Kiama – Bombo, Blowholes and Bluebottles

Mr. ETT and I visited Kiama, on the NSW South Coast, home to the largest blowhole in the world (according to a single tourist website). Fact check fail! We’ve been to Kiama a few times before, but only always as a short stop on the way to somewhere else. We had never made the time to stay there. It turns out this was an oversight I’m glad we corrected.

Initially, the idea was that I would finally get on the back of the motorbike for a reasonably long trip. Mr. ETT had suggested Tamworth—a bit ambitious considering it is 5 hours away! I quashed that idea pretty quickly, so we needed to find somewhere a lot closer. I saw an advertisement for Kiama on the Internet; decision made (and well done to the marketer.)

Kiama is only 1.5 hours out of Sydney, much more manageable for a beginner pillion rider. Unfortunately the best laid plans saw a weekend of rain predicted, so there was no way I was riding. We ended up driving down instead. The trip out of Sydney was awful. The amount of development and construction along swathes of land that used to be peaceful country drives was a huge eye-opener for me. It was relentless. I absolutely determined at that point that we will be leaving Sydney in the future. We have family responsibilities here that will probably take us to the end of our working lives, but we can begin researching where we want to end up. AwP has just made this decision and unsurprisingly neither of their choices was Sydney either!

Kiama blowhole blowing in front of the lighthouse.

After a late start, we arrived at Kiama around lunchtime, before check-in at our accommodation. We pulled up in the parking lot for the blowhole. As Mr. ETT turned the car off, there was a warning ‘ding’. Low oil. At the same time, one of the brake lights had blown. Really? It couldn’t have happened 2 hours earlier when we were at home and Mr. ETT could fix both issues then and there? There was no point worrying right then, so we decamped to a restaurant for fish & chips along the main street.

The Blowhole

After lunch, we decided to visit the blowhole before heading to our accommodation. The walk from the main street is up a hill, with the sea on one side and the harbour on the other. The visitors centre is also located here. It was a cool, blustery day with the odd spattering of rain. Incongruously, pine trees line the ridges of the headlands. It seems out-of-place, as I would have expected more native vegetation. The dropped pine needles made for excellent swords in a mock sword fight between a man and his young son, though!

A small lighthouse tops the hill, gleaming bright white in any sort of weather. A tribute to ANZAC soldiers has been tastefully painted on the side. The blowhole was blowing, as it is wont to do. Standing and watching really bought home how unceasing the sea is. The wash of the waves on rocks, pushing water up through a hole in a spray of spume and seawater. The ‘whomp’ of a mass of water hitting the rocky obstruction, followed by a hiss and splatter and the plume rises and falls. It doesn’t matter how many people are watching. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night. This action continues as it has forever in the past and will forever into the future.

Part of the fun of the blowhole is trying to predict when the spray will occur and how big it will be each time. Apparently over the years, the mouth of the hole has widened from wear of the action of water, so it no longer reaches the amazing heights of the past. It’s still impressive, though. You watch the waves down through the hole and in the background, trying to see a pattern and time it to the display. It’s a little like fireworks, in that people express their appreciation of a blow with oohs and aahs and wow!

Kiama Town Centre

After lunch, Mr. ETT went to call our accommodation to determine how to pick up the key. He realised they had texted us with the code to get into our unit—they were digitally controlled. The units were lovely, right in the middle of town, equipped with full kitchen (which we didn’t use) and a washing machine (ditto). We had an outlook onto the street over a gorgeous garden containing both lavender and jasmine. The smells from the garden in bloom were divine. There are quite a few gardens around Kiama, and we were constantly followed by a rustling in the garden beds. At first it was a bit alarming, because it’s a pretty sizeable rustle. Turns out, however, that there is a population of large Eastern Water Skinks in Kiama. It was these ducking for cover that we heard. We only have the little ones at home, so they were a treat to watch.

Later, Mr. ETT decided to rest while I went for a walk down to the harbour and back to the blowhole. On the way is a strip of historical miners’ cottages that have been repurposed into a series of cafés and small shops. There was a friendly buzz of activity with people, children and dogs all enjoying a Friday afternoon outside.

Kiama Harbour

Kiama harbour is small and rounded, with a sea pool and sea wall along one side, a small rocky beach, and the lighthouse on the other side. All the rock around here is latite, a dark grey brown that turns to sleek black when wet. It fractures along planes which makes the headlands quite geometrical. The colour of the sea here is an incredible deep blue to jade green, fringed with white as it breaks over the rocks.

The sea smell is strong down here, and it takes me back to my childhood spent visiting my Nan. She used to live on the Central Coast, so every holiday we spent time at the beach, in the water and combing rock pools. Despite no longer being a beach person, this is an activity that I still love, and can keep me interested for hours.

Friday Evening

Later, I sat and read for a while, before we headed out to dinner. The first place we were intending to eat at was full, except for right next to the live performer. We like to be able to hear ourselves, so tried next door. Unfortunately that was fully booked, so off to the next pub. The only available seats left here were next to the smoking area—no thank you! We ended up at Kiama Leagues Club. While it was quiet, and the dinner we shared was really good, all Leagues Clubs look and feel the same. They are a muted version of the world, full of staid boring people in a beige environment with Keno on the TV. The only excitement comes from the children’s play area and coloured lights of the pokies. At least this one had trivia questions we could listen to as we (part of the staid, boring) ate our darn tasty meat platter.

On the way back we stopped to get an ice cream to eat while walking. We were passing through the cafés with outdoor dining when I saw someone rising from a chair to come and greet us. It was the daughter of one of my best friends! We live in Western Sydney, they live in Wagga Wagga, and here we both were on the South Coast. She is attending Uni in Wollongong, so was in Kiama for a weekend with her friend. It was so wonderful to catch up. It makes me realise how deep the ties of friendship are, that I can derive such joy from a random encounter. There’s always a little culture shock as well, to see my friends’ children as grown adults in their own right! This is the reason I have set a goal to make me accountable for catching up with my friends. We don’t always make time to do what is good for us, but we should.

Saturday Breakfast

On Saturday morning we ensured we woke early enough to eat breakfast at Penny Whistler’s, a little café overlooking the harbour. I loved this experience—the sun on the harbour, making waves sparkle. People walking or jogging past, with dogs or children. Setting up for a Saturday cricket game on the parkland. What happens to the ball when someone hits a six? Are there special rules for cricket played next to water? Open bi-fold doors allow the harbour breeze to waft through the café.

Inside, white Formica tables are complemented by curved wooden chairs and Greek Island blue crockery. Real plants in bulbous, solid grey concrete planters sit quietly on the periphery. A hanging garden from a handmade wooden planter decorates one wall. Even the ceiling curves like a wave.

The sounds: a varying hiss of steam from the coffee machine, long puff to shallow bursts, followed by the banging of the coffee grinds. The scrape of knife on toast, then the first-bite crunch of a fellow diner. Tuning in and out of conversations, sound ebbing and flowing from background buzz to sense and back. The perfect café experience.

After breakfast, we wandered along the Saturday morning markets fringing the harbour. A variety of plants, fresh vegetables, handmade goods and food entertained me for a lazy wander. We purchased handmade soaps as Christmas presents.

Cathedral Rocks

Our first tourist destination today was Cathedral rocks. It’s only about a 10-minute drive from Kiama. After reading the information sign, it appears as if these rocks have also worn somewhat since they were first recorded as an image. We walked down and perched ourselves on the side of the hill overlooking the sea. The strength of the waves hitting the rocks was most impressive. We were the only ones here at that point. Later, we walked further down and around. The cathedral rock formation was more imposing when looking up at them instead of down! If we were better prepared, we may have walked around the rocks to approach them—it looked as if there may have been a cave.

Bombo Headland

Next, we came to the best destination of our weekend—the Bombo Headland. This is an old quarry that has now been opened to the public to wander around in. Doesn’t sound particularly exciting, does it? Well, at first it certainly wasn’t. When we parked, all we could see was beach. There was only one direction away from the beach, so we decided to head that way.

We ended up passing a water recycling plant, and followed a path through some scrub down a short, steep staircase. At the bottom we were faced with more scrub, and the classic choice of role players everywhere—do we go right or left?

We went left, still unsure of what we were letting ourselves into. We rounded a corner, and there was a sheer rock wall rising from the ground to one side. I actually gasped; the appearance of the towering rock surprised me. We passed another, before suddenly the field opened up before us.

How to describe it? A tumble of cubed rocks stretching into the distance, bordered by rock towers with the silhouette of a city skyline, standing defiant against the sea. This would make a brilliant setting for live role-play of an alien planet. Some parts of the rock wall are low enough that a high, boisterous tide could wash through. The spray also seems to make it over the wall, gathering in rock pools filled with weed and leaching colour from discarded tools. Where these have begun to dry, a thin layer of salt crystals forms in the hollows.

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When we arrived, someone was having portraits taken with the rock wall as a background. Not long after, Mr. ETT and I were the only ones present. Unbelievable. The space is so large that we could lose sight of each other. I don’t think I would ever tire of the magnificence, particularly with the ability to climb the columnar walls to sit and watch the sea. I felt a little like a sea-bird, perched and waiting.

Saddleback Mountain Lookout

After the headland, we went up to the Saddleback Mountain lookouts. There are three viewing platforms accessible by walking through rainforest. It was hot at the top of the mountain, but as soon as we entered the rainforest, the temperature felt like it dropped by about 10 degrees. Thank you, trees! The day was hazy, but we could still see a fair way over green, rolling hills to the wide curve of the coast. We also looked down on Kiama town, the lighthouse a white matchstick poking up from the headland.

Now we were hot and tired, so returned to our accommodation. Mr. ETT stayed in for a rest, while I went back down to the harbour and poked around on the rocky/shell beach near the sea pool. Here I discovered any swimmer’s nemesis—bluebottles! They were fascinating to look at close up; definitely a case of look but don’t touch. It turns out that my little collection paled against what was happening further down the coast.

Dinner that night was at the Blue Diamond bar. We took a table overlooking the harbour, and watched as the sun went down. We drank beer and wine, ate a leisurely dinner, then decided to walk to the blowhole. While the blowhole itself is not lit, the lighthouse is. Also, the light is on and slowly doing its job. Mr. ETT noted a similarity between the timing of the light and the Tardis, so we entertained ourselves by playing the Tardis sound as the lighthouse rhythmically pulsed.

We walked back to our accommodation, passing others out enjoying their Saturday night. Although it costs more, I have found that staying in the middle of town is the best option for us. The convenience is worth it for the extra money. I have to thank Mr. ETT for this—I am so focused on getting the cheapest/best deal that I can miss the obvious.

Little Blowhole

On Sunday morning we consumed a delicious breakfast at the Hungry Monkey. Great food, enthusiastic staff, kid-friendly, and dogs are welcome at the tables outside. There are plenty of good canine citizens in Kiama, it’s a joy to meet them.

We then headed off to the Little Blowhole. Don’t be fooled by the name. Although it may be smaller than its famous sibling, it is well worth going to visit. Here, you can walk down onto the rocky platform. Yes, you could also approach the hole, but be sensible. The force of the water coming through is significant. I stood to one side, and allowed a mist of seawater to cover me as it drifted by on the wind.

We were observing from the top platform, when we noticed a border collie come running past, crouching on the top of the hill. As each blow occurred, he hunkered down, as if to sneak attack. Between blows, he would race a little down the rocks, before freezing in place. Eventually he made it all the way to the hole, and went mad barking and biting at the blow as it came though. I couldn’t watch! I had visions of this dog being sucked into the hole. Eventually his owner appeared. It turns out he’s a local, and this was fairly normal behaviour. It was still alarming, though.

Sadly, we then had to leave. We took the long way home, using country roads as much as possible to avoid the development we passed on the way out. I highly recommend Kiama for a short break. Actually, I think we could have happily had a week here—this goes doubly so if you are a beach person. From an FI point of view, all the activities we participated in (apart from eating, of course) were free!

7 thoughts on “Kiama – Bombo, Blowholes and Bluebottles

    • Thanks! Definitely recommended, especially with Poopsie being a beach guy. Doesn’t take too long to get there, and there’s a good mix of things to do. We didn’t even venture to the nearby towns; there’s an entire coastal walk.

  1. Wow, what a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing 🙂 Definitely seems like an awesome spot to take a little low-cost holiday.

    Determined to leave Sydney! That’s a big call. Such a shame to see a bunch of countryside ripped down for some ugly shoebox apartments or house & land packaged sardines.

    We just moved a bit further away from Perth, now we’re 25km away from the city. And we like it so far. I can even see myself moving a bit further out as time goes on, for extra countryside, peace & quiet etc.

    Looks like you might have found a good candidate for your eventual retirement location then?

    • So many places we think we’d like t retire. South Coast is one of them, or Central West, or Canberra, or Tassie… lucky we have a while to sort things out.

      Your moving post was excellent – I’m still waiting to show it to Mr. ETT, because we can get a lot of value out of it. Sorry I haven’t commented yet.

  2. I love Kiama! Especially the little blow hole. I like to pretend i’m really brave and go right up to it and also search for crabs in the rockpools. Hear me scream when one comes near me though 🙂

    I have not been to Bombo Headland though – it sounds like a must do next time we are down that way.

    Posts like this are a reminder that you can enjoy life on the path the FI/RE – as you said, most of the activities are free and you would need to eat no matter where you are.

    • You are brave – the force at which the water comes through is pretty serious. I was a bit sad, because I saw a few dead crabs, but no live ones. Poor crabs. 🦀 Definitely visit Bombo. My photos can’t do justice to the scale. I loved it.

  3. J @ Hey, It's Just Money! says:

    Ah, this post makes me want to go there now! I want to go where you went and do what you did! I’ll show this to my boyfriend and maybe we can put Kiama on our list for next year’s travels.

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