Wollongong Cruise Port
Port of Wollongong: An Overview
Arriving by sea to the city of Wollongong allows cruise passengers the opportunity to better appreciate this picturesque port. When the sky is blue, it's in Technicolor. Add to this the craggy coastline, landmark lighthouses, dramatic escarpment and soaring smokestacks: These are a few of the first impressions visitors arriving to the New South Wales South Coast city will experience. While Wollongong -- or "the Gong" as it is affectionately known -- was built on steel manufacturing and mining, the city with the country's biggest steelworks is now undergoing somewhat of a reinvention as the demand for steel and coal continues to dwindle. Sure, the smokestacks still dominate the skyline, but the city is also entering a post-industrial phase with its eyes firmly fixed on the future.
Wollongong University can take some credit for the city's reinvention. Rated as one of the best universities in the world, it has added a lot to the area's mosaic of multiculturalism and contributed to the sense of optimism that has further improved the city's prospects.
Located 81 kilometers south of Sydney, Wollongong is in an area known as the "Illawarra," which is loosely translated to "the land between the mountain and the sea," according to the local Dharawal tribe. Wollongong is also famed for its surf -- clean polished waves that curl onto the beach. Interestingly, Captain James Cook noted the attractive coastline and the presence of the local indigenous tribe in his logbook, and if it weren't for the big breakers crashing onto the shore, he would have made his first landing here.
Wollongong is still a working port and while the brick-and-mortar legacy of its industrial heart remains, that city soundtrack of hammering is now more about new enterprises and reinvention. A quick walk around Wollongong demonstrates all that is wonderful about the city, which has an amazing concentration of young talent and creative thinkers. Squint your eyes and you could be in Brooklyn, New York. There is now a lively laneway culture, budding small bar scene, beachy boutiques and top-notch eateries where everyone from emerging designers to bearded baristas and hatted chefs are helping the Gong to hum. Long after the maze of steelworks shuts up shop for good, the city will still show its age. But that's a good thing. It's gentrification with a touch of grit. And it's all the better for it.
Because Port Kembla is a "closed port" there are no services and amenities located in the port itself. As you exit the Port Kembla Terminal you will see the free Gong shuttle buses, which will take you into Wollongong proper, where you will find ATMs and free Wi-Fi in selected areas and shops. Passengers arriving in the city by shuttle bus can expect to be met by friendly ambassadors from the Wollongong Ambassador Program, who are keen to sell the region's attractions and offer advice on what to see and do.
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 10 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 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday to Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; closed public holidays)
Urban adventure: Wollongong Central and Crown Street Mall recently underwent a whopping $200 million upgrade, which includes a swanky H&M store and a David Jones' concept store featuring one of the department store's famed food halls. 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 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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 meters above the forest floor. If you have a phobia of heights you must steel yourself for the 1.5 kilometers hike on a walkway that culminates in a screw-tightening climb up a central tower some 50 meters 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 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
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 white 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 4 p.m.; Saturdays, noon to 10 p.m.; Coolangatta Estate; +61 2 4448 7131; open Wednesday to Friday, noon to 4 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; 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 the Beach & Beyond: 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 a.m. to 5 p.m..)
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 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.)
Shuttle buses will operate on a loop to and from the city from the Bus Shuttle Station at Port Kembla Terminal. This service is free. When you arrive in the city, you can also use public transportation and taxis or book a guided tour with a company such as South Coast Scenic Tours.
On Foot: If it's an urban hike you're after, many of Wollongong's tourist attractions are within walking distance. The bus will drop you in Burelli Street. Walk north down the lane and turn right to get to glistening white-sand beaches, a very attractive esplanade and parkland with infrastructure for a picnic. One of the best streets to stroll is Crown Street. After arriving in Burelli Street, in the Welcome Precinct, walk down the lane and turn left on Crown Street, where you will find yourself in the city's main shopping precinct, which is dotted with historic buildings from the 19th century and the newly renovated Wollongong Central (the CBD).
By Car:If you are after a private car to show you the sights, you can pre-book a driver with a local firm such as Harris Airport & Cruise Terminal Transfers. Otherwise there are half-day shore excursions that steer passengers around the region. You can also visit the AVIS representative at Lang Park. (47 Flinders Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4251 1311; open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon; Sunday, 8 a.m. to noon)
By Train:If you're looking to travel to the outer suburbs of Wollongong and to some of the beautiful towns further south such as Shellharbour, Kiama or Nowra, City Rail offers regular timetabled services on the South Coast Line. For timetables, visit the Sydney Trains website. The train station is wheelchair accessible. (Lowden Square, Wollongong; +61 2 4223 5517; Open daily)
By Shuttle Bus: The free Gong Shuttle runs every 10 minutes and is on a loop from Wollongong Station to Wollongong University via Wollongong Hospital, Burelli Street and the Innovation Campus. The route numbers for the free Gong Shuttle are 55A and 55C. Visit Transport NSW to determine the route you wish to take. Places of interest along the route include Wollongong Botanic Gardens, University of Wollongong, Wollongong City Beach, Wollongong Golf Club, Wollongong Harbour and the nearby historic lighthouse.
By Taxi: Taxis are safe and metered and drivers are usually both welcoming and honest. You can book ahead with Wollongong Radio Cabs (+61 2 4254 2111) or go to the secure cab rank located on the corner of Crown and Kembla Streets, near to where the shuttle bus will drop you.
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 secluded beaches: Shellharbour Village is the little seaside village of your dreams. Recreate your childhood by enjoying fish and chips at the beach before exploring the main street, which is filled with restaurants and boutique shops. Go snorkeling at Bushrangers Bay, try your hand at catching a fish at Bass Point Reserve or just adjust to having land legs.
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 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 0409 111665)
Best for Active Types: Walk Wollongong's Blue Mile from Lang Park to North Wollongong Beach or take advantage of 60 kilometers 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 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Food and Drink
More than 60 small bars and cafes have opened their doors in Wollongong in the past three 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 precincts.
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 smoked duck breast with braised leg, baby beetroot, parsnip puree paired with a glass of pinot noir. (Ruby's Mount Kembla, 39 Harry Graham Drive, Mount Kembla; +61 2 4272 2541; open from Friday dinner to Sunday lunch)
Eat at Sandy's: If you're plan is to graze your way around the Gong, don't miss Eat at Sandy's, the recently opened restaurant by chef Yon Miller, whose sister restaurant Sandy Goodwich has a well-deserved cult following. The restaurant has a wood-fired oven and communal dinners are a thing: Order the free-range pork belly slathered with Middle Eastern spice, and a basket of Lebanese bread, yoghurt and sesame sauce with a side of roasted cauliflower. (Eat at Sandy's, 1/323 Princes Highway, Bulli; +61 2 4283 7739; open Wednesday to Sunday, from 5 p.m.; Sandy Goodwich, 2/363 Crown Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4244 4690; open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Wednesday to Sunday, from 5 p.m.)
Caveau: This intimate restaurant has been awarded a hat by theSydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide every year since 2005. Arrive hungry to watch chef Peter Sheppard conjure up a seven-course degustation feast, which includes dishes such as rolled pork loin with braised jowl, turnips and boudin noir (sausage) and basil-cured local snapper. 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 p.m.)
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 a.m.)
Where You're Docked
Port Kembla is a suburb of Wollongong located 8 kilometers south of the CBD. Port Kembla gets its name from nearby Mount Kembla. The East Coast port, which was established in the 1890s, is regarded as one of the area's key assets and is a closed port, which means you cannot explore the area around the terminal. The courtesy Gong shuttle bus does loops into the city centre to and from Burelli Street, which is in the heart of the city centre.
Good to Know
Wollongong's friendly ambassadors are there to highlight all the region has to offer and they do a stellar job of it, too. As well as being the "go-to" when it comes to what to see and do, the ambassadors are super friendly and enthusiastic and bursting with civic pride. It takes the experience of being a visitor to the city to the next level and makes it such a memorable and personal exchange.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency used is the Australian dollar. For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. There are no ATMs at the port. However, a free courtesy shuttle bus will drop passengers arriving in Port Kembla to the city centre near Crown Street, which is dotted with ATMs and banks, where you can also exchange your currency. Fee-free currency exchange is also available from The Currency Exchange (Shop N122 Wollongong Central Shopping Centre), which is closed on Sundays. Credit cards are widely accepted but to be on the safe side, ask first.
The native language of the port destination is English -- or "Orstrayan," but Aussies talk fairly fast and use a lot of slang. A few helpful colloquial phrases that a day-tripper might like to throw around include: "No worries," which means "all good," "g'day," which means "hello" and "catcha" (bye for now). If someone offers you a banger, it's a sausage.
The best place to pick up souvenirs is at the Wollongong Visitor Information Centre where you can purchase everything from magnets and pens to prints, postcards, T-shirts and hats. You can also choose between designer mugs, wine coolers and even a lens cloth -- all of which feature indigenous art. Look out for canvas prints of local images by photographer Dee Kramer. (Wollongong Visitor Information Centre, The iHub, 93 Crown Street, Wollongong; 1 800 240 737; open Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Usually "Best Cocktail" is reserved for ports in places such as the Caribbean. But in this case we make an exception and urge you to hotfoot it to Humber, Wollongong's only rooftop bar, for The Floozy (a gin, peach, rosewater, pineapple and lime concoction). Before you get back onboard, try the Bon Voyage (Sailor Jerry spiced rum, orgeat syrup, lime, ginger beer and agave nectar). Humber is set over three levels in the heart of Wollongong's CBD (major shopping hub) but it's the rooftop bar that is the best spot to enjoy a cocktail. (226 Crown Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4263 0355; open Monday to Friday, 6:30 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
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