MORNING RUSH: news, weather, sport, traffic and online buzz

8.23am That's it from us this morning - a little early as Emma has to head off to a job. (Blog hat off, reporting hat on!). Have a lovely long weekend - enjoy it!

8.20am STRANGE BUT TRUE: You've heard of gap years and working holidays, but a British couple have embarked on a different kind of adventure. Alex Pelling and Lisa Grant from Manchester, have spent the last two years tying the knot in every country they visit. NB this could get very pricey! (I'm planning a wedding, I know how much these suckers cost!?)

8.17am LOCAL SPORT: Defending women’s champion Gwen Jorgensen is expecting stiff competition from a high-quality field when she attempts to defend her Australia Day Aquathon title this weekend.

8.15am Love rock? Then head to Towradgi Beach Hotel tomorrow for five hours of classic Oz rock featuring Mi–Sex + The Radiators + Spy Vs Spy.

8.12am Heading to Big Day Out this weekend? Don't go unprepared - here's some tips on how to survive the epic music marathon.

8.09am Have you tested out a GoPro yet? I bought the fiancee one for Xmas - and it looks pretty cool. Photographers love it. Check out our reporter Gemma Khaicy's yarn on the device's amazing capabilities.

8.06am NATIONAL NEWS: The clean-up from last year’s devastating bushfires in the NSW Blue Mountains is almost complete, with more than 90 per cent of destroyed properties cleared three months on from the disaster. The state government says 181 out of 196 properties have now been cleaned up, and that most of the outstanding properties are ‘‘either being cleared independently by residents or by insurers outside of government contracts’’. (AAP)

8.04am TRAFFIC UPDATE: All lanes have now reopened at Maddens Plains, just north of Bulli Tops, after that earlier accident. Delays are slowly expected to ease.

8.02am STRANGE BUT TRUE:  A thrill-seeking Tasmanian couple have donned wetsuits, helmets, abseiling gear and safety equipment and embarked on a four-hour guided canyoning tour - for their wedding ceremony! WHAT?! Read the full story here.

8am The best hotels in the world have been named by TripAdvisor, with Switzerland's historic five-star Grand Hotel Kronenhof taking the coveted No. 1 position in the annual Travellers' Choice Awards ahead of Hong Kong's small luxury boutique property The Upper House, and the over-water bungalows of Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives. The 12th annual awards also named the best Australian hotels with the Emirates-owned Wolgan Valley Resort in NSW's Blue Mountains taking the top place. Sigh, if only I had a million dollars.

7.56am Here's what's making news in your Mercury today:

*Australia Day Aquathon organisers have reassured participants that Wollongong Harbour will be perfectly safe for swimming on Sunday.

*Businesses at Belmore Basin have had a dramatic downturn in trade since news of the sewage leak in Wollongong Harbour filtered through the community.

*Just in time for the Australia Day long weekend comes a new app that will let Wollongong residents book cabs through their mobile phone. Read more here.

7.54am TGIF Illawarra & welcome! Here's the latest weather, traffic and trains on this Friday morn.

WEATHER It's going to be a gloomy day :( We've got showers developing and a top of just 23 degrees, noooo! There will be areas of rain this morning. We're in for a chance of early showers tomorrow and a top of 21 while Australia Day is set to be cloudy with a top of just 20. Where's the Aussie summer weather gone!? Monday will be brighter with a top of 24 degrees. Right now, it's 22 @ Albion Park & Bellambi.

TRAFFIC That earlier accident @ Maddens Plains (just north of Bulli Tops) is still causing some headaches. One northbound lane remains closed. Expect delays. Otherwise, all looks okay on the region's roads.

TRAINS There is a good service on the South Coast line but some delays on other lines.

7.51am LOCAL NEWS: A 23-year-old woman has been charged over a Helensburgh hit-and-run that left a cyclist in hospital with a broken back. The Engadine woman was charged on Wednesday night with negligent driving causing grievous bodily harm and failing to stop and assist after the crash on the Old Princes Highway at Helensburgh on January 5. She was granted conditional bail and is due to appear in Wollongong Local Court on February 18.

7.49am STRANGE BUT TRUE: A UK couple has had their portraits done on pizza for their wedding day. Um. Why?

7.47am NATIONAL NEWS: The Bluetongue beer brand that John Singleton so successfully marketed across the country has been killed off by global giant SABMiller. With it has gone the $120 million brewery at Warnervale in the Central Coast – the second-biggest brewery in the state, and one that was opened in only 2010. Read more here.

7.45am TRAFFIC ALERT - Wilton: Hume Highway, just south of Picton Rd, one of two southbound lanes blocked due to metal on the road. Exercise caution.

7.42am In case you've been living under a rock, Sunday is Australia Day! We'll have a full list of activities in tomorrow's Merc but here's a little taste of what's on around the region:

*When Aussies Ruled Britannia is on at the Wollongong Town Hall. The concert features two Australian superstars of the ‘60s, Frank Ifield and Keith Potger (The Seekers), together on stage for the first time. They are joined by a live band.

*Australia Day Aquathon & celebrations @ Wollongong's Belmore Basin & Harbour. Multiple entertainment stages, stalls, amusement rides, hands-on children’s activities, street theatre and beach and water fun culminating in a spectacular fireworks display over the harbour.

*Australia Day celebrations @ Kiama. Breakfast will be served at various venues including Kiama Surf Club, Kiama Downs Surf Club, Gerringong Surf Club and at Reid Park in Jamberoo. There will be an awards ceremony in Hindmarsh Park at 11am, followed by a concert. 

*Australia Day breakfast by the lake at Lake Illawarra.

*Want to do something different? Head to the Little Prince - $50 will buy you five courses of Australian fare cooked to perfection and five matched beers all served in the comfort of a sun-soaked back deck. From 12.30pm. Bookings essential, call 4226 4270.

*TBH is playing Triple J's hottest 100.

*The Lagoon is celebrating Australia Day with an Aussie BBQ on the terrace. There will be live entertainment by Swing Town on Sunday afternoon. The kiosk on the northern side of the restaurant will be open from 10am for takeaway seafood.

7.40am LOCAL SPORT: Something as simple as dinner with the parents was enough motivation for Dylan Farrell to return to his roots. But he hadn’t completely turned his back on some of his ‘‘best mates’’. The 22-year-old’s baptism of fire in Dragons colours is likely to come against old comrades at Souths in next month’s Charity Shield clash at WIN Stadium

7.38am Is the school holiday boredom really setting in? Already taken the little cherubs everywhere & done the back to school shopping? Well, why not check out one of the films on this list of the 50 best kids movies of all times. And there's some awesome flicks on here! (Go Shrek!)

7.34am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Suri Cruise had a blast playing in the snow in New York yesterday. Such a cute little girl.

7.32am Oh my god, oh my god you guys! Legally Blonde: the Musical is coming! Moonglow Productions is set to stage the musical for the first time in Wollongong on July 4-5 @ the WIN Entertainment Centre. Auditions are March 1 & 2. Head over to the website to book a spot!

7.30am NATIONAL NEWS: About half of all Sydney train passengers will be able to use Opal cards by the end of next week. Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday that the distribution of the public transport smartcard system is ahead of schedule.But at 2.50pm, the Opal website, which allows people to buy a card, was overloaded and could not be used. Read more here.

7.28am The Caddyshack is in Minamurra today. The Caddyshack is a successful mobile youth sexual health program, which aims to raise awareness of STIs and the importance of getting a check up.

7.26am Have you been reading reporter Josh Butler's weekly live music round-up? A great column if you're a live music lover. Check it out here.

7.24am WORLD NEWS: A 14-year-old girl from the small town of Mundelein, Illinois, has been charged with murdering her little sister by stabbing her to death.

7.20am SPORT: Before Manchester City settled on purchasing Melbourne Heart, the cashed-up English Premier League club tried to buy Sydney FC last year. Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow revealed to Fairfax Media that he point-blank rejected the overtures of City's Abu Dhabi-based investors last year. Ummm, oops?!

7.17am MOVIE NEWS: The Sundance Film Festival is on. Check out all the goss from the event here - including Nick Cave's (swoon!) appearance.

7.15am Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat closes at Roo Theatre tomorrow. Limited tickets are left, contact the theatre company.

7.13am TRAFFIC UPDATE - Maddens Plains: One northbound lane has reopened on the M1, just north of Bulli Tops, after that earlier accident. But one northbound lane remains closed and traffic is slowly passing the incident scene. Northbound motorists are queued around 4km. Drivers are advised to use the Old Princes Highway as an alternative or expect significant delays .

7.12am Baby otters! I repeat, baby otters! I'm MELTING!!!!!!!!!

7.10am WORLD NEWS: South Sudan's government and rebels fighting against it have signed a cessation of hostilities agreement that should at the least put a pause to five weeks of warfare.

7.07am The Superjesus are playing at TBH tonight. Tickets are available from the Moshtix web site. General Admission $20.

7.05am Lamingtons = Australia Day must. Have you mastered your recipe for these sponge, coconut, chocolate yummies? Check out some tips here.

7.03am LOCAL NEWS: Wollongong Youth Centre gave kids a spray on Thursday, with their Home Grown afternoon pairing street art and hip-hop. Illawarra bands Elemont and Mass Effect played live for the crowd, with graffiti demonstrations from a variety of regional artists. Toby Schaefer-Darling, co-ordinator of Youth Services, said the event was about providing creative outlets for young people interested in the street art subculture.

7.01am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Justin Bieber has faced a court after his arrest overnight. We've got pics of him in his prison jumpsuit.

6.59am BREAKING: A 16-year-old boy has been stabbed in the stomach during a fight between two groups of teenagers near Central train station in Sydney's CBD. Police say the 16-year-old was walking with friends along Lee Street in Haymarket when the group became involved in an argument with a second group of teenagers about 11.20pm yesterday. The confrontation turned physical and the 16-year-old was stabbed once in the stomach. Paramedics treated the teenager at the scene before taking him to St Vincent's Hospital, where he remains. Police said his condition was not life threatening. (SMH)

6.57am Looking for something to do with the kids today? Head over to Towradgi Beach Hotel for the Little Leonardo Art Classes. They finish today. Spaces are limited so please call to ensure your child’s place. Payment is required at the time of booking. Daily classes are perfect for five to 12 year olds, and only $12 per child.

6.55am Here's what's making news in your Mercury today:

*Australia Day Aquathon organisers have reassured participants that Wollongong Harbour will be perfectly safe for swimming on Sunday.

*Businesses at Belmore Basin have had a dramatic downturn in trade since news of the sewage leak in Wollongong Harbour filtered through the community.

*Just in time for the Australia Day long weekend comes a new app that will let Wollongong residents book cabs through their mobile phone. Read more here.

6.53am TGIF Illawarra & welcome! Here's the latest weather, traffic and trains on this Friday morn.

WEATHER It's going to be a gloomy day :( We've got showers developing and a top of just 23 degrees, noooo! There will be areas of rain this morning. We're in for a chance of early showers tomorrow and a top of 21 while Australia Day is set to be cloudy with a top of just 20. Where's the Aussie summer weather gone!? Monday will be brighter with a top of 24 degrees. Right now, it's 20 @ Albion Park & 21 @ Bellambi.

TRAFFIC That accident @ Maddens Plains (just north of Bulli Tops) is causing MAJOR problems. Avoid the area if you can! Otherwise, all looks okay on the region's roads.

TRAINS There is a good service on the South Coast line but some delays on the Airport Line & the Inner West & South line.

6.51am TRAFFIC UPDATE: Traffic is backed up significantly after that earlier accident @ Maddens Plains (just north of Bulli Tops). One northbound lane is shut. Allow extra travel time.

6.49am Love a good outdoor movie? Well, grab your popcorn and your chair & head to the Botanic Gardens sunset cinema tonight to see Walking with Dinasours.

6.47am STRANGE BUT TRUE: Hugh Hefner's main squeeze Crystal Harris was forced to lighten her hair, after dying it brown, by her man. Seems he really does prefer blondes!

6.44am MUSIC GOSS: Pop's man of 2013, Pharrell Williams, has joined the already impressive line-up for the Future Music Festival, which will tour Australia in March.

6.42am SPORT - cricket: If England are to leave Australia having registered a victory on a hapless tour, today's one-day international in Perth is their best chance. Even stand-in skipper George Bailey, who has recovered from a hip flexor injury in time to lead the side, concedes the visitors won't have a better opportunity all summer to taste victory than they will at the WACA against an Australian team missing skipper Michael Clarke, vice-captain Brad Haddin and Shane Watson. (SMH)

6.40am Head over to the Wollongong Art Gallery today for the ‘‘Monster Madness’’ workshop. Design your imaginary monster in oil pastels. Suitable for ages 5-8. 10am to noon. Then, try out the ‘‘Family & Friends Character Portraits’’ workshop. Suitable for ages 9-14. 1.30pm - 3.30pm.

6.39am BREAKING WORLD NEWS: The FBI has nabbed five alleged mafia members in raids across New York.

6.37am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Sean Penn & Charlize Theron are serious - they even went grocery shopping together! Check out this cute pic of Sean entertaining Charlize's son during the trip. Super cute.

6.34am TV NEWS: Have you heard about Sunrise's Strippergate? OMG, this story has exploded. Get all the details here.

6.32am LOCAL NEWS: Gujarat NRE Coking Coal says it needs to shed another 13 jobs from its Russell Vale colliery to make the workforce at its two Illawarra coalmines sustainable. Gujarat’s voluntary redundancy program, which last week saw 47 workers from the mines at Russell Vale and Wongawilli leave the company, has been extended until February 6.

6.31am TRAFFIC UPDATE: That accident, just north of Bulli Tops, is causing some MAJOR traffic headaches. The road is closed northbound & there are delays. Avoid the area if possible! Motorists can use the Old Princes Hwy @ Darkes Forest.

6.28am Wollongong City Council named its Australia Day citizens of the year last night - congrats to all the winners!

6.27am LOCAL SPORT: Hopes for a top four finish are quickly evaporating for the Wollongong Hawks. Wollongong dropped to 6-11 with last night’s narrow 106-101 loss to three-time reigning champions New Zealand in Auckland and face the difficult prospect of winning at least seven of their final 11 games to pinch a finals berth.

6.25am TRAFFIC ALERT- Maddens Plains - M1 Princes Motorway (F6) - 4km north of Bulli Tops: Accident - Multiple vehicles - 4 vehicles.

6.24am NATIONAL NEWS: A teenage girl has been forced off a Sydney train and then sexually assaulted in a toilet block at the station, police say. The 17-year-old girl was on a train when a man allegedly approached her and began talking to her about 12.30pm on Wednesday, police said.The 34-year-old man from Redfern then forced her off the train and into a toilet block at Strathfield station in Sydney's inner west, where he sexually assaulted her, police allege. The man fled and the teenager was taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown. A short time later, police said they found the man and arrested him. (SMH)

6.22am Looking for something to do these school holidays? Why not try out the Kidzcare vacation care program at the Lake Illawarra PCYC? It wraps up today. Call 4296 4448 for more information. Daily rate is $35 plus excursion costs.

6.18am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Megan Gale has opened up about her pregnancy - and, as expected, she looks gorgeous!

6.16am TV NEWS: A 7 News reporter has been treated in hospital after he was allegedly headbutted in western Sydney. A man reportedly charged at journalist Hugh Whitfeld outside a home at Edensor Park after Whitfeld and other members of the media knocked on his door about 8.30am on Thursday, 7 News reported. The station posted a photo on Twitter of Whitfeld clutching his nose with a bloody tissue. He was treated at Fairfield Hospital for soft tissue damage. (SMH)

6.14am LOCAL NEWS: Another woman who swam in Wollongong Harbour last week has broken out in a rash she believes was caused by sewage in the water. The Figtree woman went swimming in the harbour last Thursday, the day before it was closed due to a sewage leak, and developed small ‘‘blister-like’’ bumps on her legs and one arm on Thursday night.

6.12am Kiama Show kicks off today! Head to the showground for some traditional show fodder.

6.10am WORLD NEWS: A 20-year-old woman in eastern India has been gang-raped by 13 men on the orders of a village court as punishment for having a relationship with a man from a different community, a senior police officer said on Thursday.

6.09am TIARA ALERT: The world's newest royal has been dubbed Mia Grace. That's the name of Zara Phillips and Mike Tindell's little girl. Cute! (Twitter)

6.08am BREAKING CELEB GOSS: Justin Bieber has been arrested in Miami overnight for drag racing, drink driving & resisting arrestHe also reportedly admitted to being under the influence of prescription drugs and cannabis. Oh Biebs!

6.06am Let's check out the national headlines, courtesy of the SMH:

*A Sydney court has been shown a signature, which links Craig Thomson to brothel receipts.

*Industry minister Ian McFarlane has warned Toyota workers that 30,000 jobs could go if the carmaker leaves the country.

*There are calls for climate change to be taught to younger school-age students.

*Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called for freer trade and increased global growth at a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. (ABC)

6.04am Here's what's making news in your Mercury today:

*Australia Day Aquathon organisers have reassured participants that Wollongong Harbour will be perfectly safe for swimming on Sunday.

*Businesses at Belmore Basin have had a dramatic downturn in trade since news of the sewage leak in Wollongong Harbour filtered through the community.

*Just in time for the Australia Day long weekend comes a new app that will let Wollongong residents book cabs through their mobile phone. Read more here.

*The Australian Breastfeeding Association has praised Unanderra mum Jacqueline Estraube for sticking up for her nursing rights at Port Kembla Olympic Pool, saying women are legally entitled to breastfeed whenever and wherever they choose.

6.02am If you're just waking up, grab a coffee and check out the latest weather, traffic and trains on this Friday morn.

WEATHER It's going to be a gloomy day :( We've got showers developing and a top of just 23 degrees, noooo! There will be areas of rain this morning. We're in for a chance of early showers tomorrow and a top of 21 while Australia Day is set to be cloudy with a top of just 20. Where's the Aussie summer weather gone!? Monday will be brighter with a top of 24 degrees.

TRAFFIC Everything looks a-okay for the run around the Gong and to Sydney or Nowra.

TRAINS There is a good service on the South Coast line but some delays on the Airport Line & the Inner West & South line.

6am TGIF Illawarra, we made it! And (for most of you!) there's a three day weekend on its way, yippee! Stay with us this morning for the latest goss and news.

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