Wollongong, just about an hour's drive south of Sydney and the third largest city in New South Wales (after Sydney and Newcastle), is sometimes treated with a measure of disdain by folk from the Big Smoke.
Mainly this is because of, as in Newcastle, the city's industrial image. Interestingly, the steelworks giant BHP has had massive plants just outside the residential areas of both Newcastle and (at Port Kembla) Wollongong. (The BHP steelworks plant in Newcastle was closed in 1999, but other steelworks plants in the area are on the drawing board.)
Swim, surf, picnic
Still, against the green backdrop of the Illawarra hills, Wollongong boasts beaches Sydneysiders and other visitors travel down the Princes Highway or Grand Pacific Drive for a swim, a surf, or a picnic.
In fact, beyond Sydney's city beaches, I rather like the stretch of sand from Wollongong's North Beach down to the harbour, around the fish market and the two lighthouses, and on to Wollongong Beach along the city's eastern shore.
North Beach and Stuart Park
North Beach lies adjacent to Wollongong's Stuart Park. Coming from Sydney, I'd drive south on Flinders St (actually a continuation of the Princes Highway) and turn left on Bourke St. Turning left on Cliff Rd at the end of Bourke brings me to Stuart Park. If I'm lucky I can park within Stuart Park. Otherwise there are more parking spaces at its lower fringes.
North Beach is fine for swimming, surfing or just lazing in the sand.
Come lunchtime, unless I've packed a picnic hamper, I can partake of fresh seafood at the Lagoon restaurant within the park or at the Novotel Northbeach at the park's southern edge.
If children are with me, I may choose to drive south on Cliff Rd, or walk along the beach, to the harbour where the water is calmer.
The fish market is close by and you can order fresh oysters and prawns there for your picnic lunch. Or try the fish and chips or calamari rings.
Cross Endeavour Drive and you are on Wollongong Beach, south of the fish market and lighthouses. You may prefer this stretch of sand which is close to the eastern end of Crown St, which is the main drag. From there you can walk to the Crown St Mall, which is the city's practical centre.
As for the city itself, nothing much distinguishes Wollongong from other large Australian towns, except that with the University of Wollongong close by, this is university town as well.
As such, it does cater for students and prices, except in the large restaurants and hotels, are suited to students' budgets, which bodes well for the visitor with an eye on the purse.
North of Wollongong are a series of interesting little coastal towns with fine beaches which you may want to visit.
I understand fishing is fine in the Wollongong and Port Kembla waters, but I'm no fisherman and can't really say.
The easiest way from Sydney to Wollongong is to take the Princes Highway and follow it all the way into the city of Wollongong. That's the left fork at the Y intersection after coming down the mountain.
A slower, rather more scenic way, is to take the Grand Pacific Drive.
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