Wollongong, NSW – South Coast Regional Harbours

By: Chris Whitelaw, Photography by: Chris Whitelaw

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

A sizeable city with a quiver-full of coastal amenities, Wollongong shoots a bullseye in part one of our South Coast Regional Harbours series.



Wollongong, NSW – South Coast Regional Harbours

Wollongong is Australia’s ninth-largest city and lays at the heart of the Illawarra region, which sprawls over a coastal lowland – from its widest point near Albion Park tapering northwards to the sea cliffs of the Royal National Park. To the city’s west is a steep forested escarpment rising 660 metres above the sea, with two landmark peaks – Mount Keira and Mount Kembla – presiding over a striking coastline of alternating headlands and beaches that face the Pacific Ocean.

Wollongong Harbour, 85km south of Sydney, occupies a small bay under the lee of Flagstaff Point (or Wollongong Head). It houses a rectangular inner harbour (Belmore Basin) for berthing, which is protected by a sea wall that extends to a rocky breakwater along its northern flank. Then there’s the outer harbour that’s embraced by the curve of Brighton Beach, before another breakwater protects an anchorage from direct ocean currents and south-easterly winds. The Point’s rocky headland is a picturesque feature when viewed from the city, and commands superb views of the harbour, north and south coastlines, and the metropolis reaching up to the escarpment.



Beginning in the 1820s, the beach was used as the shipping point for the newly settled area and provided safe anchorage for supply boats that serviced the military forces garrisoned there. Vessels would stand off from the beach while supplies, produce and timber destined for the Sydney market would be transferred by small flat-bottomed boats or simply floated out.

The beach existed in a natural state until 1837 when, at the direction of Governor Bourke, work began to transform it into a permanent harbour. Under the supervision of Colonial Engineer Captain George Barney, a 300-strong convict labour force excavated Belmore Basin from the solid stone of the foreshore. The stone was then used in other work, such as sea walls, a quay on the eastern side of the basin and a pier that served as a breakwater on the northern side. A red light was fixed atop a pole at the end of the pier to guide boats into the harbour.

When it was completed in 1844, the harbour became the first port in the Illawarra and could accommodate coasting vessels from 5 to 20 tons. Subsequently, in response to the district’s expanding coal trade, the harbour was deepened and extended, and infrastructure added to meet the berthing requirements of larger ships. A new basin was created off the beach, opening into the existing one, and a breakwater was constructed on the eastern side to protect the outer roadstead.


During the latter-half of the 19th century, Wollongong was the third most active port in New South Wales – after Sydney and Newcastle – and was the focus of the town’s commercial, administrative and social activities well into the early-20th century.

However, as industry developed and trade continued to expand, the harbour at Wollongong proved entirely inadequate. At the turn of the century, the focus of maritime activity in the Illawarra shifted to Port Kembla, which had the advantage of being a safe harbour with deep moorings that could accommodate much larger vessels than could be taken into Wollongong Harbour. The cessation of coal exports from Wollongong in 1936 led to the dismantling of quayside cranes, rail lines and associated infrastructure. The private passenger steamship service was abandoned in 1948 in favour of the cheaper, more efficient government railway and, seven years later, the Pilot/Harbourmaster was withdrawn.

As colliers and steamships vacated the wharfage, fishing vessels and leisure craft filled the vacuum. In the 1960s, a slipway capable of handling large fishing vessels was constructed near the lighthouse breakwater and, in 1967, the northern breakwater was constructed to provide safe anchorage for pleasure craft. Later additions to the harbour precinct included the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol building on the Central Pier Head (though the Marine Rescue base has since moved to Port Kembla), a boat ramp and a commercial building containing the Fishermans Cooperative, restaurants and cafes.



A prominent feature of the harbour precinct is the iconic Breakwater Lighthouse, erected at the end of the eastern breakwater in 1871. Manufactured in England and assembled on site, it was Australia’s first prefabricated lighthouse and one of only two wrought iron lighthouses built in New South Wales. (Another identical one was built at Ulladulla Breakwater and later moved to nearby Warden Head.) The elegant tapered tower still stands on a sandstone foundation and rises 13 metres to a lantern house with an outer gallery that’s surrounded by an ornamental cast iron railing. Its state-of-the-art lamp – originally fuelled by vegetable oil, later converted to acetylene gas and finally to electricity – was extinguished in 1937. It was replaced by Australia’s first fully-automated light, the 25 metre Wollongong Head Lighthouse, atop Flagstaff Hill. Though the Breakwater Lighthouse is decommissioned, it has been restored and its light is rekindled to mark special civic celebrations. Thus did Wollongong become the only port on the eastern seaboard with two lighthouses.



The public jetty in Belmore Basin can be used for 24 hours. There is space alongside the northern face for two or three average-sized vessels but there are no handy cleats to which they can be secured quickly. When the public jetty is unavailable, or a longer stay is desired, casual berths may be obtained by contacting the Wollongong Fisherman's Cooperative, which manages them on behalf of the NSW Department of Industry (Lands). Occasionally, vacancies arise among the moorings managed by the Wollongong Yacht Club in the outer harbour. These are ideal for yachts wishing to stay longer, with typical stays being from one week up to several months. The Club also manages ten permanent moorings which are available for members. On-going participation in the club's sailing events is a strict condition of a license for a permanent mooring. 

Due to the limited space available within the mooring zone, guidelines apply to vessels being considered for allocation of a mooring to provide reasonable clearance and access: length limit, 38 feet; weight limit, 8 tonne; windage limit, maximum cross sectional area not greater than 20 square metres; width limit, beam of boat should not impact on adjacent boats.



The Heritage Council of NSW recognised the historical and cultural significance of the Wollongong Harbour Precinct by listing it on the NSW Heritage Register in May 2010.
Subsequently, the State Government released ‘Guidelines for Limited Development of Wollongong Harbour’, which identifies five areas for possible development within the precinct.

The first is a combined redevelopment of the existing co-op building that will see a new building constructed to the west of the co-op in the existing carpark. The guidelines also suggest another building of possibly two storeys could be constructed at the eastern corner of the boat harbour and some development for maritime businesses on the central spur.

The yacht moorings at the northeast of Belmore Basin could also be re-arranged to accommodate more boats.



Meanwhile, the State Government’s Regional Ports Strategy has identified Wollongong Harbour as a priority location for "economic growth, asset renewal and targeted development". To that end, a lengthy consultation process with government, industry and community bodies during 2015 and ’16 identified a range of projects to be addressed in future planning.

These potential projects include breakwater refurbishment and crest raising to achieve greater resilience to high-energy storm events; installation of facilities for fuelling, vessel sewage pump out and waste oil collection and storage; remediation of the slipway and boat maintenance facilities; upgrading and reconfiguration of the public wharf to provide additional moorings; dredging and rock removal to improve depths and increase anchorage space; and installation of new amenities (toilets and showers) for visiting yachts and day users.



In September 2017, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra, Gareth Ward, announced that a contract had been awarded to Place Design Group for the preparation of the Wollongong Harbour Master Plan. The purpose of the plan is to identify commercial and recreational opportunities within Wollongong Harbour consistent with its heritage significance, while maintaining port facilities and services.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery welcomed the move, saying, "It is exciting to see the Wollongong Harbour Master Plan moving forward. This is about reinvigorating the harbour and its foreshore in order to boost visitor numbers and the local economy." The Master Plan is funded by the New South Wales Government’s Coastal Infrastructure Program, which has already contributed around $62 million to 50 projects along the State’s coast and is anticipated to be completed in 2018.



The State Government initiatives dovetail with projects already mounted by Wollongong City Council to improve the amenity and aesthetic appeal of the city’s coastline. Branded the ‘Blue Mile Master Plan’ (BMMP) – referencing both the broad expanse of ocean and sky as well as the physical distance between the city centre and North Beach – the project identifies major opportunities for revitalisation of public amenities and recreational infrastructure along the foreshore, including the harbour precinct. Major upgrades in the Brighton Beach area include a new sea wall for coastal protection, a 200 metre promenade along the harbour edge, a playground, art installations, heritage interpretation material, a shared-use pathway and park improvements.

The BMMP incorporates an estimated $44-million worth of public recreation and tourism amenity and car parking improvements, and a further $4-million in road works and traffic facilities. The current phase of the project is jointly funded by the Federal Government ($900,000) and Wollongong City Council ($4,885,380) and is scheduled for completion in late-2018.



Since its construction, Wollongong Harbour and its picturesque foreshore precinct have been progressively developed to cater for the changing uses of the port, while retaining its 19th century charm. It’s the epitome of a city that has enjoyed a vibrant maritime history for almost 200 years. Animated by recreational and commercial boating activities and revitalised by public and private investment, the harbour precinct remains the city’s most iconic attraction, drawing visitors in large numbers to its sheltered shore.


Commercial fishing - unloading & berthing: Yes
Charter vessels: Yes
Recreational & visitors berthing: Yes
Slipway & boat maintenance: No
Car park: Yes
Vessel sewage pumpout: No
Fuel - diesel: No
Waste oil collection & storage: No
Water & electricity: Yes
Boat launching ramp & car park: Yes
Public toilets: Nearby
Fresh fish outlet: No
Retail food & beverage: Yes


Wollongong Fisherman's Cooperative Belmore Basin
P (02) 4229 1976
M 0431 174 777 (Antonia)

Marine Rescue NSW (Port Kembla)
P (02) 4274 4455
E portkembla@marinerescuensw.com.au
VHF Channel 16, Channel 88 (27.880 MHz)

Wollongong Yacht Club
PO Box 1089, Wollongong NSW 2521
E moorings@wyc.org.au (the mooring officer)
M 0414 280 922 (Bob)

This story was originally published in issue #510 of Trade-a-Boat magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest boat news, reviews and travel inspiration.



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