Grand Pacific Drive: The Southern Trail from Sydney
The Grand Pacific Drive is one of Australia's prettiest routes, winding through rainforests, seaside villages along a curvaceous coastline. Starting at the raw wilderness of Royal National Park just south of Sydney, this 140km coastal journey is visually stunning any time of year, but particularly special from May to November when you might spot migrating whales. A highlight is the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge, a sleek curve of highway that hugs the steep escarpment and sweeps out over the Pacific Ocean.
Start your journey at the Royal National Park
The Royal National Park, the second oldest National Park in the world, is only 53 minutes from Sydney and there’s a historic cafe, row boats and beautiful scenery. Walk from the Wattamolla picnic area to the interesting overhanging Eagle Rock Formation or visit the extraordinary Figure 8 Pool. Located on a rock shelf with unpredictable tides, which can be dangerous, it’s best to be safe and visit on a guided tour with Barefoot Adventures.
Wattamolla BeachWattamolla Beach, Royal Nat'l Park NSW 2233, Australia
Stop and stretch your legs while taking in the view from Stanwell Tops. Stanwell Park features one of the best coastal hang-gliding locations in the world at Bald Hill.
Stanwell TopsStanwell Tops NSW 2508, Australia
Nearby is Symbio Wildlife Park in Helensburgh. The beautiful sanctuary has all your favourite Australian native animals: koalas, kangaroos, echidnas, wombats and dingoes. Get a photograph with a koala or feed a mob of kangaroos on a lovely stretch of green grass.
Symbio Wildlife Park7-11 Lawrence Hargrave Dr, Helensburgh NSW 2508, Australia
Spectacular Sea Cliff Bridge
Back on the coast, motor along the spectacular Sea Cliff Bridge, which extends over the ocean as it sketches around the escarpment on your way to Austinmer. Drink in the views (while watching the road) and enjoy the sense of freedom on this famed coastal bridge. It’s a soaring 665 metres high with huge concrete pylons plunged deep into the seabed. Park the car and take a walk along the Bridgewalk for breathtaking scenes – look north towards Bald Hill and down to the churning sea foam to watch sea birds and manta rays.
Sea Cliff Bridge View PointClifton NSW 2515, Australia
Did you know? In 2005, the Sea Cliff Bridge replaced the original stretch of road circa 1860, which ran along the cliffside and became too dangerous due to rock falls. So it was decided a new road would be engineered to curve out over the sea.
Exploring Seaside Villages
Explore the sweet seaside towns of Austinmer, and Thirroul, boasting boutiques, coffee shops and antique centres. Or head into Wollongong: nestled between the mountains and the ocean, Wollongong offers the best of city, coastal and country lifestyles. Relax on scenic beaches, dine in beachside cafes and explore the region’s galleries.
ThirroulThirroul NSW 2515, Australia
Dining around Wollongong
Before you descend into Stanwell Park and the coastal stretch to Wollongong, stop at Altitude 1148 at Bulli Tops for modern Indian cuisine, seafood as well as floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views over the Illawarra. Or check out Ruby’s Mount Kembla, located in a former post office and serving contemporary fare. At the base of the Illawarra Escarpment is Loaf Kitchen, for great coffee and epic sandwiches.
Ruby's Mount Kembla Restaurant39 Harry Graham Dr, Kembla Heights NSW 2526, Australia
In Wollongong, dining out ranges from the relaxed wood-fired pizzas of long-standing Figtree Gourmet Kitchen to Diggies Café on the beach at North Wollongong or the classy Harbourfront Restaurant Wollongong.
Figtree Gourmet Kitchen1-3/101 Bellevue Rd, Figtree NSW 2525, Australia
Fruit Picking at Glenbernie Orchard
Just 20 minutes from Thirroul is Glenbernie Orchard. Surrounded by Darkes Forest, Glenbernie Orchard is a fourth-generation family-owned apple orchard known for its crisp, fresh fruit. You can meet the farmer, pick your own fruit from November to May, or pop into the Appleshack and buy seasonal fruits. Sample the different types of cider including their Darkes Howler Cider and non-alcoholic varieties.
Glenbernie Orchard - Home of Darkes Cider259 Darkes Forest Rd, Darkes Forest NSW 2508, Australia
The diverse landscape encourages countless adrenaline-filled adventure activities such as skydiving and hang gliding. With SkyDive Wollongong, for 60 hair-raising seconds you’ll free fall at a speed of over 200 kilometres an hour over North Wollongong Beach. Then you’ll float under a parachute for a further seven minutes, taking in the incredible coastal views below as you are buffeted by the coastal breezes. If you prefer something more down to earth, check out Illawarra Fly TreeTop Adventures: stroll the treetop walk or cruise along the highest zipline in Australia.
Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk182 Knights Hill Rd, Knights Hill NSW 2577, Australia
Nan Tien Temple
For something more peaceful, on the southern outskirts of Wollongong is the intricate and colourful Nan Tien Temple, one of the world’s largest Buddhist temples. Visit for a fascinating guided tour, see the palatial prayer hall, eight-level pagoda and oriental gardens. There is accommodation on site for meditation retreats.
Fo Guang Shan Nan Tien Temple180 Berkeley Rd, Berkeley NSW 2506, Australia
Whenever time permits and you'd like to explore more from this trail, continue the journey south for other destinations such as Kiama and Jervis Bay
Kiama | two hours from Sydney
Travel another 30 minutes south from Wollongong to the beachside hamlet of Kiama, famous for coastal walks, sophisticated seaside dining and the extraordinary Kiama Blowhole. The blowhole is a natural rock formation where seawater shoots through and upwards, sometimes 20 metres into the air! You’ll find it along the picturesque Kiama Coastal Walk.
KiamaKiama NSW 2533, Australia
Jervis Bay | three hours from Sydney
Further south is magical Jervis Bay, with sparkling sapphire waters, plentiful seafood and swathes of coastal bushland. Discover some of the whitest sand beaches in the world; marvel at the natural wonder of bioluminescence at night when the sea glows from marine life producing light; or go on a dolphin-watching cruise out on the blue ocean.
Jervis BayJervis Bay, New South Wales, Australia
Jervis Bay is home to one of Australia’s original luxury camping experiences too – Paperbark Camp – with safari-style tents and a modern Australian restaurant. Another hidden gem is Cave Beach, tucked into Booderee National Park, one of the most beautiful national parks with bushland-edged beaches, wallabies hopping about and clear water lapping at white sand.
Paperbark Camp571 Woollamia Rd, Woollamia NSW 2540, Australia
Photo credits: Destination NSW