If you don’t mind being mesmerised by the endless Pacific Ocean and walking over an engineering feat, taking an easy day trip from Sydney to Stanwell Tops and the Sea Cliff Bridge should definitely be on your agenda. I have driven this easy day trip which forms part of the Grand Pacific Drive (that’s another blog) a number of times. Each time I marvel at the beauty of this area. And you can too.
Starting South of Sydney
Starting at Sutherland, a suburb south of Sydney, you will drive through parts of The Royal National Park. After you pass Heathcote on the main road, make sure you take the exit to The Old Princes Highway. It leaves the main highway to the right. Ensure you are in the right lane because often people don’t let you change lanes to reach the exit in time – and you might otherwise miss this spectacular drive.
Symbio Wildlife Park
Once on The Old Princes Highway you wind your way through the bushland of The Royal National Park. You pass the entrance to the Woronora Dam – which provides the water supply to Sydney’s southern suburbs and also the northern suburbs of the Illawarra region. It is usually open to visit but at the moment, it is closed for an upgrade. Pressing on, you reach the Symbio Wildlife Park. This zoo is set on 16 acres of manicured gardens, where you could spend a few hours getting up close and personal with many ‘Aussie’ animals. So if you fancy cuddling a koala pop in. The adult entry fee is currently $36 and a child entry fee is $22. You can visit the Symbol Wildlife Park website for more details here.
Bald Hill Lookout, Stanwell Tops
View from Bald Hill, Stanwell Tops overlooking Stanwell Park Beach and the Sea Cliff Bridge
If you don’t pop into the zoo, keep driving and follow the signs to Bald Hill Lookout at Stanwell Tops. Here there are fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean, Stanwell Park Beach below, the Sea Cliff Bridge and down the South Coast. It is a popular spot for road trippers, particularly on sunny days, so expect it to be busy. There is often a food van with ice creams and you can sit on the grass and have a great vantage spot to watch the hang gliders and paragliders. Yes, that’s right, so don’t forget to look up!
Stanwell Tops has long been a popular spot for hang gliders and paragliders to launch from. If you are lucky you will see them setting up the hang glider before taking off. If you would like to try hang gliding there are two companies that will take you for a tandem flight – HanglideOz www.hangglideoz.com.au Tel: 0417 939 200 and Sydney Hang Gliding Centre www.hanggliding.com.au Tel: 0400 258 258. It is best to book your flight in advance.
TIP: I highly suggest not wearing a skirt as it can be very windy at Stanwell Tops. Believe me, it is very hard to take a photo and hold your skirt down at the same time!
Tid Bit: This area is part of world aviation history. Stanwell Park is where Australian aeronautical pioneer Lawrence Hargrave first flew his box kite on 12 November 1894. And this is why you drive along Lawrence Hargrave Drive.
It’s only 10 minutes drive down the hill to Stanwell Park Beach – where you might want to dip your toes in the ocean. The beach has a great grass area to spread out on a picnic blanket or fire up one of the barbecues. Or just have a relaxing sit on the beach. But I suggest the Sea Cliff Bridge beckons.
Sea Cliff Bridge
It was a little hazy this particular day
A Brief History of the Sea Cliff Bridge
The Sea Cliff Bridge is a section of the famous Grand Pacific Drive, a scenic tourist drive which begins south of Sydney and stretches down the New South Wales South Coast. The bridge was built in 2005 and cost $52 million. It replaced a very dangerous section of the previous road that hugged the coast – and was prone to many rockfalls. You can actually see the old road from the bridge and you will see exactly what I mean when you visit.
The new s-shape road cantilevers out over the ocean and links the coastal villages of Coalcliff and Clifton. In fact, the Sea Cliff Bridge is only one of seven off-shore ‘parallel to coast’ bridges in the world. It consists of 2 lanes for traffic, a cycleway and walkway. At 456 metres long, it takes a mere 15-20 seconds to cross by car – and there is nowhere to turn around to drive it again. And if you blink you will miss it. Therefore, I suggest you park and walk the length of the bridge to really appreciate this engineering feet and the beauty around you.
Walking across the Sea Cliff Bridge
It’s a nice flat walk with fabulous scenery
A walk across the Sea Cliff Bridge is a must. There is parking along the side of the road at both ends of the bridge. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk the entire length of the bridge. But if you will be stopping for photos – and need to walk back to your car – budget at least an hour to fit this in.
The scenery is spectacular. One side is cliff face and the other side is the Pacific Ocean. And if you look over the fencing you can see the waves hitting the rocks below. Very impressive!
After you have walked the Sea Cliff Bridge you can drive further along the coast road and visit some of the quaint villages of Clifton, Wombarra, Scarborough, Coledale, Austinmer and Thirroul. Each offer their own charm. Thirroul has a great beach if you are in need of cooling off. The road has very dramatic views of beaches with a beautiful cliff escarpment to the other side of the road.
If you are looking for somewhere for lunch, you can’t go past the Scarborough Hotel. This hotel, dating back to 1886, is perched above the sea and offers sensational views along the coastline, both north to Sydney and south. It is a great place to enjoy a meal. Visit their website http://thescarboroughhotel.com.au to book a table.
Escarpment on one side
How to get to Stanwell Tops and the Sea Cliff Bridge
The best way to visit these two places is to drive. If you don’t own a vehicle, you will need to rent one for the day. To check out different vehicles and to compare their prices click here.
Even though it is far easier to drive, you can also reach the Sea Cliff Bridge by taking the Illawarra South Coast train from Central Train station to Coalcliff station. This can take about 1-1.5 hours to reach Coalcliff – and then a walk of about 15 minutes. Be careful, as this walk is rather steep. If you decide to come this way, I suggest you bring a day pack with a water bottle and some snacks – or maybe a picnic lunch. And don’t forget to wear a good pair of walking shoes and bring a light jacket, as it can get very windy along the bridge.
A visit to Stanwell Tops and the Sea Cliff Bridge is a great day trip from Sydney. It is so nice to breathe in the fresh sea air and enjoy great views. If you want to get out of Sydney for a day, I highly suggest this easy and great day out.