Exploring the Coal Coast

Just a short drive from the hustle of Sydney and you find yourself in completely new world.

Soaring sandstone cliffs, spectacular ocean views and enchanting seaside towns make the NSW Coal Coast the perfect antidote to the frenetic pace of the big city.

10 July, 2020


So close is this region for Sydney-siders, that it can be treated as a day trip or an escape for several days

Although we’re right in the heart of winter, now is the perfect time to get out of town and enjoy a coastal getaway. For those living in the nation’s most populous city, that doesn’t have to mean spending hours battling traffic to get up the coast, when within an hour of Sydney’s bustling heart,  you can find yourself on the picturesque ‘Coal Coast’ just south of Sydney. 

So close is this region for Sydney-siders, that it can be treated as a day trip or an escape for several days. The duration is entirely up to you.

Depending on traffic, from the heart of the Sydney CBD to the start of the journey proper can take just 30 minutes. Here at the entry to the Royal National Park, the city just seems to disappear as the native forest surrounds you and winding road takes you deeper and deeper into the spectacular national park.

This is a narrow road for the most part that meanders along the top of the coast. It’s also popular with cyclists, so take care as there are many blind bends and crests to negotiate. There are also any number of lookouts dotted throughout the drive, giving you the chance to stop and admire the scenery.

While driving through the Royal National park, take a stop-off to the town of Bundeena – a quiet coastal enclave nestled about 20 minutes drive into the park. Grab a seat at one of the nearby cafes and watch the historic ferry bring tourists across from Cronulla, take a quick hike through raw, rugged coastline or simply wander the beachfront and drink in the serenity before jumping back in your car and heading further south.

Eventually, the winding road brings you to the southern extreme of the park and the trees open to the vast blue sea and sandstone clifftops of the Coal Coast.

The view from the top of the cliffs demands you stop and take it all in, with its uninterrupted views right down the coast that has grown from its industrial and mining past to become a sought after coastal retreat. 

Coal was discovered in the region in 1797 and the area boomed, with small villages cropping up along the coastline, with Wollongong and Port Kembla developing as the perfect port to service the burgeoning industry.

These days coal is no longer mined, and the working class townships have been reinvented to service the brisk tourist trade as well as the local residents who live in the sought after suburbs of Thirroul, Austinmer, Coledale, Wombarra, Scarborough, Clifton, Coalcliff and Stanwell Park.

Just a drive through the area is well worth the time and the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge that follows the contour of the coastline has developed its own cult following and brings an extra dimension to any drive down the coast.

Being close to the city and within reach of fresh local fare, there's no shortage of world-class dining spots along the Coal Coast. For lunch with a view, try The Scarborough Hotel – an iconic stop-off for foodies travelling south. And once in Thirroul, be sure to sample some incredible family-style Mediterranean at pará.

The Coal Coast is home to some of the most pristine beaches in Australia. From Thirroul to Coledale, Stanwell Park to Bulli and beyond, whatever the weather be sure to pack your swimmers and add a cool ocean dip to your weekend road trip itinerary.

The Coal Coast is home to some of the most pristine beaches in Australia. From Thirroul to Coledale, Stanwell Park to Bulli and beyond

But if you want to take your time, there is no shortage of cafes, restaurants, galleries and boutiques dotted along the coast to keep you busy

Turn off Thirroul’s main street and pop into Frank's Wild Years where you can grab a specialty coffee – or if you're musically-inclined, flick through the vintage records on display. Nearby, Finbox – part surf shop and part cafe – boasts an extensive range of surfboards to tackle the pristine breaks right along the coast. As well as the burgeoning art and food scene, you’ll also find a selection of thrift stores around town where those with a nose for design may discover some quirky surf-chic antiques to take home as a road-trip memento.

A stone's throw from the beach and nearby shops, bars and restaurants, the Thirroul Beach Motel is a local mainstay – with spacious, renovated ocean view lodgings throughout, and an exterior facade that keeps with the Australian coastal charm of the region. 

There is no shortage of places to stop and have a coffee or linger for lunch. One of the beauties of the area is that for the aforementioned day trip, you can stop for lunch and then meander your way down towards Wollongong and back up Mount Pleasant on the Princes Highway to Sydney comfortably in a day.

But if you want to take your time, there is no shortage of cafes, restaurants, galleries and boutiques dotted along the coast to keep you busy when you need a distraction from the hypnotic views and stunning beaches.

Those with serious time to spare can keep driving down the coast, with seaside gems like Kiama, Gerringong and Geroa only a stone’s throw away offering the quintessential coastal experience as you head further south. Indeed, the further you go, the greater the diversity, but that’s well past the Coal Coast and a drive for another time.