South West Rocks, NSW

By Samantha Wheeler May 27, 2014
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
The town may be small and sleepy, but there’s plenty of thrills to be had swimming with sharks just offshore.

AN HOUR’s drive south of Coffs Harbour, the coastal town of South West Rocks lies at the mouth of the Macleay River. It’s known for its beautiful beaches, historical landmarks and grey nurse sharks.

Two kilometres offshore of Smoky Cape Lighthouse is Fish Rock Cave, one of the best cave dive sites in Australia. Here divers may swim alongside grey nurse sharks in this critical habitat area for the species.

East of the town centre, Arakoon National Park stretches from Trial Bay to Smoky Cape Lighthouse, encompassing deserted beaches, high cliffs and dense subtropical rainforest. It’s fantastic, whether you want to go trekking or simply find a deserted stretch of sand.

At the northern end of the park is Trial Bay Gaol. On a headland with beautiful views of the ocean, the jail was built in the 1880s to house low-security prisoners working on a large breakwall around the bay.


Walking trails: In Arakoon National Park, Trial Bay Gaol is open to visitors year round. You’ll be able to wander through the museum and ruins, or take a short stroll to the rocky foreshore and beaches. Visitors can also walk over Monument Hill to Little Bay, or set out on the stunning half-day trek to Smoky Cape Lighthouse.

Scuba diving: Fish Rock Cave has been voted one of Australia’s top 10 dive sites, offering high visibility year round and unforgettable encounters with grey nurse sharks. The cave dive includes a 125m tunnel through the centre of the small island, before exiting via a cavern filled with pink gorgonian corals. South West Rocks Dive Centre offers daily charter dives to Fish Rock, and caters for everyone from entry-level to instructor-level divers.

The essentials

Location: South West Rocks is 456km north of Sydney (a five-hour drive), or 20 minutes north-east of Kempsey, NSW.

Accommodation: South West Rocks has plenty of holiday accommodation, including motels, self-contained apartments, backpackers, and bed and breakfasts. There are three caravan parks with powered and unpowered sites.

Food/drink: There are numerous cafes and restaurants (as well as a pub) in the town centre, and a few cafes on the edge of the national park.

Points of interest: Arakoon National Park, Gap Beach, Trial Bay Gaol, Smoky Cape Lighthouse and Fish Rock.

Maps: The South West Rocks visitor information centre has maps of Arakoon National Park and the surrounding area.

More info: