Four ways to explore Wollongong by bike
Saddle up for a blood-pumping bike tour around NSW’s third largest city, taking in sea views, shady forests and serious climbs – and some fabulous refreshments, too.
Even though Wollongong gives its name to the annual Gong Ride, the city is so more much than an end point for riders rolling in from Sydney.
Set on a ribbon of coast lined with dazzling beaches to the east and a soaring escarpment to the west, Wollongong is a dream cycling destination for cyclists of every hue, from garish Mamils (Middle-aged men in Lycra) and laid-back e-cyclists to mountain bike fanatics and adventurous day-tourers.
Having shrugged off its industrial city vibe, the “Gong” is also a place that’s just as satisfying out of the saddle as it is in it. The city now brims with bustling eateries, magnetic small bars and eye-catching attractions, from one of the largest Buddhist temples in the Southern Hemisphere to the surreal Sea Cliff Bridge that soars off the seabed.
Outside peak hour, Wollongong is a simple 90-min drive from the centre of Sydney, and just 45 mins from the southern suburbs. For cyclists catching the train, services run hourly, with express services from Central to Wollongong taking just over 90 mins. There are any number of accommodation options if you’re planning a multi-day tour, including the beachside Novotel Wollongong Northbeach or the Headlands Hotel at Austinmer overlooking the Pacific.
FOR THE: Tour de Gongers
Whether you head up or down the coast, starting from central Wollongong allows keen road cyclists to take in a number of long, scenic loops. These routes are partly on major roads so experience and caution is highly recommended, as is heading out early to avoid the traffic.
The approximately 65km southern loop around Lake Illawarra takes in the long sweeping bends around the Port Kembla Steelworks (where you can do a tour if time permits), the Port Kembla headland, and around the lake at Shellharbour.
The route starts along Corrimal Street, turns onto Springhill Road, and hugs the steelworks along Five Islands Road. While it’s tempting to cut the corner off Port Kembla, wind along Flinders Street and follow your nose up to the top of the hill, pausing to catch your breath and take in the panorama.
Drop down along Windang Road, veering right through Warilla and Shellharbour, and over to Calderwood Road past Albion Park. Return to the city via the Princes Highway.
The northern loop is more of a straight run parallel to the coast with a couple of vantage points for quick viewing. Head north from the city along Memorial Drive and peel off at Bulli, making your way onto Lawrence Hargrave Drive.
Then it’s a simple but tight run up through the scenic suburbs of Austinmer, Coledale, Scarborough, and if you’re especially keen, Stanwell Park. The jewel in the crown is the Sea Cliff Bridge, floating off the escarpment and snaking over the ocean below.
Where to refuel: Lo Stretto on the Port Kembla breakwater is a hidden gem, delivering not only captivating ocean views but also a slew of delicious Italian options from pizza to arancini. The Scarborough Hotel, perched above the Pacific, is a perfect place to pull in for a thirst-quenching drink and lunch.
FOR THE: hill hunters and mountain bikers
For serious hill hunters and mountain bikers, a 35km loop up the escarpment on the edge of town is the fastest way to increase the heart rate and get the lactic acid flowing in the legs.
From central Wollongong, head west to join Mount Kiera Road in the foothills of its eponymous peak, wending your way up some seriously steep sections. Turn off to the Mount Kiera Lookout, that pinches hard up to one of the South Coast’s best vantage points 464m above sea level.
It’s a short run out to rejoin Mount Kiera Road, then two quick left turns to take you onto Harry Graham Drive. From there, just as you’ll want to hit the decline, you have to go up Mount Kembla, where the road rises to almost 500m above sea level.
Happily, it’s all now a slide down through Mount Kembla village and back to Wollongong. If your legs can handle it, trundle along Robson Road and up to the glimmering Lawrence Hargrave Memorial, paying homage to the local inventor and aircraft pioneer.
Where to refuel: The heritage-listed Mount Kembla Village Hotel is the epitome of a country pub, with welcoming food, friendly service and a great range of drinks.
FOR THE: day-tourers and coast huggers
For a flat(ish) coastal bike-track that promises grand industrial views and wild beach scenery, the Kiama to Wollongong ride should be on the long-day tourer’s plan.
From Wollongong, take the train to the charming seaside town of Kiama. If you’ve got time, zip up to the famed blowhole before heading north out of town over the headland and towards Bombo, with a railway station that has to be one of the most magnificently sited stations in the country.
The windswept Bombo beach then gives way to the township of Minnamurra, with the Minnamurra Rainforest close by. Slip up to the headland for a lookout then head to the river crossing before ducking into the bushes for a tree-lined section of shared pathway.
When you emerge, chart your way through Shell Cove, and along a lovely, sand-hugging section past Barrack Point and Warilla Beach, before taking a break on the hill overlooking Port Kembla Beach. The artistic flurry of white steel pyramids atop the headland are Insta-worthy, as is the back story to the steelworks below.
Unless you’re in race mode, idle past the vast steelworks and imagine what the original blueprints must have looked like. Before you know it, you’ll be entering the outskirts of the CBD where a well-earned rest and dinner awaits.
Where to refuel: For pure Americana gratification, satisfy your appetite with a Chopper beef burger or the Southern Fried Chicken “Heisenburger” from His Boy Elroy. If you’re after a special Lycra-free dinner, book ahead to Baby Face Kitchen. Their changing seven-course degustation serves up some of Wollongong’s finest eating.
FOR THE: leisure pedallers
Wollongong is more than beaches and mountain passes. Break a weekend in two and see how the power of the pedal takes you to all manner of fascinating locations.
It’s a mere few kilometres from central Wollongong but wandering through the entrance gate of the Nan Tien Temple will transport you to the “Paradise of the South”, as Nan Tien translates.
It’s the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere and a haven of tranquility for both interested day visitors and those on meditation retreats. But it’s a tranquility that doesn’t allow cycling on the grounds, so you’ll need to park the bike out the front. While you can wend your way through back streets to the temple, it’s a short ride from Unanderra station.
In the afternoon, ride to the coast for some aquatic meditation at Port Kembla Beach, where there’s a beach-side Olympic pool, a stunning natural rock pool or the surf to choose from.
Perhaps the best-known cycling track in Wollongong is the City to Thirroul coast trail, a mostly flat, off-road route that hugs the shoreline. Make sure you pack some sunscreen because shade is in short supply in some sections. It’s perfect for keen cyclists through to weekenders and families.
Start at the Flagstaff Hill Lighthouse and roll slowly around the harbour and North Wollongong around Stuart Park.
From there, idle on to Sandon Point, a particular favourite for gnarly surfing action. Once you’ve hit Thirroul the track peters out. Happily, trains run regularly from Thirroul back to Wollongong. An insider’s tip: check the wind direction before setting off – if it’s anything northerly, catch the train to Thirroul and do the ride in reverse with a following breeze.
Where to refuel: if you’ve headed north from the city, pull up at the Headlands Hotel in Austinmer for pizza and refreshments with a beachside view. If you’ve come south, chain the bike up at Diggie’s North Kiosk and order a North Beach Burger to watch the waves rolling in over, yes, North Beach.