Stella Maris (1861) in Wentworth Street is the oldest stone building in town and the oldest church in the municipality. At the intersection with Addison St is the general store (1857). The oldest building still in its original condition it probably served as the first post office and council chambers. Adjacent is the Steampacket Inn. One of two original hotels the wooden structure was erected in 1856, though it is much transformed. On the south-western corner is an attractive old building, 'Windradeen' (1871).
Walking west up Addison you will see Allen's Store (1868) then the courthouse and gaol (1877). Cross Mary St. Halfway along the next block, to your right, are the council chambers (1865). Return to Mary St. There at the intersection is the Wesleyan Chapel (1865). Turn left into Mary St and on your right is 'Aronda' (1900), originally a school residence. At the Towns St intersection, to your left, is the public school (1871). Turn right into Towns St and take the first left into Eastern Avenue. At number 21 is 'Beau Vista' (1885). Return to Towns St, continue east across Wentworth and, to your left, just before Wollongong Street, is St Paul's Church of England, built in 1886 to replace the original 1859 structure. Take a look at the wall-hanging made by the parishioners to celebrate the bicentennary in 1988. Follow Towns St to the ocean and boat harbour, built in 1859, then extended and deepened in 1879.
The harbour is notable for the Norfolk pines that were planted in 1895 as part of a beautification project intended to attract holidaymakers. The rock baths were established at the same time as the pines and for the same reason. Nearby Bassett Park occupies the site of an old Aboriginal midden, upon which a pioneer cemetery was later built.
Fishing in the area
The harbour is the ideal spot for anglers to launch a boat. Fish in the area include mackeral, tailor, snapper, trevally, jewfish, kingfish, tuna and teraglin.
The Shellharbour area is ideal for beach, rock, estuary and deep-sea fishing. Local beaches are a rich source of whiting in summer. One of the most popular fishing spots is the mouth of Lake Illawarra, a shallow lagoon of some 33 square kilometres. The inlet is located a few kilometres north of Shellharbour at Warilla (a rearrangement of three of the four syllables of 'Illawarra'). Here, virtually 24 hours a day, fishermen can be seen dangling their lines from the Windang Bridge. The Lake is noted for its catches of bream, blackfish and flathead and, in the summer season, prawns are in plentiful supply.
A small walkway on the western side of Windang Bridge leads across to Picnic Island where there is a 250-metre bushwalk and lookout. There are around 150 species of birds in the vicinity including pelicans and pied cormorants. If you retrace your steps and walk under the bridge to its eastern side there are picnic and barbeque facilities, shops, toilets and showers. The beach to the east is ideal for children due to the shallow waters and beyond that is a popular windsurfing area. At low tide the sand flats are used for prawning and it becomes possible to reach Windang Island.
Bass Point Reserve
Excellent fishing prospects also exist at Bass Point Reserve, named after explorer George Bass. This is an ideal spot for an outing. There are picnic and barbeque facilities and pleasant views of the coastline. Surfing and, in particular, snorkelling and scuba diving can also be pursued. Indeed the waters off Bushranger's Bay have been declared a Marine Aquatic Reserve. Equipment, expeditions and training are available from local businesses such as Coastwide Diving Services, 41 Addison St, Shellharbour (02 4296 4266).
The reserve is also a good place for walking. At the north-eastern tip of the headland is Boston Point. It is a short, 30-metre walk down to the rocky shore where there is a memorial to four Australian soldiers who died in 1943 rescuing the 62-man crew of an American tanker, the Cities Service Boston, which hit an offshore reef during a storm then drove itself onto the rocks of Bass Point in order to avoid breaking up in deep water. At low tide a portion of the wreck can still sometimes be seen.
Killalea State Recreation Area
Killalea State Recreation Area, named after Edward Killalea, is a favourite haunt of surfers who frequent the Minnamurra and Killalea Beaches (known locally as 'Mystics Beach' and 'The Farm'). This is also a good spot for scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing and walking. The coastal wetlands and unspoilt beaches make this one of the most beautiful areas on the South Coast.
Blackbutt Forest Reserve
Just north of Shellharbour township, off Shellharbour Road, is Blackbutt Forest Reserve which is 100 hectares of coastal forest with walking tracks and picnic areas. It is the largest natural woodland reserve in the Illawarra and the last remaining viable remnant of coastal plain forest in the Illawarra. It is, therefore, a rare opportunity to experience what the district was like before the clearing of the land started in the 1830s. A number of clearly-defined walking paths lead through areas of rainforest, melaleuca, blackbutt, stringybark, grey box, bangalay, wet schlerophyll forest and red gum woodland. An open-air amphitheatre depicts Australian flora and fauna. There are picnic and barbecue facilities and open spaces for outdoor activities.
Illawarra Railway Museum
For those interested in rail history the The Illawarra Railway Museum in Tongarra Road, Albion Park has, in its collection, several nineteenth-century steam engines, trams and carriages. Essentially an open workshed and a track it is best visited on the second Sunday of each month (11-5 in summer and 11-4.30 in winter) when the trains and an old miner's tram carry visitors around the 1-km bushland track (there are currently plans for its extension). Children can toot the whistle, watch the steam engine in operation in a separate display or play on the merry-go-round and chair-o-plane. Steam-train fanatics can go along for a look at the engines on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, though, being strictly run on a voluntary basis it may be advisable to ring first (02 4256 4627). There are picnic and barbecue facilities.
Tongarra Bicentennial Museum
Tongarra Bicentennial Museum has displays Aboriginal artefacts, colonial farming implements and household items and an 1882 time capsule buried by the Sons and Daughters of the Temperance Society. It is open Sundays (1-4) and Wednesdays (10-4). Phone (02) 4256 6698.
There is an excellent book on the area titled Land Between Two Rivers: a historical and pictorial survey of Shellharbour Municipality by Jim Darbyshire and Dianne Allen which was published by the local council in 1984. For further information on this or any other matter contact the visitor's centre at Lamberton House, Shellharbour Square (02 4221 6169). There you will also find the Hall of Fame, open 8.30-4.30 Mondays to Fridays.