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Treetop Walk at the Illawarra Fly

Last weekend I went on one of those day trips out of Sydney that are so simple to do, and so often overlooked. A day trip that filled my lungs with oxygen, swept out the cobwebs and put a smile on my face.

The trip was to the Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures in the Southern Highlands, one of only four steel canopy treetop walks in the world.

It was a sunny Saturday when my friends Sally and Jon and I jumped in Sally’s car and headed for the Grand Pacific Drive. We’d been told it took about two hours to get there, and while it actually ended up being about half an hour more than that, the trip itself was quite beautiful, especially the winding up into the rainforest part of it.

The Illawarra Fly is 1500 metres in all, which includes the path you walk along to get to the treetop canopy section. This in itself is quite sweet, with its wombat crossings and other touches.

 But of course we couldn’t wait to get to the treetops, and soon enough we were there.

The steel canopy walk part of the Illawarra Fly is 500 metres, but feels a lot longer. As you step out onto the canopy walk, the ground below you falls away and you are then literally walking around amongst the tree tops, between 20 and 30 metres above the forest floor.

I’m not particularly afraid of heights, so I was a little surprised to find my legs went a bit wobbly when I looked down past my feet, through the steel grates, and to the floor below. Turns out 30 metres can feel a lot higher than it sounds.

But they had helpful signs about the place to explain that the cantilevers can hold up to 28 tonne, which, as they put it, is equal to 800 wombats. Not your usual measurement guide, but one I liked.

There was also a slight bounce to the walkways as you took each step…. nothing to worry about, obviously, with us not weighing close to 800 wombats. But I’d say it’s something to consider if you have a friend or relative who is particularly giddy around heights.

As well as being up close to the top of the treetops, there’s a pretty fine view from Lake Illawarra right to the Pacific Ocean. It was a touch hazy the day we were there, but we still got to enjoy the sweeping vista before us.

After getting used to walking about in the treetops, the time came to go up Knight’s Tower, a viewing platform that rises even further out of the canopy, 45 metres above the ground.

By the time you get up Knight’s Tower, the walkways that felt so high before are way below you. Which is a good time to be reminded that the Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventure has a 280 kilometre an hour windspeed design.

Being that high up in the air, the Knight’s Tower is home to more panoramic views, and creates some happy holiday snaps photo opportunities.

The Illawarra Fly cost around $6.5 million to build, and after they started construction in September 2007 it was all done by February 2008.

The sections of the canopy walk were actually made in Launceston in Tasmania, then shipped to Melbourne, then put on trucks for the rest of the distance up to the Illawarra.

The walk takes about an hour to do, and is open every day of the year, except for Christmas Day, from 9am to 5pm. But the last entry is at 4.15pm so you have time to get around it. They also do a range of Sunrise Walks which sound just beautiful. Held on the second Saturday of every month the sunrise ones go for three hours from 6am, and include hot breakfast at the cafe.

It is open regardless of the weather, although it may close for short periods when there’s an electrical storm nearby which could lead to lightning strikes. Which considering you’re walking around on a large steel structure jutting out of a rainforest, sounds like a fine idea to me.

They have a cafe where you can have breakfast or a spot of lunch, including one of the “famous Robertson pies” which I just had to try. And I’ll admit it was rather yummy in a classic Aussie pie way, and I’m kind of wishing I had another one now.

As we left all filled with sunshine and good energy from walking around in the treetops, we found a sight that put another big smile on our faces… flowers sold through an honesty box.

It’s been far too long between seeing that sort of thing for this girl. The makeshift flower stand was just outside the carpark, and we immediately pulled over for it.

The lose stems of Waratahs were all gone, but the King Proteas were still there, and at $2 each or 3 for $5 were a right bargain. I loved the way they not only had the box to pay, but provided a wrapping station, paper and string to prepare your selection.

While the paper had all been taken by those Waratah folks, we still managed to buy some of our King Proteas, and take them back to the big smoke of Sydney as a beautiful reminder of where we’d spent our sunny Saturday.

The only downside of our day? We had to dash straight back to Sydney and hadn’t gone down early enough. Next time I go that way, I’ll make sure I make an entire day of it.

It would be lovely to potter around in Bowral, or explore Wollongong and its surrounds, then take in a Treetop walk, grab a bite to eat and do some more pottering on the way back.

In fact the nice folks at Illawarra Fly have even put some suggested itineraries on their Treetop Adventures website of things to do and see along the way. So be sure to make a day of it.

I may see you up there again sooner than you think!

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