We decided to have a couple of days break in the Illawarra. We booked a serviced apartment close to the CBD in Wollongong (separate review being posted) and, rather than take our usual routes into Wollongong from Canberra, we decided to come in from the Sydney end.
We left Canberra mid-morning on a Friday and after our (almost traditional) break at the bakery café in Goulburn (near Maccas& the Big Marino) for a yummy Danish and good coffee we headed toward Sydney. Taking up Frommy’s suggestion we drove in via Stanwell Tops and had the most glorious view down the coast from the Bald Hill Lookout. On a day that we had been expecting rain (and got it in the first half hour out of Canberra) we had 30% high cloud cover and sunshine with a squillion kilometers visibility – could almost see New Zealand!! The Sea Cliff Bridge on the Grand Pacific Drive was very prominent on the coastline, as was the big smokestack way down the coast at Port Kembla. We had a short chat to the guy who sells tandem hang-glider rides – business was a bit slow for him I think – then drove down into Stanwell Park where we stopped at a fairly busy café just off the road for a very nice lunch.
From there we drove down to The Sea Cliff Bridge where we pulled over for a look. We last drove this road over 10 years ago so this was new to us, and quite impressive it is too. Quite a few tourists walking the length of it, but we just walked a couple of hundred metres to where we could get some good photos.
We drove down through the coastal towns sandwiched between the cliff and the sea, marvelling at how people built in some pretty amazing places. The cemetery overlooking the sea at (I think) Clifton had a spectacular outlook, but places to pull over and park are at a premium so we couldn’t really stop to explore more. Around Austinmer there is a bit more space and there are more places to pull over. We drove down to Towradgi – we have a particular soft spot for Towradgi having had family holidays there several times when our kids were younger – and not much has changed there in the past dozen years or so. The bowls club has had a facelift - other than that, pretty much unchanged.
Check-in at our serviced apartment in Wollongong was 2pm, so we got in there around 2.30 and after unpacking the car, we drove down to Port Kembla and Warrawong “just because”. We spent an hour or so in the Warrawong shopping mall, had a coffee (pretty ordinary), picked up some groceries at a supermarket, and headed back to the apartment. In the late afternoon we walked into Crown St Mall to see what had changed since we last stayed there, then back to the apartment and freshened up before walking along Corrimal Street to see what restaurant took our fancy. We hadn’t made any bookings but, with just the 2 of us and it still being fairly early we fancied our chances. In the end we decided to eat at the local Hogs Breath Café on Crown St. After dinner we walked through the Crown St Mall and back the long way to the apartment along Flinders St – quite a few people out and about on a Friday evening but still way too early for any obnoxious types.
We were away fairly early for a day of sightseeing and tourist shopping down the coast. First stop Kiama – and I paid more attention to the “surprise reveal” that Frommy mentioned as you come back to the coast near Bombo this time. There was a very long freight train passing through Bombo at the time we went past – that part of the coast is definitely one I’m doing by train at some stage!
The highway has been improved pretty much all the way to Kiama now – the only annoying spot left is the stretch near Albion Park – otherwise it is fast and safe. . .and to be honest, not nearly as interesting as it used to be, but that is the price of progress I guess. There is still plenty of spectacular scenery, just a lot less of it now as the urban sprawl strides relentlessly south.
At Kiama we had a good long look around the touristy shops, then walked around the harbour precinct and the old town – absolutely loved the old post office, council chamber, newspaper office etc, and the Westpac bank has to be one of the best preserved around. This is a lovely old town with a lot going for it – unfortunately the “blow hole” wasn’t one of them on the day we were there – the ocean was flat as a tack so we didn’t bother to go for a look at it this time. We drove down to Gerringong (I just can’t see enough of that coastline between Kiama and Gerringong to satisfy me – I’m definitely going to have to do the coastal walk some time!) and stopped for a look through the Gerry shops. Then on down the coast (as an aside, the Gerringong golf course looks spectacular - almost enough to convince me to take up golf!) through Gerroa, and along Seven Mile Beach before cutting inland to Berry for another shopping stop. This is a good detour, a lot less traffic than the highway and less winding with the bonus of spectacular coastal scenery and National Park vegetation for a good deal of it.
After hitting the Berry shops, we had a very nice lunch in a café there before heading north - along the highway this time. Instead of going back into Wollongong we continued up the Mt Ousley Rd and detoured to the Sublime Point Lookout. I was surprised to find that there is no café there these days – looks like it only opens for functions. But the views are spectacular. I wasn’t tempted by the walks down to the bottom though. We stopped at Panorama House on our way back to the ‘Gong , but the place had a major Christmas function on so we couldn’t see the view from the dining room and we ended up having a (pretty ordinary) coffee in the bar (with a scenic view of the carpark – sigh!!)
After a bit of down-time and freshing up we headed out for dinner just after 6pm. We had an excellent meal at Thai Carnation (cnr Corrimal & Crown Sts) and afterward went for a walk along the Marine Parade , along part of the surf beach, then around Flagstaff Hill and the harbor. I laughed at a pelican sitting on a very sagging street light just near the fishing fleet in the harbor – way too big for that light but obviously a favourite spot. This is an extremely pretty area, with a mix of the old and new – lots of people out and about in the early evening. I particularly like the old “harbor defences” with muzzle loaded cannons which were installed at a time when they were already obsolete. The fish and chip café on the harbor is very popular with “surfies” and families with young kids (still lots of seagulls looking for handouts- as there were over a decade ago) and the fish restaurants at the harbor are popular with a dressier clientele.
After checking out around 9 we “dooped” or way back to Canberra via Macquarie Pass. Sunday markets were on in Robertson, so we stopped and had a good look (bough nice fudge & other goodies) then detoured into Bowral for a coffee (which we knew would be good) before cutting over to Berrima where their markets were also on (helps to know the cycle). Didn’t buy much there but took the opportunity to explore some shops that were closed the last time we were there and had a nice lunch before heading back to Canberra.