SYDNEY: When COVID restrictions lift and we’re free to explore, why not head to Wollongong to enjoy beautiful beaches without the big city crowds?
Australia’s love affair with Wollongong may have started when it was just a humble beach holiday destination, but these days, it is so much more. From cool cafes and bustling markets to boutique shopping, hip bars and live music events, The Gong – as it is affectionately known by locals – has equal staycation appeal for families on a budget or overnighters ex Sydney.
Insider Tip: If you arrive on a Friday night and leave first thing Monday morning, you can make the absolute most of your weekend away… and when you stay at the Adina Apartment Hotel Wollongong, you can pack light as it boasts a fully equipped kitchen and laundry.
Saturdays in the Great Outdoors
0730: Start your day with an early morning cuppa then head down for a sand-between-your-toes stroll along the beach. Our top tip is to pick up a homemade pastry from the family-owned and operated Gwynneville Bakery, find a scenic spot (there are plenty to choose from) and enjoy an impromptu brekkie picnic by the water.
Whilst you’re in the area, check out heritage-listed Wollongong Head Lighthouse (it’s got a few names including Flagstaff Hill Lighthouse so don’t get confused if you’re following a tourist map). Not only was the first Australian lighthouse to install an automatic electric light, but its instagrammability knows no bounds on a sunny day.
0930: After weeks in our little bubbles, fresh air and outdoor exercise are just what the doctor ordered… and the Wollongong To Thirroul Bike or Walk Track is a great way to work off any stray kilos that may have crept on during isolation. This 14 km stretch is fun, fabulous and you can choose your own adventure - walk all the way to the end or stop at Towradgi Beach for a dip in an ocean bath if the weather’s warm enough.
1300: Diggies Café is a bit of an institution in these parts and the place to grab a huge stack of hotcakes or a yummy meal for a breezy brunch. Located in a heritage-listed building overlooking North Beach, Diggies is where locals hang, so you know you’re on to a good thing with price, view and food!
1500: And what better way to work off a great meal than by a spot of leisure shopping that doesn’t involve groceries or garden essentials? We recommend the boutiques around Globe Lane - nestled just off Crown St – as a great place to start. Just look for the great street art and you’ll know you’ve arrived.
And while you’re hitting the shops, why send the family off on a beach fishing tour with Aquilla Fishing Charters? They won’t need a fishing license and, if you’re extra cunning, they won’t know how much you’ve spent whilst they were gone!
1900: Whip up a leisurely dinner, share plate or oversized snack with ease from the kitchen in your apartment hotel or stroll down the street and dine where the locals do. For those wanting a panoramic view of Wollongong and a sneaky photo or two at sunset, take a drive up to Mount Keira lookout and watch the sun dip below the horizon from the very top.
2100: If you’re not yet ready to call it a night just yet, kick on at the Howlin’ Wolf Bar – another local hot spot with great music.
Rinse and Repeat Sundays
0800: We don’t know about you, but we always wake up re-energised after great night’s sleep. And when you’re staying somewhere as centrally located as the Adina Apartment Hotel Wollongong, you can even treat yourself to a guilt-free sleep in… and still have time for a leisurely morning stroll to the beach and the all-important bakery snack.
1000: Depending on energy levels, you can either cycle or drive to Bulli Beach and if the timing is right, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a market. Like clockwork, every second Sunday of the month, local farmers, artisans and craftsmen gather to sell their wares at the Foragers Market. There’s everything from clothes to arts to food and more food. And with plenty of cool stuff on show, you might just come away with a souvenir or two.
If the markets aren’t on, there’s plenty of beach to explore or to sunbathe on. The Bulli Beach Café is an institution, or you can even strike a pose on the foreshore if the mood takes you and no one will even bat an eyelid.
1500: For lovers of flora, fauna and plenty of fresh air, the Wollongong Botanical Gardens is worth a visit. This spectacular 30-hectare garden overlooks Wollongong city from its highest point at the Gleniffer Brae Manor House and features an impressive collection of native and exotic plants from around the world. As well as regular tours, there’s a sand pit, climbing net, viewing platform and a maze to keep the kids amuse. From December to February, the gardens play to host Wollongong’s very own outdoor cinema and are popular with young and old.
Top Tip: A weekend away doesn’t have to be all hustle and bustle… if the mood takes you, head back to the Adina for a kip or a dip in their heated onsite swimming pool.
1900: To finish off the weekend head down to Crown St where you can take your pick from a variety of yummy restaurants. We recommend Kneading Ruby – it’s tucked away in a former warehouse and offers classic Italian dishes that you can share with the family. On nearby Corrimal Street, Samaras’ platters are an absolute must-do… and trust us, whether you are a vegetarian or meat lover you won’t leave feeling hungry.
To Market, To Market: Things To Do When We Can Travel Without Restrictions Again!
Adina Wollongong's Hotel Manager, Sean McKinnon, gives his picks for cool things to do in and around The Gong.
- - Eat Street in the Crown Street Mall (every Thursday night
- - Forages Markets in the Crown Street Mall (every Friday night).
- - Wollongong Twilight Markets at Flagstaff Hill (The first Friday of every month between October and March).
- - The Farmers Markets at Shellharbour (First Sunday of every month). Keep an eye out for Samara's food truck.
- - Dapto Markets at the Dapto Showgrounds (Every Sunday).
- - And, if you love the Great Outdoors, Sean reckons The Sublime Walking Track, Mt Kembla Summit Track and the Mt Keira Ring Track are an absolute must!
HOW TO GET THERE: Wollongong is a coastal city located approximately 90 minutes’ drive south of Sydney along the Grand Pacific Drive. Or, for up to $35 you can jump on a train – it takes roughly the same amount of time. The name "Wollongong" is believed to mean "seas of the South" in the local Aboriginal language and the region is known for its fishing, beautiful beaches and stunning natural surrounds. The town is also home to the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere, The Nan Tien Temple, which is also worth a look when you’re in town.