South West Rocks, New South Wales, is one of those places that evokes serenity. It caters to the full spectrum of travellers, from young families to grey nomads. Steeped in history and showcasing some of the North Coast’s most beautiful beaches and national parks, this is a detour off the highway you won’t regret.
There are plenty of camping options in and around the area. We stayed at the Big4 Sunshine Resort, with a mob of friendly kangaroos as neighbours, but soon discovered one of the best camping spots in Australia, Trial Bay Campground. Foreshore camping, it’s just the best, and the sunset view is stunning.
Now, let me introduce you to a fascinating feature of South West Rocks – the historic Trial Bay Gaol. Enviably perched upon a hill, within Arakoon National Park, this imposing stone fortress has access to the most stunning ocean and forest views – one can imagine those building developers salivating at the possibilities. Yay, for our national parks’ protection mandate!
In all seriousness, this is a place of contrasts; of beauty and tragedy. Back in the day (it opened in 1886), it was built to house prisoners who were forced to build the breakwater just out the front. The breakwater project was a calamity in terms of dodgy engineering, seasonal storms and financial pressures. The ambitious project was shelved after more than a decade of work.
During WWII, the gaol was reinstated as an internment camp for ‘enemy aliens’. It must have seemed so cruel to be locked away inside a stone fortress while outside a picture perfect postcard beckoned.
Today, there’s no roof, no stone floors and many of the walls are indelibly marked by the elements of time. On the day that we visited, the beaming sun followed its arc around Trial Bay Gaol – lighting up the corners where even the darkest shadows lingered.
You will soon discover that this tourist mecca is home to loads of wild kangaroos (seriously, you’d think they owned the place) and is proudly preserved by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and a team of dedicated volunteers.
So, that’s my little story about our sojourn to South West Rocks. A detour well worth worth taking and a place we plan to revisit.