The Lost Magic of Kiama

Kiama sits 119 Km north of Sydney via the Princes Highway. The area’s original inhabitants, the Wodi Wodi Aborigines, are said to have called the place ‘Kiarama-a’ or ‘Kiar-mai’. The most popular meaning attributed to the term is ‘where the sea makes a noise’, which is a reference to the blow-hole allegedly addressed by the Aborigines as ‘Khanterintee’ -meaning ‘mysterious noise’. The first European to sight the blow-hole was George Bass who wrote of the ‘tremendous noise’ this subterraneous passage produced when he anchored offshore in December, 1797.

The Kiama Headland that juts into the Pacific ocean is composed of volcanic rock called latite. A volcanic extrusion, known as a dyke, cuts through the latite. The dyke is composed of a softer rock called besalt. Over millions of years the softer besalt had eroded faster than the latite, creating a tunnel under the Headland. Eventually, part of the Headland collapsed creating the Kiama Blow-hole.

As each wave surges against the cliffside and through the tunnel, air is compressed in the rear chamber, building tremendous pressure. As waves subside, pressure in the chamber releases forcing the trapped water up the blow-hole with a loud ‘whoomp’.

When tourists grew more and more adventurous, accidents too began to occur at the blow-hole site resulting in the death of many. Now there are fences and concrete pathways keeping visitors within well-defined safety areas. You are not allowed to walk on the rocks around the blow-hole at all.

I happened to run into someone who went there after an absence of many years. He said the environment appeared still beautiful; a swell from the east-south-east and the blow-hole was still shooting water into the air. There were ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from tourists. But the magic, he said, he knew as a child, was just about gone. It has been sanitised almost to insipidity.

Do you have a place you remember from your childhood? Is it still the same now as it was then? Do you think we have taken the magic out of nature because there may be risks there that we won’t let people take?


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