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.
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.
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.
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.)