Kiama and the South Coast, NSW things to do: Nine must-do highlights

They're back. This area has been doing it tough with bushfires, floods and then COVID-19. But a spectacular coastline, great beaches, exciting local produce, eateries and wineries and a fascinating history make it a perfect getaway just a couple of hours south of Sydney.

1. THE ONE MARKET

Many towns have markets, but Kiama may just have the perfect prototype. Set under blue skies at Coronation Park, Surf Beach, Kiama Farmers Market makes shopping for fruit and vegetables a highlight. Listen for the opening bell every Wednesday afternoon as local farmers and artisans set up on the grassy area near the beach to sell their produce which includes everything from oysters, milk straight from the dairy, heirloom apples, heritage pumpkins, gelato, wine, cured meats and local Wagyu beef. But warning: once you've been, you'll find it hard to return to schleping the aisles of a supermarket. Send the kids off to the beach and BYO bags and an empty stomach – there are plenty of samples to try before you buy. And, a bonus: shopping under open skies is not only enjoyable, it's also safer in a pandemic. See kiamafarmersmarket.com.au

2. THE ONE WINERY

Coolangatta Estate is the most awarded winery on the South Coast and it's hard to beat a lunch in the sun or a wine-tasting here with the vineyards that cover the slopes of Mount Coolangatta. But what makes this winery unmissable is its history. Dating back to the early 19th century, the estate is on the site of the first settlement in the Shoalhaven District and the original buildings were built by convicts. Partners Alexander Berry and Edward Wollstonecraft settled here in 1822 after obtaining a grant of 10,000 acres and 100 convicts from the NSW Government. Take a self-guided historical tour and check out the old stables and outbuildings which are now used as guestrooms and restaurants. See coolangattaestate.com.au/

3. THE ONE ROMANTIC ESCAPE

Just when we're emerging from our bunkers, we find a place that makes us want to bunker down some more. Bangalay Luxury Villas nestle into the landscape across from Seven Mile Beach at Shoalhaven Heads. There is no need to shriek their presence – the low-key and stylish design, the location, the elegant restaurant, and stunning outdoor area with a pool and fire-pit do all the talking. Our villa looks onto a golf course, has a king-sized bed, fireplace, full kitchen and a small verandah that is a sunshine trap. Bikes are available to zip around town. The resort opened in late 2018 but then had to close and reopen then close again due to fires, flood and COVID-19. But word has got out and the one and two-bedroom villas have had solid bookings since the villas reopened in June. A breakfast hamper included croissants, muesli and yoghurt, and don't miss a new six-course degustation menu at the Bangalay Restaurant with a distinctly Australian flavour. Some standouts? Kangaroo with bunya bunya saltbush and barramundi with Jerusalem artichoke, pine and mushroom. See bangalayvillas.com.au

4. THE ONE BRUSH WITH FAME

Actor Elizabeth Moss was spotted but her co-star was less visible on the streets of Gerringong during filming of The Invisible Man last year. However another star of the movie – the geometric stunner, Dovecote, a luxury 60-hectare farmstay overlooking Werri Beach - is a scene stealer. Dovecote's two accommodation offerings are The Headland, which movie fans will recognise. It emerges from the ground above the sea like the setting of some futuristic version of Game of Thrones. It caters for families and large groups and has a heated pool. The Range is more intimate, perfect for couples, and has a plunge pool. The Invisible Man's filmmakers not only took advantage of Dovecote's stunning interiors and dramatic windswept frontage, it also made use of Kiama's hilly streets and the area's heritage timber terraces to help depict the film's setting – San Francisco. The Shoalhaven has a great history of attracting creatives. Artist Lloyd Rees's Gerringong series was painted here while he was on holidays from Sydney, with his most famous being The road to Berry (1947). Another fun fact? Kiama was also the birthplace of Australian writer Charmian Clift. See dovecote.com.au

5. THE ONE WALK

The Kiama Coast Walk which opened in 2009 has become the classic way to soak up ocean views, rugged coastline and pristine beaches. Stretching 20 kilometres from the mouth of the Minnamurra River south through Kiama to Gerringong's Werri Beach, the walk offers a mix of sealed paths, grassy tracks and stretches on beaches and can be done in one go or broken up into sections. Kiama's lighthouse and magnificent blowhole, which helped put the town on the map (Kiama means "where the sea makes a noise") is enroute. Under the right conditions – and it can be temperamental - seawater is compressed and spurted 20 metres into the air. Other highlights along the way include dolphin and whale watching, Cathedral Rocks, and look out for the dreaming poles at Werri Lagoon, just one marker of the heritage of the local Dharawal nation peoples. If you want to divide the walk over a few days, suggested sections include Minnamurra River to Kiama Blowhole (8.5km, three hours); Kiama Blowhole to Loves Bay (5km, 90 minutes) and Loves Bay to Gerringong (6km, 90 minutes). See visitnsw.com.au

6. THE ONE PIECE OF HISTORY

In 1883 two young priests decided to go for a swim off the rocks at Kendall beach in Kiama. While the decision was understandable - it was a hot summer's day – both of them couldn't swim, and despite the best efforts of another priest who sounded the alarm, they drowned. The priests' graves are two of many historic resting places and stories nestled in the picturesque Gerringong General Cemetery, perched on a steeply sloping headland overlooking the ocean. The graves here date back to the 1860s and many have elaborate inscriptions and statues. This is a perfect place to spend an hour or so and to become lost in these stories. Another notable grave is that of Marc Hunter, frontman of the band Dragon. He asked to be buried here so he could face towards his native New Zealand.

7. THE ONE BEACH

Seven Mile Beach, which stretches just over 12 kilometres from Gerroa in the north to Shoalhaven Heads in the south, is a microcosm of what makes Australian beaches the best. Look one way: sun glistening on water, a dog playing in the shallows, everlasting footsteps in the sand. Then look the other: more of the same as far as you can see. There are year-round certainties here: there will be dolphins - look carefully – and there will be surfers. And there will also be plenty of space for solitude accompanied by that mesmerising pounding of waves, whales spouting in winter and the birdsong from the thick bush in its adjoining namesake National Park. Charles Kingsford Smith, though not known for his surfing prowess, was also enamoured with Seven Mile Beach . He used it as the runway for first commercial flight between Australia and New Zealand in 1933 and a memorial to his efforts offers spectacular views of the park and coastline. The beach is patrolled in school holidays. See surfcamp.com.au nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

8. THE ONE RESTAURANT

… is wherever you want it to be. A few years back it would have been easy to pick one standout eatery. But consider just a few of this foodie hotspot's present-day drawcard names and dining locations: the café-deli Otis Kiama (food by Emily Herbert, the Australian head chef at Ottolenghi Belgravia, London), Silica Kiama (featuring home-grown local food and cooking by ex Aria and Bentley chef Luke Basic), The Hill Bar and Kitchen in Gerringong with its stunning views across to Werri beach, Blue Swimmer at Seahaven, Gerroa, and Zia's Caffe Italian restaurant, Kiama. The answer? Feast your eyes while filling your stomach by decamping with breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks from a local restaurant and bunker down on a patch opposite the ocean in Kiama, Gerroa, Gerringong or Shoalhaven Heads with some gourmet takeaway. Or you could go the classic option and opt for fish 'n chips. It's the perfect solution in these distancing times, and you are guaranteed a seat with a view. See thehillbarandkitchengerringong.com silicakiama.com.au/index.html otisdeli.com theblueswimmer.com.au ziaskiama.com/

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9. THE ONE EXCURSION

"Please return books in precise alphabetical order". "Some of these books are more are more than 100 years old: Do not touch". The signs in the bookstore at the back of Kangaroo Valley's Nostalgia Factory are also a sign of something special – a bookstore with a reverential respect for its wares. It's easy to fall down a rabbit hole of discovery here, even though this shop has plenty of competition in town. The short journey to Kangaroo Valley from The Shoalhaven is almost as good as the destination, with winding roads through spectacular bushland. Kangaroo Valley dates from 1870. There are plenty of food options, bushwalking, golf, and canoeing and kayaking under the Hampten Bridge, the country's last surviving wooden suspension bridge. Or grab a drink or lunch at The Friendly Inn, one of the area's oldest pubs which is still open during renovations, or buy a picnic lunch and head to If you want to explore further, Fitzroy or Gerringong Falls which are a short drive from here. See kangaroovalleykayaks.com.au

10. ONE OTHER THING

Yes COVID-19 has changed the way we travel, but it shouldn't deter you from hitting the road, particularly when so many businesses have pivoted so quickly to make pandemic restrictions seem seamless and second-nature. From the easy peasy no-contact check-in at Bangalay Luxury Villas to the little notes on the Friendly Inn pub tables advising the time when they had been sanitised, to the abundance of outside eating options that help with social distancing, we were deeply impressed at how businesses in this area are meeting this latest challenge.

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