Illawarra escarpment

Last updated

Lookout from the Illawarra Escarpment above Wombarra over the northern Illawarra plain viewing Austinmer, Thirroul, Bulli, Wollongong up to Port Kembla in the far distance.
Highest point
PeakBells Hill, New South Wales
Elevation 803 m (2,635 ft)
Coordinates 34°37′S150°36′E / 34.617°S 150.600°E / -34.617; 150.600 [1]
Length92 km (57 mi)NNE [2]
Country Australia
State New South Wales
Region Illawarra
Range coordinates 34°20′S150°50′E / 34.333°S 150.833°E / -34.333; 150.833 Coordinates: 34°20′S150°50′E / 34.333°S 150.833°E / -34.333; 150.833 [2]
Orogeny Sydney Basin
Age of rock Tertiary

The Illawarra escarpment , or officially the Illawarra Range, [2] is the fold-created cliffs and plateau-eroded outcrop mountain range west of the Illawarra coastal plain south of Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. The range encloses the Illawarra region which stretches from Stanwell Park in the north to Kiama, Gerringong and the Shoalhaven River in the south.


Bells Hill, west of Knights Hill, is the highest point in the range at 803 metres (2,635 ft) AHD on the range's plateau; with a number of other peaks on the escarpment ranging from 300 metres (980 ft) to a maximum of 768 metres (2,520 ft) at Mount Murray southwest of Dapto.


An early morning view of the Illawarra escarpment west of Albion Park (20 km south of Wollongong) Illawarra Escarpment west of Albion Park.jpg
An early morning view of the Illawarra escarpment west of Albion Park (20 km south of Wollongong)

The escarpment or scarp was created between 225 and 280 million years ago and since eroded by creeks to its present height around 30 million years ago. Most of it is sandstone, with many Hawkesbury sandstone boulders and ledges visible in addition to the actual cliffs. Its maximum heights are reached in the south, west of Albion Park at Knights Hill, 709 metres (2,326 ft), and Mount Murray, 768 metres (2,520 ft). This forms the eastern edge of the Southern Highlands plateau, uplifted along with the Blue Mountains around 70 million years ago.

Many of the towns on the coastal plain adjacent to the escarpment were first founded to harvest the cedar trees on the slopes of the escarpment or the coal seams beneath it. With the original logging industry of the area came the need for passes over the escarpment, creating such ones as Rixons Pass, Bulli Pass, O'Briens Road and Macquarie Pass. The city of Wollongong is the central city in the Illawarra.

Flora and fauna

The escarpment contains a wide variety of native flora and fauna and is a haven for many forms of wildlife.

It is known for the Illawarra Flame Tree with its bright foliage, as well as rare surviving red cedar trees that haven't been logged. On Saddleback Mountain and at Minnamurra Rainforest and other places there are remnant localities of rainforest bushland, as well as, to the north, dry sclerophyll forests. The southern typical bush meets the northern at Mount Kembla, creating a unique effect.

Many native species thrive here such as wallabies, brushtail possums and gliding possums, frogs, goannas, brush turkeys, flying foxes, snakes, bower birds, glossy black cockatoos and other colourful parrots, owls and native birds of prey.

The area also has many introduced species including fallow deer, red deer, rabbits, feral cats and red foxes. It also acts as a significant haven for species that have been affected by environmental disturbances such as development and bushfire. There are currently 12 threatened animal species in the area. [3]

The escarpment also contains many historic sites such as mine entrances and passes.

Endangered ecological community

The escarpment contains the Illawarra Escarpment Subtropical Rainforest (S_RF01) ecological community, which has been declared an endangered ecological community, under the New South Wales TSC Act. [4]

Species listed (taken from "Native Vegetation" [4] )


Illawarra Escarpment above Austinmer, showing Hawkesbury sandstone, Rainforest and Eucalyptus forest. Illawarra Escarpment.jpg
Illawarra Escarpment above Austinmer, showing Hawkesbury sandstone, Rainforest and Eucalyptus forest.

Geographically it stretches from the white cliffs of the Royal National Park and its northern hilly ridge formations like Bulgo and Otford Hills and Stony Batter, Undola Ridge and Bald Hill, south past the Otford Valley to the west and around an eroded valley containing Stanwell Park, then it goes south, featuring cliffs and running close to the coastal headlands, approximately 300 metres (980 ft) above sea level at Scarborough to the turn at Sublime Point at 415 metres (1,362 ft) near Thirroul, south to Brokers Nose at 440 metres (1,440 ft) promontory, south to Mount Keira, which juts out from the main cliffs, south to a similar eroded sandstone outcrop, Mount Kembla at 534 metres (1,752 ft), then southwest along the Dapto scarp cliffs including Mount Bong Bong to the turn inland at Macquarie Pass, then back east to the promontory at Knights Hill at 709 metres (2,326 ft), south including Jamberoo Mountain and east to Noorinan Mountain promontory at Barren Grounds Plateau, then along a ridge to its southern tip, Saddleback Mountain.

The Cambewarra Range is considered a separate, yet related, geological formation that continues around the Noorinan promontory and continues around Kangaroo Valley.

It ranges in height from the tops of Bald Hill and Stony Batter around 300 metres (980 ft) above sea level, to 440 metres (1,440 ft) at Brokers Nose, generally above 350 metres (1,150 ft) high south of Mount Ousley Road (between Keira and Brokers Nose) it reaches 464 metres (1,522 ft) at Mount Keira, 464 metres (1,522 ft) at Mount Warra, 469 metres (1,539 ft) at Mount Brisbane, 531 metres (1,742 ft) at Mount Burelli, 512 metres (1,680 ft) at Kembla West, 534 metres (1,752 ft) at Mount Kembla, 564 metres (1,850 ft) at Wanyambilli Hill on the plateau to the west and 709 metres (2,326 ft) at Knights Hill, just over 663 metres (2,175 ft) at Noorinan Mountain and about 600 metres (2,000 ft) at Saddleback Mountain.

It is mostly of hard sandstone, with outcrops like Mount Keira and Mount Kembla rising above 450 metres (1,480 ft). There are many tracks to the top of such summits including the southern tip of the escarpment, Saddleback Mountain and Noorinan Mountain promontory. The flora ranges from northern and southern eucalypts and at Mount Kembla fuses, providing an interesting phenomena. The range has much history, including Hoddles Track which used to go to Bowral from Kiama.

Brokers Nose seen from Fairy Meadow. Broker's Nose seen from Fairy Meadow.jpg
Brokers Nose seen from Fairy Meadow.
Australian Red Cedar, Mount Keira, Illawarra. Red Cedar - Mount Keira.jpg
Australian Red Cedar, Mount Keira, Illawarra.

To the north the range is mostly a coastal ridge east of Otford, becoming a cliff at Mount Mitchell, and continuing to include an eroded cliff at its top until Bulli Pass where it becomes rounded, forming Woonona Mountain, until Brokers Nose where the cliff reappears, before appearing again on the edge of Mount Keira and Warra, disappearing until west of Dapto where it forms the famous southern escarpment and curves in for Macquarie Pass National Park and Mount Murray at 768 metres (2,520 ft) before turning into Knights Hill at 709 metres (2,326 ft) and then forming Noorinan promontory, its summit at 663 metres (2,175 ft), and Saddleback Mountains.


There are several passes over the escarpment:

Saddleback Mountain Road only reaches the summit after a short, steep, turnoff, but was once part of Hoddles Track, which is now only in existence in a small ridge track from the summit but used to extend west to the Southern Highlands.

Protected areas

Numerous areas are protected as part of the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area or as state forests such as Kembla State Forest southwest of Wollongong. However, much is private property or owned by mining companies like BHP. Well known and popular lookouts such as at Mount Keira and Bald Hill are reserves or parks, the Mount Keira Summit Park is an annexe of the Wollongong Botanic Garden like Puckeys Estate Reserve on the plain.

Walking tracks

There are many walking tracks and lookouts with views of the surrounding countryside to the south, or suburbs to the north and coastal villages to the far north, and bushland and suburbs to the north. There are several well-known lookouts, such as Bald Hill, Bulli Pass, Sublime Point and Mount Keira, as well as lesser known tracks with views such as Hoddles Track west of Saddleback Mountain. Some tracks have gone into disrepair such as the Wodi Wodi track at Stanwell Park, but some such as the Mount Keira Ring Track have been upgraded. Weed infestation is a problem, with many areas invaded by lantana and other invasive weeds.

Maddens Plains

The "address locality" of Maddens Plains is defined as a suburb of the City of Wollongong, "about 1 km N of Scarborough and about 7 km E of Southend [trig] Station". [5] At the 2016 census, it had no population. [6] There is a group of telecommunications antennae, including amateur radio repeaters.

See also

Related Research Articles

Wollongong City in New South Wales, Australia

Wollongong, informally referred to as "The Gong", is a city located in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, Australia. Wollongong lies on the narrow coastal strip between the Illawarra Escarpment and the Pacific Ocean, 68 kilometres south of central Sydney. Wollongong had an estimated urban population of 302,739 at June 2018, making it the third-largest city in New South Wales after Sydney and Newcastle and the tenth-largest city in Australia by population. The city's current Lord Mayor is Gordon Bradbery AM who was elected in 2018.

Illawarra Region in New South Wales, Australia

Illawarra is a region in the Australian state of New South Wales. It is a coastal region situated immediately south of Sydney and north of the Shoalhaven or South Coast region. It encompasses the cities of Wollongong, Shellharbour and the town of Kiama.

Mount Keira Suburb of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Mount Keira is a suburb and mountain in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, Australia.

Mount Kembla Suburb of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Mount Kembla is a suburb and a mountain in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, Australia.

Stanwell Park, New South Wales Suburb of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Stanwell Park is a picturesque coastal village and northern suburb of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. It is the northernmost point of the Illawarra coastal strip and lies south of Sydney's Royal National Park. It is situated in a small valley between Bald Hill to the north, Stanwell Tops to the west and Mount Mitchell to the south. It has two lagoons from the village's two creeks, Stanwell and Hargrave Creeks and a beach running between headlands. Like other towns in the region the village is known colloquially known as TFOE, this is an acronym for the postcode (2508).

South Coast railway line, New South Wales

The South Coast railway line is a commuter and goods railway line in New South Wales, Australia. Beginning at the Illawarra Junction, the line primarily services the Illawarra and South Coast regions of New South Wales, and connects Sydney and Bomaderry through Wollongong and Kiama.

Otford, New South Wales Suburb of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Otford is a village in the Otford Valley just 60 km to the south of the Sydney metropolitan area and north of the Illawarra and Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia. Otford is within the local government area of Wollongong City Council.

Bald Hill (Australia)

Bald Hill is a hill on the Illawarra Range, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. With an elevation of approximately 300 metres (980 ft) AMSL, Bald Hill is one of the best known and most popular lookouts in the Illawarra region providing panoramic vistas across the Illawarra escarpment and over the Illawarra plain and the Tasman Sea of the South Pacific Ocean.

North Wollongong railway station

North Wollongong railway station is located on the South Coast railway line in New South Wales, Australia. It serves the Northern Wollongong suburb of North Wollongong, opening on 19 July 1915. It is the primary station for the University of Wollongong.

Sea Cliff Bridge

The Sea Cliff Bridge, together with the adjoining Lawrence Hargrave Drive Bridge, are two road bridges that carry the scenic Lawrence Hargrave Drive across the rockface on the Illawarra escarpment, located in the northern Illawarra region of New South Wales, Australia. The balanced cantilever and incremental launching girder bridges link the coastal villages of Coalcliff and Clifton and carry two lanes of traffic, and a grade-separated cycleway and pedestrian walkway. The Sea Cliff Bridge is one of only seven off-shore parallel-to-coast bridges in the world.

Lawrence Hargrave Drive

Lawrence Hargrave Drive, part of the Grand Pacific Drive, is a scenic coastal road and popular tourist drive connecting the northernmost suburbs of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, to Wollongong, in the south, and Sydney, in the north. The road was originally constructed in the 1870s.

Coalcliff, New South Wales Suburb of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Coalcliff is a town on the coast of New South Wales, Australia, between Sydney and Wollongong. Together with Stanwell Park it belongs to the Little Bulli indentation of the northern Illawarra coast strip.

Mount Nebo (New South Wales)

Mount Nebo, a tall hill that is part of the Illawarra Range, is located in the foothills of the Illawarra escarpment on the edge of the suburban fringe of the city of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. At 251 metres (823 ft) above sea level, the hill is reached by the steep O'Brien's Road from the suburb of Figtree.

Saddleback Mountain (New South Wales)

Saddleback Mountain is a mountain near Kiama in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, Australia. The mountain rises to about 600 metres (2,000 ft) above sea level on the Illawarra escarpment and has views of Noorinan Mountain, 662 metres (2,172 ft) above sea level, and Barren Grounds Plateau to the west and south to Coolangatta Mountain and Pigeon House Mountain to Ulladulla, and north over Lake Illawarra, the Illawarra escarpment and to the Cronulla Sandhills and Kurnell Oil Refinery on a clear day.

Mount York

Mount York, a mountain in the western region of the Explorer Range, part of the Blue Mountains Range that is a spur off the Great Dividing Range, is located approximately 150 kilometres (93 mi) west of Sydney, just outside Mount Victoria in New South Wales, Australia. Mount York has an elevation of 1,061 metres (3,481 ft) AHD  and is a projection of the Blue Mountains dissected plateau, creating a promontory of the western escarpment with a minor rise at its summit.

Bulli Pass

Bulli Pass is a mountain pass with an elevation of 283 metres (928 ft) AHD  located northwest of Bulli, New South Wales, Australia. It is situated on the Illawarra escarpment west of the Illawarra coastal plain. It was built during the 19th century for use by loggers and locals transporting goods to and from Sydney. Beforehand sea travel was the only reliable method.

Geography of Wollongong

The city of Wollongong has a distinct geography. It lies on a narrow coastal plain flanked by the Pacific Ocean to the east and a steep sandstone precipice known as the Illawarra Escarpment to the west, most notably Mount Keira, joined to the escarpment by a high saddle.

Minnamurra River

The Minnamurra River, an open mature wave dominated barrier estuary, is located in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, Australia.

Knights Hill (New South Wales)

Knights Hill is a hill that is part of the Illawarra Range with an elevation of 778 metres (2,552 ft) AMSL. The peak is located 8 km South-west of Albion Park and comprises several other small hills, atop a plateau adjacent to the escarpment edge.


  1. "Bells Hill". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales . Retrieved 29 December 2013. OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
  2. 1 2 3 "Illawarra Range". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales . Retrieved 29 December 2013. OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
  3. "Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area". NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
  4. 1 2 Office of Environment and Heritage (2013) 'The Native Vegetation of the Sydney Metropolitan Area Volume 2: Vegetation Community Profiles.' pp.8-10.Sydney
  5. "Maddens Plains". Geographical Names Board of New South Wales . New South Wales Government . Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Maddens Plains". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 23 July 2017. OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg