20 Things To Do In South West Rocks NSW 2024 Guide
Discover one of the best hidden gems on the East Coast and explore the best things to do in South West Rocks in the Mid-North Coast NSW. We’ve been coming here for years because it’s home to some of the best hikes, beaches and campgrounds in Australia!
If you’re looking for your next getaway, put South West Rocks on your list to visit.
Where is South West Rocks?
Never heard of South West Rocks? It’s located just over an hour’s drive South of Coffs Harbour, and the same distance North of Port Macquarie. Between these two regions, there is a lot to see and do, especially the beautifully stunning and deserted beaches. The mid-north coast is a hugely underrated area, and South West Rocks is a reason for this. It is beautiful here, and definitely worth a visit on your East Coast road trip!
20 things to do in South West Rocks
1. Trial Bay Gaol
The historic Trial Bay Gaol is one of the top attractions in South West Rocks which brings in visitors from all over Australia. Built in 1886, the heritage listed building housed prisoners who were brought to the area to build the breakwater to make a safe harbour between Brisbane and Sydney.
The jail then became a World War 1 prison for people of German descent. You can jump on a guided tour to learn all about the jail in Arakoon National Park.
2. Smoky Cape Lighthouse
Smoky Cape Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses in Australia and is definitely one of the best things to do in South West Rocks!
The 10 minute drive up to Smoky Cape Lighthouse is gorgeous and when you get there, you’ll have a steep hill to climb. Don’t worry it’s not too far and will take about five minutes, with a few stops to catch your breath.
We saw people of all ages climbing up it. When you get to the top, you’ll get incredible views looking out to Hat Head National Park! We also really wanted to check out two awesome beaches on the other side of the lookout but we ran out of time.
South West Rocks beaches
South West Rocks is home to some beautiful beaches which you need to check out. Here’s our favourites!
3. Trial Bay Gaol Beach
Trial Bay Gaol Beach is absolutely gorgeous and is one of the best beaches for kids as it’s got shallow water and is really flat, and a perfect place to bring your SUP and go paddle boarding.
AND you can actually watch the sunset over the ocean from Trial Gaol Beach. That’s always one thing I miss living on the East Coast of Australia, it’s so rare to be able to watch the sunset over the water. But you can at Trial Gaol Beach purely because of the angle of the beach.
4. Horseshoe Bay
There’s three beaches to choose from right in the middle of South West Rocks. If you’re staying at Horseshoe Bay Holiday Park, you’ll get to the pick of the bunch. Horseshoe Bay is a lovely little beach, while to the right you have a long stretch of Trial Bay Beach and Back Beach to the left.
5. Little Bay Beach
Just outside of town lies Little Bay, a gorgeous little beach which is home to loads of kangaroos, picnic benches and rock pools. Make sure you make the effort to check out this beach as it’s beautiful!
6. Gap beach
You can only access Gap beach via a walking track but we love secluded beaches so make sure you go check it out!
8. North Smokey Beach
There’s also two secluded beaches just below the Smoky Cape Lighthouse which look incredible. You’ll need to access them via the John Perkins track but for us, these are there beaches we’d be making a beeline for on our next trip to South West Rocks.
8. South Smoky Beach
You can see South Smoky Beach from the lighthouse and from what we saw, you can drive your 4×4 on it too!
South West Rocks Hikes
One of the best things about South West Rocks is the amount of hiking on offer. To me, this is the biggest draw card to staying here at this slice of paradise.
If you’re wondering what the hiking looks like, here are some of the most popular:
9. Rainforest Walking Tack
The rainforest walking track in Hat Head is a short walk from one end of the Gap Beach to the other. It’s easy to find and suitable for all ages and takes around 30 minutes to complete.
10. Jack Perkins Walking Track
The Jack Perkins walking track starts at Smoky Cape Lighthouse and takes you to the stunning North Smoky Beach. It’s just a 2km walk and takes around 30 minutes return. Just be prepared to walk back up the hill on the way back to the car.
11. Bridle Trail
Bridle Trail is a lovely 15 minute walk which leads to Little Bay. Here you can catch a glimpse of the heritage of the Trail Bay Gaol. You’ll walk through the beautiful rainforest and on your way you should look out for the remains of the old iron pipe which used to supply water to the gaol.
12. Little Bay to Smoky Cape Lighthouse
Looking for a longer South West Rocks walk? Make sure you check out Little Bay to Smoky Cape walk.
The 10KM (one way) coastal track takes you from Little Bay to Smoky Cape Lighthouse, with a detour to The Gap Beach. As it passes along the cliffs, you might be able to spot some whales if you visit during the migration season from June – November. Be aware there’s no public transport to pick you up at the end, so you’ll need to walk the 10KM back!
13. Gap Beach walking Track
If you’re looking to do a shorter walk, then you can do the 6KM (2-3 hours return) Gap Beach walking track which takes you from Little Bay and finishes at Gap Beach, rather than Smoky Cape Lighthouse.
14. Dive at the incredible Fish Rock Cave
Fish Rock Cave is an awesome scuba diving cave where grey nurse sharks can be found year round.
But it’s no surprise Fish Rock Cave is not only one of the best dive sites in Australia with South West Rocks Dive, it’s home to the largest ocean cavern in the southern hemisphere. At 120m long, Fish Cave Rock brings in divers from around the world.
Nothing will actually prepare you for the sight where you’ll see thousands of wobbegong sharks and a large bull ray just resting on the bottom, it’s something you need to see in person.
15. Snorkel at Back Creek
If you’re new to snorkelling then you should snorkel along Back Creek on the incoming tide to view all of the fish around. It’s really shallow so it’s a perfect activity for families.
15. Play golf or tennis at the South West Rocks Country Club
If you’re looking for things to do in South West Rocks, check out the South West Rocks Country Club. It’s home to a beautiful 18 hole golf course and tennis club complete with a restaurant as well. If you’re bored of the beach, this is a fun activity which is located on the edge of town.
17. Learn to surf with a pro
If you’re wanting to learn to surf then there’s no better place to do it than in South West Rocks. Former pro surfer, Trent Munro has his own Surf Academy and runs lessons for all levels and ages.
18. Go shopping in South West Rocks
There’s some fantastic shops in South West Rocks. You could easily buy a new wardrobe at Raw Spice Boutique, buy homewares at Good Vibes.
19. Where to eat in South West Rocks
While it’s obvious that South West Rocks isn’t as modern as other beach towns in New South Wales, there are a couple of decent places to eat here. Don’t expect posh restaurants yet, although I’m sure in time, they will start popping up.
Seabreeze Beach Hotel is the main pub in town, serving up Aussie pub classics. Trial Bay Kiosk is home to the best views, and the only place which is a hop skip and a jump from the Trial Bay Gaol campsite.
Sixty Degrees as well as Malt & Honey serve up healthy, hipster food such as acai bowls and avo on toast. If you’re visiting Malt & Honey, order the famous mushrooms dish. They had sold out of it when we visited.
20. South West Rocks Accommodation
Luxury – Salt: Located opposite the Macleay River, Salt features villas for that home from home feeling, complete with free bike hire, an outdoor swimming pool and garden.
Luxury pet friendly – Spoondrift: 5 minutes walk to the beach, this 4 bedroom house is perfect for those who want to bring their fur babies along for a getaway.
Mid range – Smoky Cape Retreat: Perfect couples getaway complete with a tennis court, swimming pool in stunning tropical surroundings.
Budget – Rockpool Motor Inn: Resort style accommodation with a swimming pool at budget friendly prices.