The gorgeous seaside villages of Thirroul, Bulli and Austinmer lie just south of the Royal National Park and just north of Wollongong on the northern Illawarra coastline. They are simple, pretty villages, hugged to the west by the soaring escarpment and with views over the ocean to the east. Just an hour or two from most areas of Sydney these beach villages are very kid-friendly and make terrific places for family getaways, short or long.
Let’s get started on this article with some ideas on where to stay in this beautiful seaside area.
Contents of this post
Where To Stay In + Around Thirroul, Bulli + Austinmer
We’ll start with where I have stayed most recently.
The Headlands Hotel, Austinmer
This absolute beachfront apartment hotel is not cheap but it is ideally located and has great facilities. The rooms are very large and have good sized-fridges, small cooktops, microwaves, cutlery and crockery, plus washing machines in the huge bathrooms.
Each room has its own covered balcony, I stumped up for an ocean view room and did not regret it. There is free wifi which is fast plus free car parking. You also have the convenience of the hotel’s cafe, bar and restaurant, plus a 10m pool, ideal for the kids.
With walks and beaches right by the hotel and lots of other good things like the rock pools and great playgrounds just a short walk or drive away, this is a really luxurious and handy place to bring the kids for a beach escape.
All of the rooms (apart from the studios, which are for two people maximum) have the option of sofa or rollaway beds, for a small additional cost per child per night. This gives families the flexibility to book a one-bedroom and still have space for the kids, without having to compromise too much on cost.
I loved that the hotel had lots of fun things to do within easy walking distance as well as giving me plenty to do around the pool, cafes, bar and restaurants.
Check out the room options and the facilities on the Headlands Hotel website here.
If you prefer to use Booking.com, check out dates and costs for the Headlands Hotel here.
Check out this map below to see what deals and specials are on offer at Booking.com. You will need to zoom out to see the whole area.
Thirroul – Things To Do
Thirroul has a true nostalgia feel to it, taking you back to an era where time moved more slowly, people lived in cute little cottages with picket fences and manicured lawns, and if you took a short stroll from home you’d end up at the milk bar or fish and chip shop.
Thirroul has a population of just 5,500 who live in homes rather than units laid out between the railway line and the beach. From wherever you live in Thirroul it doesn’t seem that you’re far from the beach and a pleasant level stroll will have you there within minutes.
The beach is crescent-shaped making it less dangerous and it is also patrolled. This is not a beach where you’d have to fight for a spot to spread out your towel, or end up with someone obstructing your view; at a kilometre in length there’s plenty of room for everyone.
In front of the glorious beach is the Thirroul Olympic Pool, built in the 1930’s. It’s a 50-metre pool with lanes marked and the water is pumped in from the sea. There is no charge to enter. Because the water is continually coming in from the ocean, it’s not heated. There’s also a toddler pool.
There is plenty of seating around the pool and my only disappointment is that there’s a solid concrete wall between the pool and the beach preventing you from being able to enjoy the ocean view. I understand there is talk of replacing sections of the wall with glass and I believe this is definitely what needs to happen.
Thirroul Pool also provides change rooms and showers. There’s no hot water but everything that is provided is free. Speaking of free, the beach and pool car park is also free.
In front of the swimming pool is a children’s playground. It’s partly fenced and has a terrific variety of playground equipment including a flying fox. Beyond the playground is a grassed park where there are electric BBQs and these are also free.
There’s a cafe by the beach, in the beachfront pavilion, a good place to get takeaway or stop in for breakfast or lunch.
Thirroul has a small but vibrant main street with all sorts of interesting shops and cafes to visit. Anita’s Theatre and the Clifton School of the Arts might have some shows or classes which interest you too.
There is a wide bike track running alongside the sea and going all the way into Wollongong.
Bulli – Things To Do
Bulli Beach is 900m long and backed by a reserve which makes a lovely spot to picnic. The famous 50m rock pool at the northern end at Waniora Point is easy to access. There is a lovely cafe right beside it which has beautiful wide views and an outdoors sitting area. There is a playground on the reserve here too.
North of here is Sandon Point Beach which is great for surfing and is dog-friendly at certain times of the day.
Garden lovers can see whether the Illawarra Grevillea Park is open during their stay. This 2.4 ha park has a wide collection with an area of rainforest. It is maintained by volunteers and is only open a few weekends a year.
You can read about the history of Bulli and the Wodi Wodi Indigenous people who lived there on this article.
Above Bulli on the escarpment is the Southern Gateway Centre with the Wollongong Visitor centre, a restaurant and a gelato shop. And amazing views! Close by is the Sublime Point Lookout too. You can access these by using the Bulli Pass road.
Austinmer – Things To Do
Austinmer Beach is the main attraction here, a beautiful sweep of sand between low headlands. This beach is patrolled from September to April and has cafes and amenities.
There are also two rock pools carved into the southern end of the beach. These have toilets, showers and changing rooms close by and are terrific places to splash and play with kids.
Driving over the suspended Sea Cliff Bridge is also a must-do in this area.
Glenburnie Orchard up on the escarpment is a lovely place to visit and to pick fruit.
The Sublime Point Walking Track is a steep and spectacular route through coastal rainforest.
Drive further north to visit the historic Scarborough Hotel with its beachfront cafe, bar and restaurant, plus an ice cream bar!
Symbio Wildlife Park is a short drive away.
Read about more things to do in this area on the Visit Wollongong website.
The Fold Illawarra is a local website which has lists of things to do, places to eat and current shows and events.
Find a list of dog-friendly beaches in the Illawarra here.
Do you know Thirroul, Bulli and/or Austinmer?
Can you recommend any other family-friendly places there?
This article was written by Seana Smith and by Charlie Louie of Hotly Spiced who wrote most of the Thirroul section. Thanks Charlie!
NB This post contains affiliate links, meaning that, if you book accommodation via the links, a small percentage is paid to support Hello Sydney Kids, at no cost to you.