Smoky Cape Lodge is a lighthouse that you can actually stay in! Our independent review.
At the Smoky Cape Lighthouse B&B, they tell an old joke you’d do well to remember: when you turn in for the night, make sure you leave the lights on…
Romanticised in film and literature and often the major landmark of small coastal towns, lighthouses have always held a strong appeal. For some, their attraction lies largely in location: they can represent the sole beacon of humanity in an otherwise rugged and windswept landscape. And then there are lighthouse keepers – tough souls living in isolation, trusted to warn sailors of the dangers of the sea and responsible for ensuring, above all, that the light stays lit.
Situated on a narrow headland in the middle of Hat Head National Park, about a five-hour drive north of Sydney, is the Smoky Cape Lighthouse; at 128 metres above sea level, it’s the highest in NSW. It began operating in 1891, and for nearly 100 years was manned by a lighthouse keeper. Then, in 1988, the light became automated and the keeper, sadly, was out of a job. Seizing the opportunity to establish a unique tourism facility, the National Parks and Wildlife Service converted the cluster of heritage-listed buildings into accommodation, with the Head Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage operating as Smoky Cape B&B (with two guest rooms), and the Assistant’s cottage set up for self-catered stays and larger groups.
I first got wind of the B&B while searching for a birthday gift for my husband; figuring a surprise stay at Smoky Cape would be nicely different, I secretly booked us in for a night. Our first impressions were good. The Pacific Ocean and the densely forested Hat Head National Park form the B&B’s front yard, while the actual back yard faces southwest along a strip of coastline stretching towards Hat Head, with the mountain ranges looming on the western skyline. We were greeted at the door by our hosts, who showed us around, encouraged us to feel at home and even brought our bags up the steep hill from the car park in a little motorised cart. While our room wasn’t huge, it was tastefully furnished with wooden period pieces and retained the original polished floorboards. A window overlooked the ocean beside a queen sized four-poster bed, which I felt was romantic. My husband simply cast me a cheeky grin.
There’s just one bathroom at the B&B, shared between the two guestrooms, along with a reading room and dining area. The lack of a private bathroom is probably the biggest drawback – but it is, after all, an old building. That equals plenty of character, but does also mean it isn’t as luxurious as more modern guesthouses. I’d packed food and wine for lunch so we could “eat in” and make the most of the stunning location; there’s no other development on the headland, so aside from the occasional sightseer, we had the place to ourselves and enjoyed the last few hours of daylight in peace and quiet.
Nighttime brought its own magic. Stars filled the sky and the lighthouse’s rhythmic flash – with a range of 43 kms or 23 nautical miles – cast an eerie glow over the ocean. The next day brought rain, while strong winds buffeted the narrow headland. I was disappointed we were unable to eat our cooked breakfast on the balcony; instead, we sat in the small, indoor dining area away from the view. This was not part of my plan – but, as my husband is fond of reminding me, you can’t have everything, and breakfast itself was delicious.
The rain quickly cleared and we followed a bushwalk down to a deserted cove. As we sat on the beach gazing out to sea, I spied a huge spray of water, followed by another. Whales. Several of them. Suddenly kids again, we squinted at the horizon for the next 20 minutes as a small group of humpbacks cruised by on their annual journey north to warmer waters.
Sadly, our stay was for one night only, during which time we caught only the smallest hint of something the lighthouse’s keepers must surely have experienced to the full: Mother Nature at her purring best and ferocious worst. I’m already wondering how I can justify another trip – and soon.
DETAILS: SMOKY CAPE LIGHTHOUSE B&B
Style: Unique lighthouse accommodation
Location: NSW mid-north coast near South West Rocks, about five hours drive from Sydney.
Size: two B&B guest rooms and two self-contained houses contained in the one building, sleeping up to 12.
Cuisine: Good. Full hot breakfast included. Nearest restaurants five minutes away at South West Rocks.
Service: Friendly and accommodating.
Outlook: Fantastic ocean views. Hard to beat.
Room Service: No.
Children? Yes. Self-catered cottage perfect for families.
Disabled Facilities? No. But the hosts are happy to drop people to the door, using a small, motorised cart.
Fee: B&B rooms $187 per night (inc. GST). Self-contained cottage $363 (inc. GST), minimum two-night stay. Rates fluctuate seasonally.
Thumbs Up: The unique lighthouse location and views.
Thumbs Down: Shared bathroom and small rooms.
Wendy and Pat Halverson
Lighthouse Road, Arakoon
PO Box 304
South West Rocks
Phone: (02) 6566 6301