Sunday, June 16, 2024

Nine must-do highlights of a trip to Bulli and the ’Gong

Nine must-do highlights of a trip to the ’Gong  - Kerry van der Jagt
June 15, 2024
 An easy, 90-minute drive south of Sydney, Wollongong offers a multitude of options for a day trip or a weekend away. 
The new hotel

The latest pin-up for this coastal city on the rise is Hotel TOTTO, a relaxed property with an industrial edge. In a convenient CBD position yet in walking distance to the beach, TOTTO offers the best of both worlds for a short break or longer. Rooms are simple yet stylish, staff are warm and attentive, and there’s a fun energy that doesn’t feel contrived. BASTA Trattoria is the hotel’s casual Mediterranean-inspired bar and restaurant, with a menu featuring favourites such as wood-fired pizza, pan-fried gnocchi and burnt orange creme caramel. The open-plan lobby lounge, with its comfortable couches and bookcase of National Geographic magazines, is the perfect spot for a coffee and cake. See

The cafe with a view

Sun, surf and sand. Wollongong’s coastline is scalloped with 17 patrolled beaches and nine rock pools. For a taste of this coastal lifestyle in one location heads to Diggies, where fresh food and beach vibes are served in a restored 1930s Art Deco Kiosk overlooking North Beach. Finish with a walk along the Blue Mile and a dip in the Gentleman’s Pool. See

The family experience

Calling all budding lab rats, science geeks and rocket scientists. Part of the University of Wollongong, UOW Science Space is the only dedicated immersive science experience in NSW. Home to more than 90 interactive exhibits, including one of Australia’s most digitally advanced planetariums, the centre runs interactive science shows, school holiday camps and a Lego Club. See

Wollongong is easy to fall for, especially when viewed James Bond-style from 15, 000 feet. Skydive Australia-Wollongong offers solo and tandem skydives, taking in views of the Illawarra coastline and escarpment. A 60-second free fall followed by a six-minute parachute descent and you’ll be walking on clouds for days.

The Indigenous experience

European settlement of Wollongong began in 1815, but before then it was occupied by the Dharawal people, who remain the traditional custodians of the land. To learn more, join local Dharawal woman Dr Jodi Edwards for an Indigenous SUP tour of Wollongong’s Belmore Basin. The two-hour session includes a lesson in basic paddle-boarding, a warm-up with Wayapa Wuurrk (an earth connection practice based on ancient principles) and cultural story telling. See

The Italian restaurant

Sister to the local darling Kneading Ruby, Restaurant Santino is an Italian-style bistro on Globe Lane serving traditional and contemporary dishes. The pasta is house-made, the wine list extensive and the chocolate truffle with chantilly cream has its own cult following. Order the “Feed Me” menu and you’ll see what the fuss is about.

The temple

A 10-minute drive south of Wollongong is Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. Beyond its grand architecture the property offers tours, retreats, cultural festivals and vegetarian dining at the Dew Drop Inn tea house. Or enjoy a picnic in the extensive gardens. See

The landmark

At 665 metres long, Sea Cliff Bridge is one of the few off-shore, parallel to coastline bridges in the world. Linking the coastal villages of Coalcliff and Clifton, the suspended bridge has two lanes of traffic and a pedestrian walkway. Tackle a section or drive the complete 140-kilometre Grand Pacific Drive to the Shoalhaven. See

The arts precinct

The arts precinct has elevated Wollongong from steel city to art city. Visit the Wollongong Art Gallery for contemporary, Aboriginal, Asian and colonial artworks or take in a show at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre. A self-guided tour of the recently launched Wander Wollongong-Art trail features16 studios, galleries, creative spaces and street art.

One more thing

The Illawarra has any number of places to enjoy a cocktail with an ocean view, but for this Wollongong local, the heart of the city’s drinking scene is found in its boutique bars. Juniper Bar serves more than 60 varieties of gin; Night Parrot is a wine bar serving Asian-inspired street food; Ilu Ilu is a cocktail bar and Indian tapas lounge; and Five Barrel Brewing is a craft brewery housed in a former paint warehouse. My insider tip?South Coast Distillery, tucked inside an industrial estate in the suburb of Mount Saint Thomas.
The writer was a guest of Hotel TOTTO and Destination Wollongong. See