Extreme to Serene WOLLONGONG On a hit-and-run visit to Wollongong, Elinor Sheargold discovered NSW’s third largest city can keep you busy from 14,000ft to sea-level.I have never had a burning desire to throw myself out of a perfectly good plane. So how I found myself fronting up for a tandem jump with Skydive the Beach, I’m not sure. It seemed a matter of minutes before the five of us donned our harnesses, ran over the jump and landing with our personal instructors, and were whisked away to our sturdy, if small, plane. As the aircraft circled higher, the sparkling beaches of the Wollongong coastline stretched below as far as the eye could see, with the forested mountains of the Illawarra Escarpment providing a rugged backdrop to the city. Before I knew it we had reached 14,000ft and with barely time to think about full body casts and incomplete wills, we flung ourselves out of the plane, freefalling at an exhilarating 250kms towards the blue but unyielding Pacific for the ultimate IMAX experience. A very long minute later I felt a reassuring jolt as our parachute opened and the views could once again be appreciated as we glided down to an unexpectedly smooth landing on target. Wallowing in my sense of achievement, I refuelled with breakfast by the beach, before picking up my DVD and photos from Skydive the Beach - to relive the thrills indoors and prove to doubters I had jumped. QUICK FACTS 1 GETTING THERE Wollongong is less than 2 hours drive south of Sydney. Take the train from Central Station. Skydive the Beach offer FREE return transfers from Sydney for YHA members. 2 TOURS Skydive the Beach, Sydney Book via YHA Travel and Tours, at your YHA front desk or when you arrive at your Sydney or Wollongong YHA. YHA Members get $30 off Rockstar DVD photo package when you show your YHA membership card at the drop zone on the day of your skydive. Located at Stuart Park, North Wollongong, an hour south of Sydney, this is our primary drop zone and has been in operation for over 14 years. This is Sydney's only beach skydive and offeres 14,000ft and 15,000ft tandem skydives. Terms & conditions: Not available with any other offer. One per person. Must show valid YHA card to receive the discount. Available through YHA and direct bookings only. Safely back at sea level, a visit to Wollongong’s landmark Nan Tien Buddhist Temple for a thankful prayer seemed appropriate. Meaning ‘Paradise of the South’, Nan Tien is the largest temple in the Southern Hemisphere. Even those with the most tenuous of religious links are impressed by its giant pagoda and main shrine containing 10,000 gold plated Buddha, while the serene gardens provide the perfect place to unwind after tackling The Gong’s exhausting range of activities.If you’re not tempted to take to the skies by parachute, microlight plane or hang glider, there’s the option to see the sky from a different point of view at the Planetarium. As well as science and laser shows, the planetarium also has hands on exhibits for anyone who has ever wanted to stir up a mini tornado, dig up a dinosaur, or spin like an ice-skater. But on such a beautiful day the outdoors beckoned. Strolling along the beachfront towards the city’s harbour and lighthouse at Flagstaff Hill, I was tempted to get out on (and in) the water to cast a net, dangle a line, take up watersports on nearby Lake Illawarra, and even join a marine cruise researching the local seabirds. In the distance, the chimneys of Port Kembla loomed black against skyline - a legacy of Wollongong’s heavy industry glory days. Today, this modern working port has opened its doors to the public, reinventing much of the harbour as the Port Kembla Heritage Park, preserving and exhibiting the area’s fascinating aboriginal, wartime and more recent history. Ice cream in hand, I headed back to the city for some retail therapy in leafy Crown Street Mall, via a duty-bound visit to Burelli Street’s St George Illawarra rugby shop. With beaches, art galleries, museums, the city’s shopping hub, and nightspots all centrally located, the best way to see it all is by foot. For something a bit different, there is also the option of jumping on the back of a Harley Davidson to see the sights. This is a great way to visit attractions further afield, including Symbio Wildlife Park – where you can cuddle koalas, hand-feed kangaroos, get up close to crocodiles (though not too close) and see over 1,000 Australian and exotic animals. Whether you’re looking for an adventure playground, regional art and entertainment , or somewhere to top up your tan and relax, it seems Wollongong offers something for everyone. And only an hour from Sydney, ‘The Gong’ makes the perfect break for those short on that most elusive of holiday ingredients: time.