There was a time when Wollongong’s chief drawcard was its proximity to big sister Sydney but it’s safe to say those days are long gone, as the city’s fine dining and small bar culture, coupled with its beautiful beaches and bike tracks, make it a superb destination in its own right.
Wollongong has always possessed more than its fair share of natural beauty: the difference now is the plethora of ways to enjoy it. For the more traditionally minded, a swim in the ocean and a bike ride along the coast is hard to beat. Of the two main beaches, North Beach is the more swimmer friendly while wilder City Beach, on the other side of Flagstaff Point, makes for great wave watching and sandy strolls. The waterfront cycleway runs between Port Kembla, just south of Wollongong, to Thirroul, around 18 kilometres north. We suggest going north: Thirroul itself is a gorgeous town with lots to entertain and the ride up there is beautiful, with ample opportunities for coffee and food stops along the way. Hire a bike from South Coast Bike Hire and pedal away to your heart’s content.
For those seeking a more adrenalin packed method of enjoying the scenery, Just Cruisin’ offers a Ride and Fly Tour of the area, which will put you in the sidecar of a Harley Davidson and the cockpit of Lilly Warra, the friendly biplane. Depending on just how much adrenaline you’re after, Lilly and her capable pilot can do both open-cockpit scenic rides and acrobatic joyrides. Either way, it’s definitely a day to remember.
When it comes to eating and drinking, there are enough options in town to keep you going for weeks. To help you out, we’ve picked a top three in each category, starting with Caveau, Wollongong’s most awarded fine dining venue. Having won a SMH Good Food hat every year since 2005, the venue is practically fail-safe, serving up a trademark seven course degustation designed with a French flair and nose-to-tail philosophy. The menu changes regularly to make the most of seasonal produce but, given its French nature, you can be sure the sixth course will always be cheese. For more casual daytime fare, Lee & Me gets our vote. Operating out of a charming 1980s terrace house, Lee & Me is part café, part boutique, with flower and furniture hub THE STORE operating on the top level. The menu here ranges from healthy to decadent, with the zucchini, haloumi and chickpea fritters in the former category and the ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter, maple and Nutella cream firmly in the latter. Both are delicious and will no doubt tousle for top place depending on your mood. The final entry in the trifecta goes to Diggies at North Beach. Perched overlooking the beach, this heritage listed cottage offers visual interest both inside and out and an equally enticing menu. The spicy, panko crumbed fish tacos are always a winning option and even the basics are impeccably done, with the avocado toast coming with sliced tomato, grilled haloumi and a medley of pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds.
The small bar culture is alive and well in Wollongong and possibly best encapsulated by the Howlin’ Wolf Bar on Crown Street. Located in the heart of the city’s arts precinct, this underground Blues venue has a moody cocktail list to match, making it the perfect spot to disappear to for a pre or post-dinner drink. The Throsby is another intimate space but the focus here is well and truly on wine, with a list boasting 53 varieties from boutique producers around the world. If beer is more your taste, there’s nowhere better to enjoy a pint than The Illawarra Brewery which offers a true taste of Wollongong in its range of locally brewed craft beers.