A dazzling coastal gem situated an hour north of Port Macquarie along the mid north coast of NSW, the little seaside town of South West Rocks punches way above its weight when it comes to family holiday fun.
Fringed by beaches so beautifully blue they appear painted, the sandy swirls of tidal waterways, towering Norfolk pines and wild bushland, the stunning South West Rocks region remains relatively undiscovered and unspoiled.
Infused with history, South West Rocks stands on the traditional lands of the Dunghutti people. The region is dotted with numerous sites of great spiritual and cultural significance, the headland itself representing a Song Line (story lines that cross the country connecting geographical and sacred sites in Aboriginal culture) between Mount Yarrahapinni and the hills around Arakoon.
South West Rocks also boasts a rich colonial history, reputed to have earned its name from the passing ships that moored near the rocks south west of Laggers Point, where Trial Bay Gaol was built 1886 as a new settlement to house convicts constructing a breakwater between Sydney and Brisbane.
With its beautiful scenery, breathtaking beaches and waterways and historic man-made attractions, here’s our pick of the best things to do in South West Rocks with kids.
Best South West Rocks Attractions for families
1. Smoky Cape Lighthouse
Perched high on a narrow headland named by Captain Cook for the smoke created by the Dunghutti people as they lit burn-off fires on the headland, Smoky Cape Lighthouse was built in 1891. And while the short steep walk to the top results in strained calves, the extraordinary 360-degree views are worth every twinge. The only thing that could make it more perfect would be convincing the kids to carry me back down…
2. Trial Bay Gaol
Surrounded by green parklands and the brilliant blue waters of Trial Bay, the great grey granite walls of Trial Bay Gaol were erected in1886 to house prisoners constructing a breakwater between Sydney and Brisbane. With the onset of World War 1, the gaol was transformed into an internment camp for people of German descent suspected of being enemy sympathisers. Things got spooky on our visit with unusual orbs appearing in the pictures we snapped in one section of the prison. Perhaps it was “Charlie the ghost” who is rumoured to lurk here. Or perhaps I just need to clean my lens more often….
One the most popular attractions for visitors to South West Rocks with kids, Trial Bay Gaol is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife service, who offer school holiday programs for kids and excellent tours for those who want to learn more about the people who lived and died here.
3. Roxy Cinema
This delightful single-screen cinema in the historic 1926 School of Arts Community Hall is one of the last operating examples of the 1950s country picture shows which used to be found in most Australian country towns. The Roxy Cinema operates all year round on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and every day on public and school holidays. Don’t forget to grab a choc top. They’re good!
Best South West Rocks beaches for families
4. Horseshoe Bay
Right in the centre of town is beautiful Horseshoe Bay, one of the most popular beaches to visit in South West Rocks with kids. Surrounded by pines and scattered with rocks my kids find hard to resist climbing. Close to shops and cafes, the beach is patrolled during spring, autumn and summer school holidays, as well as on summer weekends. And there’s a great playground for the kids.
5. Trial Bay Gaol Beach
Sheltered from winds, this pretty protected beach is another great one for families with its warm and mostly shallow waters. It’s also a great spot to watch the sunset over the water and you may even be lucky enough to spot a turtle or two.
6. Back Creek
Despite the dazzle of South West Rocks’ many gorgeous beaches, Back Creek is our favourite swim spot. Not only can you hire a SUP to explore the sparkling waterway, accompanied by a friendly pod of dolphins if you’re lucky, you can spend the day swimming with the locals, running around on the sand like loons or crossing the bridge to explore the mangroves.
7. Little Bay
Nestled between granite cliffs, just south of the headland in Arakoon National Park, is Little Bay Beach, a secluded beach with covered picnic areas and a little creek meandering through it. It’s popular with families and the dozens of kangaroos who drop by for their own day at the beach.
Best South West Rocks hiking with kids
8. Smoky Cape Walking Track
The 4.4-kilometre Smoky Cape Walking Track in Hat Head National Park is a moderate hike through unique littoral rainforest of cabbage tree palms, epiphytic orchids and lush ferns. Starting at Captain Cook’s lookout, the track follows ridges and gullies behind North Smoky Beach and, if you’re lucky, you might spot swamp and red-necked wallabies in the undergrowth.
9. Bridle Trail at Arakoon National Park
The Bridle Trail, starting at Little Bay Picnic area, is an easy track for families. The short trail was once used by horses to haul the massive steam crane used during construction of the (unfinished) breakwater and offers visitors through regenerated coastal heathlands, rainforest and gums offers a glimpse of the historic heritage of Trial Bay Gaol
Best places to eat out in South West Rocks with kids
10. Seabreeze Beach Hotel
The gorgeous Seabreeze Beach Hotel, located right across the road from the beach, offers a great community atmosphere, live entertainment and excellent food for families, including a kid’s menu. We can’t go past the Fisherman’s basket for two, packed with salt n pepper squid, flathead, scallops and tempura prawns, it’s great value.
11. Back Creek Café and Restaurant
This gorgeous little cottage overlooking pretty Back Creek is a favourite for breakfast and lunch with excellent barista coffee. The selection of salads at lunch time is impressive as are the killer schnitzels and calamari.
12. Trial Bay Kiosk
Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner with view over Trial Bay Gaol and the beach at Trial Bay Kiosk, a licensed, family friendly eatery serving up a sublime seasonal menu and freshly caught seafood. trialbaykiosk.com.au
13. Chillati Gelato and Sorbet
Located right across from Main Beach, you’ll want to come back again and again to taste your way through every flavour of what is the best Gelato in town. Service is fantastic and the coffee ain’t bad either.
Best family accommodation in South West Rocks
14. NRMA South West Rocks Holiday Resort
With kids in tow there is no better place to stay in South West Rocks than NRMA South West Rocks Holiday Resort. Boasting a stunning central location surrounded by nature, the holiday park offers an enormous variety of accommodation from powered and unpowered camping and caravan sites right through to glamping tents and luxury villas. Add a huge waterpark, swimming pool, jumping pillow, tennis court, mini golf, onsite kayaking and Stand Up paddle boarding, a games room and kids club and this place is a slice of South West Rocks heaven for families. Head here for our comprehensive review of NRMA South West Rocks Holiday Resort.
Getting to South West Rocks
Located 462km north of Sydney, South West Rocks is approximately a five-hour drive from Sydney and just under six hours from Brisbane. Alternately, visitors can catch a train to nearby Kempsey and bus into town, or fly into Port Macquarie and hire a car.