Exploring Grand Pacific Drive and the Sea Cliff Bridge

The NSW Grand Pacific Drive is by far the most gorgeous coastal drive within easy reach of Sydney. Considered New South Wales answer to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, today we will show you some of the highlights and help you discover one of Sydney’s best day trips and enjoy the epic view of the Sea Cliff Bridge.

The Grand Pacific Drive commences roughly 30km north of Sydney’s CBD at the entrance to the Royal National Park and continues along the coast to Kiama and beyond.

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The full drive is 140 km long, ending at Nowra. However, you can continue along the coast roads to explore the entire Shoalhaven region, including Gerringong, Gerroa, Berry, and down to Batemans Bay and the Sapphire Coast.

We like to take our time exploring this northern section and leave the Wollongong to Kiama stretch for another day. There is so much to see here; slow down and make the detours!

Today our full journey is 193km return to Sydney. It will take us to the Royal National Park, the Seacliff Bridge, Stanwell Tops, the coastal towns running from Scarborough, Wollongong Harbour, the Nan Tien Temple and home via the motorway.

We spent an entire weekend exploring the northern section and took our time checking out all the sites along the way; however, you could easily do this in one day with a few adjustments (and no sampling the beers in the gong).

If you plan to continue down to the end of the drive, you might like to check our favourite things to do in Kiama for ideas.

Sydney to Wollongong via the Grand Pacific Drive

If you like beaches, gorgeous vistas, street art, a bit of culture and good food and wine, this trip is for you.

What can I see on the Grand Pacific Drive?

If you are happy to take a few detours, there is much more to see here than just the famous bridge!

  • Pristine bushland in the Royal National park, including a waterfall or two
  • Sandstone cliff lookouts dotted along the coastline
  • A Hindu Temple
  • The iconic Sea Cliff Bridge
  • Several pretty seaside towns en route
  • Lots of great street art in Wollongong
  • A craft brewery
  • Two Lighthouses in Wollongong
  • A large Buddhist Temple

So let’s get started…

Stop 1 – The Royal National Park

Try to head off early if you can – we left the city around 6:30 am and arrived at the entry to The Royal National Park just as they opened. The world’s second-oldest national park, the Royal, as it’s known locally, opened just seven years after Yellowstone and was the first park in the world to have the title National.

Hacking River in Royal National Park Sydney
The Hacking River near Audley

The park earned its “royal” title after Her Majesty Queen Liz passed by on her train in 1954. While the park itself has enough to keep you entertained for an entire weekend, try to limit yourself to a couple of stops.

Wattamolla Waterfall in the Royal National Park
Wattamolla Waterfall in the Royal National Park

I recommend Wattamolla Beach with its lovely lagoon and waterfall. But make a note to return and tackle some of the fabulous tracks in this park on another visit. The coastline here is worthy of a longer visit. 

If you plan to stop in the National Park, you will need to buy a day pass. Alternatively, you can drive straight through at no charge.

Eat: If hunger strikes this early in the day, make a short stop at the Audley Dance Hall Cafe.

Continue through the park via Lady Wakehurst Drive to Stanwell Tops and Bald Hill Lookout.

No car? You can compare rental car prices here.

Related: Check out our visit to Easy Bushwalks in Sydney

Stop 2 – Bald Hill Lookout and Stanwell Tops

If the wind is blowing the right way, Bald Hill is popular with hang-gliders; sadly, it was scorching and not a breeze at all today.

Bald Hill Lookout at Stanwell tops overlooking Illawarra Escarpment
Stanwell Tops is a popular hang gliding location.

It is a great spot to take a shot of the bridge in the distance, particularly if you have a decent camera.

On a warm day, you might like to venture down to the beach. The beach is patrolled during summer and can be quite dangerous, so please stick to swimming between the flags or just having a paddle.

If you like hiking the Wodi Wodi Track, a 6.5km circular walk, it is worth considering, as are several other great walks in Wollongong.

Stanwell Beach from Stanwell Tops Lookout
Stanwell Park Beach from Stanwell Tops Lookout

Local tip: Take a detour to Kellys Falls, only a six-minute drive away. You will be at the top of the falls in less than 15 minutes from the car park.

Eat: Nearby is Sri Venkateswara Temple, a Hindu temple with a fab little canteen serving Indian food. Check opening hours before your visit. There are also a couple of cafes on Lawrence Hargrave Drive heading down to the beach and a kiosk near the beach itself. Loaf is our favourite and a good spot to pick up some supplies to eat later for a picnic lunch.

Stop 3 – Sea Cliff Bridge

The next stop is the day’s highlight, the 456 metre long Sea Cliff Bridge, a cantilever bridge that juts off the cliffs aptly named Clifton. The bridge cost $52 million and solved the ongoing problem that the area had had with cliff erosion blocking the roadway. Adjoining the Sea Cliff Bridge is the Lawrence Hargrave Drive Bridge, which is another 210-metre-long, and as a result, the bridge is sometimes listed as 660m long.

The road was closed before the bridge was built due to landslides and rockfalls. Since opening in 2005, it has been drawing visitors for the stunning views.

Exactly where along the Grand Pacific Drive is the Seacliff Bridge?

The bridge is between Coalcliff and Clifton, about a ten-minute drive from Stanwell Tops and Bald Hill Lookout. If you wonder where the Seacliff Bridge begins, here is the Google map reference.

Weekend in Wollongong SeaCliff Bridge
The Seacliff Bridge

Where can you park to view the Seacliff Bridge?

There is a pullover bay on the southern side of the bridge. You can also park at the northern end at Leeder Park or Coalcliff Beach.

Can you walk along the Sea Cliff Bridge?

You sure can, and we highly recommend you do! The return walk from the south parking bay will take you about 30 minutes.

Where is the best place to photograph the Sea Cliff Bridge?

The best way to appreciate and photograph the view is to take a walk along the bridge. It’s worth doing the full way for the different angles you get. You can also walk under the bridge around the rocks from Coalcliff in the right conditions.

There are two ways to reach the unofficial Seacliff Bridge Lookout that you might read about online. One is on private property and requires you to cross train lines. Along with being dangerous, access is illegal.

The second is up a very poor unofficial track that is basically a gap in the trees and requires you to scramble up a cliff. We don’t believe this is a good option for most people.

Last year a young man died falling while resting at this lookout because the ground is very unstable. For this reason, we are not going to share instructions for finding it.

Paula and Charles
Seacliff Bridge from footpath
Sea Cliff Bridge footpath is the safest way to photograph the bridge

How to get to the Seacliff Bridge without a car

If you don’t have a car but still want to see the bridge, it’s a 15-minute walk from Coalcliff Station. The train from Central to Coalcliff takes about an hour and a half. If you don’t fancy walking, a bus (route 2) from the station stops on either side of the bridge.

Local tip: The rock pool at Coalcliff Beach, just before the bridge, is a lovely spot for a swim.

Stop 4 – Time for some food at either Scarborough to Thirroul

By now, you will probably be ready for a pit stop. Two of my favourite options along this part of the road are the Scarborough Hotel or the beachside suburb of Thirroul. 

Scarborough is perfect in the summer with its grassy beer garden perched on the cliff overlooking the beach. After a hearty breakfast – be aware last orders are at 10.45 am.

Between here and Wollongong are several small beach suburbs like this one – Austinmer – all perfect for stopping for a swim if the weather is right.

Austinmer is another beach along the Grand Pacific Drive
Austinmer Beach

Thirroul has grown from one of the coast quaint seaside villages to a trendy suburb of Wollongong and has attracted many to move from Sydney and commute via train to the city each day. If you fancy a poke around the shops, there are some excellent options here. There are also plenty of cafes serving some great food.

Tip: If you are on a road trip driving to Melbourne, there is a camping area at Coledale Beach where you can get a powered site for $30 a night.

Stay longer: If time permits an overnight stay, we recommend Headlands Hotel at Austinmer Beach which offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. This is the perfect property for a quick weekend escape

Stop 5 – Wollongong City and Harbour

Back in the car, and we are on the road to Wollongong. NSW’s third-biggest city and one that has grown up in recent years to have quite a lot to offer locals and visitors.

Wonderwalls mural Wollongong
One of the stunning Wonderwalls murals in Wollongong town centre

Check out the Twin Lighthouses – the great street art and the relaxed vibe of North Wollongong Beach. Beer lovers might want to pop into the Illawarra Brewery, particularly if you have a designated driver!

It’s also a great place to grab some fish and chips.

For us, this was not so much of a detour as the reason for our visit. Our friends Paula and Gordon from The Contented Traveller call the “Gong” home. Their photos of the local street art caught my eye, so they invited us down for a personal tour.

Stop 6 – Nan Tien Temple

Nan Tien Temple
Nan Tien Temple

Nan Tien translates to ‘Paradise of the South. This is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the southern hemisphere. Since it opened in 1995, it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Wollongong.

When we entered the temple complex, it felt like we had been transported to Asia. A vegetarian self-service restaurant, a museum, accommodation, and two large prayer rooms. They offer regular weekend meditation retreats to the public.

pagoda at Nan TIen Temple near Wollongong
Not quite a view you expect to find in Wollongong!

So there you have it – the Grand Pacific Drive in one day. If you really only have one day I suggest only going as far as Wollongong and then heading back up the motorway to Sydney from the Temple, however, if you are happy for a long day you can continue down to Kiama to see the famous Blow Hole and return to Sydney via the Southern Highlands.

If you have time to stay overnight, there is plenty of accommodation in North Wollongong and Kiama.

Planning to spend some time in Wollongong? There is some great hiking in the area.

If you travel a little faster than we do and make it to Kiama, don’t miss the famous Kiama Blowhole and the less-visited little blowhole.

Do you have a favourite spot to visit along the Grand Pacific Drive that we should check out next time?

2 thoughts on “Exploring Grand Pacific Drive and the Sea Cliff Bridge”

  1. Excellent suggestions on the stops, I am not much of a street art fan but stops 1 and 6 are my favorites. I could not have said it better myself, entering Nan Tien instantly transports you to another place. I can’t wait to try the meditation retreats in the weekend.

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