South Coast, NSW

Weekender's guide to Shellharbour NSW

By Mark Slater

September 9, 2020 | 4 minute read

Want an escape just a few hours from the frantic Sydney bustle but a world away, where cows munch contentedly and a coffee with a friend is not measured by time but by conversation and conviviality? Located just 20 kilometres south of Wollongong in the heart of the Illawarra Region of New South Wales, Shellharbour is somewhat unique in that it is actually two places in one. 

For visitors who have the time, take the Grand Pacific Drive to or from Sydney, making sure you drive through the magnificent Royal National Park and experience the engineering marvel that is the Seacliff Bridge, which links the villages of Coalcliff and Clifton north of Wollongong.

* At the time of writing, activities and places mentioned in this guide are at varying stages of recovery from COVID-19. Please check government and business websites for specific details on opening times and any restrictions before you travel.

Shellharbour Village is a quaint coastal settlement of ambling hilly streets with a population of less than 4,000. Enveloping the village is the City of Shellharbour, a sprawling region of industry, farmlands and commercial and urban development between the coast and the dramatic grandeur of the Illawarra Escarpment, which defines the region’s western edge. 

Shellharbour might be seen by some as Wollongong’s little Illawarra brother but the City region and Shellharbour Village stand together as destinations in their own right. When unwise politicians tried to merge Shellharbour and Wollongong, the idea failed to resonate with the local Illawarrans. Despite being neighbours, the two areas each have their own, unique character.


The Shellharbour region is steeped in indigenous and European history. The Aboriginal names for Shellharbour are Yerrowah (meeting place) and Wonin (place of big fish). The English name was bestowed upon it because of the large numbers of shells found in Aboriginals middens along the coast in the early part of the 19th century. 

The Shellharbour area was the home of the Tharawal people for more than 20,000 years before the earliest European settlers came to the area in 1817, with Shellharbour Village eventually being establishing in 1851. The Shellharbour War Memorial, Shellharbour’s nine documented shipwrecks and evidence of indigenous habitation provide intriguing markers of the area’s history which is well worth time to research and explore.

Why visit

Shellharbour is the ideal place for a family visit or holiday. Golf, fishing, bushwalking, camping, beach combing, sightseeing anyone? Shellharbour is a destination for everyone. Throughout the year, Shellharbour also plays host to markets, festivals and many other events which showcase the typical Aussie coastal lifestyle. 

The star attraction of the area and its surrounds is its geographical diversity, from the gorgeous beaches of the coast to the dramatic landscape of the Illawarra Escarpment, wrapping itself around the region like a protective shield. On Shellharbour’s northern border is the magnificent Lake Illawarra, which hosts just about every style of water sport and activity. In summer a day at the fabulous Jamberoo Action Park is a family must.

Beverley Whitfield Ocean Pool
Beverley Whitfield Ocean Pool

Things to do

Take one of the main access roads to the region, the Illawarra Highway, Picton Road and the Bulli Pass and you will find a scenic lookout with dramatic views of the entire Illawarra region and out across the bejeweled Tasman Sea. For those who like to take to the skies, scenic flights around the area provide a 360 degree panorama of the New South Wales southern coast.

Shellharbour Village is also well known for its shops, restaurants and cafes and the entire region is rich with venues to suit every taste and moment. What better way to enjoy gourmet fish and chips than by the ocean, drinking in the view of iron ore carriers ghosting along the distant horizon? Two favourite venues are the Ocean Beach Hotel, if you love the idea of an old style pub meal overlooking the harbour, and the Green Poppy, a café-restaurant with the ambience and fare which siren, ‘You’ll be back again !”

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