Unique, Different & Lesser Known Things To Do Wollongong & Illawarra. Shhh Don’t Tell Anyone…

With so many unique and brilliant things to do around Wollongong, you’re unlikely to run out of local attractions and things to do. But when that day comes and you feel like discovering different things to do in the Illawarra, we’re on the case. If you fancy a change or you’re tired of sharing Wollongong’s most popular things to do with everybody else, read on for our best under-the-radar, unique things to do in and around Wollongong. 

Secret & Best Lookouts in the Illawarra & Wollongong

The Illawarra escarpment is well known for serving up some of the most stunning scenic views anywhere (local bias). Some of these lookouts are so intensely beautiful they can come a bit too popular if you know what I mean (looking at you, iconic Bald Hill) So if you fancy your natural beauty without fighting for a parking spot, these are my picks…

Sublime Point Lookout, Maddens Plains

Ok, so maybe Sublime Point is not the biggest secret, but it’s less populated than its rivals like Bald Hill. Accessible by car from the Princes Highway, (and by foot from Austinmer via the Sublime Point Track) the incredible Sublime Point Lookout takes in 200 degrees of coastline from the National Park as far down as Port Kembla. We used to come here for picnics all the time as kids, and the vibes are unchanged from the carefree 90’s! There is a lovely grassy picnic area dotted with trees to explore as well as picnic shelters, bathroom facilities and the cute The Sublime Point Cafe. Always plenty of parking and usually quiet on weekdays!

Mount Kembla Summit, Mount Kembla

The Mount Kembla lookout offers amazing views of Lake Illawarra and the coastline, but you have to work for it. It’s a 3.2-km out-and-back hike to reach the summit, but boy is it worth it. The starting point for the 5.3 kilometre Ring and Summit tracks. It’s a quiet trail on the weekdays and you’ll likely have the summit to yourself if you tackle the track early enough.

Hill 60, Port Kembla

Obsessed with this lookout. Hill 60 lookout is definitely one of the lesser known lookouts in the region but nevertheless still offers bonkers views of the beaches below and the coastline. It’s also heaps of fun to explore the fortifications left over from WW2. There’s a cute little picnic table up here and enough graffiti to let you know that this is a cool hangout. Plus you’ll usually get the place to yourself in daylight hours!

Jamberoo Lookout, Budderoo National Park

Located in the Budderoo National Park is the Jamberoo Lookout. Even though us beachbums kinda consider Jamberoo to be “inland” – on clear days it feels like you can see even more of the ocean from up here. Seriously beautiful. Park entry fees apply into the Minnamurra Rainforest, but if you’re making a day of exploring this slice of paradise, it’s well worth the cash.

The walk to Jamberoo Lookout is considered a medium-level difficulty trail, so check it out before you head out.

Illawarra Lookout, Barren Grounds

Off the Griffiths Track in the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve, you can find the Illawarra Lookout Walking Track. Just a short 2km return walk to get to the main event – that view. The rolling treetops of what seems like the whole damn Illawarra laid out at your feet, it all but takes your breath away! This lookout is a little tucked away, but seriously worth your time – and very hush hush!

If bushwalking your way to some very special viewing platforms sounds like your kind of day, check out my guide to hiking along the Illawarra Escarpment.

Discover The Best Illawarra & Wollongong Waterfalls

The lush waterfall view of in Minnamurra rainforest

Kelly’s Falls, Stanwell Tops

Kelly’s Falls is a hidden gem in Stanwell Tops that really delivers. The view from the top of the waterfall takes in a lush valley of gums that stretch all the way to the ocean. The waterfall rushes down over flat rocks to a deep pool below. There is a darling little walk around the tops of the falls that takes in the view from different angles. Lots of parking, a few picnic tables and the trailheads to a number of bushwalks make Kelly’s Falls a worthwhile visit.

Maddens Falls, Darkes Forest

Opposite the Apple Shack on Darkes Forest Road you’ll find the trailhead to take you down to Madden’s Falls in Dharawal National Park. This short walk is mostly along raised steel walkways and passes through native forest alongside the creek. At the end of the track there is a viewing platform that takes in the waterfall and looks out across the expanse of the national park to the western horizon. A beautiful, powerful spot, which is still off the beaten track enough to have few visitors. A visit to the Apple Shack afterwards is highly recommended! My kids love a good honey lollypop at the end of a bushwalk!

Minnamurra Falls, Jamberoo

Ok, so maybe not a ‘secret’ — Minnamurra Falls is too beautiful to leave off this list. The spectacular waterfalls are accessible via the Minnamurra Falls walk. Starting at the Minnamurra Rainforest Centre, the trail combines elevated walkways with paved tracks and takes you through incredible rainforest, with waterfall and canyon views from the viewing platforms. Easy enough for kids and very, very beautiful. Not overly popular on weekdays.

Hidden Picnic Spots Illawarra & Wollongong

A beautiful place for a secluded picnic: The Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens, Mount Pleasant

Glastonbury Gardens, Austinmer

This sweet local spot is tucked away behind the road in Austinmer. The gardens are more like a flat meadow with escarpment views, enormous fig trees, a teeny-tiny playground and bathroom. The lower section has a tiered-grassed area that looks across Lawrence Hargrave Drive to the sea. While there are no picnic tables or cafes, Glastonbury Gardens are very kid friendly, with lots of space to run around. Best parking is on Toxteth Ave, a residential street. Usually empty on weekdays, they occasionally play host to weddings on the odd weekend!

Byarong Park Picnic Area, Mount Kiera

The shady Byarong Park is tucked in Mount Kiera foothills — making it a quick-drive option from Wollongong, but not well known enough to really be on the radar yet. The park has picnic tables, free BBQs, bathrooms and a nice mix of shade and sunshine — very family friendly. The trail head of the Mount Kiera Ring Track is found at this park too, which is a fun bush walk to add to your day. Birdlife is abundant in this pretty bushland, so bring your binoculars (and watch over your sausages — bush turkeys and kookaburras are a cheeky mob!)

Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens, Mount Pleasant

Hidden in a valley under Mount Pleasant is the Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens. 13 hectares of azaleas, camellias and, you guessed it, gorgeous established Rhododendrons. All maintained by volunteers, these beautiful gardens make for a very peaceful and sweet half-day trip. You might see the occasional wedding or birthday party on a weekend, but I’ve found that many locals have never even heard of this special spot — so the chances you’ll have privacy are pretty high.

The gardens are open Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday and public holidays from 10.00am to 5.00pm, for an entry fee of $5. The undercover picnic tables look out over the beautiful pond full of waterlilies. There are walking tracks through the rainforest section under the escarpment. Well worth a visit. Parking is off Parrish Ave, and no dogs are allowed.

If you’re looking for more inspiration for your next sweet picnic lunch, have a look at my Top 10 picks for Wollongong Picnic Spots here.

Best Wollongong & Illawarra Bushwalks that only locals know

Creek crossing, Wodi Wodi Track, Stanwell Park

Brokers Nose Bushwalk

Located within the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area, Brokers Nose is a local gem that seriously not many people know about! Located just 3km from Corrimal in the the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area, this family friendly walk boast beautiful views of both the escarpment and the ocean. I love the combo of easy terrain with a bit of adventure. My kids love “rock hopping” as we go, and spotting lizards and birds. Check out our detailed guide for more info.

This one is very exciting for a coal coast local like me – the old goat track from Bald Hill has finally be upgraded. Beautiful sandstone stairs descend from Bald Hill for about a kilometre and spit you out at North Stanny. We call it the “missing link” because it finally connects the iconic Coast Track in the Royal National Park to the Wodi Wodi Track in Stanwell Park! Still fresh, this one is not too popular – yet!

Cascades Walk

To me at least, this walk was very secret until recently! The 2km Cascades Walk is a part of the Macquarie Pass National Park. This leafy walk winds through the rainforest, leading to a waterfall and pool. It’s so amazing – how did I not know about it sooner?! Enjoy the sun-drenched Cascades Picnic Area for some lunch after your walk.

The Wodi Wodi Track, Stanwell Park

The entrance to the Wodi is pretty well known, but once you’re up on the side of the escarpment, secret trails and branching tracks make this section of bush very explorable and definitely off the radar for most non-locals! While the official Wodi Wodi trailhead ends/begins at Stanwell Park Station, you can actually walk all the way to Stanwell Tops if you just keep going. This special piece of bush is home to huge biodiversity (and also has a short side track that will take you to the summit of Mount Mitchell) Absolutely stunning.

Best things for couples & romancing in Wollongong

Surprise and delight your loved one with a unique date idea this weekend!

Anyone who has fallen in love locally can tell you – Wollongong is tres romantique! Whether you want to keep it low-key or make a big splash, Wollongong has an abundance of special places and adventures that make for perfect date ideas. At What’s On in Wollongong we love to think outside the box when it comes to Love. Some of the most memorable dates don’t cost anything at all! Imagine watching a storm roll in off the ocean from Bald Hill lookout, or a surprise picnic among the roses in the Botanic Gardens. Or adventuring through the city on a summer night, discovering boutique bars and cute night cafes… We’ve put together an eclectic selection of unique date ideas that are sure to please, check out this list for all your inspiration.

If a quiet candlelit dinner is more your style, check out our ultimate local guide to Romantic Dining and Best Restaurants in Wollongong for Couples 🙂

Best Happy Hours & Cocktails in Wollongong

Bottoms Up! – Happy Hour at Red Square, Wollongong is the start of a great weekend!

There’s nothing like getting a sweet deal, and I especially love to shout a round without going broke! Wollongong has my back though, with local Happy Hours that make an arvo session that much more fun! (Or more dangerous? No, more fun) Going for drinks at a new place is a great little adventure, especially when you cash in on the street cred of introducing a cool, ‘underground’ joint to your people! At What’s On In Wollongong, we’ve been working hard to discover the best drink deals around, centring lesser known and small business pubs, breweries and bars. All the amazing Wollongong happy hours and deals are here, you’re welcome! Cheers!

Best Cheap Eat & Restaurant Deals Wollongong & Illawarra

Kebabs are life. We know where to find the most delicious and affordable eats and drinks in the ‘Gong

Oh boy, I shouldn’t be writing this while I’m hungry, I am drooling just thinking about a good kebab! Times may be tough, but never forget Wollongong is a University town at heart, and Uni towns are built on the stomaches of hungry students! You might be surprised at how many very delicious and very affordable eateries are tucked away in our fair city. Multicultural fare is everywhere (we are blessed) — so if you love kebabs (or Cantonese, Indonesian, Thai, burgers, fish and chips) — but are down to just the coins in your car’s console, we have found the best lunches and dinners that won’t break the bank. And if you need a deal on your local favourites, we have you covered there too with this updated list of Wollongong’s latest dinner specials.

More Unique & Different things to do in Wollongong & Illawarra

HARS Aviation Museum
54 Airport Road, Albion Park NSW 2527

Unique, Different & Lesser Known Things To Do Wollongong & Illawarra – HARS

One of the Illawarra’s best kept secrets for a great day out! The HARS Aviation Museum, located at Shellharbour Regional Airport in Albion Park (just over an hour by road south of Sydney), is a fantastic local tourist attraction that showcases some of Australia’s aviation history, right here in the Illawarra.

You can board many of their aircraft and even sit in the pilot’s seat of an F111 supersonic fighter. The museum offers families a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with the aeroplanes, walk through the hangars, sit in some of the cockpits and even explore some of the planes on display. Learn more here about special days and events HARS have coming up – especially their Tarmac Weekends where HARS opens to the public.

Little Blowhole, Kiama
Tingira crescent (3km south of the big blowhole)

Nobody needs crowds and difficult parking on a day out, so instead of visiting the well known ‘Big Blowhole’ at Kiama, why not consider the lesser known little brother 3km further south? The diameter of the opening is smaller which actually means that often the water spout is more impressive, shooting higher and on a day with a bit of swell, very frequently. You can go right up close to the blowhole but beware of slippery rocks and rogue waves.

Outdoor Sunset Cinema
40 Murphys Ave, Keiraville

Wollongong’s Botanic Garden is hardly a secret, attracting all kinds of visitors with exotic planting such as the cactus garden and the rainforest walk. Visit in summer and once you have had your fill of wildlife, walking trails, sculpture and art installations, BBQ and picnic spots or kids’ playgrounds, head for the Fig Lawn to catch a movie under the stars. The Sunset Outdoor Cinema shows classics as well as the latest films, offers popcorn and bar refreshments and provides comfy loungers – click here for the current Summer 2024 Season of Sunset Cinema Wollongong.

Steelworks Public Tour, Port Kembla
Springhill Road, Port Kembla

BlueScope Steel works has long been a landmark in the Port Kembla area, but what goes on inside those vast industrial spaces? Why not find out on an informative and immersive tour of the works, guided by knowledgeable ex employees who can give you a really personal insight into the processes involved in steel manufacture. The tour offers great close up experiences including areas such as blast furnaces and rolling mills – its hot and noisy and very impressive! All safety equipment is provided and the tours are suitable for adults and kids over 10 years old. CLICK HERE for their current public tour schedule.

Laneways
Central Wollongong

Hot on the heels of some of Australia’s most impressive inner city revivals, central Wollongong has undergone a rebirth as well in recent years. Just as Brisbane and Melbourne have overhauled forgotten city centre areas into funky, fashionable ‘laneways’ buzzing with life, so has Wollongong. The laneways district centres on Globe Lane, Coombe Street and Keira Lane and showcases boutique bars, delightful galleries, artisan coffee shops and hip restaurants. 

Saddleback Mountain Lookout
Saddleback Mountain, Kiama

Only around a ten minute drive inland from the blowholes at Kiama, through glorious countryside and up a winding road, brings to you another undersung attraction near Wollongong. Boasting not one but three lookout points, visit on a clear day for jaw-dropping views that take in most of the Illawarra coast and the escarpment. If you are lucky you may also see kangaroos on your visit, but even if they don’t put in an appearance you will be blown away by the stunning panorama from up here. You can  pick up hiking trails from the lookout if you can’t resist striking off into the greenery.

Elliott Lake
Located to the south of Warilla Beach.

The small estuary at the south end of Warilla Beach is known as Little Lake or Elliott Lake, and makes a perfect day out for families with young children. The inlet divides Warilla from Barrack Point and it’s sheltered from the open ocean so the water is really calm and inviting. Shores and sandy and the saltwater is clean, so bring little ones to learn to swim, perhaps try your hand at SUP or just come to relax and enjoy the scenery. Elliott Park on the south shore and Little Lake Park to the north are both well set up with shaded areas, BBQ facilities and toilets.

Helensburgh Hindu Temple
1 Temple Road, Helensburgh

Founded in 1978, the Sri Venkateswara temple was the first Hindu temple in the Sydney area, and came into public use in 1985. The temple is a significant Hindu place of worship and among the most important in the southern hemisphere. It remains an important centre for cultural events and worship in the region, and while it is a working temple, visitors are wlecome. Admire the intricate architecture of the temple exterior, experience the daily life of the temple and dine on fantastic south Indian food at the canteen.

Breakwater Battery Museum 
2 Gloucester Blvd, Port Kembla

Documenting the military heritage of the area, the Breakwater Battery Museum is housed in a building constructed for military ops during the second World War. Check out military relics from the time and learn about the important contributions made by the region and its population. If you don’t enjoy military museums you are sure to be amazed by the ranks of anti tank traps which take the form of large white pyramids scattered over the coastal heritage park, more akin to an art installation than a military relic.

More Different & Interesting Events in Wollongong…

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We offer our gratitude and deep respect to the lands, waters and skies of Dharawal Country. We stand in solidarity with its traditional custodians, the Dharawal and Wodi Wodi people, whose sovereignty was never ceded.