Read our writer's views on this property below
Undeterred by the Illawarra's curiously modest self-promotion, Bruce Elder enjoys a city stay by the ocean.
There is a common and unjustified perception that only business people and conference-goers willingly stay in Wollongong. We are reminded of this when, having booked the Novotel through the hotel's website (and thus provided our email address), we receive an illustrated cyberspace missive headed, "Check out our ideas for activities - Be inspired ..." and what is offered is a collection of standard attractions in Sydney.
Seriously, who thinks that booking a stay at the Novotel Northbeach means we're planning to zip to Sydney for a Harbour Bridge climb, Opera House tour or harbour dinner cruise?
We have booked a stay at the city's so-called "best" hotel and yet there's no mention of the Wombarra Sculpture Garden, Wollongong City Gallery, Botanic Garden or Science Centre; no local fine dining highlighted (Caveau scores a hat in the latest Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide); no reference to walks or surfing the superb and unspoilt North Beach. No mention of skydiving and landing on the oval across from our hotel room window!
To compound the problem, we have booked a "Superior 1 Queen Bed Ocean View Balcony" room but someone has forgotten to provide a balcony. This would not be a problem except that a room with a balcony costs an extra $40. Our room costs $247.20, $40 more than we should be paying.
The Novotel has 204 rooms and, in many ways, is geared to conference and business visitors, with some charges hard to justify unless the visitor is on a "let the company pay" expense account. How can the $15 a night parking charge be justified? Luckily, there's a large, free car park next to the hotel.
The hotel breakfast of toast, coffee, croissants, juice and a range of heated English-style menu options is an extra $32.
However, across the road from the hotel, and right on the beachfront, is Diggies, widely recognised as the best breakfast venue in Wollongong (and listed in the Good Food Guide as a premier Illawarra cafe). Diggies serves hotcakes with banana, sweet ricotta and honey butter with crispy bacon for $18.50; sourdough with bacon, tomato, rocket, poached egg, asparagus and parmesan costs $16. There's even corned wagyu hash with poached egg, Diggies' tomato relish and rocket for $14.
Enough of the whingeing. Our hotel room's picture windows have sensational views of the northern coastline. In the foreground is Stuart Park, where thrill-seekers land after skydiving from planes that take off from Illawarra Regional Airport to the south; behind stands of mature Norfolk pines is the Lagoon seafood restaurant; and stretching to the horizon are views of the Illawarra Escarpment and several beaches.
The room is large, with a comfortable queen-size bed, two-seater couch and a long wall unit with a fridge, double desk and storage. The bathroom has a full-size bath. Sit on the couch, gaze across the Tasman Sea and up the coast, and you relax.
However, we agonise about where to have dinner. The Novotel's Windjammers Restaurant describes its menu as "steak, seafood, prime rib" - and lives up to that description with reasonably priced meals (filet mignon, $28.99; prime rib, $22.99). We opt to walk across Stuart Park to the Lagoon. It is an award-winning restaurant but on the night we dine the cuisine is standard coastal fare (wild barramundi with barbecue king prawns; whole lemon sole with seasonal vegetables), with main meal prices hovering between $26 and $36.
The next night we heed the advice of the Good Food Guide and head to Keira Street in Wollongong's central business district to eat at the one-hatted Caveau. Dining there, we are reminded of the culinary glories to be found in the Illawarra.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
Novotel Wollongong Northbeach
Address 2-14 Cliff Road, North Wollongong.
The verdict Superb location, relatively expensive rooms.
Price Standard rooms from $219 a night for two people. A superior ocean-view balcony costs from $299 a night for two. Suites available.
Bookings Phone 4224 3111, see novotelnorthbeach.com.au.
Getting there The hotel is 94 kilometres south of Sydney via the Princes Highway and F6 Freeway. Leave the freeway at the bottom of Mount Ousley, follow Mount Ousley Road to the roundabout on the old Princes Highway, turn right and continue south to Bourke Street. Turn left into Bourke Street. The Novotel is on the corner of Cliff Road and Bourke Street.
Perfect for Enjoying the surf and exploring local attractions.
Wheelchair access Yes.
While you're there Visit the Wombarra Sculpture Garden, Wollongong City Gallery, Wollongong Botanic Garden and the Science Centre.