Best known for a famous gushing fissure in volcanic rock, Kiama has long been a weekend destination for city-dwellers. But don’t blow it all on the blowhole. Drive 10 minutes inland and you’re instantly in bucolic countryside.

Dairy farms form a patchwork quilt leading up the side of Saddleback Mountain, where keen bike riders can tackle the crazy-steep climb to get their heart rates going. (Don’t worry, you can also drive). The towns of Gerringong and Gerroa offer a quieter taste of coastal life along with topnotch eateries, while Jamberoo is an unspoilt rural gem, complete with a grand old pub and a rainforest on its doorstep.

Here are our tips for what to do (and where to eat and stay) in and around the Kiama area.

Kiama Coast Walk
Split into three sections from Minnamurra in the north (starting conveniently at the train station) to Gerringong in the south, this stunning walking track takes in approximately 20 kilometres of wild, windswept coastline. Kiama’s best beaches are on show here, and chances are you’ll catch surfers riding the formidable breaks of the Bombo, Surf and Werri beaches. Grab food from nearby Little Earth Cafe or the Art Bar Kiama before checking out the Little Blowhole, which locals rate higher than the bigger thing (it’s usually more reliable, too).

The star attraction between May and November are the pods of migrating humpback and southern right whales, visible as they hug the coast on their way from Antarctica to the tropical waters of Queensland. There’s a dedicated elevated whale-watching platform at both Minnamurra and on the Gerringong headland, but you get a great view of the whales from any point, especially along the more elevated southern sections of the walk.

Minnamurra Rainforest
It’s just a 15-20-minute drive to Budderoo National Park, past the sleepy town of Jamberoo (where on most Sunday afternoons you’ll catch a band in the beer garden of the local pub). This stunning pocket of remnant subtropical and warm temperate rainforest is a reminder of what the natural world looked like in Illawarra before land clearing, when the forest spread to the sea. Our pick of the many walks is a fern-lined loop that climbs above the canopy to the tranquil Minnamurra Falls (4.2 kilometres return). Winter is the perfect time to spot a lyrebird, or a swamp wallaby at dawn or dusk.

Otis Deli
The call of the South Coast proved strong for former Ottolenghi head chef Emily Herbert. After four years at Ottolenghi’s Belgravia outpost in London, Herbert opened Otis Deli in central Kiama earlier this year. Fresh produce is king here. Expect Middle Eastern and Mediterranean favourites such as simit bread, shakshuka and moussaka; bountiful salads that serve as mains (there’s one with carrot, sunflower seeds, poppy, chai, feta, orange and dill); toasties and bagels; and plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options – all served in a deli-style set-up.

Blue Swimmer
Blue Swimmer on the Gerroa foreshore overlooks the languid Crooked River, just 15 minutes from Kiama. Locals have long come here for its eclectic and ever-changing menu, smart service and bustling atmosphere.

For dinner try the fishermen’s stew, with shellfish, prawns, calamari, fish and chickpeas, or the kangaroo loin with a warm cauliflower and freekeh salad. It’s a top brekkie spot, and you’d be mad not to take a stroll along the lovely Seven Mile Beach after your coffee.

And if you’re looking for more, the curated Local Dining Guide is a handy compilation of options in the area.

The Sebel Harbourside
Perched over the peaceful, sheltered harbour, just a stroll from the main drag, the Sebel Harbourside offers sophisticated accommodation, from studios to two-bedroom apartments with balconies. New this year is Yves, a relaxed, French bistro with waterfront views and coastal-inspired cocktails. If the sun’s out you can dine al fresco in the courtyard next to a historical schoolhouse (along with the salmon-pink post office, it’s one of the grandest buildings in town).

The Shed, Gerroa
Polished concrete floors, 5.5-metre-high ceilings and exposed-steel beams: this spacious, home-style accommodation (designed by Alexander Michael) champions an industrial aesthetic. Situated on a secluded hilltop above Walker’s Beach, The Shed sleeps up to 10 people across a king bedroom with ensuite (including bath), queen bedroom and bunkroom. Extensive north-facing windows let in the winter sun and offer spectacular views over 100 acres of rolling farmland to the ocean. Take a bracing plunge in the outdoor pool or curl up beside the indoor fireplace.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Destination Kiama. For more information visit kiama.com.au.