One of our favourite day trips from Sydney is the drive south via the Royal National Park, through the towns of Stanwell Park, Austinmer and Thirroul to North Wollongong. A highlight of the trip is the Sea Cliff Bridge and the spectacular coastal views.
Leaving Sydney we drive out past the airport, following the signs to Rockdale/Wollongong. Just beyond the airport, there are good views over Botany Bay from along the Grand Parade, Brighton-Le-Sands. The foreshore of Botany Bay has been landscaped in recent years to provide a walking/cycling track and grassed areas for picnicking.
Royal National Park
Once through the southern suburbs of Sydney take the turnoff to the Royal National Park. Established in 1879, it is Australia’s oldest national park and covers an area of 132 sq kms. The Royal National Park was the second national park to be established in the world, after Yellowstone in USA.
The Royal National Park is the beginning of what is known as the Grand Pacific Drive – from Sydney to Wollongong and beyond.
To drive through the park there is a vehicle entry fee of $11 per vehicle per day. It is a pretty drive through the park and over the weir. The facilities at the weir are being refurbished at the time of our trip.
We recommend making a couple of stops in the Park. Firstly, we love to stop at Wattamolla Beach. There is quite a steep walk down to the beautiful beach or you can just enjoy the views from the park at the top. There is a café/kiosk, gas/electric BBQs, picnic tables and flush toilets at the top. Unfortunately Wattamolla is an unpatrolled beach.
The other beach we recommend is Garie Beach. This is another beautiful beach and easily accessible. The kiosk is very good here. The couple who run the kiosk bake the pies, cakes and biscuits on sale. Other facilities include picnic tables, flush toilets and cold showers. Garie has a Surf Lifesaving Club and the beach is patrolled in the summer.
If you have the time, you might also consider visiting Bundeena (accessible via the Royal National Park). Bundeena has an Art Trail open on the first Sunday of every month if you happen to be there at the right time. It is quite a way back to Bundeena and we always feel it is a place that deserves more time than is available on a day trip to Wollongong.
Stanwell Tops Lookout
We continue driving through the national park to Stanwell Park where there are two lookouts with spectacular views down the coast to Wollongong. If conditions are right, you will see hang-gliders launching from Bald Hill Lookout. You can even do a tandem hang-gliding flight from here if you are keen.
If you are ready for something to eat at Stanwell Park we have been told that the Palms Café serves good food.
Sea Cliff Bridge
We like to continue on to the Sea Cliff Bridge, between Coalcliff and Clifton. We love to walk the bridge and you can do this by either leaving your car on the north side of the bridge in the designated car park at Coalcliff, or stop just south of the bridge and walk back.
At the southern and northern approaches to the bridge it’s interesting to see a number of padlocks on the bridge. Couples and families are engraving locks to mark important dates in their lives and attaching the locks to the bridge. Apparently a local couple, John and Fay Ireland, started the trend with a lock marking their 40th wedding anniversary in 2006.
Continuing on we pass pretty Coledale beach. If the weather is warm it is a good beach to stop for a swim.
Next is Austinmer. A couple of good places to eat in Austinmer are the Austi Beach Café and Fireworks Café (40 Moore Street, telephone 4268 1139). Also in Moore Street are a couple of interesting looking shops.
For us the next stop is Thirroul where we had lunch at Flanagans Fish Café & Kiosk at Thirroul Beach. If it’s a good day, it’s very pleasant sitting at outdoor tables on the promenade overlooking the beach.
We continue the drive south to North Wollongong Beach, the Wollongong Harbour and Flagstaff Point.
In 2010 the Wollongong Harbour was listed on the State Heritage Register due to its historical and aesthetic value. This area has been revitalised and more changes are in the pipeline. It has become a pretty area with parklands, restaurants and picnic areas.
At this point we are running out of daylight! The quickest way back to Sydney is to take the freeway. Driving time back to Sydney is about an hour and a half.