The panorama that unfolds before you from the top of Bald Hill at the northernmost extreme of the Illawarra is world-renowned as one of the great coastal views.
Colourful hang gliders defy gravity as the coastline unfolds before you with its multitude of beautiful beaches and headlands against the backdrop of the Great Dividing Range rising swiftly out of the narrow coastal plain.
The Coast Road starts in the Royal National Park and winds its way along the coast, with steep cliffs on one side and the Pacific on the other. Then it opens out to a host of old-style pubs and art galleries dotted along the roadside.
You eventually meander through the suburbs until you hit the city of Wollongong, which has long since shed its past industrial image and can now proudly boast of being a premier tourist destination.
Hundreds of restaurants, night clubs and after-hours entertainment, award-winning rainforest walks and fun parks, fantastic beaches and enough entertainment venues to keep you busy for a year is all less than an hour from Sydney.
There are a tonne of fishing options available and all that entertainment to keep those who don’t fish busy. There are dozens of motels from five-star jobs to economy models – but this is a camping column!
There are quite a few camping areas in the Illawarra, but this time around I will cover the three council-operated parks. These are at Bulli Beach, Corrimal Beach and down south, between Windang beach and Lake Illawarra.
If you are travelling from Sydney the first park you will encounter is at Bulli and the view from the verandahs of some of the cabins here is spectacular. They perch on the hill over looking the beach. The park has excellent facilities and is installing a pool to complement the tree-studded surroundings.
There are 20 powered and 20 unpowered sites available but if you require a bit more luxury, there are three bungalows, four standard cabins, seven sea-view cabins and three family cabins.
The Bulli park is only a five-minute drive from the Bellambi boat-launching facility with its four-lane ramp and snug harbour protected by a breakwall. A holding jetty, fish-cleaning tables, boat-washing facilities and parking for over 150 trailers makes this a brilliant spot. This is the stepping-off point for a multitude of fishing options from reef fishing to offshore sport and game fishing.
The beach in front of Bulli camping area holds bream, whiting, tailor, salmon and even the odd mulloway and the rocks at each end of the beach are good for bream, tailor, trevally, drummer, salmon, blackfish and snapper, so you should be kept busy exploring all of the options.
Just a 10-minute drive farther south is the Corrimal Beach camping area, which is more dedicated to the camper, with 101 powered and 48 unpowered sites. The whole park is flat so there is no need to scratch around looking for a level site to pitch the tent.
There are five family cabins and seven standard holiday cabins and spotlessly clean amenities (as have all three parks) with playgrounds for the kids and kiosks to pick up the essentials.
The Corrimal park is behind the sand dunes, sheltered from the strongest blasts of the north-east winds. For the anglers, Corrimal Beach is one of the region’s top jewie spots, with many top fish taken there every year. There are always good gutters along its length so you are only a short walk from your tent to the fish.
You will also catch plenty of tailor, salmon, bream, flathead, and whiting from the beach and there are blackfish, drummer, trevally and snapper from the rocks at either end. There is also a large creek with a footbridge where you can catch mullet for bait and keep the kids entertained – and even score a bream or two after dark.
You could spend a fortnight here and not travel more than 500 metres from the tent and have a great time fishing. If you’d rather fish offshore, Bellambi ramp is only around the point.
Finally, we head well south of Wollongong to Windang Tourist Park, which is nestled between the beach and Lake Illawarra. It is a pretty spot with Norfolk Island pines towering over the western side of the park between the campsites and the lake and sand dunes separate the eastern side from the beach.
It has 80 powered and 20 camp sites and an assortment of cabins including two family cabins, nine sea-view cabins, eight standard cabins and four bungalows. For the tents there are 80 powered sites and 20 unpowered so there is plenty of room. All sites are level but, like all parks, if you want a site during the peak periods, you must book well in advance. Especially at this period that usually means at least 12 months ahead.
Fishing-wise, Windang has it all covered with the productive Lake Illawarra only a short cast to the west and the prolific Windang Beach the same distance to the east.
The lake during Summer produces great fishing for whiting, flathead, blackfish and mullet, with garfish and chopper tailor in abundance. During the dark the prawners descend on the lake and light it up like a Christmas tree with a multitude of lights as they search for the prawns running to the entrance.
Windang Beach would have to hold the most diverse range and numbers of fish on the coast. Schools of tailor and salmon gather almost all year while during the Summer you can knock up cricket-score catches of whiting. Flathead, bream, tarwhine, trevally and mulloway are all present, too. There are pipis and beach worms on the beach for bait, although the pipis are a bit scarce.
At Windang Island, right at the entrance to the lake, there is productive bream, tailor and salmon fishing over the sand, while a bit farther out in the rocky washes there are drummer, blackfish and groper.
The platforms at the front of Windang Island put deep water right at your feet and you can spin or live-bait for bonito, kingfish, mackerel tuna and even the odd northern bluefin, or you can fish the bottom for snapper – the possibilities are endless.
You are less than 10 minutes away from Shellharbour boat ramp, a stepping-off point to Bass Point and the excellent reef and gamefishing in the area.
If you get tired of fishing, one other advantage of all these parks is the extensive cycleway network the Illawarra is renowned for. They pass by the boundaries of all the parks and Bulli, Corrimal and Windang beaches are all patrolled by lifesavers every day during the Summer.
All these parks are protected by boom gates so your vehicles are safe and sound. You can book a spot by calling the Illawarra Tourist Information Centre or dialling 0) 4285 5677 for Bulli, 02 4285 5688 for Corrimal and 02 4297 3166 for Windang.
What are you waiting for? Grab a tent and have a look at The ’Gong and see what you have been missing all this time. You’ll be glad you did.
The view from the cabins on the hill at Bulli is something else, perched under the Norfolk pines you have uninterrupted 180 degree water views.
The cabins are new and have all the modern conveniences.
Corrimal beach has some of the best mulloway fishing on the coast.
Having the cycle way close by is and added bonus.
There are plenty of great flat seaside camping spots but you have to book early for the peak periods.Reads: 19727