Zip along to this renowned Highlands attraction and get the adrenaline pumping and the blood pulsing. You’ll leave on a natural high.
Here’s the thing …. If you live near a major tourist attraction do you actually ever visit it? Case in point…. for many years now every time we’ve driven down to the coast to Kiama through Jamberoo or visited friends on the land at Robertson, I’ve always made a mental note passing the turnoff to The Illawarra Fly. Memos to myself like ‘I must take the kids there one day soon’ or ‘that’s one to remember when we have visiting friends staying’. So it with a certain amount of smug self-satisfaction, and a car load of excited kids (with even Dad in attendance) that we pulled into the Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures carpark recently.
However, as only the Southern Highlands can do the weather was not playing. Where we’d all been sweltering for days in above 30 degree temperatures, today the sunshine had evaporated to about ten degrees. More alarmingly to me (the kids didn’t give it a thought) the winds from Robertson and down the Jamberoo Pass were blowing a hooely. Not something ordinarily I’d give much thought to … locals know the Highlands can be as hot as Hades one moment, as chilly as the Arctic circle the next. But the prospect of whizzing along in the tree canopy attached to a zipline with winds that looked like they could blow the birds from the trees, at first glance didn’t thrill me much.
However, taking my 13-year-old’s advice, ‘chillax Mum’, I made a concerted effort to avert my eyes from the swaying gums, and instead relaxed into the experience.
The Illawarra Fly is owned by gargantuan leisure group, Merlin Entertainment. With headquarters in Europe and attractions such as LEGOLAND and Madam Tussauds in its global stable, it is the world’s second largest visitor attraction operator. In Australia, Merlin Entertainment operates places such as Sea Life, Sydney Tower Eye & Skywalk, Falls Creek and Mount Hotham ski fields, as well as the Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures so it makes sense that this is one operation with its stuff down pat. From the early morning call before we had even left home to check our arrival time, to the ticket front desk people, and the staff who gave us our safety demonstration and helped us climb into our harnesses for the zipline experience, friendly efficiency is the order of the day. This is all extremely reassuring and appreciated (well for this worry wart anyway) when you are about to dangling in the air, 35 metres up. The Illawarra Fly was built 11 years ago and sits on the edge of the rainforest escarpment and is lush with eucalypts. The treetop walk was built on an existing fire trail which meant no trees had to be cut down, and apparently was in six months by six extremely hard working men considering it is 472 metres long. With an average height of 710 metres above sea level, it has fabulous views right across Wollongong and Port Kembla across to the Blue Mountains in the north. Big accolades to our zipline guides Hamish and Andy (no not that Hamish and Andy but as jovial and appealing as their famous namesakes). Both were extremely competent, friendly and reassuringly well trained in zipline safety. Even our six-year old, who had to wear a special so-called little monkey harness (fitting) was all ears as we listened to instructions we walked through the easy minutes through rainforest thick with century old ferns to reach the stairs that took us to zipline. It is the highest zipline experience in Australia, and I was very pleased to learn can withstand winds of up to 280 kmh. In total there are three zip lines varying in length. The longest more than 100 metres. We reached the top – got clipped on and then we were off. Flying across the rainforest roof, and what a blast! Clipped onto steel cables that traverse from tree to tree across the canopy on a series of cable spans and suspension bridges, we fly across the rainforest roof. Guide Andy zipped effortlessly down followed by hubby, 13-year-old daredevil, 11-year-old (more cautious) six-year-old (who looked tiny dangling while flying) me and guide Hamish brought up the rear. I loved the cable spans; the suspension bridges more challenging especially when the 13-year-old and 11-year-old nearly across began bouncing up and down as their mother clutched in horror midway across. It’s a long way down but looking at fellow visitors doing the Treetop walk below, the zipline is definitely the way I’d recommend to experience this attraction, before doing the treetop walk. If it’s not your thing, the Treetop walk is well worth it too. There are free guided tours 11am daily and a meet the ranger tour daily at 2pm to learn about the animals who live in the rainforest. All in all, my family loved it. The zipline tour was exhilarating and great fun and there was much frivolity with the kids doing aerial backflips by the time it finished. The enduring comment has been ‘I wish it could have been longer’ so if you are like us, you love nature and making those memories that will endure, make this one for your bucket list and remember it is a really worthwhile place to take visitors. It’s a great Southern Highlands attraction and a great couple of hours out. Even for worry warts like me!