence Hargrave Drive, is a mecca for paragliding and hang gliding activities, with many gliding from Bald Hill down to Stanwell Park beach, which lies nested between the high sea cliffs.
Coalcliff: this village's name reflects the fact that the coastal region of the Illawarra has numerous rich coal deposits, some of which, like those near Coalcliff, have been mined. For over 90 years coke has been produced here. Coalcliff hosts its own Surf Life Saving Club.
The Sea Cliff Bridge offers a spectacular walkway and cycleway above the ocean and along the escarpment, offering splendid views offered towards Wollongong and Port Kembla in the south and Royal National Park in the north. The bridge was built to protect motor vehicles from rocks and boulders which fell at regular intervals on the original road which hugged the cliffs to the south of the village.
Otford: a northern suburb of Wollongong. It is an important stop for bushwalkers accessing the Royal National Park, as it has a railway station and is close to the southern entrance to the Park.
Orford is at the southern end of a bushwalk to old Helensburgh railway station. The walk passes through one of six disused railway tunnels in the area. Opened in 1886, the original line including these tunnels was abandoned between 1914 and 1920 when the Helensburgh and Stanwell Park deviations were brought into service to make the line easier to handle for the steam locomotives of their time.
Austinmer: one of a number of scenic coastal communities on Grand Pacific Drive, which traverses the narrow coastal strip to the north of Wollongong between Bulli and Royal National Park. Austinmer has a number of places to enjoy lunch or a coffee. Like its northern neighbours Scarborough, Clifton, Coalcliff and Stanwell Park, Austinmer is a popular surfing spot. The relatively small Austinmer Beach is wedged between two low headlands and their extensive rock platforms.
Port Kembla: a suburb, it comprises of a seaport, industrial complex (one of the largest in Australia), a small harbour foreshore nature reserve, and a small commercial sector. Port Kembla's highest point, Hill 60, overlooks the Five Islands and Red Point.
Hill 60: originally the site of an Aboriginal settlement, Hill 60 was used by the army during World War II to make a coastal gun emplacement known as Illowra Battery. Although not technically open to tourists, the tunnels are open, and can be explored by foot. The entrance to the tunnels is located almost under the coastgaurd tower on Hill 60, and can be seen down the the left when standing at the information board, facing southeast.
Lake Illawarra: a large coastal lagoon to the south of Wollongong, it is the second largest saltwater lake in NSW. Lake Illawarra is popular for recreational fishing, prawning and sailing. Birds found at the lake include pelicans, cormorants, musk ducks, Hoary-headed Grebes, black swans, black ducks, grey teal ducks, herons, ibises and spoonbills.
Shellharbour: (20 km south) is a charming coastal township that has become a southern suburb of Wollongong. Shellharbour is framed between the Tasman Sea and the Illawarra Escarpment, with Lake Illawarra to the north and the Minnamurra River to the south.
Minnamurra Rainforest: located in Budderoo National Park near the village of Jamberoo, is a rare remnant of subtropical and warm temperate rainforests that were once extensive in the Illawarra region. Visitors regularly see first hand the fauna of the area such as the normally allusive Lyrebird, the Eastern Water Dragons, Swamp Wallabies and a host of bird species which make Minnamurra their home.
Kiama: is a seaside town set against green rolling hills and a scenic coastline of golden beaches and rocky headlands. Long treasured as a holiday destination, Kiama has managed to maintain its charm as a casual, relaxing resort without falling the way of the highrise compromise which has spoilt other areas. Kiama's most famous feature is its 'blowhole' situated on Blowhole Point behind the point's lighthouse.
Berry: (63km south) is renown for its bucolic pastoral setting but now it is the boutiques, galleries, collectables, gourmet produce and the cafes which set it apart. Set amongst rolling green hills with the Cambewarra range providing a stunning backdrop, the landscape adds to the pleasant relaxed atmosphere of the place.