This is a magical discovery walk for children and adults. Follow a path through the rainforest at sculptor Gaby Porter’s property in Wombarra to find such delights as a mosaic rainbow serpent and a huge bower bird’s nest filled with painted blue stones. There are about 60 sculptures, from giant fruits to small birds, and the path includes stairs, bridges and benches where you can stop and contemplate art and nature. You’ll especially love the way nature and human creativity complement each other in this tranquil setting, and enjoy the whimsical contrasts, for example, those created by planting steel flowers among the ferns and eucalypts. Most sculptures are by Gaby Porter, although work by other artists is also on show. This shady walk makes a welcome retreat from the beach in summer, with immense trees creating a cool canopy. Plan ahead: the garden is open to the public during the first weekend of each month (10am-4pm, adults $10), or by appointment. Please phone 02 4268 2695.
57 Morrison Avenue, Wombarra, NSW
Celebrating over 30 years of safe operation, the Sydney Hang Gliding Centre (formerly Aerial Technics) was established in 1982 and is Sydney’s first and only full-time hang gliding centre. More people have chosen to fly with us for several reasons. We have a perfect safety record, specialise in Hang Gliding and weather permitting, are available to take you flying everyday. We are a local family operated business and your Chief Flying Instructor is Chris Boyce one of the most qualified, experienced and respected in the country. Our caring team is highly qualified offering you safe, personal instruction and an exhilarating, memorable flying experience. We are proud to be the longest established and most popular flight centre in Sydney and look forward to taking you hang gliding. Let the adventure begin!
Bald Hill, Stanwell Tops
Wollongong Comedy is setting a gold standard for live comedy. When the South Coaster strolls into the comedy room – the basement bar – at Wollongong’s Builders’ Club on a cold June night, Shane Moon and Stuart Macpherson warmly greet me at the door. As friendly and unassuming as they are, this couple – Shane is the manager; comedian Stu books acts, MCs and also does stand-up – are Wollongong Comedy and they are responsible for a renaissance of sorts in the Illawarra’s comedy scene. Possibly even further afield. And it’s easy to see why. On that particular night, their thorough professionalism in planning and orchestrating a great evening of entertainment is obvious. For starters, the venue is tops; intimate and homely. Then, the comedians that night were bloody awesome: MC Kristin Boesenberg, Ray Badran, Christina Van Look and Peter Berner. Fantastic acts. Brilliant. (These comedians aren’t on all the time but that night’s line-up was indicative of the high-quality talent consistently on offer at Wollongong Comedy venues.) What makes 2016 a great year for Illawarra’s comedy lovers is the fact that it is Wollongong Comedy’s 10th anniversary and, as well as continuing to host a wide range of renowned […]
61 Church Street, Wollongong
A gift voucher to Otford Valley Sanctuary Day Spa is my friend’s favourite Mother’s Day present, so I was pretty excited to experience it too. Owner Lisa Mckinlay has created a beautiful space for women to unwind using earthy, neutral tones and it has a great view of the bush. I drifted away during the one-hour ‘Radiance Facial’ and felt so warm, cosy and cared for. You don’t realise just how much you need to relax until you actually do it. After being pampered, I enjoyed a Tea Tonic tea, citrus tart and a great chat. A not-to-be missed Otford treat. Review by Cath Hill.
14 Georges Road, Otford
The sign on the Ibah Spa gate advised, “you are entering a tranquil environment.”. After a difficult morning of child wrangling, I was entering a different planet – a very civilised planet where you wear a fluffy bathrobe and gratefully accept a welcoming berry tea. Ibah Spa treated me to the popular ‘Petit Harmony’ package involving a Balinese Foot Ritual (a nice scrub on my calves and feet), a 45-minute Swedish and hot stones massage and 45-minute facial (using natural products created by Ibah Austinmer’s Rita Bennett). The experience delighted all senses. Then I chilled in the Bali Hut with oriental tea and a ginger kiss. When owner Sophie Bennett asked how I felt, I sighed, “Lovely!” Massages and facials start from $65. Gift vouchers are available. Review by Cath Hill.
2c McCauley Street, Thirroul
Driving south of Wollongong on the Princes Highway, you can’t help but notice the tiered tower of this elegant Buddhist temple rising high on the hill, overlooking Mount Keira and Mount Kembla. ‘Nan Tien’ means ‘paradise of the south’ in Chinese, and the temple complex, with its serene gardens and quiet halls, is a welcome respite from the buzz of the city. The temple is one of the branches of the Fo Guang Shen temple in Taiwan and was built in 1995 to promote the faith and teachings of Humanistic Buddhism. Followers believe that all beings can attain the same enlightenment as the Buddha and strive to bring Buddhism into their daily lives. Visitors can take a guided tour of the temple and gardens, visit cultural exhibitions, take courses in Buddhism, Tai Chi, Dun Huang dance and meditation (including tea meditation) or watch a calligraphy demonstration and tea ceremony. Those seeking a deeper connection can immerse themselves in the peaceful monastic lifestyle, teachings and practices by staying on a temple retreat. The venue also hosts Buddhist weddings and has a dedicated conference centre and a motel (Pilgrim Lodge). Entry to the temple is free. Report by Louise Charman-James, of Soul […]
180 Berkeley Road, Berkeley, Wollongong
Nestled in 12 hectares of bushland in sleepy Otford, south of the Royal National Park, is this tranquil retreat centre, owned and operated by a community of Krishna devotees. With a small permanent staff and a fluid team of volunteers, many from overseas, the centre offers facilities for yoga and meditation teachers to run their own retreats and classes. The residents practise Bhakti Yoga, a conscious way of life which includes honouring the Hindu deity Krishna, kirtan (devotional singing), service work and a vegetarian diet. The premises include two yoga halls, a dining room and accommodation for up to 60 people plus space for camping. The centre’s kitchen is supplied in part by produce from an organic vegetable garden tended by the volunteers. Food is prepared consciously, without meat products, and with an awareness of the seasons and the effects of different foods on the body. From June 2016 Govinda Valley will be holding seasonal community events featuring delicious vegetarian banquets, fire ceremonies and music. A monthly meditation group run by a local teacher meets on the closest Monday evening to the full moon. Report by Louise Charman-James, of Soul Signature
51 Lady Carrington Road, Otford
Rising above the trees on the outskirts of Helensburgh is this majestic white temple, with ornate carvings of sacred cows adorning the roof and tower. Founded in 1978, the temple services the spiritual needs of thousands of devotees, many of whom make a special pilgrimage to the temple to make offerings and participate in ceremonial rituals (pujas). About 20 major festivals are held a year, with the temple exploding into a vibrant whirl of colour, music and fragrance as statues are paraded around, accompanied by musicians, priests and chanting crowds. The Ganesh festival in early September is a local highlight, attracting more than 10,000 visitors in one day and finishing at Stanwell Park beach, where clay idols of the elephant-headed god are thrown into the ocean. Visitors can also enjoy a contemplative walk through the halls to admire the decorated statues and shrines or watch the women weaving fresh flower garlands (Wednesday and Thursday mornings). On weekends and public holidays Indian food is available at the outdoor canteen (10am-4pm). Entry is free and donations are gratefully accepted. Report by Louise Charman-James, of Soul Signature
Temple Road, Helensburgh
Walk it, ride it, drive it! The iconic Sea Cliff Bridge, an engineering marvel, is one of the Grand Pacific Drive’s true highlights. This towering, 665-metre-long structure opened in December 2005 and gives visitors the opportunity to take plenty of photos of the amazing scenery and to walk, ride or drive the bridge. It also makes a fantastic viewing platform for whale watchers during the migration season from May to November. Park at either end, at Coalcliff or Clifton. Buses also travel the route.
Sea Cliff Bridge, Lawrence Hargrave Drive
Want to take a thrilling trip along the South Coast on a cool Harley-Davidson? Go for a joy ride with Just Cruisin’, the region’s most popular motorcycle touring company He might look like a bit of a bikie, but you couldn’t hope to meet a nicer bloke than Steve Melchior. He also knows bikes and he knows the South Coast like the back of his hand. Steve’s been riding motorbikes since he was 14 – that was 50 years ago – so there’s no one better to take people on a guided motorcycle tour through the region. Which is exactly what his tour company, Just Cruisin’, has been doing for 23 years. His touring beast of choice is often the Boom Trike with a 1.6-litre twin-cam Ford motor – stylish, comfortable and safe with a bit of wild side thrown in for good measure. Tour passengers’ ages have ranged from eight to 98, he reckons. Steve takes bookings from local residents, Sydney weekenders, Asian tour groups and European travellers – anyone who wants to see the South Coast in all of its glory. He also tours further afield, taking people, on request, to Kangaroo Valley, Bathurst, Parkes and more. The […]
Sea Cliff Bridge
Helensburgh is home to several historic old train tunnels, including two tunnels abandoned when the railway line was duplicated in 1915. The most famous is the Metropolitan tunnel, home to a stunning colony of glow worms that light up the tunnel roof like the Milky Way on dark nights. It was lost for years, but in 1995 excavations – instigated by members of Helensburgh Landcare and Helensburgh and District Historical Society – uncovered the tunnel entrance and original platform. Railway line has since been laid and the old Helensburgh station sign (dating from 1889) restored so that this tunnel is now a popular tourist attraction. It has also been used as a location for wedding photos, ghost tours and a country music star’s cover shoot, with everyone from local children armed with torches to professional photographers with spotlights enjoys exploring the tunnel’s dark delights. After heavy rains, the area is prone to flooding and locals have been known to paddle canoes in to explore. Another abandoned train tunnel runs from Otford downhill to Stanwell Park. There are plans afoot to link the old train tunnels to form a Rail Trail for cyclists. Gumboots recommended.
Corner Vera Street and Tunnel Rd, Helensburgh
Symbio Wildlife Park is a family-run zoo renowned for its conservation efforts, such as hand-rearing koalas. Popular residents include a pair of tigers, Madagascan lemurs and the newly arrived cheetahs. Don’t miss Symbio’s state-of-the-art Reptile House, where you can see the world’s most venomous snake, an inland taipan. Children love to hand-feed a mob of kangaroos on a big lawn – just look out for the kangaroos’ neighbour, Cranky Frankie the Goose. You can also book close-up encounters koalas, dingoes, meerkats, monkeys and more. Symbio has a kiosk where you can buy ice-cream and snacks, plus picnic tables for those who pack their own. It’s a smaller, more personal, less crowded alternative to Taronga Zoo. You could easily spend a day here!
Symbio Wildlife Park, 7-11 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Helensburgh, New South Wales, Australia
Glenbernie Orchard is a beautiful, fourth-generation fruit farm in Darkes Forest. It’s famous for its apples – you can visit the orchard and pick your own! (From about late January to May – keep an eye on its Facebook page for picking tours.) T he Illawarra’s home-grown Darkes Cider is made from Glenbernie’s apples – you can try some at the Apple Shack, Glenbernie’s farm store, which is open daily. The Apple Shack also sells fresh fruit in season, apple juice, dried apples, apple cider vinegar, bush honey, jams, relishes and more!
259 Darkes Forest Road, Darkes Forest
Helensburgh is a historic coal-mining town founded in the 1880s, when European settlers discovered coal and the Illawarra rail line was built, linking the area to Sydney. Helensburgh is said to be named either after Helen, daughter of the first mine manager Charles Harper, or after the Scottish town of the same name. The Metropolitan Mine continues to operate today but the town no longer pins its prosperity on ‘black gold’. Today ‘the Burgh’ has become a commuter town, with families moving here to enjoy the joys of raising children in a close-knit community with bushland on their doorsteps and beaches down the road – all an hour south of Sydney. The town has a thriving cafe culture, a free public pool, many active sporting groups (including rugby league’s Tigers and Tigerlillies) and makes a great base for outdoors types, who can take their pick of bush walking, mountain biking, hang gliding, swimming, surfing and horse riding. Abandoned old train tunnels, including one with a colony of glow worms that famously shine in the dark like the Milky Way, provide scenic locations for photographers, trainspotters and ghost tour operators. The small town has two surprising big tourist attractions. Built on […]
Bald Hill is a scenic viewpoint, with stunning views of the escarpment, the rainforest and the coastline south towards Wollongong, aka the Gong. It’s also the launch pad for hang gliders and paragliders. A statue of Lawrence Hargrave, inventor of the box kite, marks the importance of the Stanwell Park in aviation history – down on the beach, Hargrave’s experiments that paved the way for human flight. Bald Hill is a beautiful spot to enjoy an ice-cream and view. At sundown, this is also a top spot to watch the full moon rise over the ocean. Road works and improvements to parking and the toilet block at Bald Hill are set for completion at the end of 2016.
Bald Hill, Lawrence Hargrave Drive