Last updated: January 30, 2023
A guide to the best things to do in South West Rocks, from beautiful beaches and walking tracks to scenic lookout points and historic sights.
South West Rocks is a popular seaside holiday destination on the Mid North Coast of NSW, situated just east of where the Macleay River flows into the ocean. From Sydney, it’s an easy 460 km drive that will take approximately five hours, mainly via the Pacific Highway.
The South West Rocks area is characterised by pristine beaches, unspoiled national parks, and unique heritage buildings, with lots of things to see and do for people of all ages.
Read on, as we reveal the top 10 attractions and activities in and around South West Rocks.
Top 10 Attractions and Activities
Here is our top 10 things to do in South West Rocks and the surrounding area.
1. Trial Bay Front Beach
When you first set eyes on Trial Bay Front Beach, with its long curved strip of sand, and mountainous hills in the background, it’s easy to think you’re on a beach on a volcanic island like New Zealand or Hawaii.
This beach is a must-do when you visit South West Rocks. It’s the central beach that connects the main town in the North to the Arakoon National Park in the south, and you can approach at either end.
The Trial Bay Gaol campground in Arakoon is part of the vibe of the area, and if you are staying there, you are only two steps away from the sand.
The water is relatively flat with minimal wind on most days, so great for swimming with the little ones. If you like to stand-up paddle, you can head out with your board or try some fishing further around the headland.
2. Trial Bay Gaol
Trial Bay Gaol is one of the main highlights of the South West Rocks area if you are interested in Australian history. It is located on the headland in Arakoon National Park and is a must-see for the coastal views alone.
Originally the Gaol was opened in 1886, and the prisoners housed there were put to work building a breakwater to protect ships from the treacherous waters along the coast from Sydney to Brisbane.
The breakwater was never completed, but the Gaol was put back to use again during World War I as an Internment Camp for German prisoners.
It is a good starting point to park the car and explore the surrounding areas, including the Trial Bay Front Beach, Campground, and the Monument Hill Walking Track.
3. German Momument
The German Monument is a historical feature of the Monument Hill Walking Track. From the Trial Bay Gaol Visitor Centre car park, you will see the entrance to the track just off the Trial Bay Gaol Access Road.
The track itself has multiple lookouts and highlights along the way and will take you back down to the end of Little Bay Road. The German Monument is a reference to the second life of the Trial Bay Goal, as a Prisoner of War Camp during World War I.
Several German soldiers and citizens were interned at the Gaol during this period. The Monument is to remember the unfortunate deaths of four of these men during their time there. It is an interesting spot to learn more about the area’s history.
4. Captain Cook Lookout
The Captain Cook Lookout is located at the bottom of the hill up to Smoky Cape Lighthouse, within Hat Head National Park.
You can look out at the beautiful coast view and down towards North Smoky Beach. Captain Cook named the area Smoky Cape in 1770 after seeing the smoke from the fires of the First Nations people along the coast.
It’s an excellent spot for a picnic, whale watching, or a quick break after walking down that steep hill from the lighthouse.
5. Smoky Cape Lighthouse
Brave the short but steep climb up to the Smoky Cape Lighthouse, as the view is definitely worth the climb. The lighthouse was built in 1891 and is a heritage-listed building with a striking white facade.
On one side, you will see the never-ending stretch of South Smoky Beach, and on the other side, North Smoky Beach and Green Island off the coast.
There is plenty of wildlife to see if you are lucky, from whale and bird watching, and a curious wallaby or two hopping around.
6. Jack Perkins Walking Track
The Jack Perkins Walking Track is a steep but short 2 km trail that starts at Captain Cook Lookout and will take you down to North Smoky Beach.
Jack Perkins was an active member of the Trial Bay Goal Trust, which managed the Trial Bay Gaol and Smoky Cape areas before they became part of the Hat Head National Park.
North Smoky Beach was his local spot for a quick dip, and he was passionate about protecting the natural beauty of the area for future generations.
7. Smoky Cape Range Walking Track
If you are looking for a longer hiking adventure, the Smoky Cape Range Walking Track might be the walk for you.
As you hike through the natural beauty of both the Arakoon and Hat Head National Parks, you will encounter rainforests, grassy woodlands, and stunning coastlines.
You can start this 5.5 km track either at the Overshot Dam in Little Bay or at the Captain Cook Lookout at the base of Smoky Cape Lighthouse.
It’s worth taking your time at both ends to explore the historical significance of these buildings in the human settlement of South West Rocks.
8. South Smoky Beach
South Smoky Beach is a 15 km stretch of sand that sits between Smoky Cape and Hat Head. If you enjoy feeling like the only person on the sand, South Smoky may be the beach for you.
But if you want a bit of action, this beach will not disappoint either. You can try out the surf or the 4WD trail that extends along the beach (for which you will need a beach driving permit).
You can access the beach at the north end via the Smoky Cape Campground, or the south end via Hat Head Road.
9. Nambucca Heads Day Trip
Nambucca Heads is a laidback coastal town in the Nambucca Valley, situated at the beautiful Nambucca River estuary, approximately 60 km north of South West Rocks.
It’s quite a unique holiday destination due to its unique setting along the Nambucca River, with beautiful beaches and a scenic hinterland landscape to explore.
Top attractions in the Nambucca Heads area include the V-Wall, Wellington Rocks, Captain Cook Lookout, and Shelly Beach.
Read our guide with the top attractions and activities in Nambucca Heads for a complete outline of the best things to see and do in the area.
10. Port Macquarie Day Trip
Only a short drive further south is Port Macquarie, another beautiful coastal town on NSW’s Mid North Coast, where the Hastings River meets the ocean.
Port Macquarie is home to many beautiful beaches, some quite busy and others reasonably quiet and isolated. The beautiful coastal scenery combined with the unspoiled hinterland makes the Port Macquarie area the perfect short holiday spot.
Top attractions in the Port Macquarie area include the Sea Acres Rainforest Boardwalk, the Koala Hospital, Billabong Zoo, and the pretty Tacking Point Lighthouse.
Read our guide with the top attractions and activities in Port Macquarie for a complete outline of the best things to see and do in the area.