Wollongong had a pretty difficult task with us coming to town.
It was the first stop on our #yTravelOz road trip around Australia. We were slammed in the weeks leading up to our departure date, thanks to an insane amount of work tasks and personal commitments, not to mention packing up and preparing for indefinite nomadic travel.
To say we were exhausted was an understatement.
Kalyra was also pretty sad and confused about us leaving and we hadn’t gotten used to living out of a suitcase as a family of 4 yet. I’m not sure we were heading to NSW’s third largest city with the best attitude.
To be honest, I really didn’t want another concrete jungle, I wanted a hammock by the river in the bush where broadband signals could not reach.
We hadn’t left our home for 10 minutes before Savannah was trying to get out of her car seat. It wasn’t long before the whinging started and I received a few flying broken bits of banana to the head.
What were we thinking? I was super grizzly before we reached Wollongong and wasn’t sure we had made the best decision at all.
How was Wollongong going to ground us and open our eyes to something worth appreciating?
I was completely taken by surprise when in the twilight hours, I exhaled contently and said, “You know I really like this place.” I was grounded and feeling like we had made the best decision to go on this crazy adventure. Wollongong gave me just what I needed.
It’s a city, yet doesn’t feel like one.
The mountains loom over the cityscape and the ocean shrouds the concrete in a mist of peace. It has a vibrancy of youth and health, without the frenetic pace and aloofness of other big cities.
We were taking an afternoon bike ride on the foreshore past City Beach and North Wollongong Beach. We rode around the lighthouse, past boat harbour and along the special track just for cyclists, joggers and afternoon strollers that followed the cliff face walls.
The scenery was beautiful and we are relaxed and smiling.
Kalyra rode beside me chattering away, the joy radiating from her face and beaming into my soul. Already my little girl was tasting why Mummy and Daddy have taken this trip – so we can spend our days doing things like this together.
“Isn’t this fantastic? It’s 5pm and nobody is screaming or arguing. I’m not racing around getting dinner organized and a house cleaned. We’re just out riding and enjoying the close of the day together.”
“Yep. I love these holidays Mummy!”
Wollongong you welcomed us back into nomadic travel life so effortlessly. And to think I was quite non-plussed about visiting you. For now, our visit was short, but I am keen to explore more.
Things to Do in Wollongong
Grand Pacific Drive
If you are driving from Sydney to Wollongong, you must go via the Grand Pacific Drive, which starts in the Royal National Park (second oldest in the world behind Yellowstone) and follows the coastline, through small coastal towns and spectacular scenery.
Make a stop at the following:
Bald Head Lookout
Hangliders launch off the cliff faces here. If you aren’t that daring there are pretty great views along the coastline and a nice grassy patch for people watching, nature gazing rest.
Symbio Wildlife Park
We have visited plenty of wildlife parks in Australia and Symbio is pretty good.
You can hand feed the kangaroos and emus and there are plenty of farm animals and birds the kids will love. Our visit corresponded to our unit of work on bones for Kalyra’s distance education. So she was excited to race around taking photos of living things that had bones and no bones.
I don’t think anyone could ever get sick of feeding and patting kangaroos. Don’t you?
Sea Cliff Bridge
The sea cliff bridge is a pretty impressive structure when you look at it from one of the viewpoints. When you drive on it, you can’t really see much due to the high barriers. Hop out of your car and walk back along it for some cool photos.
The meals at the Scarborough, although tasty, were small and overpriced. But the views out to the ocean are worth a stop, at least for just one drink.
There is a huge grassed beer garden making it perfect for families. You may be lucky, like we were, and have whales leaping and pirouetting out of the water in front of you. Magic.
Visit North Wollongong Beach
Head to North Wollongong Beach early in the morning for sunrise over the rocks and the lighthouse, and take an early morning stroll along the beach. Grab breakfast or a coffee at Diggies Cafe right on the beach.
Nan Tien Temple
Bucket list check off! The Nan Tien is the biggest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere and well worth a visit.
We were fortunate to have a guide take us around the temple grounds and explain a lot of the symbolism within the design and the stories behind Buddhist philosophy. I found it fascinating.
Make sure you pay a visit to the Museum which is on the lower level. The original foundations form a rock wall, which has been turned into a Buddhist garden with flowing water, lotus leaves, and numerous statues of various Bodhvistas.
Take a minute to step into the mirror gallery and reflect upon the Buddhist philosophies such as nothing is as it seems, we are all interconnected, the impact of illusion and delusion upon our lives, and how removing ourselves from the middle of the Universe offers a more enlightening perspective. I loved it!
I also loved the food in the Dew Drop Inn. Cheap, delicious, vegan food. Try a pot of lotus leaf tea, some dumplings, curry puffs, and the most popular dish: Veggie mince and ham noodle soup.
Science Centre and Planetarium
The science centre is where the great minds of our future go to experiment and learn by doing.
As I walked around interacting in activities that helped me to understand levers, how tornadoes are formed, engine mechanics, and sound and light energy, I couldn’t help but think why our classrooms don’t teach like this? If they did, children would not only learn the concepts quickly, they would have a ball doing it.
The children raced from station to station, squealing with joy, blissfully unaware they were learning amongst the fun. I’ve never seen a student of mine that enthusiastic in the classroom.
We thoroughly enjoyed the bubbles and balloons live show. Craig walked out saying it was hilarious – and we all learned a little more about how bubbles are formed and which balloons can win a race – the rocket balloon was awesome.
One other show worth seeing, which you pay extra for, is the planetarium. It was so great to lie back and have someone point out the constellations and project huge picture forms of them on the roof. There’s a little alien movie that goes with it as well, which is awesome for teaching your children about the planets.
Earth looks so beautiful when you compare it to the others. What about how perfect it is to allow life to thrive like it does? I love movements that help me to feel that awe and wonder.
Indoor Rock Climbing
Indoor rock climbing is not something I ever would have considered doing when travelling. The outdoor kind, I’d embrace for sure. The Hangdog climbing gym was such an enjoyable activity for us to do as a family. It made me realize the importance of team building, especially when you travel.
Kalyra had a ball.
She loved pushing herself a little out of her comfort zone, yet having the security of us supporting and encouraging her. It was also great for strengthening trust between Craig and I – he was more than a little nervous when I was belaying for him. Do my skinny calves not give you faith in my strength?
Even little Savannah had fun – and looked so cute – all harnessed up. She was happy to try and climb the wall, she was just so terrified of the rope when it was attached and pulled her up a little so she chose to help us belay instead.
Visit the Destination NSW website for a more comprehensive list of Things to do in Wollongong.
Places to Eat
This has a lovely outlook out to the beach. It’s attached to the football stadium. Craig was happy to try a decent beer, and the girls were excited to get their free ice-cream with their meal. We used a coupon here to buy one get one meal free. We found it in the Wollongong tourist brochure. Love a bargain!
We didn’t experience anywhere else, but these following places were recommended to us
For more food choices check out the Visit NSW food section.
Places to Stay
- Novotel – The Novotel, Wollongong is in a great position on North Beach.
- Chifley Hotel – Chifley is at the Southern end of City Beach, just behind the football stadium and golf course. It’s a great location, but we don’t recommend it if you are digital dependent like we are, unless you have your own broadband connection.
- Wollongong YHA Hostel – for the budget traveller.
- Looking for a local and unique stay consider booking with Airbnb. Check out the available properties in Wollongong during your stay!
For more options check out the Visit NSW accommodation page.
We haven’t scratched the surface of what the Wollongong area offers. But while your here, be sure to visit the following areas.
- The Illawarra Fly
- Minnamurra Rainforest
Getting to Wollongong
Wollongong is located in the Illawarra region just 82 kilometres south of Sydney. If driving, as mentioned, we recommend you take the scenic route from Sydney via Royal National Park and the Grand Pacific Drive.
By train, jump on the South Coast Line from Central Station in Sydney heading towards Port Kembla.
Need more info on things to do in Wollongong?
Check out the Visit NSW website for a comprehensive list of things to see and do in Wollongong and surrounding areas.