Located in Kiama Downs on the South Coast of NSW Australia, Cathedral Rocks is a place that I have frequented many times since picking up a camera. I’ve captured some personal favourite images here over the years and it’s a highly popular place for my workshop participants. So if you’re wondering how to get to Cathedral Rocks or want to know some of the best ways to shoot it, read on as a I share some insights on this amazing photography location.
Approximately 1.5 hours south of Sydney, Cathedral Rocks is located in the cozy coastal town of Kiama Downs. A common error when visiting here for the first time is to try and access the cathedral from the southern side of the headland, however this requires some scrambling along the rocks and can be quite difficult in large swell. The easiest and safest option is to park slightly further up north at the Jones Beach carp car park, located on the corner of Nth Kiama Dr and Moona Ave (See below). From here you can simply walk south via the beach or grass section until you reach the rocks.
What To Shoot
Easy Access – One thing that makes this place so special is the variety of angles and compositions that can be shot here. As you walk from north to south the main ‘spire’ changes form completely depending on your angle. But without a doubt the most striking and popular view is of the confronting sight that greets you when you first enter the Cathedral (see below). Shooting this angle is also quite safe and easy in any tide regardless of your fitness or skill level. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the feeling you get when you walk around the headland and then come face to face with this almighty stone.
The Cave – What led me to shoot here in the first place was when I came across an old painting of a cave that perfectly framed the Cathedral Rock. When I first saw the image I figured it was from the other side of the world but when I discovered it was only half hour from home I could barely believe it. I found it hard to fathom that I hadn’t been here before, especially given the many day trips I’d taken to Kiama. But that’s what I love about photography, it’s ability to really open your eyes and make you look and explore like never before. This cave is quite easy to find and is just a small right turn after walking through the main entry. It’s safest being accessed at low tide where you can avoid getting wet feet. High tide opens up a whole new world of shooting possibilities but can potentially get waist high swell upon entry.
Southern End – Probably one of the most enjoyable sections to shoot, especially in medium tide. This section isn’t really recognisable until you are standing right in front of it, as the second spire easily blends into the headland from any other angle. There are multiple composition options available here and it’s unique throughout the year as the tide dumps sand in and out. Large swell can create dramatic foreground options and different tides dramatically effect how close you can be to the spires. Reaching this point involves crossing two channels. The first is the channel that runs to the cave. Once passed this one, continue walking along until you reach the second channel that flows quite heavy. To cross this channel you will need to walk down along the rocks which can be quite narrow and then crossing to the other side will require waiting for the current to draw out. This can be accessed in any tide however high tide can be treacherous. Low to medium tide is most suitable for this end.
Night Photography – There is little light pollution in Kiama, making Cathedral Rocks a great place for astro photography. Due to the uneven surfaces I do recommend going at low tide and make sure you cover up because the mosquitoes really love it here! Using an ultra wide angle lens does tend to shrink the size of the spire quite significantly so definitely experiment with other focal lengths.
Overall this is a location that deserves to be visited more than once in order to take advantage of the different conditions provided by the swell, tide and sun alignment. It can be a little overwhelming on the first visit so definitely allow enough time to walk around, take it all in and look for compositions. Low tide is probably best for your first visit, especially if you are new to shooting by the sea!
I really feel that this is one of the world’s best locations for seascape photography. From over a hundred years ago and no doubt many more years to come, this will remain a special place that testifies to the rugged beauty and might of this aging earth. I hope you enjoy the Cathedral as much as I do. WP
PS keep an eye out for the resident birds that often pose atop the spire!