There are many fantastic roads around Sydney, you just need to battle your way out of the city first.
Once you’re free of the snarl, a day trip is well worth the effort, and I’ll take any excuse to get away from the hustle and bustle to soak up the amazing scenery and explore more of the many towns that lie within a few hours of home.
The plan was simple; a road trip south of Sydney, through the Royal National Park along Grand Pacific Drive and over the Sea Cliff Bridge, a pit stop at Kiama to see the popular blowhole tourist attraction and on to Berry for lunch and donuts, before returning home.
My car for the day, the 2015 Subaru WRX Premium.
It would turn out that my jaunt in the Subaru would end up being a little less relaxing than anticipated, as it was pouring down rain and I found myself involved in a roadside rescue operation… but more on that later.
When the day dawned overcast and the forecast predicted downpours for much of the day, I had no qualms regarding how the WRX would handle the wet roads throughout the 300km return journey given its intuitive symmetrical all-wheel-drive system
The WRX Premium, with its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Boxer engine was fitted with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Having recently spent time in the base model WRX with a manual transmission, I was curious to see whether the lack of physical gear changes would detract from the driving experience.
Excited at the prospect of fresh donuts – perfect in this wet weather – I filled the tank and reset the trip meter so I could keep tabs on fuel consumption and total distance travelled.
There’s no denying that the WRX is not the most comfortable place to be around town. It’s a little harsh over bumps, though the CVT makes keeping a lid on the 197kW and 350Nm a little easier in the city. Eventually the WRX and I made our way through the traffic and out towards the Royal National Park.
The Royal National Park is around 150 square-kilometres and marks the start of the Grand Pacific Drive that goes all the way down the South Coast to Nowra. The vegetation varies widely in the park, from bush to forest to rainforest. There’s also beaches, sandstone cliffs, bushwalking and mountain bike tracks, beaches and plenty of places to stop and explore along the way (even a dedicated beach for those who enjoy swimming and sun baking in their birthday suit).
My favourite part of this leg is towards the end of the National Park with nice tight turns through dense rainforest. It’s a great opportunity to engage in some dynamic driving, which the WRX enjoys. I pulled over at a little rest area, right under a tree that looked like it was straight out of the Blair Witch Project. In the fog and rain, it was quite a sight.
Grand Pacific Drive then winds its way down towards Wollongong, and the highlight of the entire drive would have to be the Sea Cliff Bridge. I drove back and forth along it a few times, enjoying the corners and the feeling of driving on a road that strays beyond the edge of the cliff, above the waves breaking over the rocks.
Opened in 2005, the bridge itself, despite only being 665 metres long, is an impressive sight to behold and is one of only seven off-shore ‘parallel to coast’ bridges in the world. It has seen its fair share of screen time too. In the first five years of operation the bridge was featured in no-less than 42 commercials and television productions.
Heading further south, the next planned stop on the trip was Kiama.
Kiama is a relaxed sea-side town around 120km from Sydney with great surfing beaches and home to a popular tourist attraction – the Kiama Blowhole.
It’s a hole in the top of the high-set rocks with a cave entrance at sea-level, when the swell comes up it results in water being jettisoned up to 25-metres in the air. Unfortunately, despite the rough weather, there wasn’t a lot of action.
There’s a smaller one known as the ‘little blowhole’ around the corner, and a quick drive past confirmed that too was a bit of an anti-climax that day. It can be spectacular given the right conditions, so I will try again another time.
The further away from Sydney I got, the more often I lost phone reception. Pandora streams music through your phone, so after a few drop-outs I was forced to switch to the radio. Not a massive deal, but it also made me wish I’d brought a few CD’s along. Nothing wrong with a bit of retro every now and again!
Something that wasn’t on the official agenda was a detour through Port Kembla. When I approached the exit sign I made a spur of the moment decision to check it out. As you would expect by the name, it’s a major coal export port and an industrial hub for processing steel, copper and coal.
Port Kembla also has an interesting military background. Hill 60 is the highest point in town and as well as being a fantastic lookout point, it’s also home to the old Illowra Battery, which was part of the Kembla Fortress during WWII. There’s tunnels to explore and concrete bunkers that once housed guns.
Though it would have been great to poke around there a little bit more, time was getting away from me and Berry was beckoning. The Port Kembla detour took me down towards Shellharbour before rejoining the highway. Not far out of Berry I noticed something unusual on the road.
At first I though it was a rock, then I realised it was moving. It was a turtle! I’d seen a number of trucks already along this stretch and couldn’t bear the thought of leaving it at the mercy of sixteen-wheelers. It was around two-thirds of the way across the two-lane highway and had probably been going at it for six-hours. So I decided to stop and give the little guy a hand.
There was a bit of screaming involved, I wasn’t sure if it would stick its head out and bite me. However, it stayed tucked in its shell and I dropped it back to the ground well off the road in the wet grass. Getting back into the car I had a worrying thought – I hope I took it to the right side of the road and it’s not sitting there fuming because it has to start all over again!
Berry is a picturesque country town with a gorgeous main street littered with stores you wouldn’t expect to find so far out of the city. It’s surrounded by beautiful farming regions, wineries, seven-mile beach is minutes away and the infamous Wattamolla Road out towards Kangaroo Valley is yet another great road for the Subaru WRX.
After a late lunch, it was time to do what I came here for – donuts. I jumped back behind the wheel and headed for the edge of town, the rain had stopped but there was still a chill in the air, conditions were perfect.
There it was, the Famous Donut Van. It’s worth the drive — they are possibly the best donuts I’ve ever had. Feeling slightly ill having well and truly overindulged, it was time to head home.
At the end of the day, I have to say I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable.
The ride is firm, and the seats don’t do enough to prevent me from having to wriggle around a bit to get rid of the slowly spreading numb feeling as the day wore on — lower back support was also lacking a little. The features included in the Premium spec came in handy though, particularly the Vision Assist package, satellite navigation and Pandora.
I missed the manual transmission on the more exciting sections of road, but if it’s a relaxed day trip you’re after, the CVT was surprisingly great. It maintained the revs when it needed to and never felt like it was under-performing.
A couple of kids would be comfortable in the back over the longer trip, and despite my feeling a little uncomfortable by the end of the day, you can’t argue with the fact that the WRX Premium is an engaging drive, and that in itself, makes for a fun road trip.
Stay tuned this year as we share more accessible and entertaining drives that can make for a fun day out!
The total trip was 368km and average fuel consumption was 9.4L/100km.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos.