A vibrant city that has so much to offer
STORY: ANTONY FIELD PHOTOGRAPHY: Destination NSW
Forget any preconceived notion that Wollongong is just a big industrial steel town living in the shadow of Sydney, just 80km away.
Wollongong has well and truly shaken off its steel town tag – it’s now a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, featuring cool bars, a thriving restaurant scene, a world-class university, and a laid-back coastal lifestyle with growing employment options.
The jewel in the crown is Wollongong’s natural beauty – it has 17 beaches dotted along almost 50km of stunning coastline hugging the Tasman Sea. The city is nestled in a narrow strip of land next to the ocean, framed by dramatic cliffs and bushland, known as the Illawarra Escarpment. The Dharawal people have lived here for thousands of years and Wollongong is thought to mean “five islands”, referring to the islands off Port Kembla. The escarpment is a little-publicised biodiversity hotspot containing rare plants and endangered wildlife such as the sooty owl and giant burrowing frog.
Wollongong is really a collection of suburbs, all with their own unique charms, stretching from the historic mining town of Helensburgh next to the Royal National Park, to fast-growing Dapto in the south, known for its greyhound racing track.
The best way to discover Wollongong is by car or train, starting at the northern tip. Drive along Grand Pacific Drive and you come to Stanwell Tops, a popular spot for hang-gliders, with breath-taking clifftop views of the coastline.
Continuing south, you cross Sea Cliff Bridge, a feat of modern engineering that curves out over the sea. Then you pass through picturesque villages which are steeped in coal mining history, before heading into the larger seaside suburbs of Austinmer, Thirroul and Bulli. There are plenty of great surf beaches, rock pools, shops and cafes to explore. Scarborough Hotel and Headlands Hotel are popular spots to stop for a cold drink and to savour the views. Then you reach Wollongong itself, boasting a beautiful harbour, great parks and playgrounds and two lighthouses. Venture a bit further and you will also find the impressive Wollongong Botanic Garden and Nan Tien Temple, the biggest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere.
Wollongong City Council has spent millions upgrading the city foreshore. The Blue Mile features a shared pathway, picnic shelters, and the restored historic North Beach Bathers Pavilion. Stuart Park is a popular spot to watch tandem skydivers drop gently to earth. It’s also the venue for annual music festival Yours and Owls.
Further south you pass Port Kembla steelworks. It is still a major business, employing about 3000 people. The port itself is the largest car import hub for NSW and a major gateway for grain and coal. Finally, at the southern edge of Wollongong, you come to Windang between the ocean and Lake Illawarra, a popular spot for prawning, fishing and sailing.
Australia’s ninth largest city has a population of 218,114 residents, but it doesn’t feel like a big city. There are few traffic jams and you are never more than a 15-minute drive from the beach.
The CBD is popular with sea changers who are buying up high-rise apartments. The city centre’s population has doubled in the past five years. It’s easy to see why. There are plenty of great restaurants, including long-time favourite Mylan, funky small bars, such as the Howlin’ Wolf whisky bar, and street markets all within walking distance. You can also jump on the free Gong Shuttle bus to get around.
Whether you are into sports, live music and theatre, Wollongong doesn’t disappoint. Illawarra Performing Arts Centre regularly stages plays and concerts, while the 22,000-seat WIN Stadium is home to the St George Illawarra Dragons rugby league. Next door, you can watch top bands perform at Wollongong Entertainment Centre or see the Hawks basketball team take on rivals at the “Sandpit”.
The city is well served for transport – the South Coast railway line has peak hour express trains to Sydney, which take about 90 minutes. The M1 Princes Highway and the Northern Distributor also provide quick access across the city and to Sydney.
CoreLogic figures show median houses prices range from $440,000 in Cringila near the steelworks, to well over $1 million in the northern coastal suburbs, topping out at $1.64 million in Coledale. In the CBD, the median house price is $882,500 while for a unit it is $570,000.
Wollongong is rightly proud of its university – it is ranked among the top 200 in the world. TAFE Illawarra has three campuses across the city.
The area is also home to Wollongong Hospital – the major teaching and referral hospital for the Illawarra and Shoalhaven. Next door is the state-of-the-art Wollongong Private Hospital, which opened in 2016.
Wollongong provides all the benefits of living in a big city without the hassle. There are great educational and health facilities, a variety of entertainment and retail options, a vibrant dining scene and job opportunities in areas such as health care and aged care, education and training, retail and construction.
The beach and the bush are right on your doorstep and the stresses of urban living seem a million miles away.
The traditional custodians of the land on which Wollongong stands are the Dharawal people.
WATTLE ROAD 🖤 Superbly set between the mountains and the sea, this is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city offering a great lifestyle and job opportunities.
Distance from Sydney: 80km south of Sydney.
Population: Australia’s ninth largest city, Wollongong has a population of 218,114.
Who Lives Here?
According to the 2016 Census
♦ The median age of people in Wollongong was 38 years. Children aged 0 – 14 years made up 17.3% of the population and people aged 65 years and over made up 17.
♦ Of the families in Wollongong, 44.8% were couple families with children, 37.5% were couple families without children and 16.0% were one parent families.
♦ The most common occupations in Wollongong included professionals 27.1%, technicians and trades workers 13.6%, clerical and administrative Workers 13.2%, community and personal service workers 12.4%, and managers 11.4%.
♦ In Wollongong 72.3% of people were born in Australia. The most common countries of birth were England 3.7%, China 2.2%, Italy 1.2%, New Zealand 1.1% and India 0.9%.
Climate. The city has an oceanic climate, but with humid subtropical influences. January average temperatures, max 25.8 º, min 17.9 º. July average temperatures, max 17.2 º, min 8.4 º.
Major Employers: The education and health sectors; the fishing industry – the town is the regional centre of the South Coast Fishing industry – and BlueScope, the operator of the Port Kembla steelworks.
NBN Connection: Fibre To The Premises (FTTP)
Transport: The city is served by the Illawarra railway lines that carry passengers to Nowra and Kiama in the south and Sydney to the north. A branch line connects suburbs between the CBD and Port Kembla.
A coach service connects Wollongong to the Southern Highlands.
Daily flights to Melbourne and Brisbane run from the Illawarra Regional Airport, 18km from the CBD.
Property prices: CoreLogic figures show median houses prices range from $440,000 in Cringila near the steelworks, to well over $1 million in the northern coastal suburbs, topping out at $1.64 million in Coledale.
Education: This is a city well-serviced by a range of education providers. In the primary and secondary sector there are public, denominational and independent schools. Specialist high schools include the selective Smith Hill High School, the Illawarra Sports High School, The Illawarra Grammar School, St Mary Star of the Sea College, Edmund Rice College. Holy Spirit College, Cedars Christian College, Illawarra Christian School, and the Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts. In the tertiary sector there is the highly rated University of Wollongong and two campuses of the Illawarra Institute of TAFE.
Sports and Recreation: Local club sport is a major pastime in Wollongong and it’s easy to find a club for your sporting interest. The city has a 22,000 seat WIN Stadium which is home to the St George Illawarra Dragons rugby league.
Health Care: From mental health to maternity health and cancer services, Wollongong has a depth of health care services. The Wollongong Hospital has more than 500 beds and is the largest of the Shoalhaven district’s eight hospitals. The Illawarra Regional Cancer Care Centre is located on the hospital grounds.
Arts & Culture A love of festivals powers the city’s calendar. The broad ranging events include the Summersalt music festival, the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Camel Races at the Bulli Showgrounds, the Wollongong Triathlon Festival, the Crystal, Minerals, Fossils and Craft Festival, and the Illawarra Folk Festival, to name just a few.
Year-round, the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre stages plays and concerts.
“I moved to Wollongong from New Zealand in 2002 after I accepted a job at the Illawarra Mercury newspaper. My wife Sheridan (pictured) is from Sydney and we both knew very little about the city before we arrived, but I adore Wollongong and moving here is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
We rented a unit in North Wollongong at first and knew we had hit the jackpot – a 15-minute walk to the beach and a seven-minute walk to the pub! Later we bought a home in Dapto, still only a 15-minute drive from Wollongong CBD where I used to work. You can drive from one end of Wollongong to the other in 40 minutes. Like a growing number of people, I now mostly work from home – I can communicate easily with colleagues and clients via Skype and Zoom. When I do need to go into the office in Sydney, I can just jump on the train.
The people here are friendly and it’s so easy to get around by car or public transport. You have a plethora of beaches to choose from and I like the fact that you can decide at the spur of the moment you want to hit the surf and you don’t have to fight traffic to get there. There’s no Bondi-style crowds at our beaches – there’s plenty of room for everyone.
Our two kids have grown up here and it’s a great place for families. Wollongong has good local public, Catholic and private schools and a fantastic university. The sports and recreation facilities are impressive and there are plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors. You can go bush walking and see beautiful waterfalls, rare rainforests and native birds and animals. You can go fishing, cycle along the coast, learn how to surf, ride a horse, try hang-gliding or sky diving. Our children have played hockey, soccer, netball, OzTag and taken part in nippers.
We are well served for entertainment. We have all enjoyed watching high-calibre shows at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre and WIN Entertainment Centre, as well as being able to cheer on our favourite sports teams at WIN Stadium. The annual music, food and arts festival Viva la Gong is a family favourite.
I love Wollongong’s many food and craft markets, including the regular Friday market in Crown Street mall and the Foragers Market at Bulli. When it comes to cuisine, Wollongong punches above its weight for quality dining options, not just at the city’s many restaurants but also at pubs and clubs.
The university and the steelworks have attracted people from many different cultures, adding to the city’s vibrancy. There’s a real sense of community here. People are welcoming and inclusive.
Travel time is approximately 60 minutes.
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