Although often overlooked by visitors to Sydney, the lovely coastal city of Wollongong is certainly worth visiting in its own right. Wedged in between the soaring cliffs and mountains of the Illawarra Escarpment and the glinting waters of the Tasman Sea, it boasts lots of beautiful surf beaches and spectacular natural scenery.
While it is noted for both its heavy industry and busy port, New South Wales’ third largest city also has a lively, youthful feel thanks to its sizeable student population. Besides visiting its excellent art galleries and state-of-the-art science center, there are also a handful of interesting historic tourist attractions for you to check out. Other things to do in Wollongong include visiting its humongous Buddhist temple and botanical gardens.
With the scenic Grand Pacific Drive passing by and both Sydney and Royal National Park lying nearby, ‘The Gong’ makes for the perfect daytrip destination or quiet weekend away.
12. Wollongong Art Gallery
Set right in the center of the city you can find the excellent Wollongong Art Gallery which is home to a huge number of impressive artworks and exhibitions. Much of its collection focuses on the Illawarra region of New South Wales with fantastic paintings, photos and sculptures all on display.
One of the largest regional art museums in Australia, it was established in 1951 and now occupies a striking historic building with four floors full of light and airy galleries. In total, it contains almost 3,000 artworks with everything from Neolithic pots and Colonial-era works to Asian contemporary pieces and Aboriginal artifacts and art show.
Aside from perusing its extensive collection, guests can also attend one of its temporary exhibitions which are regularly held over the course of the year.
11. Wollongong City Beach
If instead of art it is some sun, sea, sand and surf that you are after, then Wollongong City Beach is the ideal place to head. Located just a short walk from the center, it is very popular with both locals and tourists alike thanks to its gorgeous golden sands, easy accessibility and umpteen amenities and outdoor activities.
Stretching three kilometers in length, its warm and welcoming sands are perfect for lounging on lazily while some superb swimming and surfing can be enjoyed offshore. In addition, there is a playground, picnic areas and a bike path for visitors to make use of with grassy parks and outdoor exercise equipment also on offer.
While exercising or kicking back and relaxing on the beach, you can bask in fabulous views of the rocky headland to its north and the sparkling white lighthouse perched atop of Flagstaff Point.
10. Kiama Blowhole
Long a top tourist attraction, Kiama Blowhole has been attracting visitors to the area for well over a century now. Set just half an hour’s drive south of the city, the impressive and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon lies on a wind-swept point right next to the center of the small coastal town of Kiama.
Formed approximately 260 million years ago, the blowhole is surrounded by craggy basalt columns and dramatic rock formations with the ferocious sea pounding the coastline just a couple of meters away. Under certain conditions, water is channeled through the narrow chasm and sprayed up to 25 meters into the air, drenching everyone and everything around it.
While this certainly makes for a spectacular sight, the less famous and less visited ‘Little Blowhole’ nearby is much more regular when it comes to spurting seawater into the sky.
9. Science Space
A very fun and family friendly place to explore, the brilliant Science Space can be found just five minutes’ drive north of downtown. Aside from its interactive exhibits, the hands-on science museum also has an exquisite planetarium for visitors to check out with live experiments and demonstrations regularly taking place.
Now operated by the University of Wollongong, the state-of-the-art center was first opened in 1989 and has proved to be very popular with children and adults alike ever since. Currently it contains more than ninety interesting exhibits for you to engage with that look at everything from buoyancy and dinosaurs to electricity, anatomy and nanotechnology.
After having learnt about various scientific laws and phenomena, it is well worth staying to watch an educational film at what is NSW’s best planetarium with special science shows featuring sound, music and liquid nitrogen also being held in its theater.
8. North Beach
Although much shorter than its southernly neighbor, North Beach is the primary place that people in the city go to sunbathe, swim and surf. This is because it is not only backed by beautiful bluffs and big grassy spaces but is the only local beach that is patrolled year-round by lifeguards.
Ideal for families, it has lots of rock pools, wading areas and calm swimming spots for young and old alike to splash about in while offshore waves up to two metres-high attract surfers too. Besides strolling along the 500-metre-long beach, visitors can sunbathe, sit and enjoy a picnic or head to the nearby park and playground.
With countless cafes and restaurants located nearby and the city centre set just a short drive away, it is no wonder that the scenic and sun-kissed North Beach appeals to so many people.
7. Mount Keira Lookout
Boasting breath-taking panoramas over the city and its surroundings, Mount Keira and the rest of the Illawarra escarpment rise up dramatically above Wollongong. In just fifteen minutes’ drive, you can find yourself atop of the lofty mount, enjoying stunning views up and down the Pacific coast from its lovely lookout.
Due to its distinctive shape and close proximity to the center, Mount Keira has long been a major local landmark. Reaching 464 meters in height, its rainforest-coated slopes are home to some great hiking trails and incredible wildlife with the whole escarpment acting as a sacred site for the local Wodi Wodi people.
While many people come to hike or bike amidst its pristine nature, the main reason most visit is for the unparalleled views on offer from its prominent peak which has benches, binoculars and a cafe for visitors to make use of.
6. Wollongong Botanic Garden
A very peaceful and picturesque place to amble around, the delightful Wollongong Botanic Garden can be found right at the foot of the mighty Mount Keira. Home to a huge collection of plants, flowers, trees and shrubs, it has lots of scenic sections and secluded spots for visitors to explore.
First opened to the public in 1970, its sprawling site now boasts thousands of species of plants with innumerable azaleas and succulents on show alongside pretty herb, rose and woodland gardens. On top of this, you can also find several rainforest areas while a charming creek quietly meanders its way through the park and into a reflective lake.
Besides enjoying all its fantastic flora and seeing its gorgeous Japanese bridge and tea house, guests can take guided walks and workshops or explore the colorful contents of the garden’s glasshouse.
5. Port Kembla Beach
Widely considered to be one of the best beaches in the area, the popular Port Kembla Beach lies just fifteen minutes’ drive down the coast from the center. Bordered to the north by a low-lying cliff, its soft sands seemingly stretch away forever into the distance as they curve their way gently along the Tasman Sea.
At the nearest part to Wollongong, visitors can find a large saltwater pool and a historic surf club which was impressively founded in 1910. While strong rips and swells abound around the northern headland, the southern stretches of the beach have much calmer spots where you can swim and wade about in rock pools.
Aside from swimming, surfing and splashing about in the sea, you can also stroll along its endless sands which reach over 6.5 kilometers in length and are lined by pretty parks and lush vegetation the whole way along.
4. Wollongong Head Lighthouse
Perched atop of the prominent Flagstaff Point is one of the city’s stand-out symbols and sights: the Wollongong Head Lighthouse. Set just a stone’s throw away from downtown, it overlooks both the historic harbour and the glimmering waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Built all the way back in 1936, it is remarkably still in use until this day with its automatic bi-colored light guiding ships, yachts and sailing boats to safety. Not only do they have to navigate the various rocky headlands that dot the coast but the small group of The Five Islands which lie just offshore.
Towering 25 meters in height, the brilliantly bright white lighthouse stands out delightfully against its surroundings with the grassy knoll at its foot being both a popular viewpoint and picnic spot.
3. Nan Tien Temple
Another of Wollongong’s most important landmarks is the massive and majestic Nan Tien Temple which is set amidst some lovely grounds and gardens. Located on the southern outskirts of Wollongong, it is impressively the largest Buddhist temple complex in all the Southern Hemisphere.
Meaning ‘Paradise of the Sun’ in Chinese, the sprawling site was erected between 1992 and 1995 by the Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order. Alongside an attractive eight-storey pagoda you can spy large and elaborately decorated prayer halls and landscaped gardens studded with sacred shrines and statues.
At the temple complex visitors can take t’ai chi classes and meditation retreats or learn more about Buddhism by wandering around its museum and taking in all the amazing architecture and religious artworks on show.
2. Wattamolla Beach
Tucked away within a secluded part of Royal National Park is yet another of the New South Wales coastline’s most beautiful beaches. Although it lies almost at the midway point between the city and Sydney, Wattamolla Beach is definitely well worth visiting due to its spellbinding beauty and ample outdoor activities.
Protected from the rough waves of the Tasman Sea by the protruding Martin Head and Provincial Point, Wattamolla is not only home to a picturesque beach but a quiet cove and lagoon too. Only adding to the site’s scenic splendor is the small waterfall that slowly cascades its way down one of the nearby cliff faces.
Aside from lounging on the sandbar and swimming in the lagoon’s calm waters, visitors can bask in breath-taking views of the coast from the Provincial Point Lookout or surf the rips and breaks nearer to the headland.
1. Grand Pacific Drive
Winding its way along the coast from Sydney to Shoalhaven is one of the most scenic routes in all of Australia: the Grand Pacific Drive. An absolute treat to travel along, it takes you past wonderful beaches and steep coastal cliffs with stupendous scenery, nature and views wherever you go.
Although it stretches 140 kilometers in total, the section from Sydney to Wollongong is particularly scenic and enjoyable to drive along. This is because the rambling route passes through the pristine wilderness of Royal National Park with idyllic beaches and imposing cliffs set alongside lush tracts of coastal rainforest.
Besides stopping off at famous spots such as Wattamolla Beach and the incredible Wedding Cake Rock, one of the most memorable parts of the journey is driving across the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge. Directly facing the open ocean, the bridge boasts unparalleled views of the Pacific as you continue down the coast towards Wollongong.