Different ways to play at Wollongong’s best beaches

From snorkelling underwater worlds to picnics by a clifftop lighthouse, there are many extraordinary ways to experience Wollongong’s incredible coast beyond swimming and surfing.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Aug 2023 -
min read

For nature lovers 

Framed by the Pacific Ocean to the east and a lush escarpment to the west, Wollongong is naturally blessed and there are many ways to experience its incredible beauty. One of the most exciting times of the year is between May and November, when the coast becomes prime whale-watching territory. There are vantage points all along the coast, including Stanwell Tops, and the rugged headland around the Kiama Blowhole – the largest blowhole in the world. Here, you’ll feel the power of nature up close, as seawater blasts up to 30m into the sky from a natural geyser, while whales cruise by in the ocean. 

To get closer to the underwater wildlife, swim among tropical fish in the crystal-clear waters of Bushrangers Bay Aquatic Reserve in Shellharbour. This sheltered snorkelling spot is nestled within Bass Point Reserve, 72 hectares of rare coastal rainforest. Delve into the Aboriginal history of the region, stretching back at least 20,000 years (one of the oldest Aboriginal sites on the east coast), on a self-guided cultural walk (download the Tread Shellharbour app on your phone to follow it). Also near Kiama, is Boneyard, another snorkelling spot with turquoise biodiverse waters that will make you feel like you’re in paradise.    

Couple ready to dive in Bushrangers Bay, Shellharbour

Bushrangers Bay, Shellharbour

For adventures out of the water, turn to the 500-metre-tall Illawarra escarpment that has bordered the coast here for 30 million years. A stone’s throw from both the city and beach, it forms part of Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area, where you can bushwalk through lush green rainforest, eucalypt and towering cedars. Keep an eye (and an ear) out for lyrebirds who are known for mimicking the sounds around them. South of Shellharbour there’s Killalea Regional Park, a National Surfing Reserve home to world-class beaches, massive Morton Bay fig trees, blue-tongue lizards, echidna, wallabies and hundreds of bird species.  

Surfing heading into the water at Killalea Beach, Shellharbour

Killalea Beach, Shellharbour

For thrill seekers 

Surfers won’t have to go far to find waves, with Wollongong’s City Beach an all-round star for swimming and surfing. Neighbouring North Wollongong is a great spot to learn with Pines Surf Academy, while Illawarra Surf Academy runs lessons at the kilometre-long Thirroul Beach. Bombo Beach near Kiama has gentle waves for beginners and beautiful Werri Beach in Gerringong has the best of both worlds, with consistent breaks at both headlands for more advanced surfers and a fatter wave close to shore for longboard riders. Intermediate to advanced surfers will love Sandon Point Beach at Bulli, The Farm (Killalea Beach), Mystics (Minnamurra Beach) and Boneyard (near Bombo Beach in Kiama).  

Women learning how to surf with Illawarra Surf Academy on Corrimal Beach near Wollongong, South Coast

Illawarra Surf Academy, Wollongong

Boneyard also has sublime conditions to launch a stand-up paddleboard, as does Shellharbour, which is the setting for an annual festival dedicated to the sport. All other times, you can book a lesson, hire a board or feel zen with paddleboard yoga or pilates classes with Stand Up Paddle Boarding Shellharbour.  

Man stand-up paddleboarding, Wollongong

Stand-up paddleboarding, Wollongong

From paddle to pedal - Wollongong is a city for cyclists with more than 40km of cycle tracks. The Wollongong to Thirroul track follows the coast for 14km and is a relatively easy and scenic cycle, it’s also a good path for joggers.  

Or take the adventure up a notch and feel the exhilaration of gliding above the Pacific Ocean with Hangglide Oz, which operates tandem hang-gliding flights from Bald Hill Lookout in Stanwell Park, or Skydive Sydney - Wollongong, which land on Wollongong’s North Beach. 

For chill seekers 

For a relaxing outing, head out for a morning or sunset stroll along Blue Mile, the city’s promenade that stretches from North Beach to the harbour. You can also delve deeper into local history here on a guided tour that takes you to sites including Flagstaff Hill and the Old Courthouse. For a weekend adventure, the Kiama Coast Walk is a 20km hike from Minnamurra River to Gerringong that passes a dramatic coastline of volcanic rock, blowholes and includes beach walking, grassy tracks and gentle hills. The walk can be divided up into smaller sections if you can’t commit to the full seven-hour walk.  

Sea bathing is ingrained into Wollongong’s history, with dozens of ocean pools carved out of the coastline such as Gentlemen’s Pool, a former men-only pool set into a rocky platform where all genders are now welcome. Hidden beneath Flagstaff Hill, the former women-only Nun’s Baths are a little trickier to get to but feel like a hidden oasis.  

Beyond the city, there are ocean pools at Bulli, Coledale, Austinmer, Towradgi and Coalcliff, which has sheer cliffs for incredible views. At Port Kembla, a seemingly endless stretch of sand at 6.6km long, you’ll find three saltwater pools in the northern corner.  

Aerial overlooking Austinmer Ocean Pools, Austinmer Beach

Austinmer Beach, Austinmer

Post dip, pack a picnic and relax on the grass at Lang Park on the city’s foreshore. Or enjoy views of lake and ocean at Windang Beach, which has a large park located at the entrance of Lake Illawarra with barbecues and covered picnic areas. Up at Bald Hill Lookout, you can sit back and watch the hang gliders and paragliders take the leap as you relax at the picnic tables.  

Scenic view from Stanwell Tops Lookout in the Royal National Park, Wollongong

Stanwell Tops Lookout in the Royal National Park, Wollongong

For Instagrammers 

For travellers who seek out the most photogenic scenes, Wollongong is a paradise of scenic coastal views. After you’ve snapped Wollongong’s breathtaking beaches and ocean baths, capture the 665m Sea Cliff Bridge in Clifton, a snake-like bridge that curves out over the water and forms part of the scenic Grand Pacific Drive that hugs the coast from Sydney. Or test out your photography skills at Bombo Headland, striking basalt columns on Kiama’s coast that are a remnant of the mining history here. When in Port Kembla, seek out the street art or the white concrete pyramids that were built during WWII, both of which make unique additions to your grid.   

The scenic coastal drive along Sea Cliff Bridge in Clifton, Wollongong

Coastal drive along Sea Cliff Bridge


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