Stage 2 - Crossing the Illawarra

Stanwell Park to Bulli

After serving up a hearty breakfast on the deck looking down the rainforest gully to the beach, our host kindly guided us to the start of the Wodi Wodi Track, which we would use to reach the climb up the Illawarra Escarpment. Having sent our case and one large pack on by courier to our destination, the weight on our backs was much lower, but the humidity was much higher! We climbed much more quickly then the ascent of Palm Jungle, but still reached the top soaked in perspiration in the still humid air of the escarpment slope.



Long hot climb up the escarpment

Fortunately, a cooling wind awaited us as we crested the last sandstone rockface and reached the plateau, making our walk along the edge of the escarpment a pleasant stroll, as we passed through increasingly tall eucalypt forests with an understorey of bracken, punctuated by clumps of gymea lilies and grass trees and patches of sedge in the lower moister areas.

The sun began to beat more strongly as we moved away from the edge and steadily climbed along a dirt track built on an exposed surface seam of coal - hardly surprising when the bituminous smell of the Coalcliff colliery had earlier wafted up from the base of the escarpment.

Gymea lilies

In the escarpment forest

Unfortunately, the Illawarra Escarpment Walk is not complete and, finding ourselves at the end of the section, we were obliged to walk along the Prince's Highway for 2 km until we could rejoin another section. The experience was educational, if not enjoyable, with the bric-a-brac of "civilisation" visible at every step; not only the usual bottles, cans and cigarette packs, but everything from a toy dinosaur to a baby's basket (minus the baby). When will we wake up and stop throwing our rubbish from car windows?

The second section of track was brief and emerged at Sublime Point, 400m above the Pacific Ocean. The wind had finally cleared the sea mist, leaving a magnificent and hard-earned view southward down the coast, over the agglomeration of Wollongong and its neighbouring towns. The view made us realise that the next few days would be spent in "urban bushwalking".

View over Wollongong from Sublime Point

Descending the escarpment

After a suitable rest, we readied ourselves for the descent, only to find that the walking track was closed for repairs; we had to choose between a 10 km detour along the main roads or a very steep descent of over 300 m on a track with rusting ladders and railings and exposed star pickets that had once held back long missing timber steps. My, those ladders were rickety as we descended once more into the still humidity of the rainforest on the steep escarpment slopes.

Finally, we emerged in Austinmer and descended through suburbia, where the opulence of the houses decreased with altitude, until we reached sea-level and the ocean, leaving a few kilometres to walk along the beaches to our next stop at Bulli Tourist Park, 18 km from our start.

Hallelujah, the logistics had worked; our case and pack were waiting for us on arrival. Thank you, Mr Fastway. A few laps in a saltwater pool built into the rock platform and a quick body-surf in the ocean in front of our cabin left us feeling refreshed once more (memo to self: always remove mobile phone from bathers pocket before body-surfing!).

Thirroul Beach and the Escarpment from Stanwell Park to Sublime Point

TRACK UPDATE (October 2012)

It has been quite a while since we did this walk and tracks evolve with time. Jim of Wollongong has kindly pointed out that "the tracks linking Stanwell Park to Austinmer (ie Forest Walk, Forest Walk to Sublime Point, and Sublime Point track) are now completed". This means there is no need to walk along the highway and that the route down from Sublime Point has now been repaired and can be done with confidence.

This makes it an even better walk - I think that we may have to go back and do it all over again.

Bulli to Lake Illawarra (Crossing the 'Gong)

The glare from the sun rising over the Pacific and clear blue sky promised a return to hot summer weather as we readied ourselves for the 12 km walk to central Wollongong. The city has an excellent north-south bicycle path that follows the coastline, passing directly in front of our cabin. We leapt the Tourist Park fence and headed south on it through the suburbs of the 'Gong. This proved to be a sociological field trip as we greeted locals walking, riding and running along the bike path as it passed house styles spanning all decades from the modest '50s fibro cottages to the large curved steel and concrete mega-houses of the '00s.

Observing the front yards, back yards and side yards that passed us by on the path gave us a feel for the life style of the residents of the Leisure Coast, as this region is called. Increasingly the smaller, older coastal cottages are being torn down and replaced by the large residences that occupy most of the block, the claustrophobic new sub-division of "Ostentation-sur-Mer" contrasting markedly with its neighbouring estate of more modest semi-detached public housing. On the seaward side, the high tide drove waves over the edges of the semi-natural saltwater swimming pools that dot the rock platforms along this coastline.


Wollongong skyline

In the wetlands

Moving on, we passed through a small, but well-preserved wetland reserve, before emerging suddenly on the outskirts of the city centre. Skirting to the left, we passed the attractive harbour with its lighthouse, marina, and complex of rock platform swimming pools, before diving down Crown St to our accommodation for the night, the Downtown Motel in the heart of the 'Gong.

We were lucky - 8,000 touch footballers were also in town for a tournament and accommodation was very tight. We had arrived before lunch, after the shortest and flattest section to date, leaving the afternoon to shop for essential supplies and explore the pleasant mall area of this coastal city. Although we had approached it with some trepidation, central Wollongong received our tick of approval.

Wollongong Harbour

The next day we completed the crossing of the 'Gong, rejoining the bike path to head south. Unfortunately, instead of the pleasant and quiet coastal pathway of the northern suburbs, the southward pathway followed a four-lane highway across the heavily industrialised area of Port Kembla. Unavoidable, but certainly the least enjoyable day so far, helped by playing parlour-games such as "what smell is that?" In truth, Port Kembla is well maintained for an industrial zone, but steel, oil and coal place a serious limit on aesthetics.

Finally, we re-entered suburbia, crossing a small hill to leave Port Kembla behind and catch our first glimpse of Lake Illawarra, the largest of many coastal lakes opening to the sea that we would have to cross before the end of our journey. We followed a track along the back dunes between lake and sea, a peaceful final section before turning inland and reaching Lake Illawarra Village, our destination for the night, and for the next day. By the time that we arrived the sky had clouded over and a mist settled in to obscure the far shores of the lake.

Birds of Lake Illawarra


The grey stillness of the lake was replaced by a brief period of sunshine next morning; a flock of 100 plus black swans rested in the shallows and several pelicans soared high on thermals above the lake. We took their lead and spent the day reading and relaxing. The forecast was for several days of showers, so we decided to put the urban environment completely behind, head south the next day and wait out the rain in the more pleasant coastal resort town of Kiama.