Beyond Sydney: Illawarra Region

The Illawarra is a coastal region situated immediately south of Sydney, extending from the southern hills of the Royal National Park in the north to the Shoalhaven River in the south. It encompasses the cities of Wollongong (the third-largest urban area in New South Wales), Shellharbour, the town of Kiama, Lake Illawarra, and a northwardly narrowing strip of coastal plain alongside the Illawarra escarpment, which leads up to the south-west fringe of Greater Metropolitan Sydney.

The Illawarra railway line provides a frequent, effecient and inexpensive train service to the area from Sydney. Entering the area at the southern end of Royal National Park, through what is now known as the Sea Cliff Coast, to Wollongong, and then Kiama, the line passes by many beaches and through numerous towns, giving the one-day visitor to the region a muliplicity of choices of places to go, and things to see and do on this picturesque stretch of coast.

Train Timetable



The sleepy village of Otford is situated in the Otford Valley, north of Stanwell Park and Stanwell Tops. The town is on the southern tip of the Royal National Park and is used as the southern entrance to the park for both motorists and bushwalkers as well as the start/finish point for walks through abandoned railway tunnels between Otford and Helensburgh. The original line was built in 1885. The current railway tunnel between Otford and Stanwell Park was built in 1917 as the buildup of smoke in the unventilated route and the steep descent led railways to build a different route. The abandoned, original railway tunnel between Otford and Stanwell Park was used for a mushroom farm but is now disused. Otford railway station once had award winning gardens and picturesque buildings, but is now a stark concrete and brick commuter stop.

Stanwell Park

Stanwell Park is a picturesque coastal village at the northernmost point of the Illawarra coastal strip too the south of SRoyal National Park. It is situated in a small valley between Bald Hill to the north, Stanwell Tops to the west and Mount Mitchell to the south. It has two lagoons from the villages two creeks, Stanwell and Hargrave Creeks and a pretty swimming beach running between headlands. It has a very pleasant picnic area. One of the village's most famous places of interest is the curved railway viaduct over Stanwell Creek Gorge. It was built in the 1910s when problems with the old railway route forced the construction of a new track higher up the mountainside.

Stanwell Tops

Stanwell Tops rests on the Illawarra escarpment, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the neighbouring village of Stanwell Park. It is bounded on all sides by state-forest reserves and other forested crown lands, which are contiguous with the Royal National Park and the Garawarra State Conservation Area. Though Stanwell Tops is actually a small residential town, the name is generally used to identify Bald Hill, a flat area above the ocean cliff face near the village. Bald Hill, at the apex of Lawrence Hargrave Drive, is a mecca for paragliding and hang gliding activities, with many gliding from Bald Hill down to Stanwell Park beach, which lies nested between the high sea cliffs.


The coal in the escarpment, which gives the coastal village of Coalcliff its name, had been known of since early colonial days, but it was not until 1850 that it began to be excavated. The Coalcliff Railway Tunnel No. 8 (also known as the Clifton Tunnel) is owned by the State Railway and was the first tunnel built on the Illawarra Line. The line and tunnel were opened on 25 July 1888, extending the then isolated line so that passengers could transfer by coach at Coalcliff to the operating line between Waterfall and Sydney. Lined with 3 million bricks, the Heritage-Listed tunnel is the second longest tunnel on the Illawarra line.

Leeder Park, situated on Paterson Road, is a rest park and children's payground which provides access to Coalcliff's tidal rock pool. The Sea Cliff Bridge surrounding the coal cliffs was opened on 11 December 2005 and offers a spectacular walkway and cycleway above the ocean and along the escarpment. There are splendid views offered towards Wollongong and Port Kembla in the south, and towards Bald Hill and the Royal National Park in the north. Coalcliff Beach fronts the valley, but because of three dominant rips, bathers are recommended to use the Coalcliff's rockpool, situated south of the beach.


like its neighbours, Scarborough sits on a narrow stretch between the Illawarra escarpment and sea cliffs. The escarpment behind Scarborough is approximately 300 metres above sea level. Scarborough is a popular surfing beach and hosts a number of surfing competitions. The Scarbough Hotel was built in 1885 to coincide with the opening of the South Clifton (Scraborough's original name) to Wollongong. Its Seacliff Garden and Horizonal Balcony, which offer commanding views out to sea and along the coastline, have ensured the hotel remains a favourite spot to relax with family and friends over a drink or meal.


Coledale is a small sea-side village located 18 km north of the Wollongong's central buasiness district. Coledale Beach is a great place to swim, surf, fish, dive, or just sit back, enjoy the views and the pounding of the surf at your feet. Regular visits by dolphins playing just off the beach and close views of migrating Humpback and Southern Right whales just add to the experience. Coledale Beach is also a haven for campers, with a reserve right on the beach edge. There are fantastic views of the waves, and both ends of the beach are closed in with rock formations.


Austinmer Beach is one of Wollongong's most popular beaches, located just 25 minutes north of the central business district. Its popularity dates back to the 1900s when people came by train to stay at several guest houses. The relatively small beach is wedged between two low headlands and their extensive rock platforms. Two large rock pools lie on the southern rock platform. A second smaller and unpatrolled beach lies directly to the north of Austinmer beach, and is known locally as "Little Austi".


The oceanside town of Thirroul lies between the Pacific Ocean and a section of the Illawarra escarpment known as Lady Fuller Park, adjacent to Bulli Pass Scenic Reserve. The town's major commercial area lies between an area just north of Bulli Pass, where the Princes Highway splits to form the Lawrence Hargrave Drive, to Thirroul Station. The boutique clothing and jewellery shops, florists, conveniences stores, news agencies and other shopping essentials have made Thirroul the main shopping area for the northern suburbs of Wollongong. Many cafes can be found in Thirroul's main commercial area, adding to its popularity as a seaside holiday town. The Beaches Hotel and Ryans Hotel are lively pubs for locals and tourists alike, both located on the main road. Thirroul has many fashion, gift and lifestyle shops along the main streets. It is also home to King's Theatre (1913), which is now known as Anita's Theatre.

Royal National Park

Royal National Park is the second oldest national park in the world, offering spectacular scenery from sub-tropical rainforests and sandstone heathlands, to dramatic coastal cliffs and unspoilt ocean beaches. "The Royal" is home to many great walks that hug the park's coastline, taking you along the cliffs, beaches and escarpments ranging from 1km (suggested time 30 minutes) to 26km (suggested time 2 days).


A suburb of Wollongong, Bellambi lies on the flat northern Illawarra coastal plain, with views of the escarpment to the west, one of note being Broker's Nose, 440 metres high. To the east is Bellambi Beach and a creek inlet in a reserve, and to the south of the inlet is Bellambi Harbour and Bellambi Point. Bellambi Lagoon Reserve, at Bellambi Point, is a protected reserve area in which are the lagoon and small islands of that name, mostly forested in swamp oaks (casuarina), coastal sclerophyll and saltmarsh.

Bellambi beach is part of one beach immediately north of Bellambi Point. There is a large playground and reserve with public toilets. The beach is at the southern end of a two kilometre stretch of beach and is backed by a reserve with mountain views. There is a boat ramp and small harbour nearby. There is a surf club with a large car park available. Bellambi beach is patrolled during the summer.


82 kilometres south of Sydney, Wollongong is the business and adminstrative centre of the Illawarra region. A large city with a population around 300,000, Wollongong is noted for its heavy industry, its port activity and the quality of its physical setting - the narrow coastal plain between an almost continuous chain of surf beaches and the cliffline of the rainforest-covered Illawarra escarpment. In the area of music the city is home to various music and jazz ensembles.

The main beaches of central Wollongong are North Wollongong (or simply North) Beach, extending from the harbour up to the Para Creek lagoon and Puckeys Estate Reserve, and Wollongong City Beach, extending south from Flagstaff Point and into Coniston Beach.


Whilst having a sandy beach and a sand spit where the Minnamjurra River flows into the ocean, Minnamurra is known for the the Minnamurra Rainforest Centre, located just 15 km west of Kiama. The centre offers visitors an opportunity to experience a rare rainforest remnant which is representative of the once extensive rainforests of the Illawarra region. The sandstone canyon in which the centre is located enables visitors to experience the various types of rainforest and examine the diversity of ferns species.


A popular holiday destination towards the southern end of the Illawarra coast, Kiama is a classic seaside town with great beaches, and surrounded by pastures and forests. Kiama is famous for its blowhole. On the cliffs at Blowhole Point, waves surging into an underground cavity are compressed and forced upwards, exploding high into the air and accompanied by a loud 'oomph'. The strength varies according to the wind, waves and tides, and when it's pumping, it always draws a crowd.


Gerringong is ideally located for outdoor fun at the beach. Werri Beach is one of the best surfing beaches on the South Coast while Seven Mile Beach is one of the best for wind surfing. This hilltop village overlooks a great swathe of blue ocean that promises long days of sport and sunshine. Stay around town a while and you'll discover this atmospheric town also has a taste for the finer things in life, including wines, great fishing and golf. There are seven courses in close proximity to Gerringong.

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