South West Rocks in NSW is one of those proper secret gems to visit near Sydney – even many Aussies have never heard of it.
If you’re wondering where South West Rocks is, it’s located just over an hour’s drive South of Coffs Harbour and a good 5 hour drive from Sydney near to Nambucca Heads.
What makes South West Rocks so good?
Firstly, the South West Rocks caravan parks are amazing, one is even in the middle of town that’s opposite the beach and across the road from the pub. Yep, that’s right – it’s a super easy holiday getaway in Australia with everything within a few metres from your campsite.
There’s loads of beaches to choose from, plenty of hikes and great cafes and restaurants as well.
Basically, if you’re looking for an easy beach holiday in NSW, you’ve come to the right place.
As we mentioned, not many people know about South West Rocks – we only found out about it from Steve’s cousins who seem to know where all of the amazing spots are in NSW, including the incredible Boomerang Beach a few hours South.
Here’s the best things to do in South West Rocks so you can plan an amazing holiday in Australia.
South West Rocks Accommodation
There’s not a huge choice when it comes to accommodation options in South West Rocks but here’s some of our favourites. If they don’t float your boat, get $76 off your first airbnb booking right HERE.
Big 4 Sunshine Resort
If you’re looking for THE best South West Rocks family accommodation, look no further. BIG4 Sunshine Resort offers various accommodation options ranging from tents to family apartments.
There’s also a kids club at the resort to keep the kids entertained as well as an awesome kids pool. You’ll even get access to the bike rental, and the playground and miniture golf course on site too! Not forgetting, there’s also a restaurant on site so technically you won’t even need to leave the resort. Basically, if you’re not into camping, book this Big 4 in South West Rocks now!
Accommodation options start from around $144 a night.
It costs around $150 for a king size room to stay at Heritage Guesthouse.
Trial Bay Gaol Campground
It was when we drove over to Trial Bay Gaol Campground where our jaws just dropped to the floor. Had we just come across one of the best campsites in Australia? It’s located right at the end of the beautiful Trial Bay and completely surrounded by water. There’s only one cafe located nearby, otherwise you’ll have to drive over to South West Rocks.
To be honest, we’d come back to South West Rocks if it meant all we could do is hang out at this campground. Honestly, it’s stunning – you won’t want to leave!
Horseshoe Bay Holiday Park Campground
Horseshoe Bay Campground is also an impressive South West Rocks camping option. Located right in the heart of South West Rocks, you’ll have everything within a two minute walking distance. There’s a couple of beaches right outside the campground so you’ll get ocean views right from your tent!
The pub is literally over the road but further enough away that you won’t be disturbed for sleep. This is the perfect place to stay if the idea of having to get in the car and drive anywhere sounds like a chore.
Where to eat in South West Rocks
There’s some excellent South West Rocks restaurants and cafes to choose from. Here’s some of our favourites.
Seabreeze Beach Hotel pub
Seabreeze Beach Hotel is the focal point of the town of South West Rocks and a pub which has a large outdoor terrace (in picture). The good news is, it’s located right opposite the Horseshoe Bay holiday park and the beaches too!
Trial Bay Kiosk
Although Trial Bay Kiosk is relatively new, it packs a punch with knock out views over to Trial Bay Beach and the best views out of any South West Rocks restaurant. It’s also the only place to eat near the Trial Bay Gaol Campground.
Malt & Honey
We went to Malt & Honey for breakfast and although we missed out on having their signature mushrooms dish (they had ran out), we had a good breakfast here. I was also able to pop into the beautiful clothes shops next door whilst we waited to be served too 😉
Sixty is a hip cafe serving up awesome coffee and food.
25 things to do in South West Rocks
1. Trial Bay Gaol
It’s kinda rare to see a bit of history on the coast in Australia so it’s quite exciting to go and visit the Trial Bay Gaol in South West Rocks – that’s a JAIL for the rest of us.
Located right on the coast, it was built in 1886 to house prisoners who were specifically brought there to build a new breakwater. In WW1 the prison was then used for ze Germans to house 500 men and its since stayed in tact.
It’s now a super popular place to visit which sees around 70,000 visitors a year.
You’ll need to pay to go and walk around it which costs $11 per adult, $8 concession and $30 for a family of 4.
2. Smokey Cape Lighthouse
Smokey Cape Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses in Australia and is definitely one of the biggest highlights in the South West Rocks area.
The drive up to Smokey 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 which has a really long driving beach if you’ve got a 4×4.
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:
4. Trial Gaol Beach
Trial 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 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. Woo hoo!
5. 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 whilst to the right you have a long stretch of Trial Bay Beach and there’s an unnamed beach to the left.
6. Little Bay Beach
Image via attractions.net.au
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!
7. Gap beach
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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 Smokey 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.
9. South Smokey Beach
You can see South Smokey 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:
10. 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.
How long does it take?
It’s suggested to take around 30 minutes to walk from either end of the beach.
11. Jack Perkins Walking Track
The Jack Perkins walking track starts at Smokey Cape Lighthouse and takes you to the stunning North Smokey 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.
How long is Jack Perkins walk?
It’s a 2km walk and takes around 30 minutes return.
12. Bridle Trail
Bridle Trail is a lovely little 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.
How long is Bridle Trail walk?
The path only takes around 15 minutes – perfect for the whole family!
13. Little Bay to Smokey Cape Lighthouse
Looking for a longer South West Rocks walk? Make sure you check out Little Bay to Smokey Cape walk.
The 10KM (one way) coastal track takes you from Little Bay to Smokey 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.
How long does it take to walk from Little Bay to Smokey Cape?
It takes around four hours to complete this 10km hike so make sure you bring more water than you think you’ll need as well as enough food.
There’s no public transport to pick you up at the end so you’ll need to walk back as well.
14. Gap Beach walking Track
If you’re looking to do a shorter walk, then you can do the Gap Beach walking track which takes you from Little Bay and finishes at Gap Beach, rather than Smokey Cape Lighthouse.
How long does it take to complete The Gap walk?
It takes between 2-3 hours to complete the 6km walk.
15. Dive at the incredible Fish Rock Cave
Image via Dive2000.
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, 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.
If you visit during the whale migration season between June – November, you might even spot some humpback whales on your dive!
The only catch – you’ll need to have your Open Water certificate. But you can also learn to dive with Fish Rock Cave at this South West Rocks dive centre too!
17. Snorkel at Back Creek
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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.
18. Play golf or tennis at the South West Rocks Country Club
Image via Golfer
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.
19. Learn to surf with a pro
Image via Trip Advisor
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.
Trent doesn’t just teach beginners, he’ll offer up his pro advice to intermediate and advanced level surfers too.
20. Go paddle boarding
If surfing isn’t your thing, you can also hire our a SUP from Trent Munro because there are some awesome flat water beaches which are perfect for paddle boarding. He even offers up a delivery service to your accommodation so you can take out your board.
21. Take a scenic flight over South West Rocks
City and Country Air Charters offer up flights over the Macleay Valley. From whale watching flights to sunset flights, you’ll be able to see how beautiful South West Rocks truely is.
22. Go to the South West Rocks cinema
There’s a super cute cinema at South West Rocks called the Roxy. It’s only open on weekends but they show up to date movies which is worth a visit.
23. 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 and Rivas & Gees Boutique (they’re not cheap FYI), buy loads of homewares at Good Vibes and some awesome antique pieces at Hytha’s Jewellery and Antiques.
24. Check out the Natureland Classic Motorcycle toy run
Image via: Macleay Argus
We love a random festival and there’s nothing better than hearing about the Natureland Classic Motorcycle Club toy run. Every early December, 80 motorcyclists from the motorcycle club embark on South West Rocks to collect toys for the disadvantaged kids in the Macleay Valley for Christmas.
They travel into Kempsey to collect the toys from passerbys along the route. Santa even makes an appearance in his car along the route to greet the kids along the way!
Any bike riders are welcomed to join in the event which starts at the South West Rocks Country Club.
25. Visit the annual Hat Head Car Rally
Our other random event we love is the popular annual Hat Head Car Rally. Vintage cars take centre stage and are on public display for everyone to take a bow peep at. You’ll find cars, truck and utes which are 30 years or older on display.
It takes place on the first Saturday in May which starts at Hat Head before the cars drive to a new location for their display.