Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia
Wollongong. It was a funny name; a place I knew virtually nothing about. “You’re going where?” many would ask. “An hour south of Sydney,” was my quick reply. We all knew Sydney; we could put a face to Sydney: the Opera House. “Oh, Sydney,” they would say with a smile of recognition. I had heard Wollongong described only as an “industrial city”, not too exciting if you ask me, so I figured I would probably be spending a lot of time in Sydney.
Fast forward five months and I’m home again and if anyone asks me what I miss, it’s Wollongong. I’ll let you in on this lovely secret and when visiting Australia you must be sure not to pass it up. Though formerly known only for its industry, Wollongong has shed this image to prove that it only takes a second look to discover that it has got a lot more to offer. The seventh largest city in Australia, Wollongong lies 51 miles south of Sydney on the east coast of New South Wales, an ideal location to base an Australian holiday. With a population of just 300,000, Wollongong is more accurately described as a big, friendly, overgrown country town.
Historically the area was first inhabited by the Wodi Wodi aboriginal tribe who enjoyed the temperate climate and natural features as much as anyone today. The Bulli Pass was established in 1868 and enabled more settlers to arrive from Sydney by land. The rail connection to Sydney was completed in the late 1880s and the local coal mining industry commenced around the same time. Wollongong’s famous manufacturing steelworks industry was established in the late 1920s and is now a major economic element of the city largely owned and operated by BHP, Australia’s largest company. This industry attracted many immigrants in the mid 1900s and left the city with the legacy of a multiculturally rich population. “City of Diversity” and “City of Innovation” are Wollongong’s mottos.
One of the most important things you can learn before visiting is that the name of the city is pronounced more like wool-on-gong, than wall-ing-gong, the typical American pronunciation, which is the one to use if you want to set off loud blaring “I’m a tourist” sirens around your head. Don’t worry, however, because the Australians love their visitors…love to ridicule them that is! (All in good fun of course!) Australians put sarcasm to good use, and some of the most fun can be had untangling their common slang and abbreviated phrases. Wollongong is often affectionately referred to by the locals as “the Gong”.
Wollongong has some of the best beaches in Australia, offering the pleasures of surfing and sunbathing as well as more extreme recreational activities such as skydiving, hang gliding and parasailing. With over 20 miles of bike path along the coast, Wollongong is the outdoor enthusiast’s dream.
Wollongong also boasts an extensive botanic garden, as well as the southern hemisphere’s largest Buddhist temple. So if it is meditation and inner peace you seek, look no further.
The city itself is filled with restaurants to suit every palate and the nightlife is supplemented by a large student population, compliments of the University of Wollongong.
Wollongong is a great base for exploring Australia. It offers easy access to bigger cities like Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, but is also close to other places off the beaten path, such as the Blue Mountains and Jarvis Bay, which could get lost on a big city itinerary.