Sydney's southern little sister is often overlooked in the rush further down the coast, but there are plenty of reasons to go no further than Wollongong and the Illawarra. You can horse ride, 'fly' above the treetops, catch some water park action, get close to some cuddly critters, or simply stroll along beaches far less hectic than those in the northern city.
Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk Located a winding 40-minute drive from Wollongong, this is a thrilling walk along 500 metres of suspended and cantilevered walkways set some 40 metres above ground. Opened just three years ago, this treetop walk offers a birds' eye view of the temperate rainforest and local birdlife. Climb the Knight's Tower for panoramic views to the coast far below from Bundeena in the north to Bass Point in the south. Be prepared for the temperature to be a few degrees cooler than at the coast! Illawarraflytreetopadventures.com.au
Novotel North Beach With a great location just across from Wollongong's lovely North Beach, this hotel makes an ideal base for a Wollongong stay. The hotel is currently offering a 'Jamberoo Summer Family Fun' package that includes overnight accommodation, a family munchies pack, breakfast for two adults and two children, noon checkout, parking, and a Jamberoo Action Park Family Pass, for $399 per room. www.novotelnorthbeach.com.au
Quest Wollongong These are serviced apartments in the heart of the city, and a short walk from nearby restaurants and cafes. Apartments are spacious and modern, with well-equipped kitchens and a full laundry, and offer a great option for travelling families, particularly when you've got very little ones who need to go to bed early. www.questwollongong.com.au
DRIVE: Take the slow road along the Grand Pacific Drive and stop to marvel at the undulating curves of the Seacliff Bridge as it hugs the cliff face. Opened in 2005, this makes the drive from Sydney an absolute pleasure; be sure to stop off and stretch your legs at the lookout points and enjoy a cuppa and a browse at the seaside towns of Austinmer, Wombarra or Scarborough or along the way.
Symbio Wildlife Park This award-winning wildlife park in Helensburgh has been owned by the Radnidge family for the past 10 years and nearly all of the family works in the park. From the moment you enter it is obvious the pride and delight they take in running this attraction. Their motto is â€˜getting you closerâ€™ and the park offers plenty of interactive shows with everything from koalas to snakes, and exhibits have been carefully designed to allow you to get as close as is practical to the many animals. Symbio also recently welcomed a pair of two-year-old rare and endangered Sumatran tigers. If you come on a warm day, remember to bring your cossie as there are two swimming pools to cool off in. www.symbiozoo.com.au
Otford Farm The Lloyd family have owned this 120-hectare property in Helensburgh since 1961 and keep a stable of more than 30 horses, along with rabbits, chickens and goats. As well as their popular residential school-holiday riding camps, they offer trail rides from one to three hours around their gorgeous farm, and can put a complete beginner on a horse and have them riding with confidence. Charlie loved this, her first solo riding experience, and despite the rainy and windy day, learnt to weave through poles and even trot in the undercover arena. Even 18-month-old Josie got in on the act, sitting atop a Shetland pony! www.otfordfarm.com.au
Jamberoo NSW's favourite water park, this offers a range of exciting rides and waterslides. A firm family favourite for the spring and summer months. www.jamberoo.net
Diggies Café Our new favourite place to eat in Wollongong (in fact we wish it were closer to home!). Located right on North Wollongong beach this offers a delicious and extensive brunch menu until 4pm on weekends. Bring an appetite and dig in to ‘The Big One’ – a full English breakfast, some fluffy hotcakes or one of the specials – perhaps zucchini fritters with avocado and basil salsa. There is also a great kids menu and plenty of high chairs and older kids can play on the beach within safe sight of Mum and Dad once they’ve eaten. Diggies is also open for dinner during summer. www.diggies.com.au
THUMBS UP Nan Tien Temple The largest Bhuddist temple in the southern hemisphere, this is a peaceful oasis set on 55 hectares of gardens. Charlie loved the cheeky little Buddha sandstone sculptures that dot the grounds and we all climbed up the hill to sound the gong of prosperity! Entry is free or you can take a guided tour for $4 and the Dew Drop Inn Tea House serves an exotic range of teas. www.nantien.org.au
ON THE CHEAP Pack a picnic or barbecue and drive towards Shellharbour. Just south of here is the Killalea State Park, home of famed surf spot, The Farm. Perch high above the beach and take in the views. There’s plenty of grassed area, so kids can run about and let off some steam and there are picnic tables and open barbecues.