Food and Drink in Wollongong
More than 110 small bars and cafes have opened their doors in Wollongong in the past eight years. Many of the new food and drink hot spots are clustered in and around Crown Street Mall, where every other corner seems to have something happening on the food and drink front. To really appreciate how the food scene is changing the Gong, head to the Globe Lane, Keira Street and Corrimal Street dining precinct.
Lee & Me: Just a short stroll down the lane from Burelli Street is where you will find Lee & Me, one of the city's loveliest little eateries. The fact that the restaurant is housed in a two-story terrace that supports local artists adds to its allure. Start with a coffee, then launch straight in for smashed avocado on toast -- considered a national treasure -- before checking out the bespoke homeware shop upstairs. (Lee & Me, 87 Crown Street, Wollongong; open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Ruby's Mount Kembla: A meal at Ruby's is a memorable experience thanks in part to its location in the historic mining village of Kembla Heights. Housed in what was once the village store and post office, Ruby's still feels like a community hub. Prepare for a remarkable tasting menu with star dishes such as the pork tenderloin, cromeski of smoked hock, carrot puree and Dutch carrot paired with a glass of Lavau Cotes du Rhone Villages France. (Ruby's Mount Kembla, 39 Harry Graham Drive, Mount Kembla; +61 2 4272 2541; open from Friday dinner to Sunday lunch)
His Boy Elroy: If you're plan is to graze around the 'Gong, head down the dinky lane to His Boy Elroy, which has a well-deserved cult following. The eatery is the place to go for local craft beers, fun cocktails, and a top wine selection paired with American-style burgers, fried chicken and loaded fries. (His Boy Elroy, Keira Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4244 5605; open Wednesday to Sunday, from 5 pm
Caveau: This intimate restaurant has been awarded a hat by the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide every year since 2005. Arrive hungry to watch the new chefs and owners Thomas Chiumento and Simon Evans conjure up a seven-course degustation nose-to-tail feast, which includes dishes such crocodile ham with green ants, kangaroo and wattle seed, wallaby tail and potato pie. If you don't eat anything with a face, you will fare well with a degustation menu devoted to vegetables. (122-124 Keira Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4226 4855; open Tuesday to Saturday, from 6 pm)
Diggies North Wollongong: It should be compulsory to enjoy fish and chips when on the coast in Australia. It doesn't get more 'on the beach' than at Diggies' North Beach Kiosk, which is sitting pretty on the sand. Join the joggers, cyclists, swimmers, surfers for lobster rolls, and fish and chips made fancy. (1 Cliff Road, North Beach, Wollongong; +61 2 42 262 688; open daily for breakfast, brunch and lunch, from 6.30 am)
Beaches in Wollongong
Best for a Half-Day Visit: Surf Beach is Kiama's main beach and it has toilets, barbecue facilities, picnic tables and changing sheds. Take the scenic route along the Kiama Coast Walking Track, where you can enjoy views over Bombo Headland and Cathedral Rocks. The northern beaches of Bulli, Austinmer and Coledale are also popular beachside havens with great beaches, popular cafes and boutique shopping.
Best Beach: North Beach Wollongong: it's patrolled 365 days of the year. Ideal for families, North Wollongong Beach has rock pools, wading areas and good surf. There is plenty of grass, shade, and picnic booths plus a children's playground and it is close to Stuart Park, shops and cafes.
Best surfing beaches: If you're a beginner, the lllawarra Surf Academy runs Learn to Surf Lessons all-year round (weather dependent). More experienced surfers can rent a surfboard and paddle out to local breaks such as City Beach or go further afield to the famed Mystics and The Farm, regarded as some of the best breaks on the NSW South Coast. Stanwell Park, Coledale, Sandon Point and Minnamurra beaches are also recommended. (Illawarra Surf Academy, 9A Dobbie Avenue, East Corrimal; open Sunday to Thursday, 7 am to 5 pm; Friday and Saturday, 8.30 am to 5 pm; 0409 111665)
Best for Active Types: Walk Wollongong's Blue Mile from Lang Park to North Wollongong Beach or take advantage of 60 kilometres of bike tracks to find your own secluded bit of paradise. You can also hire a bicycle or do laps in the ocean baths dotted along the coastline. When a cruise ship is in town, South Coast Bike Hire sets up a pop-up stall at a central location and offers a special rate of \$15 an hour, including a helmet and lock. If a group wants bikes for the day, the rate is further reduced. (0484 014 005, open 7 am to 7 pm)
Don't Miss in Wollongong
Nan Tien Temple: The area's most-visited attraction is Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. Get your Zen on with a half-day tour of the temple, which is dotted with shrines and sculptures and surrounded by beautiful gardens. Visitors to the temple can also experience a short mindfulness meditation session and enjoy real-deal Chinese food for lunch. (Nan Tien Temple, 180 Berkeley Road, Berkeley; +61 4272 0600; open Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Symbio Wildlife Park: There are not many places where you can get up close with the Australian coat of arms: the kangaroo and emu. Here, at Symbio Wildlife Park, you can also observe koalas going about their business (usually snoozing or chewing on eucalyptus leaves); wombats burrowed deep in the dirt; and crocodiles with an appetite for free-range chickens. For inspiration, check out the stars of the Symbio Wildlife Park videos that have gone viral: cotton-top tamarins, red pandas, wombats, and pygmy marmosets and a koala joey named Harry, who makes a cameo in a clip viewed more than 1.1 million times. (7/11 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Helensburgh; +61 4294 1244; open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Wollongong Art Gallery: Visitors who enjoy visual art and architecture will appreciate this gorgeous gallery, housed in the old Council Administration Building and a great example of classic 1950s' Australian civic architecture. The gallery houses a major collection of contemporary, Aboriginal, Asian and Illawarra colonial art. There are also permanent collections that trace the history of the Illawarra and showcase the works of local artists. (Corner of Kembla and Burelli Streets; +61 2 4227 8500; open Tuesday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm; Saturday to Sunday, noon to 4 pm; closed public holidays)
Wollongong Central and Crown Street Mall: The mall recently underwent a \$200 million upgrade, which includes a David Jones' concept store featuring a famed food hall. What this means for visitors is the pocket-sized city centre is very walkable and a pleasant place to be a pedestrian. Note: On Thursdays, the mall morphs into Eat Street: a maze of market stalls selling everything from fresh produce to fragrant olive oils, artisan pastries and bread from local favourite Berry Sourdough Cafe. Don't forget to tap into the free Wi-Fi service while in the city centre. (Crown Street Mall, 200 Crown Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4228 5999); open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 am to 5.30 pm; Thursday, 9 am to 9 pm; Saturday, 9 am to 4 pm; Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm.
Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures: Wollongong is bounded by mountains and it's worth venturing away from the coast to explore that looming backdrop. A visit to Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures should be on your thrill list. Those who want to zip through the treetops will hurtle along a series of elevated cables and platforms that are 35 metres above the forest floor. If you have a phobia of heights you must steel yourself for the 1.5 kilometre hike on a walkway that culminates in a screw-tightening climb up a central tower some 50 metres above the forest floor. On the way back to the 'Gong, factor in a photo stop at Fitzroy Falls. (182 Knights Hill Road, Knights Hill; 1300 362 881; open daily, 9 am to 5 pm)
Kiama: NSW's South Coast is studded with great beaches. But if you want to avoid the crowds, a great day trip option is the lovely township of Kiama, located a 45-minute drive away. Here, when the tide is right, you can watch the blowhole spitting into the sky, as the waves thunder onto the rocks. You can also walk to the lighthouse, gaze into rock pools or simply linger on one of the beautiful beaches that are not on most tourists' radars.
Wineries: Visit Crooked River Wines to enjoy wines 'made where the mountains meet the sea' using natural methods. After sampling a glass of the estate's chardonnay, head to the adjacent Oak Room Eleven for lunch. The Coolangatta Estate Cellar Door is the site of the first European settlement on the South Coast and is worth a visit for history buffs as well as wine lovers. The photographic history of the Estate is available for public viewing in the cellar door. (Crooked River Wines; 11 Willowvale Road, Gerringong; +61 2 4234 0975; open Wednesday to Friday, noon to pm; Saturdays, noon to 10 pm; Coolangatta Estate; +61 2 4448 7131; open Wednesday to Friday, noon to 4 pm; Saturday, noon to 10 pm; Sunday, noon to 4 pm; 1335 Bolong Road, Shoalhaven Heads)
Lookouts: If you really want sweeping views of Wollongong's Coastline, you can leap off Bald Hill on a tandem hang glide attached to an experienced instructor. Bulli Lookout and Sublime Point -- which are connected by a walking track -- are also top spots to enjoy spectacular views around Wollongong. (Bald Hill Headland Reserve, Stanwell Park; +61 2 4294 4294; hours are dependent on weather and bookings)
Skydive Australia: The ultimate high is to cast an eagle eye over the coast from 14,000 feet why skydiving. After the rip cord is pulled, the pace slows and it's surprisingly peaceful. Take the time to observe all the little scenes being played out below before making an entrance and thudding onto the beach in your industrial-strength onesie. (Stewart Park, North Wollongong; 1300 663 634; hours are dependent on weather and bookings)
Go Bush: Get lost in the moment smelling the flowers as you wander through exotic, subtropical and Illawarra rainforest and eucalypt forest at Wollongong Botanic Gardens. The picturesque 19-hectare gardens, established in 1964, are the perfect place for a picnic as there are many shaded spaces to sprawl. Catch the free Gong Shuttle bus to the University of Wollongong Stop, which is adjacent to the gardens. (Murphy's Avenue, Keiraville; +61 2 4227 7667; open daily, 7 am to 5 pm)
Grand Pacific Drive: Those who want to push beyond the city limits and enjoy the freedom of the open road should head to iconic Sea Cliff Bridge, which connects the cities and townships of Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama and the Shoalhaven. The more adventurous can explore the Illawarra in a chauffeured motorcycle with Just Cruisin' Motorcycle Tours (+61 2 4294 2598).
The HARS Museum: The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society is not just for aviation anoraks, though they will be in plane-spotting heaven. The HARS museum holds open days to show off aircraft held at its headquarters at the Illawarra Regional Airport. (Illawarra Regional Airport, Corner of Boomerang and Airport Roads, Albion Park Rail; +61 2 4257 4333; open daily, 9.30 am to 3.30 pm)