There’s more to the Shoalhaven Coast than beaches and steelworks, boosting its appeal as a weekender holiday destination, writes Alissa Jenkins.

About 1500 feet above land, a rich peacock-blue sea passes below, lapping at the sandy shores of NSW’s South Coast. I’m on board a scenic flight with NSW Air, which departed from the Illawarra Regional Airport in Albion Park to perform an airborne loop over nearby seaside suburbs including Warrawong, Wollongong and Woonona.
As we reach the northern end of the flight, just above Stanwell Tops, I notice a very obvious contrast in the region. On one hand, the natural landscape is incredibly beautiful with this dramatic escarpment bordering the colourful coastline (while major towns are sandwiched somewhere in between), making it a particularly photogenic area from above. I guess that’s why so advertisements for cars have been filmed on the Sea Cliff Bridge here (part of the Grand Pacific Drive).
But then this stunning setting seems interrupted with clumps of steel, steam and smoke billowing from industrial sites that admittedly, have essentially supported the livelihoods of many locals for generations. Sites like the coal mine at Coalcliff and as we head further south, the BlueScope Steel plant at Port Kembla.
But unbeknownst to some, there’s much more to the South Coast than beaches and steelworks, as I discover on my day-trip to the area.
Back in Albion Park, the mid-morning coffee-hankering kicks in, so it’s off to the new Shellharbour Club, a 10-minute drive away, to check out the $6.5 million facility and indulge in a caffeine-hit.
Walking through the gold-framed revolving-doors to the club’s foyer, it is immediately clear that this is not your typical workers’ club.
As I wander throughout the rest of the stylish, neutral-coloured property, I pass large lounge areas with cushy sofas and decorative lighting displays, plus numerous bars and eateries such as The Brasserie and a new noodle bar named Wabi Sabi Noodle House. There are also six function rooms, squash courts, indoor and outdoor pokie-playing areas, as well as your usual TAB, Keno and other betting facilities.
Forget the gordy carpet and stale stench of many regional clubs, there is a sense of five-star-hotel here, but without the accommodation (well, at this stage anyway).
For lunch, I head to Seabreeze Dining in Kiama, which overlooks Kiama Harbour. Surrounded by the view and coast-inspired artworks, I tuck into some crunchy but well-buttered herb bread. It’s nicely complimented by a local drop, Coolangatta Estate’s Semillon, made in Shoalhaven Heads.
As we wait for main course to arrive, I notice more customers come in and be unexpectedly greeted by other diners (obviously friends that hadn’t planned to meet up), demonstrating Kiama’s small-town country-charm, where faces are familiar and friendly.
Today’s special is served for lunch and it is ah-mazing – Blue Eye Cod with a pistachio crust, hand cut kipfler potatoes and greek salad. Then to really undo this week’s attempt at dieting, I indulge in dessert – white chocolate and strawberry panna cotta in a brandy snap basket with a mixed berry compote and fairy floss. And yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
But before I hit the road back home, it wouldn’t be a trip to Kiama without seeing The Blowhole. It’s the Kiama must-see, an unusual rock formation located below the local lighthouse that when sea conditions are right, spurts great plumes of water in the air. There’s also a smaller “Little Blowhole” located a few minutes south of the main one.
With my South Coast excursion over, it has proven an easy day-trip from Sydney, with sights and delights for a range of ages. I just hope I can return for a bit longer next time.
The Details
Alissa was a guest of Kiama Tourism and Tourism Shellharbour 
Where? Kiama is located 120km south from Sydney, which takes approximately 1hr and 45 mins to travel by car. Alternatively, catch the South Coast train line. www.cityrail.info
For more Information:
NSW Air // ‘Bridge to Beaches’ scenic flight takes approximately 40 minutes and costs $295 for three people // Ph. (02) 4256 1001
The Shellharbour Club // Cnr of Wattle & Shellharbour Rds, Shellharbour // Ph. (02) 4296 7155 // www.shellys.com.au
Seabreeze Dining // 30 Shoalhaven St, Kiama // Ph. (02) 4232 1628 // www.seabreezedining.com.au
Kiama Visitor Information Centre // Ph. 1300 654 262 or (02) 4232 3322 // www.kiama.com.au 
Shellharbour Visitor Information Centre // Ph. (02) 4221 6169 or 1300 65 6169 // www.tourismshellharbour.com.au