The Grand Pacific Drive: Classic Day Out from Sydney

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Grand Pacific Drive is a 140km scenic coastal drive taking you through the Royal National Park south of Sydney, over the extraordinary Sea Cliff Bridge and through the coastal city of Wollongong, and the townships of Shellharbour, Kiama, Gerringong and into the Shoalhaven region. Along the way you will witness gorgeous forests, stunning coastline and beaches, with plenty of decent pubs and restaurants for a stop along the way.

We lived in Illawarra for many years and can vouch for the beauty, decent food and cultural attractions of the area. The Sea Bridge is stunning and, after nearly getting taken out by boulders bouncing down the mountain on the old cliff-hugging road it replaced on one occasion, we were pleased to see it open in a practical as well as aesthetic sense! (Kevin Parker -Editor)

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Royal National Park

The Grand Pacific Drive begins at the historic Royal National Park on the outskirts of Southern Sydney. The park was established in 1879 and is known for its natural beauty and diverse landscapes that include rainforests, rivers, cliffs, and beaches. The park offers a range of walking trails suitable for various fitness levels, highlighting the exquisite scenery and Australian wilderness. Numerous picnic areas with essential facilities ensure a comfortable outing in picturesque locations. The Royal National Park also offers various attractions, including water activities, wildlife viewing, photography opportunities, and camping sites, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in nature.

Sea Cliff Bridge

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The amazing Sea Cliff Bridge

One of the most iconic parts of the drive, the Sea Cliff Bridge, is a balanced cantilever bridge that curves around the cliffs and offers panoramic ocean views linking the villages of Coalcliff and Clifton. It is a part of the Grand Pacific Drive and offers scenic views over the Pacific Ocean. The construction of the Sea Cliff Bridge cost AUD 52 million, and it is made of steel and concrete, ensuring robustness and durability.

The bridge was opened in 2005, replacing a section of the Lawrence Hargrave Drive that was permanently closed due to regular rock falls. The Sea Cliff Bridge stretches for 665 meters, gracefully curving around the cliff and allowing the ocean to pass beneath. It is easily accessible for both vehicles and pedestrians. It is a popular spot for tourists, who can walk along the pedestrian walkway for panoramic ocean and cliff views. It has been a location for various international car commercials, making it a notable site beyond its practical use and scenic attraction.

If you are passing through at lunchtime the delightful Scarborough Hotel has a good menu, love the seafood, and views to die for. Need to book ahead during the silly season as it is very popular. An other option is The Headland Hotel, Austinmer Beach. Also popular but you can generally get a walk-up seat as it is a big venue.

Wollongong

Travelers on the Grand Pacific Drive will traverse the lively city of Wollongong, notable for its stunning beaches and diverse attractions. Wollongong’s extensive coastline includes renowned beaches such as North Wollongong Beach, City Beach, and Fairy Meadow Beach, offering surfing, swimming, and sunbathing.

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Wollongong lighthouse and harbour with views to the escarpment beyond

The city is home to the Nan Tien Temple, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest Buddhist temple, offering visitors a tranquil space to explore Buddhist culture, meditation, and spirituality amid the scenic Illawarra Escarpment. Another highlight is the Wollongong Botanic Garden, a lush haven for nature enthusiasts, with themed sections showcasing a variety of plant species.

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Nan Tien Temple Wollongong (well Berkeley really!)

Additional attractions in Wollongong include the Wollongong Art Gallery with its extensive art collection, adventurous activities like skydiving and paragliding, a rich and diverse dining scene, and numerous cycling and walking paths for leisurely exploration. 

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Shellharbour

Shellharbour

The picturesque village of Shellharbour enchants visitors with its laid-back coastal charm. A modern marina and a pretty boat harbour can be found in the town. It is also known for its seafood restaurants. Local catches, freshly served in waterfront establishments, create a dining experience that is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate. 

Kiama

Kiama is a charming coastal town known for it’s picturesque landscapes and relaxed atmosphere, Kiama is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. One of its most famous attractions is the Kiama Blowhole, a natural rock formation that shoots water into the air, creating a spectacular sight.

The town is blessed with beautiful beaches, such as Surf Beach and Kendalls Beach. Kiama’s historic lighthouse, located on Blowhole Point, offers breathtaking views of the coastline and is a great spot for whale watching during the migration season. The town’s main street is lined with boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants. It is also home to the Kiama Farmers’ Market, where visitors can sample fresh local produce and artisanal products.

Take the coast road from Kiama through the famous Kiama bends, and get off the freeway at stop for a breather in Gerringong, a lovely seaside town with good cafes, great beaches and decent shopping. There is a pretty decent Craft beer venue, Stoic Brewery at the back of town in an industrial unit (yes, i have spent time there!).

Gerringong
Gerringong

The coastal road down to Nowra runs through the charming hamlet of Gerroa which has of the steepest 9-hole golf courses you’ll ever see on the ouskirts of town! The Gerroa Fishermans Club puts on a pretty good feed if you are passing through a meal-time with the bonus of great views down Seven Mile Beach.

If you have time, a slight diversion will take you to the Chi Chi town of Berry. Boutique shops, homewares, cafes and a decent pub in the centre.

The drive ends in the Shoalhaven region, known for its vineyards and beaches.

If you have a few days you could choose to stay over at Berry or further down the coast in the Jervis Bay area, or even the picturesque Kangaroo Valley and do a loop back to Sydney over a few days via the Southern Highlands. If in a hurry to get back to the big smoke, head back up the freeway and you’ll be home in a few hours.

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