South West Rocks is one of NSW’s best-kept secrets, a little pocket of tranquillity at the mouth of the Macleay River that boasts stunning beaches, beautiful nature trails and a well-preserved history. Its waters attract fishermen and scuba divers from all over the world, while its string of beaches lined with Norfolk pines promise sun and surf without the crowds of better-known holiday hubs.
South West Rocks highlights
On the water
There are half a dozen pretty beaches to choose from around South West Rocks, the most popular being Horseshoe Bay. Right in the centre of town, it has a sheltered cove and a top right-hand surf break. Trial Bay Main Beach is protected by a breakwall and has gentle waves for beginner surfers; or get away from it all at the secluded Gap Beach, which is accessed by 4WD only.
Private surf lessons are available from one of the world’s best surfers at the Trent Munro Surf Academy; or if you prefer the tranquillity of stand-up paddleboarding, you can hire gear from SWR SUP in the calm waters of Back Creek. Just offshore is Fish Rock Cave. With a 125m-long dive through cave, it’s one of the world’s best cave diving sites and also a breeding ground for endangered grey nurse sharks. Join a dive tour with South West Rocks Dive Centre or Fish Rock Dive Centre.
There are half a dozen pretty beaches to choose from around South West Rocks. Horseshoe Bay is the most popular. Right in the centre of town, it has a sheltered cove and a top right-hand surf break. Front Beach stretches for 3.5km and is generally quiet, or get away from it all at the secluded Gap Beach, which is accessed by 4WD only.
Just offshore is Fish Rock Cave. With a 125m-long dive through cave, it’s one of the world’s best cave diving sites and also a breeding ground for rare grey nurse sharks. Join a dive tour with South West Rocks Dive Centre. The calm waters of Back Creek are popular for stand-up paddleboarding – hire the gear from SWR SUP.
SWR SUP, South West Rocks
Arakoon National Park is home to Trial Bay Gaol, perched dramatically on the cliffs above the sea. Taking 13 years to build, it opened in 1886. In the First World War it was an internment camp for people of German descent living in Australia. Self-guided tours are available daily; or take a guided twilight tour or dedicated tour for children to bring this fascinating history to life. Continue your exploration of the peninsula on the Powder Magazine and Monument Hill walking tracks.
Further south is the Smoky Cape Lighthouse. Dating back to 1891, it’s one of the oldest lighthouses in Australia and was designed by architect James Barnet, who also designed the General Post Office in Martin Place. Take in the view from the top or follow the Smoky Cape Walking Track along the coastline.
Northwest of South West Rocks is Yarriabini National Park. It’s a place of dense rainforest, bubbling creeks, tranquil picnic areas and glossy black cockatoos. Climb to the top of the 498m Mount Yarrahapinni for views of almost the entire Macleay Valley Coast. The park is also great for mountain bike riding and scenic drives.
Tee off at the 18-hole golf course, throw a line in to fish at the river estuary or browse the Beachside Markets on the second Saturday of the month. At the Boatman’s Cottages, you can pick up some local arts and crafts; or take a trip down memory lane in the quaint 6th Toe picture theatre, housed in the 1926 School of Arts Community Hall.
South West Rocks is a five-hour drive from Sydney and just under six hours from Brisbane. You can also catch a train from Sydney to Kempsey, just 30min away, or fly into Port Macquarie Airport and hire a car for the one-hour drive north. Places to stay include campgrounds, multiple holiday parks, motels and historic cottages, including the lighthouse keeper’s cottages at Smoky Cape.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.