48 hours in Illawarra

From extreme relaxation to extreme sport, Craig Tansley experiences a full range of response in one action-packed weekend.

Just an hour's drive south of Sydney, Wollongong and its surrounds have some of the most spectacular beaches in Australia, framed by rugged, mountainous hinterland. You could spend your time swimming and beachcombing but for more excitement, the area has some of the state's most thrilling attractions.

Saturday, 10am

Start your Wollongong adventure on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorbike with veteran biker Steve Melchior or book a Harley with a sidecar and bring your partner with you.

You'll begin your ride at Bald Hill, overlooking Stanwell Park, a spot used by hang-gliders and paragliders as a runway from which to launch themselves into the sky. Don a leather jacket and helmet and roar south along the Sea Cliff Bridge - the state's most scenic coastal drive - before weaving your way past bays, beaches and through villages sprinkled between Stanwell Park and Wollongong.

A one-hour tour with Just Cruisin' along Grand Pacific Drive costs $100 a person or $200 for two on a sidecar or trike. Phone 0414 942 598, see justcruisintours.com.au.

 11.30am

Fly in a small Cessna to about 4000 metres, then jump out attached by four straps to someone's stomach. Sure, it sounds terrifying but the views of the striking Illawarra coastline are unbeatable.

''I've seen grown men cry right about now, but then I've also had an 85-year-old grandfather who hardly said a word,'' the instructor, Biggsy, tells me just seconds into the jump.

Tandem-skydive centre Skydive the Beach has some of the country's most experienced skydivers, including three world champions and seven Australian national champions. The free-fall lasts 50 seconds, reaching speeds of 200km/h above the Pacific.

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When the parachute opens, you and your diving partner steer yourselves over the sea to a park beside Wollongong Beach.

A tandem jump at Skydive the Beach costs $339 on weekends and $285 on weekdays. Departs from Stuart Park, corner George Hanley Drive and Cliff Road, North Wollongong. Phone 1300 663 634, see skydivethebeach.com.au.


1pm

Toast your bravery at Five Islands Brewery, Illawarra's first brewery. Enjoy ocean views from the foreshore beside Wollongong Beach as you sample beers named in honour of the area, such as Dapto Draught, an American-style wheat beer, or Bulli Black, with a dark-chocolate and liquorice aftertaste. The Longboard Pale Ale is an easy-drinking beer, while the South Peach will please those with a sweet tooth.

The brewery is named after the five islands that can be seen just off the coast of Wollongong. The bar menu includes the good-value vegetarian pizza, with sweet potato, fetta, rosemary, eggplant, capsicum, mushrooms and zucchini ($13.50) and Vietnamese rice-paper rolls with chicken, mango, mint and salad ($17).

Five Islands Brewery, corner Crown and Harbour streets, Wollongong. Phone 4220 2854, see fiveislandsbrew.wordpress.com.

 3.30pm

Ascend again for a less terrifying - but nevertheless spectacular - view of the Illawarra with a Touchdown Helicopter tour. The company runs a variety of tours, from 32 minutes to a full day, incorporating winery lunches and more. A tour by chopper reveals hidden valleys, waterfalls and some of Australia's most rugged coastline, much of which is impossible to reach by car.

The entry-level, 32-minute Waterfall Discovery Tour ($225 a person) shows the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk, the majestic Carrington Falls, Kangaroo Valley and Gerringong Falls and returns via Jamberoo Valley. The 45-minute Seacliff Bridge and Panorama House tour ($330 a person) hovers over the Seacliff Bridge and lands for coffee and cake at Panorama House on Bulli Tops, with its million-dollar views of the south coast.

Touchdown Helicopter Tours leave from Illawarra Regional Airport, 1/32 Airport Road, Albion Park Rail. Phone 1300 359 444, see touchdownhelicopters.com.au.

 

7pm

Fancy a summer barbecue on the balcony of a beachside cabin? Werri Beach Holiday Park has nine spa cabins 20 metres from Werri Beach, a sweeping expanse of sand between two headlands with a rock swimming pool at one end and a natural lagoon at the other.

A few minutes' drive from Gerringong, Werri Beach is renowned for fishing and surfing and is one of the region's least-crowded beaches.

Werri Beach Holiday Park, corner Bridges Road and Pacific Avenue, Werri Beach. Cabin with spa costs from $525 a weekend. Phone 1800 655 819, see kiamacoast.com.au/Werri-Beach.

 

Sunday, 10.15am

Discover parts of nearby Jervis Bay on a new 14-metre rigid inflatable vessel that will see you careering across the bay at up to 100km/h.

However, Dolphin Watch Cruises' newest tour - the Extreme Cruise - is more than an adrenalin rush. The area is home to 80 bottlenose dolphins that surf the wake produced by your vessel.

Jervis Bay is a natural harbour ringed by a 21,000-hectare national park, with the world's whitest sand (so says Guinness World Records). It's also home to fur seals, little penguins and endangered grey nurse sharks and is a creche for whales between May and November.

The two-hour Extreme Cruise ventures past the lighthouse at Point Perpendicular and 20 kilometres of sandstone cliffs to see colonies of fur seals sunbake and play in the ocean.

Dolphin Watch Cruises, 50 Owen Street, Huskisson. The Extreme Cruise is suitable for all ages and costs $95 for adults, $65 for children and $275 for families. Phone 1800 246 010, see jervisbayextreme.com.au.

 

1pm

Enjoy a long lunch at Crooked River Wines, overlooking Saddleback Ridge, the ocean, 150-year-old fig trees and the estate's vineyard.

Only three kilometres from the sea, the estate is cooled by north-easterly breezes from December to April. Sample the restaurant's popular twice-cooked pork belly with roasted kipfler potatoes, steamed baby choy sum, caramelised five-spice apples and caramel coconut sauce ($32).

Crooked River grows and produces 40 table wines and four ports, including some unusual blends such as pink chardonnay (chardonnay and chambourcin) and the Saddleback Mountain Red, the ingredients of which are a well-kept secret.

Crooked River Wines, corner Princes Highway and Willowvale Road, Gerringong. Book for lunch on weekends and dinner on Friday and Saturday. Phone 4234 0975, see crookedriverwines.com.

 

3.30pm

Learn to surf or improve the skills you already have. The Pines Surfing Academy runs classes for groups, individuals, families, mothers and more.

You can surf at a number of beginner-friendly beaches in the area, from North beach at Wollongong to The Farm, on the edge of Killalea State Park, 20 minutes' drive south of Wollongong.

Private lessons cost $55 an hour, group lessons cost $40 a person an hour, a family lesson costs $25 a person an hour. Phone 0410 645 981, see pinessurfingacademy.com.au.

 

7pm

Dine at Wollongong's only hatted restaurant, Caveau. It has the distinction of being awarded a hat in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide every year since it opened in 2004.

The head chef and owner, Peter Sheppard, trained under renowned chef Liam Tomlin at one of Sydney's late and favourite eateries, the three-hatted Banc. Sheppard's dishes are minor works of art and on our visit we enjoy the Palmers Island mulloway with prawn tortellini and roasted mahi-mahi with shellfish.

Caveau, 122-124 Keira Street, Wollongong. Bookings recommended. Entree and main meal cost $64, with dessert $79; degustation menu $95. Phone 4226 4855, see caveau.com.au.

Craig Tansley travelled courtesy of Tourism NSW.