Wollongong & The Illawarra

Ultimate guide to things to do in Wollongong & The Illawarra with kids

Located between rugged escarpment and the brilliant blue of the Pacific Ocean just over an hour’s drive from Sydney is Wollongong, or The Gong as it is affectionately known. Take the scenic route – the very scenic route –  down the Grand Pacific Drive and across the Sea Cliff Bridge, a marvel of engineering that swerves out from the cliffs over the ocean, or board the 3801 Limited’s historic scenic steam train to the Cockatoo Run from Sydney along the spectacular Illawarra route to Wollongong. 

Explore a region that boasts a stunning natural coastline dotted with some of NSW’s best surfing beaches as well as plenty of kid-friendly fun. There are plenty of activities to keep kids busy on everything from two feet to two wheels. Keep the kids’ active along the region’s 60 kilometres of bike tracks, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding on the Minnamurra River, all the water sport action at Lake Illawarra or explore the national parks, gardens and playgrounds.

Be sure to take the scenic route over Sea Cliff Bridge. Photo: Dee Kramer Photography

Wildlife lovers will love seeing rare Sumatran tigers feeding, cuddling up to a koala and hand feeding kangaroos at Symbio Zoo, or perhaps you’d prefer to head out to sea on a dolphin or whale watching tour. 

For adrenalin pumping thrills, traverse through the forest canopy at the incredible Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk and Zipline. Or tackle the wild thrill slides at Jamberoo Action Park. And for a moment of calm visit Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere.

Top things to do in Wollongong & The Illawarra

The Illawarra is jam-packed with great activities for kids of all ages. Here are ten of the best.

  1. Find a little zen at Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere 
  2. Check out vintage bikes, trikes, scooters, cars and motor memorabilia at the Australian Motorlife Museum.
  3. Climb aboard 3801 Limited’s historic scenic steam train for the Cockatoo Run.
  4. Get up close and personal with the meerkats and lemurs at Symbio Wildlife Gardens.
  5. Take a dip in the ocean pool at Austinmer.
  6. Walk the Sea Cliff Bridge for a dramatic start to the gorgeous Grand Pacific Drive.
  7. Take to the trees on the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk.
  8. Head to surf school.
  9. Hit the wild and watery slides at Jamberoo Action Park.
  10. Canoe or kayak down the Minnamurra River.

Things to do in Wollongong & The Illawarra with…

Animal lovers will love the collection of furry friends at Symbio Gardens, set in 16 acres of bush parkland. Home to over 1000 animals with popular residents including wombats, crocodiles, meerkats and Tasmanian devils, visitors can watch a rare Sumatran tiger feeding, cuddle a koala, try hand-feeding a kangaroo or visit the farmyard. Paddle and play on the safely patrolled Thirroul Beach and take a dip in its purpose-built toddler pool before heading to the adjacent park and playground. Enjoy a wet and wonderful day at Jamberoo Action Park, which has a special themed area just for little ones with heated shallow pools, mini water slides and more. And Wollongong Botanic Garden is another great spot for little ones with extensive gardens, green space to run and play, an all abilities playground, ducks and a regular schedule of organised kids’ activities.

Hire bikes from the Novotel Northbeach to take the kids for a ride before stopping to enjoy fish and chips on one of the region’s beautiful patrolled beaches.  Junior golf enthusiasts can enjoy a hole or eighteen at the Illawarra Golf Complex’s Putt Putt Course. 

Go jump at Hangtime Trampoline Park. Create, make and play at Zoom. And leap, crawl, bounce and slide at Playmaze. For something more on the cultural side, enjoy the peaceful tranquility of Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. 

For kids’ entertainment with an educational twist, visit the Illawarra Museum to see what the area was like a century ago. Or visit Trainworks at Thirlmere to view Australia’s largest rail collection. Explore the Early Start Discovery Space, Australia’s only dedicated children’s museum, and at the Science Centre and Planetarium the kids can get hands-on with over 100 science, engineering and technology exhibits

Head down to the Minnamurra River for a great day out with South Coast Safaris, a company specialising in canoe, kayak, sea kayak and bushwalking adventures. Keen bushwalkers will also enjoy the trek through rainforest and eucalypt forest around Mount Keira to the Mount Keira Lookout, which offers epic views over Wollongong and the Illawarra Coast.  Or hire a bike to tackle sections of the region’s 60km of on-road and off-road cycle ways.

Jamberoo Action Park is the place for watery thrills. Adrenalin seekers will love The Perfect Storm, the tallest, longest, water ride of its kind in the world, the 30-kilometre per hour Funnel Web and the Taipan, a five-person dropping, twisting and turning ride through darkness. But there’s even more fun out of the water with super speedy bobsled tracks, a Le Mans racing circuit and an 18-hole mini-golf course.

With all that coastline, and some of NSW’s best surf beaches, surf lovers will find is hard to resist hitting the waves. Beginners tempted to give it a try can take lessons at Bulli, North Wollongong or The Farm with Australian Surf Tours. Or immerse yourself in the natural environment at Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk, an awesome elevated treetop walk and zipline experience. The highest zipline tour in Australia, the Illawarra Fly Zipline Tour’s elevated cable spans and suspension bridges will see you leaping and flying from tree to tree an incredible 35 metres above the forest floor.

Serious thrill seekers can experience a tandem skydive right above the beach in Wollongong, or try hang-gliding and paragliding at Stanwell Park with several highly qualified operators offering tandem flights. And for indoor thrills head to Hangdog Climbing Gym or the Revolution Laser Arena for laser gaming in a movie set quality arena.

Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures

Best time to visit Wollongong & The Illawarra as a family

Wollongong’s weather remains fairly pleasant all year around with rainfall fairly evenly distributed throughout the seasons. Summer and winter do bring with them hot and cold spikes with the warmest weather occurring between December to February and the coolest from June to August when you will need to rug up, especially in the evenings and early mornings. July and August are known as the windy months with extreme westerly gales.

Wollongong & The Illawarra have a host of gorgeous beaches, which combined with its relative closeness to Sydney, make it an extremely popular family destination, especially during NSW school holidays and on long weekends, so you’ll need to book ahead to secure the best accommodation for your family. For good weather, good prices and smaller crowds, the September to October shoulder season is a great time to visit, and if you are on a budget, visiting during winter and outside of school holidays can bring savings.

The Wollongong Breakwater Lighthouse was built in 1871 and is a heritage listed building. Credit: Bound Round

Family-friendly places to eat in Wollongong & The Illawarra

Wollongong is one of Australia’s most culturally diverse cities which is reflected in its fantastic food scene. 

Ed’s Espresso Bar in Thirroul is all about kids with a section off the eatery all about lego, pencils and books. On Sunday kids eat free at Towradgi Beach Hotel. The Scarborough Hotel offers great views of the Pacific Ocean and is both kid and pet friendly. With fresh seafood straight from the sea, you’ll find plenty of great fish and chip shops too, but Aish’s Seafood & Takeaway in Berkeley gets the locals’ nod as the best of the best.

If you want to make your own meals, head to the Foragers Weekly Farmers Markets at Bulli or the Dapto Showground Markets for the freshest local produce. And for a variety of food and live music, Thursday nights see Crown Street Mall turned into an Eat Street with a selection of vendors serving up a variety of cuisines. 

Thirroul is a gorgeous town, and it comes equipped with a fabulous beach.

Things to do for free in Wollongong & The Illawarra

  • It doesn’t cost a thing to enjoy a day at one of Wollongong’s gorgeous beaches. Bulli, Sandon Point, Thirroul, Sandon Point Beach and pretty Austinmer are some of Wollongong’s most popular beaches for surfing, while North Wollongong Beach is a good all-rounder with rock pools and wading areas as well as and good surf. 
  • Drive, walk or cycle across The Sea Cliff Bridge, a spectacular 665-metre long section of the Grand Pacific Drive that connects Coalcliff and Clifton, for sensational views. Keen bushwalkers can trek around Mount Keira to the Mount Keira Lookout for views over Wollongong and the Illawarra Coast.  Or take the well-established walking track to Hill 60 Lookout for spectacular views up and down the coast. Beneath the lookout are the historic remnants of World War II fortifications and, scattered along the shores below, Aboriginal shell middens and artefacts can be found.

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