• Just follow the blue posts. Image supplied
    Just follow the blue posts. Image supplied
  • Kiama Downs. Image supplied
    Kiama Downs. Image supplied
  • Crossing the estuary at Werri Beach can be tricky. Image supplied
    Crossing the estuary at Werri Beach can be tricky. Image supplied
  • Reading the informative signage. Image supplied
    Reading the informative signage. Image supplied

Only 90 minutes south of Sydney, the Kiama Coast Walk boasts rich countryside and spectacular seascapes to rival any on the Eastern Seaboard while staying comfortingly close to cafes and other life necessities.

The walk’s ‘missing link’ – an undulating, 6km stretch along the cliff-tops of verdant downs between Kiama and Gerringong is now open and has fast become the must-do walk for locals in the know. The new track allows fit walkers to complete the entire Kiama Coast Walk between Minnamurra and Gerringong (up to 28 kilometres including detours) in a long day.

But why should we rush when we can stay in Kiama and make a leisurely weekend of it! Famed for its blowhole, Kiama is a pretty seaside resort town with plenty of accommodation and dining options and a wealth of history to take in. What’s more, we can take the train to shuttle between Kiama and the beginning or end of each day’s walk. Better still, the relaxed 2-day option allows us plenty of time for cafe-hopping, whale-watching, blowhole-viewing and just mucking about in the sea.

So, we hop on the train from Kiama for the short trip north to the village of Minnamurra and kick start the walk by dropping in to a cosy cafe in a nearby side street. The walk’s proximity to civilisation never seems to detract from its scenic grandeur, on display almost immediately at Minnamurra Point. And what strange scenery it seems to anyone familiar with Sydney’s weathered sandstone sea cliffs. Much of the rock hereabouts is latite – a columnar type of basalt formed from cooled lava which spewed from an off-shore volcano southeast of Kiama some 260 million years ago.

The rock’s distinctive hexagonal columns can best be seen on the first day’s walk at the former quarry on Bombo Headland. The quarry has a ‘Mad Max’ moonscape feel to it and gives us that déjà vu sensation. Later we learn that it is often used as a backdrop to video clips and television advertisements – those 4WDs can be driven anywhere! The sculpted form of Cathedral Rocks, an aptly-named sea stack passed a little earlier, bears the same volcanic origin.

The Blowhole, not far from downtown Kiama, has long been the town’s tourist drawcard. It probably even lent Kiama its name: the Wodi-Wodi name Kiarama-a means ‘where the sea makes a noise’. Less romantically, the Blowhole and its more obscure southern sibling, the Little Blowhole, are vented volcanic dykes under the latite-basalt rock platform. The water plume – up to 50 metres high at times – results not directly from the incoming swell but from pressurised air trapped in the cavern below. Understanding the dynamics makes the show no less fascinating and it’s hard to tear ourselves away. But just down the road, gelatos and coffees await!

Day Two leads us around the two delightful coves of Kendalls Beach and Easts Beach (with the Little Blowhole and an excellent nearby cafe in between) before we leave civilisation to head south, bound for Gerringong. Lush green farmland rolls on into the distance. It is edged with precipitous cliffs though the broad new track from Loves Bay keeps well clear of them. On this stretch the uninterrupted views are spectacular and distance posts spaced every kilometre provide additional motivation. A series of information boards highlights the local history and geology.

This cliff-side strip of land was compulsorily acquired from private farmlands after years of protracted negotiations. The high wire fence which separates us from the adjoining farmland seems a tad overdone but I suppose you wouldn’t want to be between a charging cow and a high cliff. The district is the cradle of dairy farming in Australia, the fertile soils a legacy of its Vulcan past.

Before the cows arrived, the soils supported vast tracts of rainforest – the Illawarra Brush – one tiny remnant of which can still be seen from the track, clinging precariously to the cliff line. Most of the rainforest was quickly exploited for red cedar and other timber in the early 1800s but Saddleback Mountain, which flanks Kiama to the southwest, still shelters the largest sub-tropical rainforest remnant in southern New South Wales.

Where the path skirts close to the railway, we notice a break in the cliff line so we make an easy detour to visit the wave-washed volcanic rocks of Boulder Beach for a rest. Soon after, we leave the track once more to view a photogenic sea stack off Bare Bluff. We descend from the hills to Werri Lagoon which, we have earlier ascertained, is currently closed to the sea. Many walkers retrace their steps to Loves Bay from here. We ‘through walkers’ have more work to do so we trudge the length of Werri Beach, a year-round favourite with surfers, before climbing up to its southern headland reserve to take in more captivating views.

We pass a raised whale-viewing platform but alas we are there out of season so we bid the coast adieu and saunter into Gerringong for an afternoon cake-and-coffee fix before our return train. What a civilised pastime this bushwalking is!

Words_John Souter Photos_Gillian Souter and Brent McKean

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