South West Rocks


A beautiful seaside town at the mouth of Macleay River, South West Rocks is the perfect destination for a family beach holiday and divers searching for a thrilling adventure. With the uncrowded beaches in Arakoon National Park and Hat Head National Park and the exhilarating Fish Rock diving site, the town offers fun for everybody.


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Located on the mid North Coast of NSW, South West Rocks has a rich heritage. The historic ruins of Trial Bay Gaol are on the cliffs above the sea and are open for tourism. Taking 13 years to build, it opened in 1886 and was an internment camp in the First World War for people of German descent living in Australia. Near the gaol is Little Bay Beach, a great spot for fishing.

The spectacular view of the Smoky Cape Lighthouse will take your breath away. One of the oldest and tallest lighthouses in Australia, Smoky Cape is also an advantage point for whale watching between May and November. Begin the walking track at the Captain's Cook lookout and meanders through one of Australia’s largest remnant littoral rainforest, home to wallabies and swallow-tailed butterflies.

One of the main attractions in town, Fish Rock Cave is just two kilometres off shore. The only true ocean cave dive in Australia, the cave is a 125 metres long submerged tunnel, home to one of the largest single collection of the endangered grey nurse shark. This is reputedly one of the top 10 best dives in the country! 

Must Do

Trial Bay Goal 

Step back in time and discover the eerie ruins of Trial Bay Gaol. It’s harsh, cold stone walls seem out of place with the five star coastal views that surround it.


Image Copyright NSW National Parks / VisitNSW

The gaol opened in 1886, after 13 years of construction. It must have been a strange feeling building a prison in such a beautiful setting. The prison labourers were there to construct a breakwater to make Trial Bay a safe harbour between Sydney and Brisbane. The breakwater was never completed, but if you look out from the guard tower you can still see some of the remains. During World War I the gaol became an internment camp for people of German descent who were feared to be enemy sympathisers. It hasn’t been used as an active gaol since, and is now an historic ruin.

Today, the gaol is a must-see attraction with a well curated museum of historic artefacts from the site, and a memorial to those who spent time within its walls.


Smoky Cape Lighthouse

Perched high on a headland in the beautiful Hat Head National Park, Smoky Cape Lighthouse is the most elevated lighthouse in NSW, offering spectacular views across the Pacific Ocean.


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Completely surrounded by natural bushland and gleaming blue ocean, it’s a must see. The lighthouse itself is as gorgeous as the views, with its dramatic winding staircase and white, octagonal tower. Smoky Cape is also a fantastic spot for whale watching, birdwatching and picnicking. Don’t miss the views at nearby Captain Cook’s lookout!

Built in 1891, this heritage lighthouse is one of the last designed by the Colonial Architect, James Barnet. Smoky Cape headland was so named by Captain Cook after he saw Aboriginal fires burning there in 1770.

The lighthouse is still fully operational, guiding ships to safety around the infamous Smoky Cape.


Little Bay Beach

Little Bay is a secluded beach nestled between granite cliffs, just south of the headland near Trial Bay Gaol in Arakoon National Park. Pack your fishing gear for a day at the beach.


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There’s the option for a leisurely lunch beneath the shade of the she-oaks at nearby Little Bay picnic area overlooking the ocean. If you’re after some exercise, try the nearby historic Monument Hill walking track.

If you’re into birdwatching, the nearby heathland is a haven for fantails, wrens and honeyeaters, while hawks, falcons and ospreys soar above the cliffs and forage along the beaches.


Horseshoe Bay Beach

South West Rocks has a beautiful little beach surrounded by towering pines. This sheltered area is very popular with families wanting to swim. Horseshoe Bay Beach is close to rewarding fishing spots and central to the business district of South West Rocks.


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Facilities include camping areas, cabin accommodation, picnic spots, barbecues, parking, amenities blocks and a kiosk. The beach is patrolled during spring, autumn and summer holidays, as well as summer weekends.


The list goes on! To find out more visit NSW Parks and Macleay Valley Coast.