About 120 km south of Sydney lies the beautiful coastal town of Kiama. A superfast expressway makes it not only a quick, but scenic drive as well, as you zoom past the shoreline full with expansive Pacific views.
Like many other coastal havens on this side of the NSW coast, Kiama has its fair share of aboriginal history, overshadowed by two centuries of Caucasian settlement. Yet, unlike other townships, Kiama to me, seemed like a small, quaint jewel box that contained within itself a sense of timeless nostalgia. It is perhaps not hard to imagine that the natural beauty in its hills, stony coastline and of course its quintessential blowhole, would have been exactly the same millennia from today. Of course, this doesn’t hold true once you arrive at its old edifices such as the lighthouse and the post office and 19th century remnants. Yet, the flow of nostalgia is almost seamless as you time travel back to a century and easily visualise life here during the early English settlements.
It is this sense of nostalgia that appealed to me the most as I walked on its hills and looked at its old remnants from afar. Add a scarlet sunset on the cerulean seas in the backdrop and the feeling only gets amplified at dusk.
What’s in a name?
Kiama, like many other places here, borrowed its name from its earliest settlers – the Dharawal people, who called this place ‘Kiarama’ meaning the ‘place where the seas make a noise.’ It would have been just another name, except that, this source of noise is also the epicentre of Kiama’s tourism today – its famous blowhole.
Just near the Kiama lighthouse are jagged rocks that form a dramatic coastline. In the midst of these is the Kiama blowhole (imagine an ‘L’ shaped tunnel that opens into the seas : strong waves thrust the water up the vertical shaft to create a heavy shower, thus creating a blowhole). It was discovered among the English settlers by George Bass way back in the 1790s (who circumnavigated Tasmania with Flinders to prove that Tasmania was indeed an island).
There are claims that the water jet-spray reach dizzy heights, even exceeding the height of the nearby lighthouse at 36m, making it a strong contestant for the world’s largest blowhole. But records apart, it is an interesting sight and gives something amusing to wait for – as you will find travellers all around, waiting with bated breath, for the next roar of the wild seas, colluding with the cliffs.
The Kiama lighthouse
The other landmark here is the Kiama lighthouse built in the 1880s when the nearby harbour was set up and was active due to the quarries here that produced stone chips for construction back in Sydney.
To be honest, I am fascinated by lighthouses. (There’s even a term for those who study or are enthused by lighthouses :’pharologists‘, with the study of lighthouses being called ‘pharology‘, Pharos being Greek for lighthouses, and even alluding to the name of the famed lighthouse at Alexandria). The very fact that decades back, these sentinels were manned by lighthouse keepers who stayed in the cocoon of their own cliff-side world fascinates me. The excitement notches up when the surrounds are as beautiful as Kiama – rolling green hills, boulevards of sprawling Cedar trees, rock pools, basalt cliff-sides (for those long introspective walks) and scintillating sunsets. Life as a lighthouse-keeper anyone? Sadly, the original lighthouse keeper’s apartment was vandalised and razed, but the assistant keeper’s cottage nearby has been turned into a little museum, showing bits and pieces of life in the early days of the settlement.
There’s a lot more to Kiama and it definitely deserves a fair bit of time to explore its nooks and corners. A walk is the best way to take it all in and piece together its beaches, harbour, quarries et al. The place has seen a lot of different drivers powering its economy – from cedar wood to dairy farms (with its butter exported all the way to London) to stone quarrying and now tourism (there are an estimated 900k visitors every year). Whatever be the driver, the town has preserved its history beautifully while moving with the changes. The sense of timelessness pervades it all, and if you are still not convinced, go for a walk, sit by and listen to the blowhole, ceaselessly reminding like a noisy primeval Guardian, that even through all the changes, sometimes, very little changes…