Destination South West Rocks

There are a lot of rocks in this story. For starters South West Rocks was so named because of the boulders that lay off its coast. Against a backdrop of shipwrecks, post-war prisoners building a sea wall (with large rocks), sea-faring mariners and farmers, it’s easy to imagine the tall ships and tall tales that tell the story of this mid north coastal town. And yet apart from its lively coastal history and famed geology, South West Rocks simply sparkles.

Our getaway was planned for almost a week and by the second morning we’d seen much of the town. That’s not a bad thing. It leaves you with time, the very thing a holiday is meant for. My son and I lapped up every glorious morning with dips in the bay and spinning in the warm currents. The little township of SW Rocks sits on 3 beaches, Trial Bay Main Beach, Back Beach and our pick, Horseshoe Bay.  Even with my well-spoiled experiences of the NSW coastline, cyan waters splashing into the cove drew an “oh wow!” from the crowd. A picture book pathway winds across the sloped headway that joins Horseshoe to Main Beach. In its centre, a surf lifesaving club, playground, and picnic grounds.

Culture, criminals and coastline

It’s said that when Captain James Cook journaled that he saw smoke from Aboriginal fires rising on the cape, it became the site of the Smokey Cape Lighthouse. Over the years as ships and sailboats laboured their way into the shoreline and sometimes into the rocks, the gleaming white watchtower gave sailors salvation from the headwinds. Today neat white cottages at the foot of the lighthouse are available for holiday rentals.

To give a respite from the ship routes heading through the rough (and dare I say rocky) waters of Moreton Bay, it was agreed a break wall would need to be built near the village of Arakoon, giving sanctuary and safe harbour. But in the late 1800’s, it would take more than the farmers of the Macleay Valley to build this rocky outcrop. Inspired by the British practice of casting off criminals to remote places, sending incarcerated manpower to this venture seemed the practical investment. And so, Trial Bay Gaol perched on the peninsula, became another regional landmark. Today it’s an interactive and insightful way to see how prisoners fared and spent their years. There are some quirky experiences that give the tour a curious flavour. The kangaroos hopping freely on the grounds is a playful delight.

A gathering place of plenty

Monument Point is the highest lookout for walking trails and was a place of gathering and ceremony for the Dunghutti, Gumbaynggir and Birpai people. Facing Stingray Rock (yes), towards the Pacific Ocean, it’s said that the headland represents ‘song line’ or ‘energy line’ between Mount Yarrahapinni and the hills around Arakoon. At the peak you’ll find the monument built as a tribute to German internees who had lived and worked at Trial Bay Gaol during the first World War. In springtime and summer, the walking track bursts with native flannel flowers, planted because they reminded them of edelweiss fields and home.

Go south-west young man!

SW Rocks, though southwest of somewhere, is also the beachside retreat less than an hour’s drive from boho Bellingen and Kempsey. Just north is Nambucca Heads, where the ocean and bays overlap in a criss- cross of sandbanks and tides, a seascape of luminescent turquoise and deep blue. V-Wall is the perfect viewing path along the foreshore and is another break wall. Take a pot of paint and brush, I wish we had. Here the rocks are brightly painted with holiday messages and inspirational words, left by travellers.

There’s no doubt that this shining coastal haven has been hit hard by the residue of lockdowns. So many locals I chatted with said they’re struggling to stay open, can’t find employees or have put their business up for sale. The signs are everywhere. But for a place such as this, steeped in history with the best of nature right on the doorstep, maybe South West Rocks is about to boom. I love that its low key style has kept it somewhat under wraps, but everyone deserves an idyllic SW Rocks escape sometime.

Feel inspired to see more of the coast? You may like to read Things to do in Killcare.

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