Wollongong (Photo:clearviewstock/Shutterstock)
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Wollongong

Arriving by sea to the city of Wollongong allows cruise passengers the opportunity to better appreciate this picturesque port. When the sky is blue, it's in Technicolor. Add to this the craggy coastline, landmark lighthouses, dramatic escarpment and soaring smokestacks: These are a few of the first impressions visitors arriving to the New South Wales South Coast city will experience. While Wollongong -- or "the Gong" as it is affectionately known -- was built on steel manufacturing and mining, the city with the country's biggest steelworks is now undergoing somewhat of a reinvention as the demand for steel and coal continues to dwindle. Sure, the smokestacks still dominate the skyline, but the city is also entering a post-industrial phase with its eyes firmly fixed on the future.

Wollongong University can take some credit for the city's reinvention. Rated as one of the best universities in the world, it has added a lot to the area's mosaic of multiculturalism and contributed to the sense of optimism that has further improved the city's prospects.

Located 81 kilometers south of Sydney, Wollongong is in an area known as the "Illawarra," which is loosely translated to "the land between the mountain and the sea," according to the local Dharawal tribe. Wollongong is also famed for its surf -- clean polished waves that curl onto the beach. Interestingly, Captain James Cook noted the attractive coastline and the presence of the local indigenous tribe in his logbook, and if it weren't for the big breakers crashing onto the shore, he would have made his first landing here.

Wollongong is still a working port and while the brick-and-mortar legacy of its industrial heart remains, that city soundtrack of hammering is now more about new enterprises and reinvention. A quick walk around Wollongong demonstrates all that is wonderful about the city, which has an amazing concentration of young talent and creative thinkers. Squint your eyes and you could be in Brooklyn, New York. There is now a lively laneway culture, budding small bar scene, beachy boutiques and top-notch eateries where everyone from emerging designers to bearded baristas and hatted chefs are helping the Gong to hum. Long after the maze of steelworks shuts up shop for good, the city will still show its age. But that's a good thing. It's gentrification with a touch of grit. And it's all the better for it.

Shore Excursions

About Wollongong


Pro

This city has a young, urban feel and no shortage of museums, boutiques and restaurants

Con

There's nothing particularly unique here compared to other towns in the region

Bottom Line

Wollongong feels quite trendy and modern, but it's also a good jumping-off point for active excursions


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Where You're Docked

Port Kembla is a suburb of Wollongong located 8 kilometers south of the CBD. Port Kembla gets its name from nearby Mount Kembla. The East Coast port, which was established in the 1890s, is regarded as one of the area's key assets and is a closed port, which means you cannot explore the area around the terminal. The courtesy Gong shuttle bus does loops into the city centre to and from Burelli Street, which is in the heart of the city centre.

Port Facilities

Because Port Kembla is a "closed port" there are no services and amenities located in the port itself. As you exit the Port Kembla Terminal you will see the free Gong shuttle buses, which will take you into Wollongong proper, where you will find ATMs and free Wi-Fi in selected areas and shops. Passengers arriving in the city by shuttle bus can expect to be met by friendly ambassadors from the Wollongong Ambassador Program, who are keen to sell the region's attractions and offer advice on what to see and do.

Good to Know

Wollongong's friendly ambassadors are there to highlight all the region has to offer and they do a stellar job of it, too. As well as being the "go-to" when it comes to what to see and do, the ambassadors are super friendly and enthusiastic and bursting with civic pride. It takes the experience of being a visitor to the city to the next level and makes it such a memorable and personal exchange.

Getting Around

Shuttle buses will operate on a loop to and from the city from the Bus Shuttle Station at Port Kembla Terminal. This service is free. When you arrive in the city, you can also use public transportation and taxis or book a guided tour with a company such as South Coast Scenic Tours.

On Foot: If it's an urban hike you're after, many of Wollongong's tourist attractions are within walking distance. The bus will drop you in Burelli Street. Walk north down the lane and turn right to get to glistening white-sand beaches, a very attractive esplanade and parkland with infrastructure for a picnic. One of the best streets to stroll is Crown Street. After arriving in Burelli Street, in the Welcome Precinct, walk down the lane and turn left on Crown Street, where you will find yourself in the city's main shopping precinct, which is dotted with historic buildings from the 19th century and the newly renovated Wollongong Central (the CBD).

By Car:If you are after a private car to show you the sights, you can pre-book a driver with a local firm such as Harris Airport & Cruise Terminal Transfers. Otherwise there are half-day shore excursions that steer passengers around the region. You can also visit the AVIS representative at Lang Park. (47 Flinders Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4251 1311; open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon; Sunday, 8 a.m. to noon)

By Train:If you're looking to travel to the outer suburbs of Wollongong and to some of the beautiful towns further south such as Shellharbour, Kiama or Nowra, City Rail offers regular timetabled services on the South Coast Line. For timetables, visit the Sydney Trains website. The train station is wheelchair accessible. (Lowden Square, Wollongong; +61 2 4223 5517; Open daily)

By Shuttle Bus: The free Gong Shuttle runs every 10 minutes and is on a loop from Wollongong Station to Wollongong University via Wollongong Hospital, Burelli Street and the Innovation Campus. The route numbers for the free Gong Shuttle are 55A and 55C. Visit Transport NSW to determine the route you wish to take. Places of interest along the route include Wollongong Botanic Gardens, University of Wollongong, Wollongong City Beach, Wollongong Golf Club, Wollongong Harbour and the nearby historic lighthouse.

By Taxi: Taxis are safe and metered and drivers are usually both welcoming and honest. You can book ahead with Wollongong Radio Cabs (+61 2 4254 2111) or go to the secure cab rank located on the corner of Crown and Kembla Streets, near to where the shuttle bus will drop you.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The currency used is the Australian dollar. For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. There are no ATMs at the port. However, a free courtesy shuttle bus will drop passengers arriving in Port Kembla to the city centre near Crown Street, which is dotted with ATMs and banks, where you can also exchange your currency. Fee-free currency exchange is also available from The Currency Exchange (Shop N122 Wollongong Central Shopping Centre), which is closed on Sundays. Credit cards are widely accepted but to be on the safe side, ask first.

Language

The native language of the port destination is English -- or "Orstrayan," but Aussies talk fairly fast and use a lot of slang. A few helpful colloquial phrases that a day-tripper might like to throw around include: "No worries," which means "all good," "g'day," which means "hello" and "catcha" (bye for now). If someone offers you a banger, it's a sausage.

Food and Drink

More than 60 small bars and cafes have opened their doors in Wollongong in the past three years. Many of the new food and drink hot spots are clustered in and around Crown Street Mall, where every other corner seems to have something happening on the food and drink front. To really appreciate how the food scene is changing the Gong, head to the Globe Lane, Keira Street and Corrimal Street dining precincts.

Lee & Me: Just a short stroll down the lane from Burelli Street is where you will find Lee & Me, one of the city's loveliest little eateries. The fact that the restaurant is housed in a two-story terrace that supports local artists adds to its allure. Start with a coffee, then launch straight in for smashed avocado on toast -- considered a national treasure -- before checking out the bespoke homeware shop upstairs. (Lee & Me, 87 Crown Street, Wollongong; open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Ruby's Mount Kembla: A meal at Ruby's is a memorable experience thanks in part to its location in the historic mining village of Kembla Heights. Housed in what was once the village store and post office, Ruby's still feels like a community hub. Prepare for a remarkable tasting menu with star dishes such as the smoked duck breast with braised leg, baby beetroot, parsnip puree paired with a glass of pinot noir. (Ruby's Mount Kembla, 39 Harry Graham Drive, Mount Kembla; +61 2 4272 2541; open from Friday dinner to Sunday lunch)

Eat at Sandy's: If you're plan is to graze your way around the Gong, don't miss Eat at Sandy's, the recently opened restaurant by chef Yon Miller, whose sister restaurant Sandy Goodwich has a well-deserved cult following. The restaurant has a wood-fired oven and communal dinners are a thing: Order the free-range pork belly slathered with Middle Eastern spice, and a basket of Lebanese bread, yoghurt and sesame sauce with a side of roasted cauliflower. (Eat at Sandy's, 1/323 Princes Highway, Bulli; +61 2 4283 7739; open Wednesday to Sunday, from 5 p.m.; Sandy Goodwich, 2/363 Crown Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4244 4690; open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Wednesday to Sunday, from 5 p.m.)

Caveau: This intimate restaurant has been awarded a hat by theSydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide every year since 2005. Arrive hungry to watch chef Peter Sheppard conjure up a seven-course degustation feast, which includes dishes such as rolled pork loin with braised jowl, turnips and boudin noir (sausage) and basil-cured local snapper. If you don't eat anything with a face, you will fare well with a degustation menu devoted to vegetables. (122-124 Keira Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4226 4855; open Tuesday to Saturday, from 6 p.m.)

Diggies North Wollongong: It should be compulsory to enjoy fish and chips when on the coast in Australia. It doesn't get more "on the beach" than at Diggies' North Beach Kiosk, which is sitting pretty on the sand. Join the joggers, cyclists, swimmers, surfers for lobster rolls, and fish and chips made fancy. (1 Cliff Road, North Beach, Wollongong; +61 2 42 262 688; open daily for breakfast, brunch and lunch, from 6:30 a.m.)

Shopping

The best place to pick up souvenirs is at the Wollongong Visitor Information Centre where you can purchase everything from magnets and pens to prints, postcards, T-shirts and hats. You can also choose between designer mugs, wine coolers and even a lens cloth -- all of which feature indigenous art. Look out for canvas prints of local images by photographer Dee Kramer. (Wollongong Visitor Information Centre, The iHub, 93 Crown Street, Wollongong; 1 800 240 737; open Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Best Cocktail

Usually "Best Cocktail" is reserved for ports in places such as the Caribbean. But in this case we make an exception and urge you to hotfoot it to Humber, Wollongong's only rooftop bar, for The Floozy (a gin, peach, rosewater, pineapple and lime concoction). Before you get back onboard, try the Bon Voyage (Sailor Jerry spiced rum, orgeat syrup, lime, ginger beer and agave nectar). Humber is set over three levels in the heart of Wollongong's CBD (major shopping hub) but it's the rooftop bar that is the best spot to enjoy a cocktail. (226 Crown Street, Wollongong; +61 2 4263 0355; open Monday to Friday, 6:30 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.)