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Our family’s awesome South West Rocks holiday!

If you’re looking for a beachside getaway with the kids, South West Rocks is a hidden gem. Nestled on the mid-north coast, at the mouth of the Macleay River, this small coastal town delivers big on family fun. The kids will love the smorgasbord of swimming options in crystal clear water, all within a short distance. There are loads of places to stay. From the big parks, old-school campgrounds, holiday houses, and apartments in town. A holiday destination perfect for family and friends. You can now picture this quiet coastal town buzzing with visitors during the holidays.

South West Rocks

Named after a cluster of boulders east of the point, South West Rocks has an abundance of history. The township was established in 1896, however, the name of the town came about as a result of the pilot officer instructing vessels to anchor in Trial Bay so the rocks would be ‘south-west’ of where they would need to anchor. During the early 1900s, locals finally decided to name the area South West Rocks.

South West Rocks is located in the traditional lands of the Dunghutti (Thaingutti) and Monument Point was a place of gathering and ceremony for the Dunghutti, Gumbaynggir and Biripi nations with the headland representing a ‘song line’ or ‘energy line’ between Mount Yarrahapinni and the hills around Arakoon – Kempsey Shire Council

Back Creek Footbridge

Back Creek is a gorgeous waterway for both holidaymakers and locals to the area. It’s the perfect spot for families to spend the day simply enjoying the crystal clear water for swimming or a picnic on the shore.

The bridge itself is spectacular in its presence and functionality. It was purpose-built in late 2019 after the original was structurally unsound and had to be removed.

Whilst all the signs say ‘no jumping’, there’s actually a platform and small ladder at the safest point. On a warm summer’s day, the waterway is such an awesome spot for a swim. I can’t tell you enough how clean and clear the water is. It’s just magic.

The bridge provides access to unpatrolled Back Beach, where you can take your dog for some beach fun. We found South West Rocks very ‘dog-friendly’. Ingenia Holiday Park even allow you to bring dogs on holiday.

There’s a lovely cafe right on the creek opposite the bridge, sheltered seating, and toilet facilities.

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South West Rocks beaches

One thing you’ll never tire of is the abundance of sandy beaches and swimming spots. Perched on the side of the headland in town is the South West Rocks Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC). Salt Water Creek runs from the ocean right past the clubhouse. This is a gorgeous spot to bring the little kids. Pack their buckets and spades and watch them paddle in the water and explore the waterway.

Be sure to stop by the ice cream shop and enjoy the picturesque playground on the day.

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Horseshoe Bay Beach

On the other side of the car park, opposite the clubhouse is Horseshoe Bay. Surrounded by a camping ground, and a walkway around the rocks, Horseshoe Bay Beach has been created by a double rocky headland. It’s a small protected beach, where you’ll find red & yellow flags for safe swimming.

Make sure you also plan some downtime just lazing on a picnic rug on the grass.

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Back Beach

Unpatrolled and dog-friendly, this beach is perfect for a walk, but not ideal for swimming. It’s known for the biggest waves in South West Rocks and usually has beach breaks. In this area you can have your dog off-leash and it’s only a short walk from the Ingenia Holiday Park.

Trial Bay – Front Beach

If you’re looking for paradise this sprawling beach comes very close. It stretches 3.5km from Front Beach in the centre of town, east around the bay to Laggers Point at the end of Trial Bay Beach. From this point, Trial Bay Beach faces west, one of the few beaches on the east coast to do so! 

Set against a backdrop of the historic Trial Bay Gaol (see below), this beach is a popular swimming spot, perfect for families who love the outdoors. The calm, shallow crystal clear waters are ideal for kids of all ages. It’s the perfect depth for paddling, floating and snorkelling. 

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Trial Bay Gaol

This heritage-listed former public works prison and internment camp is owned by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Sitting up above the bay on the headland, the view from the guard tower lookout is extraordinary. 

It took 13 years to build the gaol which opened in 1880. The prison labourers were specifically selected for this prison so they could construct a breakwater to make Trial Bay a safe harbour between Sydney and Brisbane. Unfortunately, the scheme failed, however, you’ll still be able to see the remains of the breakwater from the lookout. Some wardens chose to work here because the inmates were relatively well behaved. Some didn’t like the remoteness of the gaol.

Today you’ll find a museum and memorial for visitors to get a better idea of life behind the walls. There is an entry fee, but it’s well worth the visit.

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Smokey Cape Lighthouse

One thing I can say about this holiday is that it’s full of breathtaking scenery. Smoke Cape was sighted and named by Captain James Cook in 1770. The light was first exhibited in April 1891 and still, today operates from the original lens and lantern. It was converted to electric operation in 1962. 

You’ll see the turnoff to the lighthouse on your way to Trial Bay. The drive weaves you through a tropical rainforest right up to the lighthouse car park. Take your time and enjoy the stunning view on both sides.  

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Scenic walking trail

  • Smokey Cape Walking Trail
  • Jack Perkins Walking Trail
  • Captain Cooks Lookout
  • Powder Magazine Walking Trail
  • Monument Hill Walking Track

Other things to do in South West Rocks

  • Whale watching from Captain Cooks Lookout
  • Book a fishing charter
  • Learn to surf
  • Hire a stand-up paddleboard
  • Visit the Maritime Museum

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