The ultimate guide to Thirroul & Austinmer, NSW
The sleepy coastal towns of Thirroul and Austinmer stand side-by-side on the rolling South Coast. Thirroul has become rapidly gentrified in recent years, giving rise to cool cafés, chic restaurants and vibrant late-night bars, while Austinmer is a haven for holidaymakers and locals alike, with many Sydney city workers opting to live here and commute in thanks to the town’s laid-back location. The area is known for its beaches, with author D. H. Lawrence having described the sands as home to “deep pock-holes that were full of brilliantly clear water and delicately-coloured shells and tiny, crimson anemones”.
Trek through the bush
For an escape from city-life, experienced bushwalkers can try the Sublime Point walking track, one of the most iconic treks in Illawarra. Starting near Sublime point and winding through forest and along cliffs, watch out for the variety of birds you can find in the region, from yellow-tailed black cockatoos to kestrels. Finish in Austinmer, where you can turn around for the second leg or jump on a train back to Thirroul. For guided nature tours of the Thirroul and Wollongong region, take a trip with Paul from Nature Engagement Tours. There’s a range of tour styles to suit all abilities and believe us when we say Paul’s mum’s scones are not to be missed.
Shop the boutiques
There’s an independent spirit to the towns of Thirroul and Austinmer, which will suit those who prefer a day on the high street to a trek through the bush. For interesting homewares, amble through Thirroul to Cocoon Trading, Nest Emporium or Oat & Honey. For boutique fashion there’s Plume, for antique hunters, there’s Thirroul Antique Centre or Wombat and for all things art, head to Black Gold. Then hop across to Austinmer to continue browsing, stopping in at Haveli on Moore Street for a range of effortless clothing, hand-picked by the family owners.
Hit the waves
Some of the South Coast’s best surf schools have outlets in these sleepy towns, where you can grab some lessons or just rent a board for the day; Illawarra Surf Academy, Happy Days Surf School and Byrne Surf are all close-by. Or join a surf camp with the well-known Australian Surf Tours, with everything from one-day guides to two-week development courses for all those wave-enthusiasts. If surfing isn’t for you, take a dip in one of Austinmer’s ocean pools instead, which lie on the small stretch of sand between the headlands.
An evening of culture
Head out for a night of culture at some of the South Coast’s favourite haunts. Check out Anita’s Theatre events before planning a trip to Thirroul, as tickets for this popular live comedy, music and theatre venue sell out fast. For a great local live music venue and decent beer, head over to The Beaches Thirroul; there’s a rotating line-up of great acts.
Bring the restaurant to you
If you feel like staying in for the night at your stay, try something different and let Mingle Meals bring the restaurant to you. Their three-course experience is affordable and always interesting, sending a chef to your temporary home to cook, serve and then clean up after they’re done. All you’ll need to do is provide the plates, cutlery and any alcohol you might want.
Where to stay
The best accommodation in Thirroul & Austinmer
The Grove Beach House, Austinmer
This modern Australian beach house, just across the road from the glorious Austinmer Beach, sleeps up to 13 people across six bedrooms and three levels. There’s plenty of space for entertaining, from a gym and yoga room to a sunroom and spacious backyard. There’s also a large infinity pool and BBQ outside. Read more >
Headlands Hotel, Austinmer
This modern hotel has a variety of rooms and suites to choose from, including one-bedroom ocean-view apartments and two-bedroom penthouses – each one just a footsteps from Austinmer Beach. On-site, the hotel also has a great bar and beer garden – with a range of popular beers on tap – as well as a laid-back Brasserie serving fresh seasonal produce from land and sea.
The Retro Retreat at Thirroul Beach
This self-catered cottage is just a few minutes away from both the village and the beach, but its beautiful gardens give a sense of quiet and seclusion. Sleeping up to eight over two levels, the vintage items give a character rarely found in holiday lets.
Coledale Beach Camping Reserve, Thirroul
If you’ve come to the South Coast to get away from the luxuries of modernity, check into a stay at the Coledale Beach campgrounds. Just north of Thirroul, this unique campsite lies on a beautiful beach, with activities available like surfing, diving and even whale watching (from the comfort of your camp chair). You’ll find hot showers and electric BBQs amongst the standard camping amenities, but it’s the location that is the real standout here.
Where to eat
The best restaurants in Thirroul & Austinmer
South Sailor, Thirroul
Coming down to the South Coast and not heading straight to the local fish restaurant may well be a crime in these parts. At South Sailor, you’ll get a meal that puts local, fresh seafood at the centre of the table. With everything from seafood paella to BBQ octopus with Korean miso, via fresh NSW oysters and kingfish ceviche, you’d be wise to take a few friends to taste the whole menu. The intriguing cocktail menu is not to be missed, either.
Grab some delicious Mediterranean-inspired small plates in the beautifully-designed Pará. Although the style may be decidedly European, local ingredients shine here. Start with a great aperitif, before moving through the interesting wine list. For bigger groups, letting the chef decide the run of dishes on the ‘Feasting Menu’ is worth giving a go.
Jose Jones Restaurant & Bar, Thirroul
Just by Flanagan’s Creek, you’ll find this casual restaurant with an excellent outdoor area. Loved by tourists and locals alike, there’s plenty to tuck into on the unpretentious menu. The tapas and sharing platters are particularly welcome with a cold beer or wine, whilst the burgers served on milk buns are delicious.
Frank’s Wild Years, Thirroul
For something a little different head over to Frank’s Wild Years, a vinyl shop, event space and restaurant. With a ‘nibbles’ menu that partners the locally produced wines, beers and spirits at the bar, and a regularly changing specials board, the great collection of vinyl and live music aren’t the only draw to Frank’s.
Moore Street General, Ausinmer
This neighbourhood eatery is always busy thanks to the great service and delicious coffee. The food is wholesome and fresh, serving everything from freshly-baked loaves and pizzas to pumpkin soups and lentil curries. They source their produce as locally as possible, including eggs from Kangaroo Valley and veggies grown in the farms nearby.
The best events in Thirroul & Austinmer
Thirroul Seaside and Arts Festival
This annual, weekend-long festival features art exhibitions, market stalls, food, and many types of talent competition. Run by the local Lions club since 1993, the festival proceeds are donated back into the community each year, with over $1.2m having been raised to date.
The Heroines Festival is a celebration of women’s writers and women’s stories, featuring panels, readings and book-launches across the day. The inaugural theme for the event is ‘finding your past and imagining your future’.
Scarborough Art Show
Now in its 22nd year, the annual Scarborough Art Show is just ten minutes drive north of Thirroul. With exhibitions from painters, printmakers, photographers and sculptors, and a dedicated Craft Gallery for jewellers, ceramicists and other craftspeople. For those with families, be sure not to miss the Artspark competition for young artists.
Thirroul Music Festival
This new music festival launched in 2019 with a celebration of NSW’s best country and folk acts. Embracing the independent spirit in Thirroul, acts spread across three venues for a vibrant day of alternative music. Keep your eyes peeled for news of 2020’s event timings.
How to get there
The best way to reach Thirroul & Austinmer
The towns sit shoulder-to-shoulder, about an hours’ drive from central Sydney along the northern section of the Grand Pacific Drive. Alternatively, travel by train on the South Coast Line, which takes just under two hours from Sydney Central (you can pick up a closer line from Sydney Airport). For more information and to see bus timetables for an alternative route, take a look at transportnsw.info.