The Illawarra is perfect for a day trip on the bike from Sydney, weekend away or quick blast through some twisties. The Bear went to see what's going on down south... Words: The Bear.

There is nothing quite like a decent day’s ride over interesting motorcycle roads, with maybe a quick lunch somewhere. But there are alternatives, if you live in Sydney there is an obvious one just to the south, the Illawarra has everything from winding roads to amazing beaches!

The Sea Cliff Bridge is not really a bridge but a bypass for a road that had constant rock falls. It’s good both to ride and for photography.

The Sea Cliff Bridge is not really a bridge but a bypass for a road that had constant rock falls. It’s good both to ride and for photography.

“You feel free in Australia. There is great relief in the atmosphere – a relief from tension, a relief from pressure, an absence of control of will or form. The skies open above you and the areas open around you.” – DH Lawrence, who lived at Thirroul for a while.


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The great thing about the Illawarra is that it combines some excellent riding roads with interesting and even unique stuff to look at or do. Not the least of these is the scattering of craft breweries in and around Wollongong, but I’ll leave you to your own way of coping with the obvious attraction. I tend to visit them one by one and have a couple of beers at the most, but I’m sure you know your own limit.

One of the northern Illawarra beaches. There are several of them, all patrolled and with good surf as well as grass for a picnic or a rest.

One of the northern Illawarra beaches. There are several of them, all patrolled and with good surf as well as grass for a picnic or a rest.

Back to the beginning. The obvious way to start a ride south is through Royal National Park. If you’re taking overseas visitors on this ride, make sure that you point out to them that this the second ever national park declared anywhere in the world. Australia has been ahead of the pack in many things over the years. Do watch the speed limit in the park; the NSW government always needs money for pork barrelling, but there’s no need for it to be yours.


“Do watch the speed limit in the Royal National Park; the NSW government always needs money for pork barrelling, but there’s no need for it to be yours.”


As you emerge from the park onto Stanwell Tops, you find yourself faced with an amazing panoramic view. Here are the hang gliders dotting the sky with colour, while below is Stanwell Park beach, one of the most beautiful anywhere. And of course there’s a food truck for the caffeine- or fat-deprived.

Make a note of that blue/yellow/green sign. It indicates the Grand Pacific Drive, which is not always especially grand and can be hard to follow.

Make a note of that blue/yellow/green sign. It indicates the Grand Pacific Drive, which is not always especially grand and can be hard to follow.

The ride down into Stanwell Park is a lot of fun, and there are a couple of cafés off to the left once you’re down there. The road to the beginning of the Sea Cliff Bridge is a bit suburban, but the concrete structure itself is good fun. You might note that you are on the Grand Pacific Drive (GPD) here, a grand name for a bit of a road that has been cobbled together from interesting stretches like the bridge and lots of suburban roads. It’s still the best way to go, and you’ll pass Wollongong’s café -studded northern suburbs including Lawrence’s Thirroul with their excellent beaches before reaching Wollongong itself.

It’s probably best to cut right in Towradgi (famous place: both Wayne Gardner and I went to primary school here) and pick up first Memorial Drive and then the Princes Motorway. That saves you the one-way mess of the ‘Gong’s CBD. Take the Five Islands Road turnoff and then make a right into Glastonbury Avenue. This will take you to the entrance of the Nan Tien Temple, a place that’s well worth a look. The buildings are interesting, the gardens are idyllic and there’s a tea house.

These little people populate one of the lawns at the Nan Tien Temple. There is lots more to see.

These little people populate one of the lawns at the Nan Tien Temple. There is lots more to see.

Back out onto the Princes Freeway and continue south to the Kanahooka Road exit. Turn right and continue to the roundabout where it crosses the princes Highway and becomes Darkes Road. A little way down on the right you’ll find the signposted turnoff to the Australian Motorlife Museum, run by the NRMA. It holds a great selection of old cars and bikes and really deserves longer than the short visit you’ll have time for in this itinerary. The temple and this place would be enough to warrant a visit to the Illawarra by themselves, especially if you stop off for a swim at one of the GPD beaches.


“The Australian Motorlife Museum holds a great selection of old cars and bikes and really deserves longer than the short visit you’ll have time for in this itinerary.”


But there’s a lot more to do. Back out onto the Princes Highway (not the Motorway) and continue south to Albion Park Rail, where you’ll see the turnoff to the right to Shellharbour Airport. The attraction here is HARS, the base of the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society marked by a parked Qantas jumbo. You’ll see that it is signposted as a museum, but it is really a huge workshop where the Society’s members work on aircraft. Visits consist of guided tours, which is terrific because you can ask questions. 

You can’t miss HARS at Shellharbour Airport. The tail of a retired Qantas 747 marks the spot in an unmistakable manner.

You can’t miss HARS at Shellharbour Airport. The tail of a retired 747 marks the spot in an unmistakable manner.

All right. Time to give the bike a bit of a workout. Leaving the airport, turn right into the highway again and continue south to the intersection with Tongarra Road where you turn right. This an interesting stretch; as you go along you pass first the German Air Rifle Club and then the Illawarra Light Railway Museum, both on your right. Try your hand at shooting and take a steam railway ride, all in one block!

Sorry, the workout for the bike. In short order, Tongarra Road changes name to Illawarra Highway (and you pass Dale Corser’s dirt bike riding school) before it tackles Macquarie Pass, which I’m sure needs no introduction. Neither does the Robertson Pie Shop at the top, but I’ve never liked their pies much and would suggest you continue a few hundred metres into Robertson itself and patronize the pub, Pecora Cheese and Wine or Nadine’s. 

What kind of automotive museum would it be without a Messerschmitt? This is one of the attractions at the NRMA’s Australian Motorlife Museum. (Photo NRMA)

What kind of automotive museum would it be without a Messerschmitt? This is one of the attractions at the NRMA’s Australian Motorlife Museum. (Photo NRMA)

I’m offering two choices from here, although there are actually more. You can continue along the excellent Southern Highlands roads and make your way home via the Hume Highway – if you still have time, take the back road through Tahmoor instead and check out the Railway Museum. Alternatively, turn back to the Pie Shop and take Jamberoo Mountain Road across the way to give the bike another bit of exercise.


There’s so much to do and see in the Illawarra, it’s more like two or three days worth of riding! Plan a weekend away, or maybe a week…


Along the way is the Illawarra Fly where you can tackle an amazing zip line, stroll along a kilometre and a half treetop walk and visit the magical fairies and gnomes that call the Illawarra Rainforest home. Well, that’s what they say. Maximum weight for the zip line is 117kg fully clothed, so don’t wear your heavyweight bike gear.

Up on Jamberoo Mountain Road is the turnoff to the Illawarra Fly. They like you to book ahead, so it’s not much of an impromptu stop.

Up on Jamberoo Mountain Road is the turnoff to the Illawarra Fly. They like you to book ahead, so it’s not much of an impromptu stop.

Turn left at T intersection at the bottom and continue through Albion Park to the Princes Motorway, which will take you home by one route or another. Still feel like a bit of exercise for the bike? Leave the freeway once again at the Five Islands Road exit, but turn west this time. A quick right when you reach the Princes Highway, then a left into Cordeaux Road and you’re on the way up Mount Kembla.

This eventually reaches Mount Keira Road, and you have the option of turning left for Picton Road which takes you over a good road to Picton (surprise) and the Hume Highway, or turning right to Clive Bissell Drive and Mount Ousley Road which is also the M1 and will take you back to Sydney.


UMI ROYAL ENFIELD
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