EMMA RYAN — 7 February 2014

Weekend warriors travelling from Sydney needn’t venture so far to find a peaceful place to unfold the camper by the beach. Kiama offers everything good about the South Coast a mere 90 minutes from NSW’s capital.


For starters, there’s that staggering landscape. This far south the Illawarra Escarpment, which runs from the Royal National Park south of Sydney and becomes the Cambewarra Range past Kiama, unfolds gently into lush green hills rolling towards the sea. Punctuated by cabbage tree palms evidently defiant of land clearing and beautiful ancient fig trees that no man with a heart would clear, these hills inspire rapture akin to that experienced by Maria the day she ran late to the abbey.

Thankfully for the residents of Kiama I managed to channel my rapture more discreetly, opting instead for a contemplative moment over a glass of guava juice atop a hill overlooking the sea. Very refined, I know, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fancy dusting off the vocal chords.

Drawing its name from the Aboriginal word meaning “where the sea makes a noise”, the region’s volcanic foundations have resulted in its rocky, basalt-rich headlands and outcrops, providing local kids with many a place to plunge recklessly into the sea and offering countless enviable surf breaks for which people travel from afar to enjoy. The “noise” Aboriginal people were likely referring to is the famous Kiama Blowhole, where in the correct surf conditions water can blast 25m in the air through a hole in the headland. An awesome sight to delight water-loving kiddies and “big kiddies” on a hot day.

This spectacular coastline can be taken in via the Kiama Coastal Walk, a 22km walking track from Minnamurra in the north to Gerringong in the south, linking one perfect beach with the next. CTA photographer Ellen Dewar and I completed the northern part of this walk, before driving up Saddleback Mountain to drink in the staggering views of the entire coastline — up to 100km in either direction.


While an estimated 17,000-year-old local Aboriginal shell midden tells of a long human presence in Kiama, white folk moved into the area in around 1810. They came in search of cedar, which they found in troves within the lush subtropical rainforest that once blanketed the aforementioned rolling green hills. Pockets of rainforest still remain along the escarpment including the Minnamurra Rainforest. An easy 20-minute drive from Kiama, it has plenty of walking trails to explore.

Cedar forestry, farming (wheat and dairy) and basalt or “blue metal” mining were the major industries, and early settlers were able to build a harbour to load their cargo in a sheltered bay.

That bay is where Kiama Harbour stands today, fringed with Norfolk Island palms and a stone’s throw from the centre of the town, which is full of cafes, restaurants and boutique shops with a smattering of historical buildings adding an undeniable charm.


It was in the harbour Ellen and I stepped aboard the MV Signa. We were welcomed by the infamous Captain Roscoe, who greeted us with a toothy grin and a glint in his eye. A salty old seadog in every sense, Ross O’Brien, better known as Captain Roscoe, runs fishing charters several times a week on the MV Signa. The South Coast is famous for fishing, and depending on the time of year you can expect to haul in yellowfin tuna, kingfish, jewfish, snapper and even marlin. Captain Roscoe reckons he’s got spies dotted up and down the entire NSW coast ready to give him the heads up on the motion of the ocean and judging by those salt-encrusted eyebrows, I don’t doubt him for
a second.

Today, however, we were chasing whales. Wintertime on the South Coast entails almost daily sightings of humpback, minky, southern right and killer whales as they migrate north to breed in temperate tropical waters. But despite the perfect conditions that day — the ocean flat and glistening in the uninterrupted sunshine — it seemed the whales had other stuff to do. We were about to give up and head back to port when Ellen noticed the water up ahead simmering with activity. It was a huge pod — or school — of something, perhaps southern right whales, thought Captain Roscoe, but as we got closer we realised they were dolphins.

Rushing towards us gleefully to surf the bow wave six abreast and perform aerial manoeuvres around the boat, they were the biggest, healthiest-looking bottlenose dolphins I’ve ever seen. I was glued to the bowrail watching them surf playfully, peeling off and catching back up as though in a synchronised routine. Dolphins really are unique creatures, their sense of fun outweighing that of fear in a way many humans could benefit from. A few days later I read in the paper that India had banned holding dolphins in captivity, declaring them “non-human people”. Indeed, science acknowledges dolphins to be sentient beings that experience love and sadness, and it’d be great to see our ocean-loving nation follow India’s lead on this issue, particularly given the amount of effort and resources we rightfully put into protecting marine mammals against other nations.


While it won’t be the number one destination for hardcore 4WDers or those who mean to escape society altogether, Kiama is a charming country town with pristine beaches, beautiful scenery and good coffee. Add to the mix its location within a stone’s throw of Sydney and you’ve got all the ingredients for the perfect family weekender. 


  • Kiama is located 90 minutes from Sydney via the Princes Highway.
  • Captain Roscoe runs fishing charters and whale watching cruises aboard the MV Signa. Visit for more information.
  • Budderoo NP is located 20km west of Kiama and is small but pretty, with rainforest, waterfalls and lookouts to explore. Camping is available within the park at Carrington Falls. It’s camper trailer friendly but can get busy during peak periods.


  • Kendalls on the Beach Holiday Park Pet-friendly caravan park with large RV sites. Tel: (02) 6171 3858
  • Big 4 Easts Beach Holiday Park Beautiful beachside location just out of town. Tel: (02) 6171 3352
  • Surf Beach Holiday Park Ocean fronted caravan park with an easy stroll to town. Tel: (02) 6171 3662

Adapted from Camper Trailer Australia #68, September 2013


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