Road Trip at Dawn to Kiama and The Nan Tien Buddhist Temple, Wollongong on the 2014 Southern Hemisphere Winter Solstice
Kiama, New South Wales, Australia
Located roughly 120 km (75 miles) south of Sydney on the south coast (Illawarra region) of New South Wales in Australia, Kiama is one of the most famous holiday destinations in the state apart from Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley, predominantly due to one unique geographical feature - the 'Kiama Blowhole', a blowhole which was first discovered by explorer and sailor George Bass in December, 1797. The blowhole has attracted numerous visitors to the town over the years and has essentially become the landmark (along with the light-house) for Kiama and thanks to intense tourist activity, has made it one of the most expensive real-estate markets in New South Wales.
You can easily commute to Kiama by either train or road - the Sydney Urban Train Network runs regular services between Sydney-Central and Nowra on its Intercity Trains and all services travelling either direction stop at Kiama. If you're driving, you need to travel down the Princess Motorway (M1) south of Heathcote and Waterfall and proceed past Wollongong - the journey in moderate traffic taking at least 1 hour 30 mins (due to possible lengthy delays lack of freeways within southern suburban Sydney).
Both the road and rail journeys are spectacular in terms of their visual appeal (especially around Wollongong where if you're driving south, you'll hurtle down 300 meters in altitude at at least 100 KPH with breath-taking views of the city).
More information about Kiama can be found at: http://www.kiama.com.au
Five insane tourists jump down Kiama's blowhole
My Road Trip to Kiama on The Winter Solstice
Earlier this morning, I decided to drive down from Sydney to Kiama at roughly 5:00 AM to catch the beautiful sunrise next to the Kiama Blowhole 2 hours later on the Southern Hemisphere's winter solstice (which occurs each year between June 20 and June 22 with slight variations each years).
After picking up my travel companion from her place, we drove off into the darkness at 5:00 AM sharp and planned we'd make no stops until we reach Kiama's lighthouse.
Given this was a Sunday, the traffic was fairly thin but did get a bit crowded near the junction of the A3 (King Georges Road) and the M5-M5 East Motorway due to the morning rush for Sydney Airport, but once we went further south and crossed into Beverly Hills and Hurstville, the constant flow of green signals and very few cars was a breath of fresh air.
Still being shrouded in darkness as we began approaching the southern most fringes of Sydney's metropolitan region, we reached the Princess Motorway (M1) at Waterfall and began our 110 KPH zip with very few other vehicles in sight - however, given the NSW Police was targeting speeding drivers this weekend, I ensured I didn't exceed the speed limit despite all temptations and drove in a restrained and civilized manner :)
Two hours later, just after the breath-taking coastal drive along the M1 at Bombo, we exited for Kiama just before Kiama Heights and made our way to the light-house (reaching there at roughly 6:35 AM - quite a good run). The sky was dark-blue with a splash of orange towards the North-East however the sun was not scheduled to make its way over the horizon until exactly 7:04 AM.
It was now time for us to just take a walk and wait until the sun was up to mark the shortest day of the year. The view was spoilt a bit by a massive but distant thunderstorm cell however that surprisingly added a hidden touch to the photographs I took.
The Nan Tien Buddhist Temple
As we drove back up towards Sydney from Kiama after eating a hearty breakfast consiting of coffee and bacon and egg, we decided to stop en-route at the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple, the largest Buddhist Temple located within the Southern Hemisphere.
Situated just south of Wollongong in the suburb of Berkeley (near Shellharbour), the temple boasts some iconic decorations and building structures (including the famous Pagoda which contains a calligraphy and chanting room on its ground floor) and is a must-visit for anyone even remotely spiritual or just curious about buddhism or spirituality.
I admit that despite living in Sydney for over 8 years, I had never visited the temple and just as I was about to cross the exit of the M1 for it, it struck me that perhaps I should go and check it out (A very distinct possibility being this was a signal or test from the allmighty that I should not ignore certain 'signs' from the universe).
As we made our way to the entry, I couldn't believe how beautiful and big the whole temple-precinct was so after parking my car, we made our way into the shrines before walking along to the Pagoda.
The two main shrines contain nothing but spectacular wall-decorations (divided into mini see-through closets containing small statues of Buddha) while showcasing a giant statue of the deity (in the first shrine) while 5 giant statues of Buddha (each showing him meditating with his hands in a different position, signifying the geographical direction and purpose) in the second shrine. Both areas greeting anyone with strong aroma of incense sticks and some reading material on the inner walls giving an explanation of the deity's position and significance etc.
Since photography isn't allowed within the shrine (and Pagoda) as a mark of respect, I was unable to take pictures so I strongly recommend anyone to read the temple's website or if possible visit the place in the flesh.
As we made our way uphill beyond the second shrine and reached the Pagoda, we were even more stunned at how beautiful the structure looks from within and outside - it is within the Pagoda that lies a chanting hall at one end and a Chinese Calligraphy room at the other (with the latter containing information about how to master the art of calligraphy).
Lastly, we walked right to the rear of the temple's complex and to its highest point where they have a structure called the 'Gratitude Bell' - legend has it that ringing this bell acknowledges well wishes and gratitude for your parents and ancestors and brings good luck - considering I could always use a stroke of luck in my life, I rang the bell 3 times and that marked an end to our visit and we our way back down to the car park and departed for Sydney.
The Nan Tien Temple also contains a souvenir shop and allows visitors to offer incense donations for a small fee.
More information about the temple can be found at: http://nantien.org.au:88/en/
There was certainly no better way I could think of spending the shortest day of the year and this trip certainly ticked all boxes.
I'd highly recommend any visitor to Sydney to take a day out to visit Kiama, Robertson, Nan Tien and the Sea Cliff Bridge and to record cherish the sights,