Wedged between beach and mountains, the Illawarra is a coastal region in the state of New South Wales. This chain of laidback beach towns, anchored by the city of Wollongong, has lots of outdoor recreation and a quieter pace of life than nearby Sydney.
- 1 Wollongong – the main population centre of the Illawarra.
- 2 Helensburgh – contains Australia's first Hindu temple.
- 3 Stanwell Park – small quaint coastal town.
- 4 Shellharbour (includes 5 Albion Park) – a largely industrial city.
- 6 Kiama – picturesque town on the cliffs.
- 1 Royal National Park – standing between Sydney's southerly sprawl and the Illawarra.
- 2 Dharawal National Park – former mining area, now a popular weekend destination from Sydney
- 3 Budderoo National Park – a state park preserving one of the last patches of rainforest in the Illawarra
A popular region for Sydneysiders to relax by the sea, the region was known as Five Islands by the pioneers of the C18th after the group of islands off its coast. Life here is for people who want things more laid back than Sydney.
The region can be said to mark the northernmost part of the NSW South Coast. It consists of a grassy coastal plain, narrow in the north and wider in the south, bounded by the Tasman Sea on the east and the mountainous, almost impassable Illawarra escarpment (forming the eastern edge of the Southern Highlands plateau) to the west. In the middle of the region is Lake Illawarra, a shallow lake formed when sediment built up at the entrance to a bay. The district extends from the southern hills of the Royal National Park in the north to the Shoalhaven River in the south, and contains the city of Wollongong, the fourth largest urban area in New South Wales.
North of Wollongong the plain narrows to a small strip of land between the coast and the escarpment. At Coalcliff and Stanwell Park small valleys are formed allowing further settlement. To the south it widens, and becomes increasingly hillier before reaching Stockyard Mountain, a long divide between the main plain and the Jamberoo Valley, which stretches until it reaches Kiama. South of Kiama is Saddleback Mountain and south of that the Shoalhaven plains and the outcrop of Coolangatta Mountain.
Visitor information centre
- 1 Southern Gateway Centre, M1 Princes Mwy/Mt Ousley Rd, Bulli Tops (This visitor centre is after the Appin Road (B69) exit and only accessible southbound. If you're on Mount Ousley Road, do not take the M1 exit but continue to stay on the road which becomes B69. Immediately exit once you see a Princes Hwy sign and then turn onto the road to Sublime Pt Lookout. Take a U-turn, and turn left back onto Princes Highway and the visitor centre will be on your left just as you've entered the freeway.), ☏ .
The nearest major airport is Sydney Airport, 80 km (50 mi) north of Wollongong. Train service is available from the airport to the Illawarra; change at Wolli Creek station.
The Illawarra also has its own airport, Shellharbour/Wollongong Airport (WOL IATA). LinkAirways has flights to Melbourne-Essendon and Brisbane, although on much a lower scale than you'd get at Sydney.
The Illawarra region is served by train on the South Coast Line (SCO) from Bondi Junction down south via Central (Sydney CBD) and Sutherland Shire and terminates at Kiama; from the south, a separate shuttle train service operates between Bomaderry and Kiama (southern boundary of the Illawarra), passing Berry and Gerringong. Thanks to Sydney's extensive trail network, you can get around wherever you want within the Illawarra by train in a day and only pay around $16.80.
From Sydney, the A1 Prices Highway or the A6 Heathcote Road and the M1 Prices Motorway (formerly NR 1 Southern Freeway) run down south and takes about an hour for the northern sections of the Illawarra, and around two hours for the southern sections of the Illawarra. Traffic jams are common on public holidays, especially on Heathcote Road.
There are public bus services, but buses only really operate around the Wollongong area with few services outside it, and the few are usually connecting buses to the southern suburbs of Sydney.
There is one major rail line; the SCO (South Coast Line) that crosses the region north-south. Due to the extensive train network around Greater Sydney, you can use an Opal card; the line is also considered to be a part of NSW Trainlink's Intercity network and get by without spending more than $16.30.
If you're getting by car, which is perhaps the most easiest and convenient, the main route to get by the region is via the M1 Princes Motorway (formerly Southern Freeway), Mt Ousley Road and the A1 Princes Highway which connects the region north-south. The most of the route is a freeway or a limited-access dual carriageway sections. On top of the Princes Mwy, there are several east-west routes, some of which head west and connect the Illawarra region to the Southern Highlands and South-West Sydney.
See cycling in New South Wales § Illawarra for information about cycling in the Illawarra.
Though regional NSW (or regional Australia for that matter) is not particularly known for places of worship that get so many tourists, the Illawarra region has two major places of worship, both which attract visitors from all over the state. The first is the Nan Tien Temple in southern Wollongong, a Buddhist Temple that is particularly visited for its remarkable architecture, and the second is Sri Venkateswara Temple which isn't as well known nor visited as Nan Tien, but was the first Hindu temple in Australia.
To the west of the Illawarra, is home to some stunning and picturesque waterfalls. The hike up to them is definitely worth it. The Illawarra Escarpment is crisscrossed by hiking and mountain biking trails. Additionally, surfing in these beaches is a popular trend, and most beaches have a lifeguard.
The Grand Pacific Drive is a scenic tourist drive starting from Royal National Park near Loftus, weaves its way down Stanwell Park and Sea Cliff Way before makings its way through suburban Wollongong, Port Kembla and Shellharbour. It then joins with the freeway section of the Princes Highway (not Mwy) at Shellharbour Junction until Bombo and Kiama, where it passes through the town's important points of interests. The tourist drive then joins back at Kiama Heights next to the Kiama Bends until Gerringong, and makes its way down to Bomaderry via coastal Shoalhaven roads (not covered here).
In the areas of Wollongong, Shellharbour, Port Kembla and Kiama, it's easy to find a variety of food here, for most types of diets, and most cater for allergies. Generally there is a good variety of Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisines available, though arguably they are not really authentic, and have more of the "regional Australianised" taste.
The region also has plenty of cafes. Every town and most suburbs of Wollongong will generally have at least around three to five. You can generally expect to find what you would find in normal Australian cafes, though you may find a larger availability of cold beverages available.
As the Illawarra is in regional New South Wales, most restaurants will usually be open from 11AM and close at 2:30PM for lunch, while reopen between 5 and 6:30PM and then close between 9 and 10PM. Cafes in Wollongong are usually open from 7AM in the morning, though some may only open at 10AM and close by 4PM.
There are plenty of bars and pubs in Wollongong, but they can get violent after dark.
- Illawarra Mercury – the region's daily local newspaper.