Meander down the coastline from Sydney to the coastal haven of Kiama and you’ll find lots of distractions – and places for a dip – along the way.
You can boat (or gloat) in the Royal National Park, soar like a bird at Stanwell Park, drive along a stunning bridge arcing out over the ocean and eat yourself silly at all the hip eateries that have blossomed in Wollongong lately. Take time out to explore the Southern Hemisphere’s largest Buddhist temple and, finally, swap the “om” for an “ooh” at the Kiama Blowhole.
Hero image credit: Alpesh Parshotam
On Sydney’s southern outskirts is a park packed with incredible surf beaches, family friendly waterholes, stunning bushwalks – and a picture perfect rockpool that’s the hottest thing on Instagram. The Royal National Park is home to 11 beaches, including the surfing mecca of Garie Beach.
If fresh water is more your style, head to the historic Audley Boatshed to hire a rowboat, canoe or kayak to explore the upper reaches of the Hacking River and Kangaroo Creek. It takes a serious time commitment – and an arduous trek, combined with the right tides and flat surf – to reach Figure Eight Pools but that hasn’t stopped visitors from flocking to this photogenic formation on a rock platform near Burning Palms Beach. The platform’s rockpools include one that’s a perfect figure eight – a nature sculpted jacuzzi, if you like, filled with clear seawater.
Once you leave Royal National Park, you will need to join The Princes Highway. Stop off for fuel in Heathcote before you continue onto Symbio Wildlife Park.
Koala cuddles are against the law in New South Wales but you can still pat one at Symbio Wildlife Park at Helensburgh, a community wedged between the Royal National Park and Stanwell Park. The zoo’s behind the scenes koala experience allows visitors to give the cute marsupials a pat. The family owned zoo, which opened in 1975, is home to other Australian animals, including kangaroos and wombats, as well as Sumatran tigers, cheetahs, red pandas, meerkats, marmosets, cotton top tamarins and ring tailed lemurs.
Beachside Stanwell Park is Australia’s most famous hang gliding and paragliding take off point, thanks to its perfect combination of geography and wind conditions. It was here that aeronautical pioneer Lawrence Hargrave famously lifted himself from the beach with a train of box kites in 1894 (his feat inspired Alexander Graham Bell to experiment with other kite designs).
Today, humans continue to make like birds, taking off from nearby Bald Hill, catching the thermals to soar out over the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Novices can do a tandem glide with operators such as Sydney Hang Gliding Centre or HangglideOz.
Sea Cliff Bridge, a highlight of the 140km long coastal Grand Pacific Drive, looks like it was purpose built for expensive car commercials – and that’s exactly what’s happened since the dramatic over ocean bridge opened in 2005, with the serpentine structure starring in many an automotive ad. No one can blame location scouts for falling for this 665m long bridge running parallel to soaring cliff faces.
The bridge was taken off land after rockfalls regularly closed Lawrence Hargrave Drive between Coalcliff and Clifton. Today, you can drive, walk or cycle the bridge while soaking up sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean (in cooler months, there might even be a passing whale to spy on).
It's hard to think of a more geographically dramatic city in all of NSW than Wollongong. The city’s fortunes were forged on steel but the working class history and industrial skyline around Port Kembla don’t detract from its stunning good looks. The city is squeezed between the cerulean ocean and the sheer escarpment that brings an early sunset to its northern suburbs.
Dining has also undergone a seismic shift. On Market Street, check out the Sifters Co-op in a carpark where you can chow down on smoked meat burgers from Son of a Gun. For a casual burger, smoked meats or fried chicken, try His Boy Elroy on Keira Street or wander further south on Keira Street to find Five Barrel Brewing, which the Sydney Craft Beer Awards named NSW’s best new brewery in 2016.
In the southern Wollongong suburb of Berkeley, incongruously overlooking the Princes Motorway, is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest Buddhist temple. Nan Tien Temple, which opened in 1995, runs guided tours to share Buddhist philosophy and illuminate the grand Chinese palace style temple. Learn more about the meaning behind the symbols and statues in the grounds, the artworks in the museum and the architecture of the shrines.
There are multiple ways to admire Kiama’s sculpted coastline and rolling green hills. Tackle all or part of the Kiama Coast Walk, a 22km track that runs from Minnamurra to Gerringong, passing Bombo Headland’s striking hexagonal basalt columns. Head to the famous blowhole to “ooh” and “ahh” each time a saltwater plume shoots into the air, and ramble around the town’s simple 19th century lighthouse.
If you’re there on a Wednesday afternoon, stroll the harbourfront Kiama Farmers’ Market that sells goodies from local bakers and other artisans and providores such as micro dairy The Pines. One of the hippest places to eat is El Corazon Cocina de Mexico overlooking Kiama Harbour. Admire the eatery’s ultra cool Frida Kahlo wallpaper while tucking into platefuls of beans, rice and pulled pork, washed down with a salt rimmed margarita or two. Werri Beach Fish Shop, a hop and a skip down the coast, is also rightly famous for its crisp take on classic fish and chips. Take the piping hot bundle, wrapped in butcher’s paper and yesterday’s news, across to the beach or devour them right there in the shop’s pretty courtyard.
The 80 room Sebel Harbourside Kiama overlooking Kiama Harbour offers guests rooms and apartments with one or two bedrooms.