Sublime South West Rocks

Eager to explore more of the Northern NSW coastline after a wonderful weekend in Forster, The Thirsty Travellers headed to South West Rocks for the day.

We were tipped off by our neighbour to a great pub in Gladstone called the Heritage Hotel, nestled beside the Macleay River, so we drove there for lunch. The quaint village has 19 beautifully preserved buildings, art galleries, specialty shops and cafes and is a lovely place for a wander.

We’d already enjoyed a big country breakfast in Taree, so we ordered a couple of ciders and shared a lamb rogan josh curry that was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. We dined in the sunny beer garden, but there’s also an atmospheric verandah upstairs with river views.

Then it was on to Smoky Cape, which is sublimely gorgeous and a must-see. The headland got its name from Captain Cook after he saw Aboriginal fires burning there in 1770.

Built in 1891, the Smoky Cape Lighthouse is one of the last designed by the Colonial Architect, James Barnet. It’s surrounded by the stunning coastal scenery of Hat Head National Park – the views are spectacular and the ocean was filled with whale spouts throughout our visit.

On our walk back to the carpark we were transfixed by the local kangaroos with joeys in their pouches, nibbling the grass in the afternoon sun outside the lighthouse keepers’ cottages.

The historic cottages have been turned into accommodation, with the largest operating as a bed & breakfast, while the smaller two are self-contained. They are on our bucket list for a return visit.

South West Rocks itself is a thriving seaside village filled with restaurants and cafes, looking out onto the serene ocean.

Just outside town is Trial Bay Gaol, which has a fascinating history: it was built to house prisoners who were brought to the area in 1886 to construct a breakwater to make a safe harbour halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. The breakwater was never completed, but if you look out from the guard tower you can still see some of the remains.

Then, during World War 1, the gaol was used as an internment camp. Around 500 people of German descent, including doctors and other professionals, were confined there between 1915 and 1918.

The internees established athletics, boxing, bowling and chess clubs, published a weekly newspaper, created a theatre company that performed a new play each week and also formed an orchestra.

The gaol is now a museum, with local kangaroos bouncing through the grounds. We only had time to walk around the outside of the sandstone building and would love to return to explore it more.

The Thirsty Travellers thought South West Rocks had a great vibe to it – we wish we’d had longer there, but we’d booked a night in Bellingen, so it was time to head to our next destination – Waterfall Way.

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