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Coalcliff, NSW

Pleasant coastal village near the impressive Sea Cliff Bridge.

Coalcliff is a picturesque village perched on steeply sloping ground and sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the sheer cliffs of the Illawarra escarpment. Previously a quiet mining village, it was often cut off from direct access to Stanwell Park and Sydney by rockfall. In December 2005 that changed when the remarkable Sea Cliff Bridge was opened. Not only is the bridge a remarkable engineering achievement but it also is aesthetically pleasing as it winds around the rugged coastline. In recent years it has become popular with commuters to Sydney. Access is by electric train from the Coalcliff station. It has a small beach (formerly Coalcliff Harbour), an impressive rock pool and a rock shelf which is popular with anglers and walkers.


Coalcliff is located 62 km south of Sydney via the M1 (F6) and Stanwell Tops or 73 km via the scenic route through the Royal National Park. It is  24 km north of Wollongong and 11 km north of Thirroul.


Origin of Name

Not surprisingly, given its origins as a coal mining town, Coalcliff is named after the first mining company in the area. A future premier of NSW, Alexander Stuart, bought land in the area in 1876 and the rather unimaginatively named Coalcliff Mining Company commenced operations in 1877.


Things to See and Do

Coalcliff Beach
Coalcliff has a small beach edged  by rock platforms. It is located at the end of a short, unnamed road which runs off Lawrence Hargrave Drive about 400 metres north of Sea Cliff Bridge - the next road north after Paterson Road.  The road has a small blue signpost reading 'Coalcliff SLSC.'

Rock Pool
Paterson Road, just south of the access to the Coalcliff Beach, provides access to a children’s play area and a delightful small rock pool which fills tidally and is edged by the Pacific Ocean while offering views down to the coast to Sea Cliff Bridge.

Sea Cliff Bridge
The Sea Cliff Bridge follows the coastline south, linking Coalcliff and Clifton.  Parking on the northern side of the bridge is available along a short road which runs off Lawrence Hargrave Drive about 400 metres north of the bridge but there is more, and better, parking at the southern end.  The 1.6-km bridge has a pedestrian lane shielded from traffic on one side and fencing on the other.  The views it dramatic and below is a rock platform which is popular with anglers. Dolphins and whales are seen offshore in season. The bridge was opened in December 2005, follows the winding coastline but stands with its feet in the sea, owing to the instability of the adjacent cliffs.  Rock falls and other safety concerns caused the closure of the old coast road and the construction of this new span which keeps it clearly well removed from the slowly crumbling geological facade.

Clifton is a small ex-mining hamlet with two interesting buildings.  The former Clifton School of Arts (1911), is a two-storey brick structure in a Federation Free Classical-style and is built on land donated by the Clifton Mine for the creation of a learning facility.  When completed it boasted a reading room, a general store and a billiards room. Later it was used as a post office, an electoral office, a caretaker’s residence, a shop and a venue for local dances.  It is now held in trust by local residents.

Nearby is the Clifton Hotel with its doorways and windows sadly boarded up. An hotel (the Imperial) was licensed on this site in 1884.  Resch’s Brewery Limited purchased the hotel in 1910, knocked it down and built the present two-storey brick structure in 1911.  It was renovated  in the 1970s but the closure of the road between Clifton and Coalcliff during the Sea Cliff bridge’s construction, saw the hotel close in 2003. It is yet to reopen. Check http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/library/onlineresources/suburbprofiles/pages/clifton.aspx for a detailed history of Clifton


Other Attractions in the Area

South of the Bridge
The drive south from Sea Cliff Bridge is a delightful journey through some particularly beautiful and tiny old mining villages. This area is in transition and consequently the traveller will marvel at old fibro holiday homes and miner's cottages cheek-to-jowl with million dollar mansions with spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean.  The road is narrow and winding and passes through villages which stretch from the sea up the escarpment.



* Prior to European settlement the Illawarra had been occupied by the Dharawal or Tharawal Aboriginal people for at least 20,000 years. They roamed across the narrow coastal plain, ate fish and crustaceans they caught in the rock pools and lived an idyllic life beside the sea.

* In 1770 Captain James Cook sailed up the coast. Cook attempted to land in the Illawarra but was forced to return to his ship because of the heavy surf that was running at the time.

* Shortly after the settlement of Port Jackson in 1788 George Bass and Matthew Flinder, accompanied by their servant William Martin, sailed down the coast in tan eight-foot (2.4 m) rowing boat, Tom Thumb,  in 1796.

* In 1797 the survivors of the Sydney Cove traversed the area on their walk from the coast of Victoria. The vessel had been beached on the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait. A boat was launched with seventeen of the crew but it was wrecked at Point Hicks . The survivors started walking north to Port Jackson but only three survived.

* In August 1797 George Bass sought Governor Hunter's permission to take two of the three survivors from the Sydney Cove and return to the Illawarra to investigate the survivor's reports of coal in the area. He set out in Governor Hunter's whaleboat and discovered coal at what is now known as Coalcliff. The journey lasted only eight days.

* In 1833 1000 acres (405 ha) was granted to ex-convict Matthew John Gibbons. The property, which he named 'Little Bullie" ran from Coalcliff to Stanwell Tops.

* There were early attempts in the region to extract the coal. The NSW surveyor general, Thomas Mitchell, acquired land which he handed on to his son. He was unable to raise sufficient funds to exploit the coal on his land.

* In 1868 Coalcliff was opened up to Wollongong when a bush road called Clifton Road was cleared north from the bottom of Bulli Pass.

* Around 1876-77 mining began to dominate the area. The Coalcliff Mining Company built a timber chute down the cliffs and a 150-metre jetty but still getting the coal from the mines to the ships was difficult and companies changed hands regularly.

* Between 1879-1886 a more substantial road known as Main Road was constructed to connect the mine at Coalcliff to Bulli.  It eventually became part of Lawrence Hargrave Drive.

* A post and telegraph office opened at Coalcliff in 1879 and a hotel in 1880.

* The railway line from Sydney to Wollongong was completed and the first train ran on 7 September, 1888.  It included a railway tunnel at Coalcliff which required 3 million bricks to line. That same year the North Clifton Railway Station was opened at Coalcliff.

* 1891 - the Illawarra Coal Company opened a mine at Clifton.

* In 1903 South Clifton was changed to Scarborough to avoid confusion.

* Shaft mining began in the area around 1907.

* 1991 - after 113 years of operation the Coalcliff mine closes down.

* 2005 the Sea Cliff Bridge is officially opened. Estimated cost is $50 million.


Visitor Information

The Wollongong region has two major visitor information centres. The first is located at Bulli Tops just off the Princes Motorway, is known as the Southern Gateway Centre and can be accessed by either going to http://www.southerngatewaycentre.com.au/ or tel: 1800 240 737. The second, known as the iHub Centre is at 93 Crown Street and can be accessed by going to http://www.visitwollongong.com.au/ or tel: (02) 4267 5910. Both these information centres can help with information about Coalcliff.


Useful Websites

The Wollongong Library site offers a detailed history of the town. Check out http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/library/onlineresources/suburbprofiles/pages/coalcliff.aspx

Got something to add?

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7 suggestions
  • Could you please advise the easiest way to access the rock platforms below the Sea Cliff Bridge? Does one simply walk south along the beach from Coalcliff Surf Life Saving Club and is there direct easy access there to the rock platforms? Is it possible to access the Sea Cliff Bridge to walk over it then from the rock platforms without going uphill to the walking path which leads to the northern end of Sea Cliff Bridge?

    Lyn Collings
    • “Could you please advise the easiest way to access the rock platforms below the Sea Cliff Bridge?”

      The first rock ledge is easily reached by just walking south from the rockpool (rather than from the Surf Club end). The second rock ledge further south again might be a little harder to access.

      Ian Williams
  • My grandfather built a Depression-era shack on the steep slope behind the Surf Club, and below the road to Stanwell Park. It was in the family until 1967, when our “leases” were not renewed, and all the shacks were bulldozed after the owners lost a court case.

    I’m not certain, but I expect there were about 100 shacks there – some were quite substantial, and a number of retirees lived there year-round – but most were used by Sydney families just for the long summer holidays and Easter.

    Life was fairly basic – we had no water, plumbing, or electricity. Toilets and showers were down at the surf club; water had to be carried up in big buckets; ice was bought weekly, until we obtained a kerosene fridge in the 1960s. All cooking was done on primus stoves, and lighting came from kerosene pressure lamps. We had to carry everything in quite a way – there were well-made but steep paths winding through the mishmash of shacks.

    There were dozens of kids, and we all had a great time each summer – but it must have been quite hard work for all the parents.

    The beach was good, however because of run-off from the mine, both the lagoon and the surf were often quite black. Lumps of coal washed in and out on the tide. However the rock pool was magical, and the fishing on the big rock ledge to the south of the beach was very productive too. My father was something of an expert in catching garfish, so we ate a lot of it.

    Wonderful memories, and if you look now the whole hillside has reverted to bushland – you would never now that it housed a large number of working-class families on holiday for at least two generations.

    Ian Williams
  • The Coalcliff RSL was on the verge of collapse until volunteers stepped in open Thursday to Sunday, They have a food van for Tucker and happy pleasant volunteer staff

    martin naylor
  • Excellent detail! Have stayed at Coalcliff. Loved sound of waves o/night. Also walked Seacliffe bridge with busload of Probus members! Outstanding design!

    Louise To
  • Coalcliff is in the Wollongong LGA which forms part of the Greater city of Wollongong LGA. It is a suburb of Wollongong located in the northern suburbs of Wollongong. The Seacliff Bridge is actually located in the Greater city of Wollongong LGA in the suburb of Clifton not the suburb of Coalcliff

    Melanie barbaro