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Exploring NSW’s Grand Pacific Drive

Sydney to Wollongong via the Grand Pacific Drive – NSW’s Answer to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria

(193km return to Sydney)

This weekend away starts with one of Australia’s newest tourist routes, The Grand Pacific Drive. Officially the drive starts about 30km north of the city centre at the entry to the Royal National Park and continues all the way to Kiama.  This weekend we decided to explore the northern section and took our time checking out all the sites along the way however you could easily do this in one day with a few adjustments (and no sampling the beers in the gong). 

Why does this make a good drive?

Well if you like beaches, gorgeous vistas, some art, a bit of culture and good food and wine this trip is for you.  

What will I see?

  • Pristine bushland
  • Sandstone cliff lookouts 
  • The Sea Cliff Bridge
  • Lots of great Street Art 
  • A large Buddhist Temple 
  • 2 Lighthouses 
  • and several pretty seaside towns

So let’s get started 

Stop 1 – The Royal National Park 

Audley was our first stop on the Grand Pacific Drive

Try to head off early if you can – we left the city around 7.15am and arrived at the entry to The Royal National Park just as they opened. The world’s second oldest national park, the Royal, as it’s known locally, opened just seven years after Yellowstone and was the first park in the world to have the title National. It became a “royal” park after Her Majesty Queen Liz passed by on her train in 1954.  

While the park itself has enough to keep you entertained for an entire weekend try to limit yourself to a couple of stops.  I recommend Wattamolla Beach with its lovely lagoon and cliff jump made Insta famous by Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) in Jan this year. 

Wattamalla Beach - a detour on the Grand Pacific drive

From here continue through the park via Lady Wakehurst Drive to Stanwell Tops and Bald Hill lookout

Stop 2 – Bald Hill Lookout and Stanwell Tops 

If the wind is blowing the right way Bald Hill is popular with hang gliders, sadly today it was scorching and not a breeze at all.

The is a great spot to take a shot of the bridge in the distance. 

Detour for animal lovers or families:  Symbio Wildlife Park 

Stop 3 – Sea Cliff Bridge 

Weekend in Wollongong SeaCliff Bridge

Next stop is the Sea Cliff Bridge a 456 m Cantilever bridge at Clifton which cost $52 million and solved the ongoing problem that the area had had with cliff erosion. Since it opened in 2005, it has been drawing visitors for the stunning views it offers.

The best way to appreciate these it to park your car at the southern end and walk north along the footpath

Stop 4 – Time for some food at either Scarborough to Thirroul

By now you will probably be ready for a pit stop. Two of my favourite options along this part of the road are the Scarborough Hotel or the beachside suburb of Thirroul.  Scarborough is perfect in the summer with its green beer garden perched on the cliff overlooking the beach. If you are after a hearty breakfast just be aware last orders are at 10.45am! 

Between here and Wollongong are several small beach suburbs like this one – Austinmer – all perfect to stop for a swim if the weather is right. 

Austinmer is another beach along the Grand Pacific Drive

Thirroul has grown from a sleepy seaside village to a very popular suburb of Wollongong and has attracted many to make a move from Sydney and commute via train to the city each day.  If you fancy a poke around the shops, there are some excellent options here.  There are also plenty of cafes serving some great food.  We chose Gidget’s Cafe where we had some wild rice Bircher style muesli with kafir lime and coconut.  It was sensational.  Highly recommend. 

Stop 5 – Wollongong Harbour 

Back in the car and we are on the road to Wollongong.  NSW’s third biggest city and one that has grown up in recent years to have quite a bit to offer locals and visitors. 

Check out the Twin Lighthouses – the Great Street Art and the relaxed vibe of North Wollongong Beach. 

Detour –  Wollongong Street Art 

For us, this was not so much of a detour as the reason for our visit.  Our friends Paula and Gordon from The Contented Traveller, call the “Gong” home. It was their photos of the local street art caught my eye, so they invited us down for a personal tour.  

Stop 6 – Nan Tien Temple

Nan Tien translates to  ‘Paradise of the South’. This is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the southern hemisphere.  Since it opened in 1995 it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Wollongong. 

When we entered the temple complex, it felt like we had been transported to Asia. Along with two large prayer rooms, there is a vegetarian self-service restaurant, a museum, and accommodation. They offer regular weekend meditation retreats to the public. 

So there you have it – the Grand Pacific Drive in just one day.  If you really only have the one day I suggest only going as far as Wollongong and then heading back up the motorway to Sydney from the Temple however if you are happy for a long day you can continue down to Kiama to see the famous Blow Hole and return to Sydney via the Southern Highlands.   If you have time to stay overnight there is plenty of accommodation in North Wollongong and Kiama. 

Do you have a favourite spot to visit along the Grand Pacific Drive that we should check out next time? 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at sydneyexpert.com]

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