After absorbing the quiet beauty of the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, it was time for a change of venue. Sydney was a good learning ground for adjusting to this round the world trip. And the Blue Mountains gave me a taste of the diversity of activities I can fill my time with. So, it was time to explore Australia and see what this huge country has to offer.
I decided to venture away from the big city and instead take the train and buses down the South Coast of Australia. Relaxing beaches and charming small towns fill this part of the country. My first first stop on the itinerary: Wollongong. It’s actually fairly large, but it felt downright small after the big-city bustle of Sydney.
Now to be honest, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Wollongong. It’s a nondescript city meant for relaxing on the beach during the day and heading to the pub in the evenings. The water here is too chilly for my tastes; the bathtub warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where I grew up, have me spoiled. But I was in the minority; swimmers and surfers filled Wollongong’s beaches
The North Beach of Wollongong had gorgeous waves. And in Australia, where you find good waves you also find many surfers. The white-capped waves rushed toward the shore every few seconds. Tanned bodies, tense and prone, dotted the ocean just before the spot the waves broke. Only the timid souls, like me, sat on the beach and watched.
For me, I waded into the sparkling, clear blue ocean for a few minutes, careful not to get my pants soggy with salt water. Then I made a hasty retreat and instead slathered on the sunscreen, grabbed a delicious spinach and ricotta veggie patty sandwich from the small food kiosk, and I and played in the sand. Although I might not win any awards for creativity and skill, my little sand turtle turned out quite cute.
That about sums up everything to do in Wollongong as a backpacker during the day. It’s that chill. To see the nightlife in Wollongong, I first needed to eat. I found a small Thai restaurant in the city’s Asian quarter. I’ve found that my daily food budget goes down significantly food when I can find local ethnic restaurants. And it’s supremely tasty to boot. When I’m only in town for a night or two I usually end up eating dinner out since it’s too much hassel and money to go grocery shopping when I can’t stick around to eat the leftovers.
After dinner, the music blaring from the Hotel Illawarra Bar drew my attention, and got my business. There wasn’t a lot happening in the other nearby bars and restaurants, but Illawara was hopping.
A good number of locals milled around the bar, and before too long, I found a challenger for a game of pool. A couple of locals took pity on a poor solo backpacker and wracked up the balls so that we could play. There had been no other backpackers at the hostel with whom I could hang, so I was happy to find a nice local bar with good music that was walkable to my hostel. One fun tidbit I learned: Aussies don’t call the pool balls “solids and stripes,” but rather “smalls and bigs.”
With pool played and drinks consume, it was time to head back to the hostel with plans to take the train ride to Kiama on the morrow.
Quick Tips: Wollongong, Australia
Throughout Australia I have used my Aussie Lonely Planet to navigate between the small towns. Although it’s fairly easy to ask a hostel for directions to the next spot, I rather like the process of flipping through all the descriptions and deciding towns that sound unique or interesting. The trains out of Sydney stop in Wollongong, and for me that was enough of a reason to start my South Coast travels with a visit to this fair city.
Where to Stay: The two hostels in town, the Wollongong Backpackers Keiraleagh and Wollongong YHA, are both very convenient to the beach. Keiraleagh loses points on cleanliness, but the YHA is cleaner but a very different vibe. If you’re looking for something more midrange, try the Keiraview Accommodation — it’s a great value to location.
What to Do: The Nan Tien Temple is popular and worth an hour to wander — it’s quite pretty. There’s also a gorgeous bike path, so if you have a couple of days in Wollongong then it’d make a nice afternoon activity along the oceanside Wollongong To Thirroul Bike Track. I passed time on Wattamolla Beach and had a lovely afternoon eating and reading and playing in the sand. There is also a treetop zipline there now, which wasn’t around when I visited, but it looks rad.
Nightlife: I loved playing pool at Illawarra, or you could head to Dicey Riley’s Irish pub — you can never go wrong with an Irish pub. The hostels often have BBQ nights as well, so check their sites and ask once you arrive if they have any fun nights planned during your stay.