Beach, bike and brunch to your heart's content in this seaside city, just 1 1/2 hours south of Sydney.
By Alissa Jenkins
Wollongong has one of the most enviable city locales in New South Wales, with the dazzling Pacific Ocean to the east and the stunning Illawarra Escarpment to the west. In between, "The Gong" (as it’s affectionately known to locals), promises an equal measure of urban delights and outdoor pursuits, from mouthwatering brunches and an impressive repertoire of coffee houses, to seaside cycling trails and beachfront skydiving. It's just 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Sydney.
- Enjoy brunch at one of the many beachside cafés
- Pedal along the city's network of cycling trails
- Skydive over the coast, landing at North Beach
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Top things to do in Wollongong
Cycle along the waterfront
With more than 40 kilometres (25 miles) of shared paths threaded across the Wollongong coast, cycling is on par with surfing as the local pastime. Rent a set of wheels from South Coast Bike Hire and hit the waterfront cycleway, which starts from the township of Port Kembla in the south and runs through Wollongong to Thirroul in the north. Better still, sign up for the annual MS Sydney to the Gong Bike Ride, or join thousands of spectators watching the event, in which droves of cyclists pedal from Sydney to Wollongong each November.
Drive along the Sea Cliff Bridge
The most picturesque way to travel from Sydney to Wollongong (or vice versa) is along the Grand Pacific Drive, comprising 140 kilometres (87 miles) of stunning coastal scenery and snippets of the Royal National Park. The highlight is the incredible Sea Cliff Bridge, 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Wollongong, which curves around towering cliffs while suspended 665 metres (727 yards) above the ocean.
Brunch at delicious cafés
There are not enough mornings (or stomach space) to enjoy all of Wollongong's brunch offerings. For a post-swim feast on North Beach, Diggies is a stone’s throw from the sand and offers an airy space and impeccable breakfasts such as brioche toast with fresh strawberry compote and mascarpone. Humber, in the city centre, is housed in a historic brick building and serves generous dishes that champion local produce – more than half the ingredients are sourced within 100 kilometres (62 miles) of the café. Nearby, in an 1890s terrace house, is Lee and Me, with a charming café downstairs, retail space upstairs (The Store), and a florist and homewares shop on ground level. Later in the day, indulge at the award-winning, French-inspired Caveau, and treat yourself to the seven-course tasting menu, featuring local, organic ingredients and a nose-to-tail approach to food.
Lap up the surf scene
When it comes to finding the perfect place to swim, beachgoers are spoilt for choice in Wollongong, as the coast is littered with soft sand beaches, great surfing waves, ocean pools and picnic areas. The most popular option is swimmer-friendly North Beach. City Beach in the city centre tends to get wilder waves. Book a private lesson with the Illawarra Surf Academy and learn how to ride the waves at Thirroul and Corrimal (just north of Wollongong). For more experienced surfers, Scarborough Beach and Sandon Point are worth travelling north of the city for, while the seaside suburbs of Coledale and Austinmer promise a more relaxed vibe, with uncrowded ocean baths and rock pools for little ones.
Enjoy a beachside beverage
Across from Diggies café on North Beach is PEPE'S, a nautical-inspired bar with an oversized deck and fantastic ocean views, perfect for an afternoon Aperol spritz. For a more laid-back setting, visit The Illawarra Brewery opposite City Beach, where you can't go past a tasting paddle from the local Illawarra Brewing Co paired with moreish American-style snacks (try the sticky barbecue hot wings with smoked mayonnaise). Wine lovers should make a beeline for The Throsby, a chic 50-seater bar with an extensive wine list showcasing more than 50 boutique winemakers from around the world. Later on, the atmospheric Howlin' Wolf promises an ever-changing collection of more than 100 whiskies and live music from Thursday till Saturday.
Skydive over Wollongong
Skydive Sydney-Wollongong takes you on a scenic plane ride over the coast before you make the crucial jump, 14,000 feet up. While secured to your tandem skydive instructor, expect to freefall at speeds of up to 220 kilometres (137 miles) per hour before the chute is pulled and you soar serenely down to earth, taking in the dramatic views over Wollongong before landing on North Beach. It's one of the most spectacular skydives in Australia.
How to get there
From Sydney's Central Station, take the South Coast Line towards Kiama and get off at Wollongong Station. It takes about 1 1/2 hours. A picturesque drive will get you there in similar time.