I'M rather glad that Kiama’s landmark blowhole wasn’t “working” the day I first visited the town a few years ago.
Had it been, I’d have taken a few photos, ticked the destination on my list of must-sees, and continued driving down the NSW South Coast towards Batemans Bay and Eden ... quite possibly never to return.
Instead, I decided to justify the short detour by seeking out what else Kiama had to offer in terms of tourism ... and found a raft of attractions that have drawn me back at least a half dozen times, either to stay for a few days or just show the place off to overseas visitors.
Located just a couple of hours drive south of Sydney ... and well under an hour from Wollongong ... Kiama is an historic coastal town that has preserved itself remarkably well.
Pioneering explorer George Bass became one of the area’s first white visitors when he anchored his small boat there in 1797.
He was followed by cedar fellers and farmers who found the surrounding lush pastures ideal for dairying.
Indeed, Kiama was one of the birthplaces for the Australian dairy industry and site for the country’s first dairy cooperative.
The old churches, the magnificent Italianate post office, and many old commercial and municipal buildings have a solidity that’s certainly reminiscent of the 19th century. That’s also reflected in the long, stone-lined harbourside walk that on weekends hosts a bustling market.
Blowhole Point provides a magnificent vista regardless of whether the sea is running high enough to give the blowhole a workout. In summer, the nearby ocean-fed swimming pool is a must for swimmers.
Just a short stroll away is the Pilot’s Cottage Museum, which provides a fascinating insight into the town’s history — maritime, agricultural, commercial and human.
There’s plenty to do in this part of town. Watch pelicans wait patiently — sometimes not so patiently — for scraps from fishermen cleaning their catch. Visit the fishermen’s cooperative store and buy excellent fresh fish, oysters and prawns.
I’ve read mixed reviews of Cargo’s Restaurant, right on the nearby wharf, but my couple of experiences there have been very rewarding — excellent fresh seafood, interesting cuisine and attentive but not overbearing staff. And the position is to die for.
Just a few blocks away, in Collins Street, is Kiama Terrace, a run of weatherboard houses built in the 1880s to house quarry workers and their families. They’re thought to be Australia’s oldest weatherboard terraces and were saved from demolition to become a quaint precinct of restaurants and shops.
As in just about any Australian coastal town, there’s a substantial range of tourist accommodation ... caravans, seaside cabins, B&Bs and motels.
In Kiama’s case, pride of place goes to the substantial Sebel Harbourside development which strides the prize strip between the town centre and the waterfront.
The development has sympathetically incorporated one of Kiama’s crown historic jewels — the 1889 bluestone schoolhouse — into an otherwise modern complex of accommodation, restaurants, bars and shops that really does lift the town above the usual country standard.
The rooms are well equipped and comfortable, the staff excellent, and the location the best in town.
Part of the old schoolhouse is used as a community-based art gallery, other parts as three conference or meeting rooms. Many rooms in the new accommodation wings have exceptional views over the harbour and its renowned pine trees.
IN THE AREA
Minnamurra Rainforest: Just inland from Kiama, in the Budderoo National Park, the Minnamurra Rainforest Centre leads to a 1.6-kilometre boardwalk offering sensational views over the Illawarra escarpment and access to more than 400 hectares of rainforest.
Jambaroo: This historic village was established in the 1820s as part of the timber industry. History mixes with a wonderful children’s playground.
Gerringong: Just south of Kiama, Gerringong is renowned for its surfing beaches, its fishing ... and as the hometown of Mick Cronin, one of Australia’s greatest rugby league players. The local pub has been run by his family since the 19th century.
Sebel Harbourside: 2 Minnamurra Street, Kiama NSW 2533; phone 02 4230 7500;www.mirvachotels.com.au
Cargo’s Restaurant: 2 The Old Kiama Wharf, Kiama NSW 2533; phone 02 4233 2771.
Kiama Visitor Information Centre: phone 1300 654 262; www.kiama.com.au.
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