The Thirsty Travellers were captivated by the beauty of Smoky Cape Lighthouse when we visited South West Rocks earlier this year and vowed to return as soon as possible.
It proved to be a little trickier than we anticipated – COVID-19 has created huge demand for accommodation at the lighthouse, but we were lucky enough to nab the last two-night stay available in 2020.
The Smoky Cape headland got its name from Captain Cook after he saw Aboriginal fires burning there in 1770, with the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper’s cottages built in 1891. They’re surrounded by the stunning coastal scenery of Hat Head National Park and the views are spectacular.
Locals John (above, right) and Therese took out a 10-year lease on the Smoky Cape Lighthouse Cottages earlier this year. The pair are friendly, helpful hosts and have decorated the accommodation – two cottages and a B&B – simply and stylishly.
We stayed in the South Cottage, which has views of Hat Head and The Macleay Valley. It features three bedrooms, two with king-sized beds and one with two single beds. It’s a huge cottage for just two people, but we decided we wanted a quiet getaway as a couple.
We stayed in one of the king rooms, which featured the most beautiful vista from the window.
The view from the back verandah of the cottage is so divine that you could settle yourself on the comfortable outdoor furniture and not move for your entire stay. It’s a particularly lovely spot in the late afternoon, when a family of kangaroos comes to graze on the lawn. One afternoon an inquisitive kangaroo even hopped up beside us for a sticky beak.
It’s also the perfect location to watch the sun set over the valley with a glass of wine in hand.
One morning we wandered down to the secluded North Smoky Beach for a swim in the balmy sea. While it was only early November, the water was a blissful 24C. It felt very special to have the beach to ourselves for our dip.
South West Rocks itself is a thriving seaside village filled with restaurants and cafes, looking out onto the serene ocean. We enjoyed several coffees at Malt & Honey Cafe during our stay.
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. It’s well worth a visit and features numerous informative signs and an entertaining video presentation about its history.
After exploring the gaol, we settled onto the breezy verandah of Trial Bay Kiosk for lunch, looking out at the spectacular view. We nibbled on a summery platter of lightly fried prawns, scallops and squid with pickled fennel slaw and lemon mayo.
We’re already brainstorming a date to return to Smoky Cape Lighthouse Cottages for a longer stay. Two nights simply wasn’t long enough time at this sublime spot.
Here are some video highlights from our stay: