When it comes to easily accessible nature experiences, visitors to Shellharbour are spoilt for choice. This slice of the New South Wales South Coast is brimming with expansive beaches, quiet coves and dense rainforest, and takes full advantage of that with well-marked walking trails, wide beachside cycle tracks, and affordable SUP rentals and lessons.
Just a 90-minute drive from Sydney and 25 minutes from Wollongong, Shellharbour is ideal for day trips and weekends away. But for those wishing to stay a little longer, rest assured the coastal city has enough outdoor activities to make every day exciting.
Not sure where to start? We’ve rounded up some of the best.
Bushwalking at Macquarie Pass National Park
Despite being just a 20-minute drive inland from Shellharbour, Macquarie Pass National Park feels completely remote. Here, bright green foliage and towering eucalypts set the scene and gushing waterfalls and rainforest birds, the soundtrack.
To fully immerse yourself in the park, hike the Clover Hill trail. Not keen to sweat? Stroll the leisurely Cascades walk. And if you’re simply in the mood to relax, pack a picnic to enjoy at Cascades picnic area. This grassy spot is surrounded by rainforest and close to a creek so spread out a blanket and kick back with some cheese and crackers, or locally-bought sandwiches.
Snorkelling at Bushrangers Bay
Bass Point Reserve, just south of Shellharbour Village, is said to be one of the best snorkelling and dive sites in all of the state. Here you’ll find remnants of a shipwreck and some of the coastline’s rarest fish.
Within the Reserve, Bushrangers Bay Aquatic Reserve in particular is known for its first-rate snorkelling. A small, sheltered embayment, it offers snorkellers good visibility and calm waters. See seagrass, kelp and, if you’re lucky – or unlucky depending on how easily you scare – grey nurse sharks.
Another of the area’s unique sights is a stretch of underwater cliffs shaped like an amphitheatre. Only 10 metres underwater and six metres high, the cliffs are relatively easy to get to and riddled with hundreds of small cavities that sea urchins and tropical fish call home.
Stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Illawarra
Lake Illawarra can be found north of Shellharbour, sandwiched between the Illawarra escarpment and the Pacific Ocean. Because of its unique positioning, its water is both fresh from the escarpment and salty from the sea.
Picnic on its foreshore at Reddall Reserve, fish off its wooden pier, or – for a truly serene experience – stand-up paddleboard across its silky waters at dawn or dusk. Rent a board from SUP Shellharbour and go at it on your own, or hire an instructor for a private session.
If you’re not opposed to a group activity, then the session options at SUP Shellharbour will keep you entertained. SUP tours, surfs, yoga classes and even parties all feature on the line-up. Run by Bec Dunning, the first Australian to be SUPFIT certified, and Justin Dunning who has over 30 years of SUP experience under his belt, you can rest assured you’ll be in good hands.
Embarking on a self-guided Aboriginal Cultural Walk
Traditional owners, the Wodi Wodi people once had a walkabout area between Picton, Stanwell Tops, Marulan and Nowra, and when travelling between the areas would camp at Bass Point. Today, the spot is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites on the South Coast and has been made into a self-guided walk.
Lace up your hiking boots and hit the track to learn about the Aboriginal way of life back then, including their diets, tools and movement patterns. Take in coastal views in the distance.
Cycling along Warilla Beach
Warilla Beach is known among locals for its excellent surfing, swimming and sunbathing, but for another way to appreciate it, rent a pushbike from South Coast Bike Hire and cycle along its two kilometre-long, winding Warilla Foreshore Path.
After soaking in views of the powder-soft sand, blue sea and wave-skimming surfers, look out for Windang Island, the Lake Illawarra Entrance, and the Warilla-Barrack Point Surf Club and ‘millionaires row’ beachfront houses nearby. Turn around at the Elliot Lake bridge, or continue on to reach a vantage point where whales are often sighted.
Feeling peckish? Nearby Little Lake Park is a good spot to stop for a picnic or barbecue. And with Elliot Lake’s calm waters, it’s also ideal for a peaceful swim.
Surf at Killalea State Park
Keen surfers from Sydney and the South Coast all know about Killalea State Park. The only National Surfing Reserve on the South Coast, The Farm and Mystics, offer some of the best surf breaks around.
Camp at nearby Reflections Killalea Reserve with prices starting at $29 a night and wake early to jog down to The Farm for a sunrise surf. Paddling out with the bright sun slowly rising in the horizon – not to mention the occasional dolphin gliding alongside you – is truly something else.
Getting to Mystics is a little tricker; you’ll need to drive, park and climb down a steep path to reach it, which means you’ll rarely ever find it crowded. The beach is recommended for bodyboarders, intermediate surfers and advanced, but not for beginners.