With its rich blend of Australian history and beach culture, The Rocks, as it’s affectionately known, is a shoe-in for our Best 100 Towns.

The largest seaside town in the Macleay Valley, its surrounded by largely untouched waterways and national parks and is so popular for its variety of beaches, including Trial Bay Beach (one of the few east coast beaches that actually faces west), that distant Queensland surfers have been known to leave their smorgasbord of local beaches to migrate the 6.5hrs south its shores.

Sitting on the northeast point of town, the Arakoon State Conservation Area is home to Smoky Cape Lighthouse and the circa 1866 Trial Bay Gaol. Closed and reopened during WWI as an internment camp for citizens of German descent, the mysterious building now stands to create a dramatic contrasting backdrop to the pristine beaches, lending insight into the town’s unique heritage.

“Developers have overlooked this little gem of a town on the mid-north coast near Kempsey. Long may it stay that way, so we can continue to have the beaches to ourselves.” – Lee Atkinson

Hat Head National Park forms South West Rocks’ coast of sweeping beaches backing onto pockets of rainforest and state-protected park with one of the state’s largest dune systems – so don’t forget your 4WD (permits required for any impromptu dune expeditions).

And don’t miss the Fish Rock Cave Dive, one of the best in the country – if you’re okay with grey nurse sharks.

Where? // On the NSW mid-north coast, about 455km north of Sydney (5hrs 45mins drive).

Did you know? // Smoky Cape, on which the lighthouse stands, was named by Captain Cook on May 13, 1770, as he sailed past and noticed some fires which happened to be burning at the time.

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