Travel: Best of beach and city bustle

By Mike Yardley


The beachy city of Wollongong laps up the best of both worlds. It is a stone's throw from the neon glow of Sydney, yet far enough away to enjoy a lifestyle that marches to an easy tempo.

Cloaked in the rainforest finery of the Southern Highlands to the west, and spilling down to the bustling blue Pacific Ocean, Wollongong is a haven for adventure-seekers in the great outdoors.

With a population about the size of Wellington's, it's a navigable city with a small-town vibe.

Graced with no less than 17 patrolled beaches, finding your own spot of golden sand is never an issue.

The city's seaside is lined with a stream of appetising eateries and bars, many of which spill out on to the sun- soaked waterfront.

But after you have satisfied your appetite for sun, sand and surf, what makes Wollongong such a catch are the knock-out scenic charms that fringe the city, including its sweeping shawl of rainforest. Head to the award-winning Coledale Retreat, an eco-tourism facility that offers guided walks into the forest.

The Grand Pacific Drive is a dazzling tourist route which hugs the coastline south of Sydney, serving up magnificent views that will fill up your camera's memory card.

Did you know that the New South Wales coast is home to the largest blowhole in the world? Kiama Blowhole is quite a gusher, serving up a spritzy show of spectacular plumes when the seas are running from the southeast.

For some culture, head to the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. Nan Tien Temple is grand architecture at its best, and also offers tasty vegetarian culinary delights.

The Southern Highlands are peppered with magnificent private gardens, many established by Sydney's early settlers to escape the heat of the city.

Back O' the Moon, Red Cow Farm, Chinoiserie and 5th Chapter Estate are just some of the top-drawer properties that are colourful by name and nature.

The Southern Highlands are blessed with lusty waterfalls and vertical drops that billow and tumble like silk curtains. You'll need days to check them all out, but my pick includes Carrington Falls, where the Kangaroo River plunges dramatically over the escarpment.

After spoiling yourself with the area's sights, the Chiffley Hotel Wollongong is a cheerful, chilled-out and ultra-modern place to relax. C Grill is the hotel's exceptionally popular restaurant offering divine cuisine and desserts.

It's a great-value home away from home, with chatty, charming staff.

Family favourites

Nature endows the wider Wollongong area with plenty of pulling power, but the region has a surprisingly generous assortment of first-class family-oriented attractions.

Sports buffs should take in the sights at the brilliantly presented International Cricket Hall of Fame. The original Bradman Museum has been incorporated into the new whiz-bang shrine, which deploys the latest technology to offer a wealth of interactive experiences. Children can pretend to be their favourite cricket star at this Bowral tourist magnet.

For non-stop thrills and spills, all roads lead to Jamberoo, New South Wales' biggest theme park. The eight-lane water slide is a blast, as is the mountain toboggan ride and the diving rock pool. Sectioned into various themed areas, like Billabong Beach, Rapid River, Surf Hill and Taipan, Jamberoo is a family hit. Fusing nature's delights with ingenious engineering, Illawarra Treetop Adventures will give your family a unique perspective on the rainforest. The 1500m-long treetop walk has been built 30m above the forest floor, navigating you right out to the Illawarra escarpment. Two cantilevered walkways on a springboard jut off the 45m-high spiralling lookout tower. Bounce your way around the verdant canopy and soak up the scenery.

For a slightly more sedentary affair, Symbio Wildlife Park is just the place to get your fill of family snaps with Australia's colourful wildlife, including some cuddly koalas.

Top tips

The Chiffley Hotel is a gem. For full details on the C Grill menu, in-house activities and best room rates, go to www.chiffleyhotels.com.au/wollongong

Wollongong is less than a 90-minute drive to and from Sydney Airport. Thrifty Car Rental offers great-value deals from 210 locations across the Tasman. See www.thrifty.com.au

- Hamilton News

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