Is Kiama more than a
pit stop and day trip?
Let’s find out.
Think fish n’ chips, a gazillion seagulls, wall-to-wall cafes, shabby chic/seaside chic homeware boutiques which will thrash your plastic into the middle of next month. And of course beaches, salt spray and briny air to restore your city-weary senses to sanity. You know the drill.
Kiama is a useful breather before driving further down the New South Wales south coast. The Australian town of about 12,000 souls is 120km south of Sydney. It’s also the last motorway stop before that infuriating weekend traffic jam grinding up the hill (you could walk faster, seriously) and snaking 8km past roadworks which may be done by next year. But who knows? I visit Kiama over a week on two days – both are the start of long holiday weekends and the traffic is dire. I’m glad this is my destination.
A traditional seaside holiday spot as well as a pit stop, Kiama attracts tourists and day trippers. The diversity of the coastline ensures good beaches for surfing and swimming, and the hilly terrain provides spectacular views of the ocean and the surrounding countryside which is eye-gougingly pastoral green due to good rainfall. Kiama’s famous blowhole attracts 600,000 visitors a year. It can whoosh plumes of water and spray 25m into the air, drenching onlookers. Wet ‘n wild. On my first day, I get suitably damp, along with 30 Asian tourists. Discovered by George Bass in 1797, it has been the town’s major attraction ever since.
After the blowhole baptism, I head down to the harbour to dry off in the sun and have coffee at the quirky Neptune Cafe, housed in a seafront building together with a fish restaurant. Neptune Cafe is at the front by the boat ramp where pelicans hang out for tourist photo ops. Run by Stefi and Daniel, it’s a curious blend of antiques, Nepalese prayer flags, organic bliss balls and single-origin organic coffee. When I go there again, I have gelati served in a pretty retro cup. Just don’t ask for fish ‘n chips. It’s Stefi’s least favourite question and she gets asked this a lot. Remember, that’s next door.
The weather is unseasonably warm, and on both days I like to walk over the headland, past the showgrounds to nearby Surf Beach, where surfers and swimmers make the most of it. Water temp: 23 deg C. Damn near perfect. I resist the urge to tear off my dress and dive in, and splash at the water’s edge, getting soaked anyway.
When I walk back to the seafront on the Easter holiday weekend, crawling traffic on Terralong Street echoes the motorway meltdown. Southbound motorists think Kiama will be a shortcut around the backlog. There’s hardly any cars coming the other way, as you can see, which is the usual traffic load along here.
Amused residents roll their eyes and sigh. It’s always like this during holidays, says a man in a furry sweatshirt as green as the surrounding countryside. I have no idea who he is, but in Kiama, it seems talking local with the locals isn’t hard. My car is parked on the same side as the endless line of vehicles, and unable to move it, I go window shopping instead. And buy a lamp from Peter at Ocean Road on Terralong Street. As you do. It’s not just a lamp. It’s a translucent cylinder with a cleverly-woven, driftwood stick style lattice interwoven with sea shells. Peter does a double layer of bubble wrap to get it home to my place intact. I like the lamp so much I add more shells. Do you like it? On the Anzac holiday weekend, I show Peter the picture, and he approves.
Terralong is the main drag, where many day trippers trawl for food and drink. But side streets get my vote. Up Manning Street, (near the harbour and opposite the post office) is Stone Wall, the Illawarra south coast’s best cafe for 2013, owned by Garry and Julie, who took it over late last year. The coffee is strong, rich, delicious and served in a cup more apt as a bowl. But hey, no complaints. I have a slender, mouth-melting piece of gluten-free mango and macadamia cake.
Other cakes: Armenian friendship cake (nutmeg and walnut), Sicilian apple cake, spiced pear and frangipani tart. Julie tells me they’re all made locally. She and Garry open the doors early, so it’s coffee and cake only after 3pm. More cool places to stop at, up Manning Street: Beachside Emporium, Deer Willow and Marriotts Country Store.
Five minutes walk from the harbour are historic terrace houses on Collins Street, containing gift and souvenir shops and eateries. As light fades on the balmy afternoon of my second visit, and shopkeepers start bringing their wares inside, I meet Judy, the owner of Table For Amy, who is cleaning up after another busy day.
Judy encourages people to sit outside on the grass and eat, providing picnic rugs and cushions. Her cafe is decorated in retro pastels – turquoise, blue, pink and green, distressed white, with even more antique china than Stefi and Daniel have over at Neptune. Judy’s daughter Amy lives in Argentina, so the menu has a few South American inspired items such as huevos rancheros: Two eggs poached in a chilli, oregano and garlic salsa with crispy chorizo and toasted sour dough. Table For Amy also specialises in high teas. More about that in another post, when I get there in time to have one. Judy is helping organise live music along the historic stretch on weekends throughout May.
“I’d like to jazz things up a bit,” she says.
So is Kiama worth more than a pit stop and a visit to the blowhole? Dumb question. Looks like I’ll be back for a weekend or maybe longer.
More pix and info: Chill out and visit Kiama
- 120km south of Sydney
- 1.5 hours by car or over 2 hours by train
- Shops and eateries have seaside resort opening times and days, so weekends are peak business
- Mild winters, warm summers
- Population about 12,000
- Accommodation: Hotels to camping sites
- The blowhole – where a sea cave has grown upwards into vertical shafts – explodes seawater 25m into the air with a mighty wet WHOOSH
- Surfing, swimming beaches
- Holiday spot, motorist’s breather, day tripper’s destination.