New twist on an old favourite

A re­turn to Wol­lon­gong yields more than one sat­is­fy­ing sur­prise

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JODIE MI­NUS

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

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