New twist on an old favourite
A return to Wollongong yields more than one satisfying surprise
WEslow the car to take the hairpin turn of Lawrence Hargrave Drive and there before us is the great sweep of the Pacific Ocean, the looming escarpment and, nestling between, the graceful S-curve of the Sea Cliff Bridge.
My friend Sarah and I have made this journey along the Grand Pacific Drive to Wollongong from Sydney countless times. But after a onehour drive through the busy southern suburbs, that first glimpse of big sky and steel-grey sea butting against the rugged, dark green range never fails to fill us with renewed energy.
Neither of us has made the trip south in more than a year, so there is a sense of a homecoming and a reunion with the landscape we came to know well during our two years in Wollongong. We are returning for a party to wish bon voyage to a former colleague who is leaving for an extended sojourn in France. We are making a weekend of it, staying overnight and going up-market.
The residents of Wollongong have long been promised glittering shopping centres, apartment towers and the refurbishment of disused heritage buildings by developers, but the global financial crisis and a scandal surrounding the Wollongong City Council have seemed to stall such economic growth.
So we are pleased to return and find the state governmentfunded WIN grandstand is almost complete and that the neighbouring 168-room oceanfront Chifley Hotel Wollongong is open for business. We’re even more impressed when we step into its shiny foyer and are welcomed by eager-toplease staff.
There is a high unemployment rate in this seaside city so a good job at the Chifley would be a much-coveted fast track to a successful hospitality career.
The staff’s dedication and commitment is one of the reasons our stay runs so smoothly.
Aside from the hotel’s proximity to the city centre, it is perfectly placed for getting to the party, which is just three blocks away, the venue visible from our junior suite on the hotel’s 11th floor. It all feels freshly unwrapped, with modern decor of clean lines and subdued tones; the northeast view begins on the left with the rooftops and streets of the city and pans right to take in the lighthouse and a strip of coastline.
We know we have a party to go to, but it is hard to leave this modern guestroom, with its immaculate bathroom, stocked mini-bar and bottle of sparkling wine in an ice-bucket (ordered from room service for a surprisingly reasonable sum).
We take our glasses to the spacious balcony and watch the sun set over the city as the street lights flicker on. Suitably relaxed, we venture down to the cosy, candlelit C Grill restaurant, where chef Peter Washbourne offers a simple produce-driven menu of classic dishes, such as grain-fed filet mignon wrapped in proscuitto with field mushroom sauce; beetroot-cured salmon with fennel, capers and kipfler potatoes; and a twicebaked cheese souffle with gruyere crust.
Expecting only to stop for a quick bite before the party, we are instead tempted by the menu and the open fireplace, so that two hours later we are still chatting to the friendliest of waitresses, who fills us in on the local gossip. We eventually make it to the party (late and wobbly from all that food and wine) and spend the night dancing in the lounge room with old friends.
The next morning we open the curtains to reveal the sun shining down on the city and a beautiful blue-sky day. It seems a waste to leave such a view behind, so we take advantage of our late checkout and order a room-service breakfast of fresh fruit, yoghurt and Spanish omelette. We devour the food and coffee on the balcony, and by the time we check out we realise that although we have barely left the confines of the hotel, it is already time to hit the road back to Sydney. Jodie Minus was a guest of Chifley Hotel Wollongong.
A junior suite at the Chifley Hotel Wollongong