The great state of New South Wales has some great destinations only a few hours away from Sydney for a day trip or a weekend getaway. In the past, I have chased destinations further away in order to feel really disconnected from everyday life. I needed a minimum of three or four hours’ drive from home to justify a long weekend… So places like Mudgee, Orange, Jervis Bay, Mollymook and Batemans Bay had my vote. I had visited Kiama before but, being only two hours’ drive away, I deemed it too close to warrant a longer stay and preferred to drive through it on my way to Berry NSW and Kangaroo Valley, as these are great day trips from Sydney. So, after a long period of no-travel, I set out to discover the best things to do in Kiama.
The Ultimate List of the Best Things to do in Kiama, NSW
My plan was to stay two nights in the Illawara region and pack in as much as possible. Of course, my interest for Australian lighthouses was fulfilled in Kiama and I viewed the famous blowhole but I wanted to make sure I explored the area beyond these landmarks. I wasn’t disappointed, Kiama is a charming little town with a friendly vibe and the area is very pretty. And it’s only an hour and a half south of Sydney!
The word Kiama means “place where the sea makes a noise”, a direct reference to the blowhole by the Wodi Wodi Aboriginal tribe, from the Dharawhal language group. British explorer George Bass surveyed the coast in 1797 and even viewed the blowhole.
When colonisation of the NSW South Coast occurred, the Kiama region welcomed wheat farmers and the spectacular coastal volcanic flows were exploited by quarries. Today, the area around Kiama is still rural, and there is a relaxed vibe on its stunning surf beaches. Life is sweet in Kiama and I could have stayed longer to discover more…
The 120-km drive from Sydney took me through the Royal National Park and Wollongong in almost two hours, via the M1 motorway. This distance is very reasonable for weekends from Sydney. If you want more of a scenic drive, you can take the smaller roads of the Royal National Park, however park fees apply.
Accommodation in Kiama NSW
There is a wide selection of Kiama holiday rentals.
The Kiama Lighthouse is a great place to start your peregrinations around Kiama. Located at Blowhole Point, it’s an unmissable and majestic sight. Built in 1886, it was demanned in 1920 but it’s still an active light. You can catch some great views of Bombo Beach and it’s a good orientation point.
In my opinion, good places to visit in NSW should have a lighthouse but that’s because I have a mild obsession with them…
Australia has this thing about blowholes… They became a tourist attraction in the 19th century as a show of natural forces and whenever a small town has one, it’s the main attraction… When I first visited Kiama years ago on a day trip from Sydney, I discovered the Kiama blowhole and was a bit disappointed… Blowholes can be deceptive if you don’t understand how they work and simply expect them to blow water upwards at regular intervals…
There is some science behind the phenomenon. First of all, the blowhole is gradually carved by the pressure of the waves over a very long period of time… To give you an idea, the Kiama Blowhole is 260 million years old… A long, horizontal sea cave is carved by the water in the latte, a type of volcanic rock. As the waves enter the cave, the air inside is compressed and when the timing is right, the water is pushed upwards. Initially, that’s how the blowhole is formed and then the water is projected in the air.
Now, it’s not just a question of the waves coming through the cave. It all depends on sea swell and wind direction. At this blowhole, you get the best results in a south-east wind. This is why it’s easy to be disappointed by a blowhole, sometimes the conditions are simply not optimal… Indeed, the big blowhole wasn’t doing a lot when I visited but the Little Blowhole was a lot more active.
Located 2 kms to the south, the Little Blowhole is at its best in a north-east wind, which is a lot more common. You can find this one on the Kiama Coast Walk or you can drive to Tingira Crescent. This one is really worth stopping by on the way from Kiama to Berry.
Kiama Coast Walk
The Kiama Coastal Walk is a stunning coastal walk that covers 22 km of dramatic cliffs, gorgeous beaches and rural footpaths. It’s a great way to experience the area and is not too difficult. Generally, the recommendation is to do the walk in three separate sections: Minnamura River to Kiama Blowhole (8.4km), Blowhole Point to Loves Bay (5km) and Loves Bay to Gerringong (6km).
The first two sections are a mix of cliffs, beaches and suburban footpaths, however the last section is more remote, running along paddocks. I completed it in just two days and I think it’s one of the best hikes in NSW.
In order to benefit from an easy return to my starting point by train, I split the walk in two sections: Minnamura River to Kiama Blowhole on the first day and Blowhole Point to Gerringong on the second day. Solid days of walking but absolutely worth the effort due to the stunning scenery.
I don’t need to do the hard sell on Australian beaches, they are the most beautiful in the world. Kiama has some fine beaches, with clean sand and rolling waves, perfect for a walk or a surf. North of Blowhole Point, Jones Beach and Bombo Beach stretch between rocky headlands and have sections dedicated to dogs.
Jones Beach is where you need to go to reach Cathedral Rocks.
South of Blowhole Point, I recommend Surf Beach, Kendalls Beach and Easts Beach. They are smaller and less spectacular, but very homely. I was very impressed with the caravan parks established on these beaches, with their neat little cottages facing the ocean. A Kiama beach is the perfect place to relax! And I might stay in a Kiama caravan park next time!
Bombo Headland Quarry
Located just south of Cathedral Rocks, at the northern end of Bombo Beach, the Bombo Headland Quarry is actually a heritage-listed geological site. Sitting atop a flat base of sandstone, large piles of basalt form an extraordinary seascape, popular with photographers around the world.
The headland was a quarry in the 1880s and the place looks hollowed out. Still, the row of basalt pillars on the water’s edge is spectacular. If you are a keen photographer, it’s worth getting up really early to catch the sunrise colours. Just for that reason, Kiama is one of the best weekend trips from Sydney!
I parked at the Bombo Beach carpark and I recommend getting there 30 mins before sunrise so you don’t miss anything. You need to take a turn towards the water treatment plant and find the path to the stairs through the bush.
Cathedral Rocks is the other popular sunrise location in Kiama, however I didn’t find it as spectacular as Bombo Quarry. I turned up early, but in the wrong place. You can see Cathedral Rocks from the end of Cliff Drive, however I couldn’t find a safe pathway to the rocks. The morning light was nice, but not as dramatic that morning.
The best way to get to Cathedral Rocks is via the south end of Jones Beach. You can see the basalt pillars from there and you can walk on the rocks to reach the cave. Please note that this access is only safe at low tide. A good addition to Kiama attractions!
Terrace Houses on Collins Street
Some streets around the centre of Kiama have retained their historic feel. On Collins Street is a row of Terrace Houses, originally built for quarry workers in 1886. Kiama shops and cafés now occupy the houses and it’s a nice area to wander for a little bit.
I didn’t have much to explore Kiama restaurants but I enjoyed breakfast at The Hungry Monkey and my bacon and egg roll was delicious. Whilst you can get coffee as early as 6.30am, breakfast doesn’t start until 7.30am though!
Spring Creek Wetlands
This is a quirky sight in Kiama and, speeding down the A1 highway, you would easily miss it… But there is a wetlands area in Kiama, complete with a bird hide. Find Glenbrook Drive and the path to the swamp starts between two houses. It’s an easy walk through the forest and can be interesting if you’re into bird watching.
Things to do around Kiama
Apart from a dash to the blowhole, my experience with Kiama has been to drive through it on the way to somewhere else down the NSW South Coast. This is a clear oversight as the area is a very pretty mix of beaches and meadows.
Watch the sunset at Bass Point
I stayed near Illawara Lake, just north of Kiama and as I drove to my accommodation, I spotted beautiful sunset lights in the sky. I drove to Bass Point Reserve, which is one of those lovely holidays places in NSW for camping, that you could actually easily miss… Named after George Bass, the area was an Aboriginal camp and meeting place. With European colonisation, mining, shipping and timber became local trades.
Nowadays, Bass Point is a heritage-listed nature reserve, where archeological projects have uncovered Aboriginal shell middens.
The road to Bass Point is unsealed towards the end and full of holes, I really had to progress slowly. Still, it’s a pretty place to watch the sunset and go fishing. There is a camping ground there with facilities.
Within the farmland wedged between the coast and the Southern Highland foothills, is the little village of Jamberoo, famous for its pub. The scenery is very pretty and it’s worth driving the Jamberoo Road. The tall palm trees you see in the fields are remnants of ancient rainforests…
Minnamura Rainforest Centre
This was my first stop in exploring the Kiama area and it is a real delight. Managed by the NSW National Parks service, the Minnamura Rainforest is a network of elevated walkways through the remnant rainforest that used to cover a vast area in the Illawara region.
The centre itself was under renovation when I visited but I believe it’s worth checking out the information on rainforests in Australia. There are two walks you can take: the Rainforest Loop Walk and the Falls Walk. If you do the Falls Walk, you will cover the Rainforest Loop Walk as a matter of course.
The Falls Walk goes all the way to the Minnamurra Falls. There is a good quality footpath and boardwalks along the way, but it does get pretty steep. It’s a worthwhile effort though, the rainforest is stunning. It’s a haven of peaceful greenery with hugely tall trees. The only noises you hear are the water trickling and the many birds. I was very fortunate to come across a lyrebird and was able to film it for a little while. Lyrebirds are known as great mimics and can imitate many other birds and man-made sounds.
The Rainforest Centre is xx km from Kiama, in the Buderoo National Park. There is a well-indicated turnoff on Jamberoo Road. As it’s a national park, parking for the day is $12.
Saddleback Mountain Lookout
With mountains so close to the ocean, there are several lookouts with breathtaking views of the coast. Both Saddleback Mountain and Jamberoo Lookout are very beautiful. The weather was a bit hazy when I visited so I didn’t get very crisp views.
Barren Grounds Nature Reserve
This plateau reserve is absolutely worth visiting if you are into hiking or birdwatching. Normally, getting to Barren Grounds is an easy drive along Jamberoo Road. At the time of my visit though, Jamberoo Road was closed after the Minnamura Rainforest turn off due to a landslip. I had to take the long way around via the Illawara Hwy and Macquarie Pass, which took an hour from Kiama.
As I arrived later in the day, I couldn’t envisage a long walk but I came across some walkers who had just completed the Griffiths Trail and were very happy with the trail. The nature reserve has picnic tables and toilet facilities. I only had time and stamina to walk to the Illawara Lookout, in less than an hour return. I suspect I will be back there for more weekend escapes from Sydney.
Macquarie Pass Tourist Drive
There are several scenic drives worth doing in the area, but circumstances forced me into the Macquarie Pass as a section of Jamberoo Road was closed. The Illawara Hwy links the town of Robertson to Albion Park, on the coast. The Macquarie Pass is an 8 km stretch of mountain road through the forest. It’s a narrow and steep road, with not many places to stop or even overtake, but it’s a great drive. You have to exercise caution though, it’s a dangerous drive and accidents occur on a regular basis.
Getting back from Kiama to Sydney via the NSW Southern Highlands is a great drive!
Visit a Winery or a Brewery
Whilst the Illawara is not a significant wine region, there are a few wineries in the area. I stopped at Crooked River Wines for a tasting. Gerringong is also home to Stoic Brewing.
Tasting the local produce is a great thing to do on Sydney getaways for couples!
What to pack on short trips from Sydney
I always have a few essentials with me, although I have to organise myself better, I always tend to forget one thing. My Nikon camera and some good hiking boots are my absolute essentials wherever I go!
How to get to Kiama
The drive from Sydney to Kiama takes about two hours, for a distance of 120km, along the M1. For this reason, Kiama is also great for Sydney day trips.
My initial impression of Kiama, all those years ago, of being “just another small town with a blowhole and not much else” was misguided. Yes, the blowhole is still there and, unless you catch it at the right time, still doesn’t do much, but… Kiama is charming, diverse and welcoming. I don’t think I will be visiting the South Coast without grabbing a piece of Kiama again, be it a coastal hike or a coffee by the beach.
Kiama Coast Walk in 2 days
Day Trip to Berry NSW
Day Trip to Kangaroo Valley NSW
Have you been to Kiama? Tell me in the comments below!
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