Here are 10 of the best things to do in South West Rocks that you‘ve probably never heard of but definitely should know about.
Hidden away smack bang between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour on Australia’s Mid-North Coast is the sleepy town of South West Rocks. It may not seem like it on the drive into town, with its quiet streets and quaint shops, but this coastal locality is bursting with things to do.
1. Backflip off Back Creek Bridge
Back Creek is known among locals for its crystal-clear water, boisterous high-tide flow and of course, its unique bridge that is part boardwalk part plunge platform. Pick a spot on the grass, whether it be by a barbecue or near the water’s edge, to enjoy a day at one of the best swimming spots in South West Rocks.
Back Creek Bridge has recently been refurbished. (Image: Destination NSW)
If you dare, climb the bridge to its highest point and bomb into the blue waters below. Put your brave face on, as local kids are known to hover about and watch, waiting eagerly for their turn. For those who’d rather a slower entrance, opt for the boardwalk, which has a spot with steps.
If you head down at high tide, bring an inflatable. It’s a rite of passage to jump in at the mouth of the creek and let the strong current pull you back towards the bridge. There’s also plenty of space to swim along the shore, plus areas to deploy kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. All that swimming got you hungry? Head across the road to Back Creek Cafe, one of the best cafes in town.
The gentle waters make it perfect for stand-up paddleboarding. (Image: Destination NSW)
2. Grab grub at The Kiosk in Horseshoe Bay
The best place in town for fish and chips might just be the most unlikely. Perched on the top of the hill between Horseshoe Bay and Main Beach is The Kiosk at Horseshoe Bay, renowned for serving up all the best post-swim snacks.
From delicious burgers, freshly cooked hot chips and seafood galore to creamy milkshakes, ice creams and lollies to go, you’ll be spoilt for choice. We recommend grabbing take-away and sitting under the Norfolk pines overlooking Horseshoe Bay; it’s a classic holiday experience sprinkled with some South West Rocks magic.
Nestle under the Norfolks to chow down on lunch. (Image: Destination NSW)
3. Picnic at Monument Point
Just behind The Kiosk at Horseshoe Bay, you’ll find a view that rivals most, so pack yourself a picnic and head to Monument Point for sprawling ocean views. It’s also a great spot to watch whales head to their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic after breeding in the north if you’re visiting between September and October.
Monument Point looks out over Horseshoe Bay. (Image: Destination NSW)
Set up on the grass either in the sun or under the shade of a Norfolk to watch the waves crash on the jagged rocks below, which at low tide form beautiful, small rock pools that you can swim in.
This is also a great snorkelling spot at low tide. Make your way down to the rocks to witness the marine life up close; locals have even spotted dolphins frolicking in the waves here. If you’re keen to snorkel but don’t have much experience, head around the corner to Trial Bay Beach to snorkel in the shallows near the Surf Club for a calmer introduction.
Gather your nibblies for a picnic with a view.
4. Pick up souvenirs at The Shell Shop
The Shell Shop on Gregory Street is a perfect example of what makes South West Rocks so special. Showcasing a mind-boggling range of shells displayed inside glass cabinets, The Shell Shop sells the perfect souvenir; something truly local and rare to find elsewhere. Think conch shells of every size and colour, spiral shells, pearly scallop shells and even coral and crystals. The owner uses these finds to create homemade gifts, such as jewellery boxes, necklaces and outdoor hanging decorations.
The Shell Shop is located on Gregory Street in South West Rocks. (Image: Chloe Braushi)
Next door yet still connected to The Shell Shop, you’ll find a small but well-stocked nursery that you can buy from as well. You’ll be surprised at the low-cost total of your purchases.
Choose a unique shell to take home with you. (Image: Chloe Braushi)
5. Play golf alongside wild kangaroos
The town is nestled between two national parks and surrounded by lush bushland, so it’s no surprise that the kangaroo population in South West Rocks is numerous. In fact, they can be seen bounding across residential streets and grazing near beaches.
The 18-hole course is just a short walk from the beach.
The South West Rocks Country Club is no exception, expect to spot kangaroos munching away on the well-trimmed grass. Thankfully they’re skilled at staying out of the way when it comes time to tee off. The Country Club allows non-members to play the 18-hole course for a $30 social green fee ($25 for nine holes). Barefoot bowls and tennis courts are also available to book (kangaroo sightings are thrown in for free).
The Kangaroo population rivals that of the townsfolk. (Image: Destination NSW)
6. Explore the old Trial Bay Gaol
Step back in time as you enter the ancient ruins of Trial Bay Gaol, which opened in 1886 after its construction 13 years earlier. A unique example of a public works prison, it was also used as an internment camp in World War I.
The historic Trial Bay Gaol opened in 1886. (Image: Destination NSW)
There are plenty of tours available, from twilight and sunset tours to a life behind bars kids tour. A museum and memorial nearby also offer visitors deeper insight into how life was for prisoners when the gaol was still operational.
Trial Bay Gaol is located within the Arakoon National Park, so there’s plenty to explore once you finish your tour. Hike the Powder Magazine walking track or spend the night and pitch a tent at the nearby Trial Bay Gaol campground.
Visitors can pick from a variety of tours. (Image: Destination NSW)
7. 4WD along South Smoky Beach
Navigate your way down the dirt roads through Arakoon National Park to South Smoky Beach, where the flat, hard sand makes the perfect place to 4WD safely. You’ll need to pre-book a beach driving permit online or in person with Kempsey Council and be aware that the last 500 metres of the north end of the beach is closed to all vehicles.
Spot Smoky Cape Lighthouse from below. (Image: Chloe Braushi)
The 15-kilometre stretch of beach boasts some of the most stunning scenery along the coast. There’s dense bushland behind you, a tumbling ocean in front and two cliff faces on either side, one adorned with the historic Smoky Cape Lighthouse.
Renowned among locals as a surfing hotspot, this stretch of beach offers some of the best breaks in town. For those looking to swim, be aware that South Smoky Beach is not patrolled. If you’ve got little ones, don’t fret; there are plenty of other gorgeous beaches to choose from.
The hard sand makes it easy to cruise along in a 4WD.
8. Discover treasures at Opals Gems & Things
Enter a world of all things shimmery and shiny at Opals Gems & Things in the main drag of South West Rocks. It’s a great place to pick up a gift for yourself or someone special, with everything from raw crystals and shaped gems to handmade jewellery and decorative pieces. Every shelf is neatly organised by the type of crystal or gem, with small notes that detail the meaning behind each.
Pick a crystal that speaks to you from the colourful range.
9. Experience a slice of history at Smoky Cape Lighthouse
The stunning yet historic Smoky Cape Lighthouse sits atop a narrow headline between North Smoky and South Smoky beaches. Built in 1891, the lighthouse was designed by architect James Barnet. It was named after the headland, which Captain Cook dubbed Smoky Cape after he saw fires burning there in 1770. The walk from the car park is steep but you’ll be rewarded with grand coastal views and plenty of wildlife-spotting opportunities along the way.
The lighthouse is the ideal spot for stunning coastal views. (Image: Destination NSW)
10. Wander the Beachside Markets
On the second Saturday of every month, South West Rocks transforms into a hub for local produce, custom crafts and decor, live music, clothes, food trucks and plants. Held at the picturesque Horseshoe Bay, visitors can wander through the stalls of the Beachside Markets, then sit in the shade of the Norfolks for lunch or jump into the sea for a dip.
The markets start bright and early at 8am and wrap up around 1pm. Additional markets are held each Saturday during the school holidays, making it the perfect family-friendly activity to add to your itinerary.
Pick up a new plant to take home with you.