Stage 3 - Kiama Coast

Lake Illawarra to Kiama

After a night of rain, the skies cleared a bit for our departure, as we continued on the bike path, crossing the bridge over Lake Illawarra entrance and following the last coastal suburbs and beaches to Shellharbour, a village that has been swallowed up by the Wollongong agglomeration, but which still retains some of its former charm.

Last view of the escarpment across Shellharbour Beach

Shellharbour village centre

Leaving Shellharbour after a cappuccino break, we finally escaped the creeping urbanisation and headed across a cow paddock to Killalea Reserve. Here a former dairy farm is being restored to protect an important wetland bird refuge and coastal habitat.

Killalea wetland

The sun emerged from the clouds and the surf was running high as we crossed Killalea Beach and climbed up a ridge overlooking Minnamurra Beach and the river mouth at its far end. The verdant green rolling headlands, characteristic of this coastal region, stretched out before us with the lighthouse-topped Blowhole Point at Kiama, our destination for the night, in the distance.

Looking South from Killalea Reserve.

Minnamurra Beach

In the Casuarina swamp

Mangroves of the Minnamurra River

With a high tide and strong seas, we chose to head inland to bypass the casuarina and mangrove swamps of the Minnamurra River to the north, rather than swim our packs across it on an air mattress, as originally planned. Wrong decision! At the end of the 3 km detour we reached the south side of the river, where a swim in the clear green inlet waters on the river side of the sand bar refreshed us from the hard detour and reminded us that the river crossing would have been definitely feasible. Such adventures must wait until the next water barrier.


Cathedral Rocks

Rain was not far behind us as we crossed Bombo Beach to finally reach the Blowhole Point Holiday Park, 23 km from our start, where a van and our base supply kit awaited us.

The coastline from Minnamurra to Kiama was exceptionally beautiful, with dark brooding skies forming a backdrop to the sunlit headlands and rock formations.

Bombo Headland

The rain arrived in earnest the next day, but not before we had stocked up with supplies (fresh fish and oysters from the port below us, fresh fruit, beer and a bottle of red). We were ready to hunker down over the next few rainy days.


10 things to do on a stormy day in Kiama

1. Listen to the rain beating on the metal roof of your cabin (it sounds so good when you are snug and dry).

2. Eventually get up, have breakfast and go outside (P.S. don't forget your goretex).

3. Go and feel the storm - watch the monster waves beating up against the rocks and appreciate the power of wind and sea.

4. Explore the historic buildings of Kiama (it was founded in 1836 and many old buildings are preserved)

Kiama Post Office 1887

Christ Church 1859
Former Bank of Sydney 1881

5. Explore the craftshops in 150-year old terrace houses and have a cappuccino on the deck, then have some fish and chips at the harbour

Quarry workers cottages 1886

Kiama Harbour 1876

6. Become mesmerised by the sight and sound of the Kiama Blowhole, no two "blows" of which are the same

The jet

The steamer

The foamer

7. Do not go swimming!

8. Appreciate the changing plays of light on sea as the sun tries to break through again.


9. Become equally mesmerised by the Little Blowhole two coves away

10. Fly a kite (sorry - no pictures)

The day of the big sea

On the day following the storm there was a 4 m swell and huge waves pounded the coastline. As the radio announcer said " if you go out to surf today you are either an ace or a fool!". There seemed to be few of either as most people were content to sit on headlands and watch in awe as the Pacific Ocean flexed its muscles.


Side trip - Kiama hinterland and Minnamurra rainforest

Having hired a car for our canoeing side trip, we decide to be car tourists the next day and explore the country behind Kiama. This is postcard land, with rolling hills covered by the lush green pastures of dairy farms and darker green pockets of remnant forest, with the heavily timbered slopes of the Illawarra escarpment as a backdrop.

The Kiama coastline viewed from Saddleback Mountain

The small village of Jamberoo, settled by the original European settlers in the mid-19th century, proved a good choice for our lunch stop.

Jamberoo Hotel


Presbyterian Church

The main focus for the day was to visit the Minnamurra rainforest in Budderoo National Park. Rainforest is part of the rich diversity of the South Coast, and this remnant patch of sub-tropical rainforest is a reminder of the much more extensive forests that formed part of the landscape of this northern end of the region. Most of these forests have long since vanished to clearing for the dairy herds and to the hunt for red gold – the timber of red cedar, so prized by the early settlers. Perhaps when we despair at the ignorance of those who clear and log the rainforests of south east Asia and Amazonia, we should temper this with a reflection on our own history, not that long past.

Rainforests do not have the instant eye-grabbing beauty of a more open landscape, and their intrinsic aesthetic appeal is difficult to photograph; by definition their canopy is at least 70% closed and as you walk through everything seems to be various shades of green and too closed in to capture on film with justice. The images below are a poor attempt to share the quiet green beauty of the sub-tropical rainforest. As they say on the information panels, look up to see what rainforest is about - the eternal struggle for light of the diverse vegetation becomes very apparent.

Dapple-green leaves of a stinging tree

Elkhorn in a red cedar branch
Bird's nest fern and woody vines

Soft tree ferns

Enormous buttress roots are characteristic of subtropical rainforest

Lyrebird scratching for food on the forest floor

Most of the bird life of the rainforest can be heard but not seen, but if you are very patient sometimes you may be rewarded.

Minnamurra rainforest has been made extremely accessible by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, with a 2.6 km loop raised boardwalk that climbs and descends the steep gully with minimum effort and minimum impact. Walking on this packfree was a stark contrast to our previous rainforest experience on this journey - the ascent of Palm Jungle on a rough steep track with 18 kg packs on our backs. Boardwalks may not please the purists, but they gave us the opportunity to better appreciate this special habitat.

There is also a steep paved track from the loop to the Minnamurra Falls near the top of the gully. It was well worth the climb to see the beginnings of the Minnamurra rivulet, as waters collected in the Budderoo swamp above tumbled over the escarpment on their journey to the sea.

Kiama to Gerroa

After a week of R & R, canoeing and conventional tourism, it was finally time to put our boots back on and resume the walk south along the green pasture covered headlands and basalt cliffs of the Kiama Coast.

A last farewell to Kendall's Beach .......

.......and the Little Blowhole

Rounding the first headland, we had one of our more unusual encounters - two people teaching penguins to swim! They were volunteers for WIRES, the injured animal rescue service, and were hand-rearing two young fairy penguins that had been found almost dead. Now growing, with healthy appetites, the penguins still needed to double their body weight before they would be fit enough for release. In the meanwhile, they needed daily swimming to maintain fitness and survival skills. The dedicated volunteers of WIRES are to be applauded.




Our interesting encounters continued around each headland; first, the beach fossicker with his metal detector on beautiful East's Beach, with its backdrop of green hills - $6 in coins and a few buried cans uncovered in 10 minutes, not bad beer money - followed by the cowpat man, collecting bags of manure for his garden on the headland after that.

East's Beach

19th century stone wall

Sea cows of Kiama

Black basalt inlet

Climbing over a dry stone wall, built by the early settlers, we left Kiama town and began our crossing of a series of magnificent green pasture headlands on dairy farms between Kiama and Gerroa. The black volcanic basalt cliffs of Kiama changed to a redder hue, as the iron content of the rock increased toward the south, and the Nowra railway line appeared and disappeared on our right in a series of tunnels and cuttings. The fine sand beaches of Kiama were replaced by rocky inlets and boulder strewn shorelines.

The route south across the Dairy Coast between Kiama and Gerroa

Some of the wildlife that we met was quite unexpected

This coastline reminded us of western Ireland, but with sunshine. It also must contain some of the few remaining vestiges of privately-owned absolute sea frontage in Australia. Most farmers did not seem to worry about walkers crossing their land, though we had to develop a unique low side roll to cross the many four-stranded barbed wire / double-stranded electric wire fences, which ran right down to the cliff face (N.B. I strongly recommend against any attempt to straddle over such barriers). Only one property, just before Gerroa, showed a distinctly unfriendly attitude toward walkers (= trespassers); a shame as the view from "their" headland over Werri Beach and Lagoon was magnificent.

Not friendly!

"Illegal" view over Gerringong and Werri Lagoon from the north

"Legal" view over Werri Beach from the south

Crossing another headland at Gerringong, we decided to try the rock platform below; bad choice, the big seas and a cutting in the cliff led us to an impassable channel in the platform. Doubling back for half a kilometre, we reverted to the ascent and descent of headlands, passing Walker's Beach and temporarily joining a threesome on the Gerringong golf course.

Road's end

Walker's Beach and the Gerringong golf course

One last farm crossing and we arrived in Gerroa, with its terraces of beach houses overlooking the curving vista of Seven Mile Beach as far as Beecroft Peninsula, 30 km to the south. Only the cows grazing on the hillside above them and the drinkers at the Gerroa Boat Fisherman's Club on the crest had a better outlook. We chose to join the latter for a thirst-quenching cold beer with a view. Finally, we descended to our comfortable cedar cabin at Gerroa Shores Tourist Park. Coming from an area where summer landscapes have a harsher dryer quality, the all-embracing greenness of the Kiama coastline had left an indelible impression.

We promised to return.


TRACK UPDATE (October 2012)

The Kiama Council has recently opened a new path from Loves Bay to Werri Beach. The 6 km Kiama Coastal Track is now entirely on public land and there is no need to negotiate barbed wire fences or sneak across private land as we did. This makes it an even better walk - I think that we may have to go back and do it all over again.