Sydney steals the jewel in Australia’s tourism crown, but close to the south is another very stylish, richly vibrant and eclectically hip city: Wollongong or ‘Gong’.
Wollongong is just over 50 miles south of Sydney and is a gem in itself. It grows on the coast between the Illawarra Cliffs and the Tasman Sea.
It is the third largest city in the state of New South Wales, after its older brother Sydney and its cousin Newcastle, and the tenth largest city in the country.
On the beach, by the sea, in the sun, sea and sand, Wollongong is the cheeky embodiment of the perfect Aussie.
The nickname is reminiscent of the original Aboriginal clans that lived here and is said to be derived from the Dharawal name ‘woolyungah’ meaning five islands – which can still be seen today from a good vantage point.
The first Europeans to reach this area were the famous English navigators, George Bass and Matthew Flinders (after whom the country was named), who explored the coast from Port Jackson by sea in 1796 – less than ten years later. Establishment of the colony in 1788.
As Sydney began to grow, the area attracted cedar cutters and then ranchers, while the discovery of coal by George Bass in 1797 gave the first signs of economic activity that would power Wollongong’s economic core for decades to come. However, it took until 1942 before it became its own city.
Today, Greater Wollongong stretches from Stanwell Park in the north to Shellharbour in the south. It stretches for 60 kilometers and includes a bustling university, a botanic garden larger than Sydney’s flagship, an Australian seaport and one of Australia’s largest industrial complexes in Port Kembla.
Wollongong is a beautiful city with stylish suburbs, with long sandy beaches interspersed with charming suburbs, great walking and cycling routes, conservation areas and gardens. There’s enough to keep anyone busy for days, if not weeks, regardless of age.
However, here are some of the best draws in Wollongong:
VIEWS FROM BARE TO PRACTICE, OVER STANWELL
Despite its very unromantic name, Bald Hill is perhaps the most charming of the many scenic spots around Wollongong. The vantage point overlooks the indigo waters of the Tasman Sea and down to the small town of Stanwell Tops and the beach of the same name, which has seen a lot of aviation history.
It was here, on these hills and beach, that the legendary Australian engineer and aviator Lawrence Hargrave developed flyers and aeronautical theories that later inspired the Wright brothers to invent the airplane.
A drive to the lookout named after Lawrence and a plaque on Bald Hill pay tribute to this pioneer who never patented his work so that other scientists around the world could use it to promote innovation.
Interestingly, Bald Hill is now a hub for hang gliding and paragliding equipment, and a weekend visit warrants a view of colorful gliders floating almost meditatively like a sheet of silver against the clear sky and blue sea.
In winter, Näköalapaikka is an excellent vantage point where you can also observe humpback whales that pass north through these waters during the calving season.
Also visible is Wollongong’s contribution to the world of bridges: the Seacliff Bridge, an engineering marvel along the Grand Pacific Drive that winds along the sheer cliff leading to Wollongong City.
If you like walking, you can walk over the Seacliff Bridge and enjoy the wonderful sea breeze. Alternatively, close to Bald Hill Lookout is Otford Lookout, which begins an incredibly long walk through the Royal National Park to the Figure 8 Pools – tidal pools that look like, you guessed it, the number 8!
NAN TEN TEMPLE
Regardless of caste, creed, sect or culture, Nan Tien Temple should be on your must-see list when you land in Wollongong or even Sydney.
Built in 1995 by a Taiwanese Buddhist order, it is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the southern hemisphere. Ridges arrive at Wollongong.
Nan Tien Temple exudes serenity as you immerse yourself in the peace of the temple grounds while feeling dwarfed by the vast courtyards.
Enjoy shnirin-yoku or a nature walk in the Japanese gardens, laugh at the many statues of children dotted around the complex, push a heavy wooden gong to the top of a scenic hill to resonate with the monastic sound, or do tai chi, meditation or calligraphy classes to purify your soul and spirit.
At least you can sit in silence and gaze at the many Buddha statues in the temple to contemplate your Ikigaita.
ILLAWARRAJ LAKE IN WOLLONGONG
Once upon a time Australian sailor Matthew Flinders named Lake Illawarra Tom Thumb Lagoon, and thankfully today we remember the name of the locals Tharawal and Wadi Wadi rather than the fairytale character after whom Flinders had named his boat, which lay at anchor in this lagoon. in 1797.
Being a large natural body of water, it was a source not only of food but also of spirituality for these local indigenous peoples, where many cemeteries and centers have been found around the lake.
The lake, or rather the lagoon, is bustling with water sports and activities, especially in summer, and the calm waters make kayaking or canoeing easy.
Alternatively, walk or cycle the Illawarra Art Trail near the lagoon, which features local works commemorating the area’s Aboriginal history and local flora and fauna.
The entrance to the lagoon from the sea in Windang is beautiful with the interaction of sea and silt, and convenient sea view accommodation is available.
Mountain KEIRA WAR
Another Illawarra rock dominating the Wollongong area is Mt. Keira’s position. The hill casts its shadow over Wollongong and is clearly visible from most parts of the city.
The Mount Keira viewpoint offers breathtaking panoramic views and you can easily find Wollongong’s most popular destinations, including the many beaches, the magnificent Nan Tien Temple, Illawarra Lake, the bustling Port Kembla area and Wollongong’s gleaming white lighthouses. city.
The lookout is part of a botanical garden that is directly shaded and features a 5.5 km walking trail through eucalyptus forests that starts and ends at the lookout.
Contrary to expectations – and in keeping with Wollongong naming traditions – Keira is apparently an Aboriginal term meaning lagoon (Lake Illawarra) or High Mountain, or even a representation of Geera, daughter of the west wind, who finds herself in her isolation turned to stone. Her other five sisters were thrown overboard by the west wind for misconduct, eventually earning the name Wollongong.
Mount Keira was once a major coal mining center, whose high-quality coal was highly sought after in Asia. Coal was transported downriver to Wollongong Wharf, initially by horse carts and then by tram, the existing tram lines of which continue to this day along the town’s waterfront.
WOLLONGONG BOTANICAL GARDEN
Wollongong Botanic Gardens are located below Mt Keira in the aptly named suburb of Keiraville.
It includes beautiful walks through rose gardens, azaleas and a wide variety of succulents, as well as subtropical and dry rainforests and a stream that flows into a large lake.
Of particular note are the Japanese Barrel Bridge, which commemorates Wollongong’s link with its sister city of Kawasaki, and the poetic rotunda near the Rose Garden, whose octagonal roof features brilliant verses that enhance the sublime beauty of nature.
The garden also includes Mt Keira Peak and Puckey Reserve, the latter of which consists of a long winding walkway through coastal sand dunes and enigmatic wetlands, ending at North Wollongong Beach near the lagoon.
If you still haven’t satisfied your thirst for beauty and wildlife knowledge, you can head to the Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens near Mt. Mount Pleasant, awash in spring with rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and camellias in bloom, with waterholes where you can scribble the perfect sunny afternoon haiku.