On a visit to Kiama on the South Coast of NSW, Katrina Holden and her family discover amazing food, forests and friendly faces
I had not been to Kiama since I was a child. My most vivid memory of this NSW South Coast region was of its expansive, rolling green hills that hug the winding roads, on occasion parting to offer views of the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
After a much shorter drive from Sydney than what my parents would have once taken, thanks to the M1 Princess Highway, the familiar sights of my childhood meet my gaze as my own kids in the back seat start to gasp at breathtaking scenery and almost iridescent green hills dotted with grazing cattle.
We start our weekend of discovery at Blowhole Point, home of the famous Kiama Blowhole and a good vantage point from which to get your bearings with 360 degree views. The Kiama Lighthouse, built in 1887, stands proud on the headland. We grab a car park nearby to access the Kiama Blowhole, formed from volcanic lava flows about 260 million years ago, and best viewed in south east winds. We wait patiently for the right-sized swell to roll in and then, whoosh, up into the air shoots a powerful jet of sea spray, drawing thrills and laughter from onlookers of all ages. A five-minute drive away is the ‘Little Blowhole’ in Tingira Crescent in a suburban street where more spurting water shoots skyward, best viewed when there’s a northeast wind.
The streets of Kiama have maintained their coastal and regional charm, with a number of original heritage buildings and structures including the Memorial Arch, first unveiled on Anzac Day in 1925; the Post Office of 1878 and Kiama Court House of 1860.
A number of historic terrace houses run along Collins Street, first built as modest housing for local quarry workers in 1886. We dine in one of the old converted terrace houses at The Hungry Monkey. It’s Saturday lunch time and there are small pockets of people gathering in hope of a table either indoors or outside on the footpath. With its industrial styling, vibrant music playing and quirky touches including a giant monkey face on the wall, it has appeal for friends, families and couples. Kid’s Oreo shakes are a winner, along with a good kid’s menu which includes bacon and eggs, three-stack pancakes, chicken strips or cheeky monkey burgers. I sample one of their specialties from the main menu, the Southern Fry burger with southern fried chicken, red cabbage, Monterey Jack, Jalapenos and monkey hot sauce. It’s a flavour explosion and we all leave satiated and ready for an afternoon exploring Kiama’s natural attractions.
The Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures promises adventures in a temperate rainforest setting – whether you want to keep your feet on the ground or not. An easy 1500 metre walk through the rainforest along the Illawarra Escarpment is suitable for all age groups. Armed with pencils and a word puzzle, the kids set off to unjumble the letters to a mystery word, with each letter revealed at ten fairy and elf houses positioned throughout the rainforest. We venture onto the springboard cantilevers that are suspended 25 metres above the forest floor. If a strong wind is blowing, it’s possible to feel a wobble along the pathways which thrills my sons, who try to create even more bounce along the walkway, despite my protests. Those visitors who are taking a zipline ride through the forest with trained guides whizz above us on elevated cables as they zipline their way around to various landing platforms. Instead, we head up the 45-metre spiral tower, at the top of which you capture broad views throughout the district, and the suspension walkways that now seem so very far down beneath us.
For a more subdued and quiet rainforest experience, we head to the Minnamurra Rainforest Centre where the sounds come from the lyrebirds and whipbirds and occasional flowing streams. On a 1.6-kilometre loop walk, we pass blue butterflies and giant boulders in creek beds which we cross via Indiana-Jones style netted bridges. My daughter hugs the ancient vines that are dangling around enormous tree trunks. There is a longer and steeper walk option, the Falls Walk, which is a continuation of the Loop Walk along the canyon cliff edge to the Minnamurra Falls. From here, visitors may like to recharge afterwards at the Rainforest Centre’s café.
On our weekend, we choose to stay at a rental property named Franjipani House in Jamberoo, not far from the Minnamurra Rainforest in Jamberoo. While there’s plenty of good accommodation options in the heart of town within wander distance to great cafes, shops and attractions, there was something about being among those thick lush green hills and valleys that appeals to this city slicker, and we are not disappointed with our choice. This peaceful, modern home on acreage has everything families need for a stress-free stay including three bedrooms, a full sized and fully equipped kitchen, a full laundry, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, an in-ground swimming pool overlooking the valley and, possibly my favourite feature, a parent’s retreat dwelling just steps from the main house with its own large bedroom and a bathroom with a freestanding tub. We recharge our well-walked feet by taking a dip in the pool, with the sound of cows mooing in the distance while the kids splash about with the provided pool noodles and boogie boards. I’m also pleasantly surprised to discover owner Louise Adam has a love of vintage, with the modern home tastefully decorated with a number of original and restored 1950s pieces – there’s even a 1958 Globetrotter caravan parked in the carport which we are welcome to go inside for a glimpse of family holidaying more than 60 years ago.
For dinner, we head to Penny Whistlers which has magical views over Kiama harbour while the sun sets. My 5-year old son isn’t convinced at first he is going to like the kids nachos, but in the end he eats the lot; while my eldest devours his ham and cheese quesadilla. My partner loves the flavours in their signature Mocequa (a Brazilian stew with mussels, calamari, scallops and fish); while Pete’s Belgian chocolate mousse with poached berries and biscotti is flawless.
We wake to a beautiful sunrise over the valley and a symphony of birds and cattle moving about in the fields. We venture on the Kiama Coast Walk, starting at Werri Lagoon. The coastal track stretches for several kilometres, with some parts along unprotected cliff tops –so those with young children will need to be vigilant. Between May and July and September to November, you may even spot migrating whales along the coastline. The flat, roadside stretch alongside Werri Beach itself is beautifully scenic, and may please little ones on bikes or scooters. We fossick about the Werri Lagoon, finding feathers and shells and wading in the shallow lagoon waters, framed on one side by surf and on the other, more sloping green fields. My daughter spontaneously scripts ‘I (heart symbol) Kiama’ in the sand.
For one of the best local coffee stops, drop in to The Blue Swimmer at Gerroa where locals are spilling onto the streets, Sydney-style, waiting for their takeaway coffee. We dine indoors with views over Gerroa and the kid’s park across the road, sampling the decadent fresh cakes. A stroll around nearby Gerringong also reveals more character-filled heritage buildings and lifestyle shops as well as chic eateries including the brand new The Hill Bar and Kitchen in Fern Street that opened in December last year, with sweeping beach vistas as well as outdoor lounges and deck seating. It also has some of the most generously sized children’s meals I’ve ever seen.
Across the road is The Collective Beat, Kiama – an emporium of more than 40 diverse local businesses selling their homewares, arts and creative goods. I loved the pottery made by local lady and former high school teacher Zeynep Testoni, who we had met earlier that day in her studio in Gerringong. The colourful and lively Zeynep runs adult pottery classes and while she currently doesn’t run kid’s classes, her casual classes are proving popular on weekends for out-of-towners who can purchase a two-hour or four-hour ‘Pottery Day Out’ voucher, followed by home-made scones by Zeynep’s husband, Marcus. During the first weekend of each month, several artists open their homes and workshops to visitors duing the Kiama Arts Trail.
The Jamberoo Pub and Johnny Warren Museum is a short drive from our rental property. The family-owned and operated traditional Aussie pub has been the watering hole for locals since 1857. Catch live music in the beer garden on Sundays between 2 and 5pm.
We make our return to Sydney, with my five-year-old winding down the car window and calling goodbye to the cows. We have walked on sands and in rainforests, swam, filled our bellies with quality food and met local artists. It’s my daughter’s news day at school and she proudly announces, she is going to tell everyone how many fun things there are to do in Kiama, even spotting one of her class mates at the next café table while we are there. Clearly, it’s the place to be.
Kiama is approximately a 1 hour and 45-minute drive from Sydney; 3 hours from Canberra; and 2 hours from the Blue Mountains. Trains run from Sydney to Kiama on the South Coast line every hour, taking 2 hours.
The Kiama Visitor’s Centre on Blowhole Point Road, Kiama is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 9am until 5pm.