Ok. I know what you’re thinking. Wollongong? Really? Well I’m here to tell you that Wollongong is all grown up and a little bit funky! 90 minutes south of Sydney it’s bound by mountains to the west, the sea to the east and the steel works to the south.
We visited The Gong last year for a quick visit but before that it was decades ago and it was very much an industrial town centred on coal and the steel works with a baker’s dozen of beautiful beaches thrown in.
The city has definitely moved on focusing on its other strengths including education with UOW (University of Wollongong) having large campuses across the city and spearheading the evolution. With opportunities to combine the great Illawarra coast with a City experience here are 7 reasons why you should add Wollongong to your itinerary or plan a weekend escape.
Beaches and Coastline
Predictable but still a perfect way to explore the south coast. These are the same beaches that you get in Sydney with golden sands except with cleaner water and less people. With 13 to choose from in close proximity to The Gong your spoilt for choice. For the photographers among us just north of the city is Sea Cliff Bridge in the suburb of Clifton. This is a balanced cantilever bridge that hugs the coast line with amazing views and great opportunities for stunning photos. As you head back into the City make sure you stop at the numerous lookouts to snap more great photos. We visited early in the morning ad got some great sunrise shots.
Thriving Funky Café and Restaurant Scene
So many great choices it’s hard to pick a favourite. Our top restaurant, Rookie Eatery was not much to look at from the outside (we almost walked past) but once inside the old suburban home had been stripped bare with whitewashed walls and floors. The service was exception and the food (Modern Thai) was light and fresh with a lovely mix of flavours. With our requirement to have gluten free, dairy free and no onion the chef added little extras to ensure that we still had those lovely flavours. There are so many funky café’s both in the city and along the coast line you can take your pick. We visited Austi Beach Café for breakfast with a view, The Square Café Restaurant Bar on Crown Street Mall a couple of times for breakfast and lunch – very hipster and tasty. Our favourite café however was a little out of town – KaBari Kiosk Café Restaurant Bar in Kiama. We enjoyed a very tasty lunch with a stunning view (make sure you head upstairs to dine).
Wollongong City Council has a full and thriving public art policy that has transformed the street scape. Every bare façade, every lane way, fence, tree and even the town hall is seen as a blank canvas. We loved it. While we were there they were even installing a palm tree ‘sculpture’. One is high up on a pole and another has been grown horizontal to the ground and will eventually be a playground and tree seats.
When your done looking at the great street art and hanging out at the beach, head over to the Wollongong Botanic Garden to spend a peaceful few hours. These gardens are in continual use by the locals. We visited on a Friday and found numerous school groups, a wedding rehearsal, another group setting up for a wedding, a couple of play groups as well as people just like us enjoying the gardens. We walked through classical plantings, a rain forest, native edible gardens as well as a very quirky interactive area. Best part it’s free.
Wollongong seems to hold many events. We arrived to find the Eat Street market in full swing in the Crown Street Mall. A great way to taste local produce. The Choir-itly Loud choral festival and MS Sydney to The Gong 2017 cycle where also on while we were in town. Head over to the Visit Wollongong site to find out what’s coming up.
Crown Street Mall and Wollongong Central
We tend not to visit shopping malls when we are on holidays but since our visit coincided with a cold weather front across the east coast of Australia we did spend some time in Wollongong Central. Some of the areas within this mall are just fantastic. Taking a leaf out of the street art outside the mall has used bright colours and everyday items and turned them into art. Check out the thousands of colanders and rolling pins in the food hall. We were also taken with kangaroo boy – a quirky interactive sculpture.
Free Gong Shuttle Bus
Bus route 55 is a free service that has 2 continuous routes, every 10 minutes on week days and 20 minutes on weekends, which loop around the city and its beaches. It will take you everywhere you need to go including the Botanic Gardens, the harbour, beaches, shopping, and close to most central hotels. An easy way to get around and see all that you want to see.
So next time you’re on a road trip south of Sydney add a couple of days to your itinerary in this great city.