Embraced by visiting tourists and neglected by locals, the Grand Pacific Drive is one of our greatest driving routes. As tourists zoom south in their hire cars (no doubt gleefully laughing at our folly), we Sydneysiders forget that this gorgeous road trip is also ours for the taking.
The route starts from the Royal National Park just south of the Shire, and snakes through the Wollongong, Kiama and Shoalhaven areas. This ain’t no “must leave work on time on Friday to make it to the holiday house, then quickly pack up and head back home on Sunday morning” sort of holiday. This is a road trip for the time-takers, the meanderers, the explorers. It’s time to explore the south coast in true road trippin’ style.
We've teamed up with locals—aka the people have the answers to all of the best things to do off the hidden path—Destination NSW, to bring you this epic guide. In case you need even more inspo, you can find it right here.
Do A Cafe Crawl In The Illawarra Region | Austinmer, Thirroul And Woonona
You mightn’t know it, but the Wollongong-Illawarra region has blossomed with cafes run by young guns who know how to steam a flat white. Nothing fuels a road trip like good caffeine and even better food. Our picks include the very excellent Buck Hamblin in Thirroul, the light and bright Moore Street General in Austinmer and the cosy At All and Sundry in Woonona. It’s going to be hard to pick just one to visit, so how about making a cafe crawl of it?
Ride The Waves | Killalea State Park
Surfers flock to “The Farm” AKA Killalea Beach, a popular surfing reserve at Killalea State Park. The beach faces south-east and catches southern swells that run up the coastline for optimal surfing conditions. If your only contact with surfing culture is throwing the “shaka” emoji in WhatsApp, never fear. The park is also home to excellent walking trails through coastal rainforests and mangroves.
Visit the Kiama Blowhole...Again | Kiama
If you didn’t visit the Kiama Blowhole, did you even road trip? The Kiama Blowhole is the largest of its kind in the world, and no matter how many times you’ve been, there’s still a lot of “woah!” when the blowhole really gets going. If you don’t mind getting a little wet, a viewing platform lets you get up close with the powerful gushes of water, which can reach up to 30 metres. There’s also the smaller, more consistent and very accurately named Little Blowhole. It’s a short two-kilometre drive south, if you want to make this blowhole tour a real thing.
Go Treehouse Glamping | Jervis Bay
We’re partial to some good camping, but we can’t hide our glee for some glamping. Can we recommend these fabulous safari-style tents at Paperbark Camp in Jervis Bay? They’re like luxe treehouses, built above ground and placed among the towering eucalypt and paperbark trees. The tents come with hardwood floors, solar-powered lighting and plush bedding, and get this—an open-air ensuite for the outdoor shower of your dreams.
Get Back To Nature | Minnamurra Rainforest
There are fifty shades of green and more at the gorgeous Minnamurra Rainforest, from the glossy cabbage palms, the yellow-green old man banksia flowers, to the powdery moss dusting the river rocks. It’s lush AF. The rainforest is set within Budderoo National Park, and of course, it’s brimming with beautiful walks for peak animal and bird spotting (or just general meandering). The Rainforest Loop Walk starts from the Minnamurra Rainforest Centre and snakes through the forest through a maze of elevated boardwalks and suspension bridges.
Get High At Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures
Remember those flying fox activities during Year Five camp? Well, this is it, but times ten. Illawarra Fly opened their new zipline in December 2017, and at 35 metres above the forest floor of Budderoo National Park, it’s the highest zipline in Australia. With an experienced guide in tow, soar through the canopies for thrilling bird’s-eye views of the rainforest—kids will love this. If you prefer your adventures a little slower and a little less airborne, you can also take the treetop walk. Spanning 1.5 kilometres, you’ll get among the tree canopies on a sturdy steel boardwalk for A-plus views.