The rainforest meets the sea at Wollongong just south of Sydney on the NSW southern coast.
The Illawarra Escarpment tumbles into the sea just north of Wollongong. The ‘Gong, as it’s known, is the third-largest city in NSW, and while it might have an industrial past, it’s also one of the most attractive seaside cities in Australia, where you can explore the horseshoe-shaped cove of Wollongong Harbour with its lighthouse, fishing boats, fish markets, and city beaches. Getting to Wollongong is half the fun: come by road and you’ll drive across the stunning cantilevered Sea Cliff Bridge on the Grand Pacific Drive; travel by train from Sydney and the tracks hug the coastline almost the entire way.
NSW’s answer to Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, the Grand Pacific Drive (also known as Lawrence Hargrave Drive) is a cliffside scenic route that meanders along the coastline south of Sydney. Soak in the views from Stanwell Tops, then wind along the edge of the cliffs 50 metres out to sea on the famous cantilevered Sea Cliff Bridge between Coalcliff and Clifton. After that, you’ll want to hop from beach to beach—most have a caravan park or beachside camping ground nearby—all the way to Wollongong.
Reminiscent of England with green hills, stone houses, and cool-climate gardens of tulips and daffodils in spring, these highlands that flank the coast between Sydney and Wollongong are the place for a country weekend getaway. You’ll find good holiday parks in the towns of Mittagong, Moss Vale, and Bowral, or choose to bush camp in riverside camping areas in the state forests and national parks. Bring your winter woollies—it can get cold at night.
Valleys don’t get much prettier than Kangaroo Valley, just over an hour’s drive southwest of the ‘Gong and home to the oldest suspension bridge in Australia, set over the Kangaroo River. Despite the name, you’ll probably see more wombats than wallabies at riverside camping spots, caravan parks, and glamping areas. Nearby must-sees include Fitzroy Falls in Moreton National Park.
Watch the waves woosh through the blowhole at Kiama, climb the Illawarra Fly (a bouncy, 500-metre-long, 25-metre-high, elevated treetop walk near Robertson), tackle the waterslides at Jamberoo Action Park, walk with lyrebirds in the rainforest at Minnamurra, or feed your sweet tooth with a hot donut from Berry Donut Farm. If you’re a surfer (or just a lover of sleeping by the sea), head to The Farm at Killalea State Park, where the campsites are right behind the beach.
Summer time is best for seaside camping, especially if you plan on swimming. Camping and caravanning are top choices on the South Coast during the summer months and school holidays, especially in late December and throughout January, when you’ll need to book well in advance to secure a place. If you want to see whales, go between June and November.
- The wheelchair-accessible boardwalk leading to Minnamurra Falls in Minnamurra Rainforest is perfect for families. - Set at Stanwell Tops just north of Wollongong, 275-metre-high Bald Hill is Australia’s best spot for hang-gliding and paragliding thanks to ocean views with Royal National Park to the north and the escarpment to the south. Tandem flights are available—no experience needed...just a good head for heights. - The surf beaches of the Illawarra are a great place to learn to surf.