|Steal (Your Heart) City|
Once, it was all so simple. Question: for what is Wollongong known? Answer: steel production.
Now there is no simple response. For starters, Wollongong is a big city – third-largest in NSW, tenth in the country, but no longer purely an industrial centre. Today it is both a dormitory city for Sydney, and a lush getaway for city folks.
All this goes through my mind as I snuggle under my doona at Tumbling Waters Retreat (www.tumblingwatersretreat.com), Stanwell Tops, perched 275 metres above sea level with the ocean a blue hyphen on the horizon, and the curved sails of hang gliders bracketing the cliffs to the north.
Here, I am thoroughly cosseted and comforted. It seems nothing has escaped the attention of hosts Andrew Bergmann and Sonja Keller, assisted by Bailey their affable canine welcomer.
Lavish – that about sums it up.
Nearby is a bath house complete with steam room, shower and hydrotherapy tub. And although it’s chef’s night off, meaning the restaurant is closed, a table is set with linen and silver in our room, and the fridge bulges with a three course meal.
In the compendium in the room, there’s an interesting history of the place, which boils down to a feisty struggle to reclaim a block that had been used as common land in order to build this uncommon place.
With such lush surroundings and the extensive views from the sandstone terrace and restaurant it’s no wonder that guests signing the visitor’s book use a recurring vocabulary: relax, unwind, recharge, blissful, and – thanks!
We travel on next day to Kiama, just 45 minutes south of Wollongong, landing up at Spring Creek Retreat (www.innaustralia.com.au/springcreek) for the night. This five-star country house is just a couple of minutes from the water, yet as rural as you could wish for with spa baths, home-baked afternoon teas, log fires and lavender hedges.
For lunch we headed ten minutes south to Gerringong to the rustic and much-loved deli at 133 Fern Street, and could see why the locals are so proud of this place. If I was self-catering here, this would be my local, with all the deli items you need, top-brand groceries, and plenty of prepared food if I couldn’t be bothered cooking.
But Kiama has restaurants and a great fish and chip place ideally situated on the waterfront. So we went there for dinner and counted ourselves blessed. Staying longer in the area would also have allowed us a dip over the mountain to the town of Jamberoo with its incongruous mock-Tudor pub, or to Minnamurra Rainforest, with boardwalk, walking trails and two waterfalls.
But this had been a quick trip and we headed back for Wollongong via the Five Islands Brewing Company (www.fiveislandsbrewery.com), as most Aussies would, to sample the award-winning beers brewed on-site. This year Australia’s largest micro-brewery won a Bronze Medal in the Belgium Wit Bier class for their Longboard and last year their Parkyns Shark Oil won a Silver Medal in the India Pale Ale section of the Australian International Beer Awards.
After working our way through several of these distinctive ales, brewed on-site with those five islands clearly visible on the horizon, we headed for Above Wollongong at Pleasant Heights (www.pleasantheights.com.au), which turned out to be both a description and the name of our B&B.
Here there are three uniquely designed and decorated suites. Ours was the aptly named Pleasant Suite, complete with private courtyard and fish pond and every convenience including a music system and spa bath, but we also peeped in at the equally delightful Mexican Suite and Seascape studio, both meticulously created by owners Tracey and John Groenewald.
Dinner that night had been arranged at 1Eight Cliff, at 18 Cliff Street, North Wollongong, and we were welcomed by owner Marina Cristini-Reader. What a delight to find good food, red-sparked décor, high backed chairs and chef David Freeman’s Asian-leaning food that would sit well in the city. The bar with its cascading water feature, striking room dividers and deep lounges tempted us to stay much longer.
Finally, time is up, so after three days in the area, we head back to Sydney.
We think we’ve got our answers anyway. No longer a ‘steel city’, the Wollongong area is more likely now to steal your heart – making you vow to return and experience even more.
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