David takes the alternate route and finds a spectacular way to visit Wollongong.
The Royal National Park starts on the fringe of Sydney's southern suburbs, and was declared a National Park in 1879, making it Australia's first. It is the world's second oldest after Yellowstone. The area is broadly known as "The Illawarra", which roughly translates as between the high place and the sea.
Sixty percent of the park was devastated by bushfires last summer, but nature has taken over and everything is regenerating. All roads, picnic areas and walking tracks are open, but there are a few spots which should be avoided. These can be ascertained by just a phone call.
It covers 15,000 hectares and, for its size, has a great diversity in habitats. For this reason it attracts more than two million people each year between sunrise and sunset.
The park has three entrances and is accessible by train, tram and ferry, as well as by car. There are six beaches Garie and Wattamolla are popular as both have vehicle access.
Lady Carrington Drive is the main bike track and has two sections. The northern part has beautiful woodland and forest and is dotted with picnic areas. You may also see swamp wallabies and lyrebirds as you pedal along.
The southern section has wonderful rainforests. Bikes and canoes can be hired at the boatshed which is around a kilometre from the visitors' centre on the Hacking River at Audley.
There are three camping sites and 12 main walking tracks sprinkled throughout the park, the longest being 26 kilometres.
Stanwell Park is Australia's hang-gliding and paragliding capital and from there you have spectacular views of the sandstone Illawarra Escarpment which rises in vertical cliffs. In 1894, Lawrence Hargrave's box kite lifted five metres into the air there, an experience he shared with the Wright Brothers who went on to create the first successful aircraft. The road winding south has been named in honour of Lawrence Hargrave.
The Imperial Hotel at Clifton is a good place to stop for a drink and lunch. It is 114 years old and has a large balcony hanging over the cliffs, where you can look down to the ocean 53 metres below.
Austinmer Beach is officially New South Wales' cleanest but it's fair to say all beaches in the area are well looked after. As you head south, you pass through Thirroul, Bulli, Woonona, Balambi, Corrimal, Towradgi, Fairy Meadow and North Wollongong before hitting Wollongong itself. There are lookouts along the way and it is likely you will see and hear whip birds, rosellas and sulphur-crested cockatoos. The first glimpse of the city is breathtaking a mixture of suburbia, industry, blue ocean and sandy beach.
Wollongong, affectionately known as The 'Gong, is New South Wales' third-largest city and Australia's 10th largest. Despite it being a steel and coal city, it is not a grey, sombre place. It has great natural beauty, good fishing spots and had the surf not been heavy, it is thought Captain Cook would have made his first landing there.
The boat harbour and lighthouse are interesting to visit, as well as several well-maintained historic buildings.