Getting There

Today we only had a 3-hour drive to get from Hawks Nest to South West Rocks, our next stop on this sampling of the North Coast. We headed back up the Mungo Brush road to continue on around the edge of Bombah Broadwater and take a ferry crossing of the channel between it and the northern lakes in the Myall Lakes system. It was a good way to have one last look at the National Park before rejoining the Pacific Highway and heading north. We left the highway at Kempsey to follow the Macleay River to the coast and the resort town of South West Rocks, where we checked in to our small, but comfortable cabin.

Evening sky at South West Rocks

It was a superb winter's day with lots of sunshine and light winds. The temperature was also warmer with decreasing latitude and for the first time, we headed off on our leg-stretching post-drive walk wearing only T-shirts. South West Rocks has a lovely setting - just next to us was the small circular beach of Horseshoe Bay, enclosed by rocky outcrops and backed by the iconic Norfolk Island pines. To the south we could see the forest-clad hills backing Smoky Cape, in the northern end of Hat Head National Park, where we planned to walk tomorrow, while to the north, we looked out over the sparkling ocean to the blue-fading hills of the coastline beyond.

Horseshoe Bay

Looking north from South West Rocks

As our main walk would be to the south, we headed north for our afternoon leg-stretcher, crossing the tidal waters of Back Creek on a Japanese garden-styled bridge to reach the long broad stretch of firm sand that formed Back Beach. It was pleasant walk - stopped only by the rock walled breakwater marking the entrance of the Macleay River ..... the New Entrance, in fact, part of a late 19th century geo-forming feat to create a single exit, rather than a delta, and so reduce flooding.

Pedestrian bridge over Back Creek

Back Beach just south of the Macleay River mouth

We returned to our cabin for a beer as the sun set to create a pink glow in the eastern sky. Today, the weather had been perfect, but tomorrow rain is forecast. Let's hope not too much, as we have a long and interesting walk to Smoky Cape Lighthouse planned.

Smoky Cape Walk (10 km - 480m ascent - 480m descent)

Today was a day of changing plans. Initially, the plan had been to walk from Little Bay to Smoky Cape along the coast and back again via an inland route. This would have been a long walk and we had gotten up early to try and beat the forecast showers. However, by the time we drove to the start point a few kilometres from our cabin, the grey skies had opened and a steady rain was falling. We've walked 20 km enough times in the rain not to want to do it voluntarily ..... very disappointing.

Well, let's at least check out the target of our walk, Smoky Cape Lighthouse, said the fair Nello, and we drove around there in the rain. The patters on the windscreen were getting lighter and, by the time we arrived, the main rain band had passed ...... but would more rain be on the way? In the end, we wouldn't be returning to this area for a long time, if ever, and the misty post-rain view from Smoky Cape promised interesting walking terrain. We looked at the map again and devised Plan B .... a semi-circuit walk from the lighthouse that would take in most of the habitat types of the cape area and the best of the coastal scenery.

Smoky Cape lighthouse

The lighthouse keepers cottage

Firstly, though, we wandered uphill to the 19th century lighthouse, passing the former keepers' cottages, to take in the spectacular views up and down the coastline. The spectacular views included down, where 111m below, a hump-backed whale and her calf slowly made there way around the rocky cape. The southwards whale migration had begun, and the krill-rich waters of the Antarctic were calling.

The long stretch of beach south of Smoky Cape

The light house from Jack Perkins Track

Retracing our steps downhill, we picked up the well-formed Jack Perkins Walking Track which headed northwards and down beneath the coastal casuarinas and sweet pittosporums to North Smoky Beach. The tide was out and we walked across the firm tan-coloured sand beneath the lighthouse-topped cape, accompanied by the dull roar of the surf.

North Smoky Beach

Path down to the beach

Pandanus lined rocks

Beautiful North Smoky Beach

Crossing the small rocky outcrop that splits the beach into two, we continued northwards to climb up onto the slopes backing the beach. The track was now a narrow and overgrown pad, skirting the steep slope, passing beneath banksias and pandanus to round a small and stony-beached inlet.

Coastline north of Smoky Cape

From here, we angled upwards across the slope of the next headland .... the strappy leaves of lomandra tussocks, wet with the recent rain, flopped across the track and our trousers were soon wet from the knees down ... a small price to pay for walking through this spectacular landscape. From the grassy lower slopes of this headland, speckled purple by the flowers of flag-lilies, we could look back over the golden beach to the dark silhouette of Smoky Cape. Just offshore, the waves beat up against the dark rock walls of grass-capped Green Island.

A rugged section of shoreline

Green Island

A glimpse of Gap Beach from the ridge

Heading on, we continued the climb, now following the Green Island Track up through the banksia heathland, low trees laiden with golden cones, to follow a spur steeply up and away from the coast into the eucalypt forest. It was very humid after the rain, but there are few smells more soothing than the scent of a wet eucalyptus forest.

Climb up the ridge into the forest

On the Smoky Cape Track

View through the trees of the coastal ridges

The track widened into a broad gravel path, joining the main Smoky Cape Track to wind its way beneath the canopy of the tall eucalypts and through groundcover of bracken and grass-trees. The route levelled out and we began to head downhill, picking up a rain-greasy 4WD road that headed steeply down to Gap Beach, a long stretch of golden sand backed by a small patch of littoral rain forest.

We stopped beneath the pandanus-lined low cliffs at its southern end to enjoy an early and leisurely lunch, taking in the panorama of the beach, the breaking surf and the mist-capped silhouette of Little Smoky Hill behind. The rain-storms out to sea were a little more worrying, but luckily did not make landfall.

On Gap Beach

Lunch over, we wandered the length of the beach, past a small mob of coastal kangaroos, to return a little further inland via the overgrown Rain Forest Loop, which gave us a feeling for the swampy littoral rainforest, dominated by cabbage tree palms.

Walking the Rainforest Loop

Having returned to the spot where we reached Gap Beach, we found the faint track leading up on to the headland - it was faint indeed, a slight indent in the lomandra groundcover and required a bit of concentration to keep on trail as it led us around the steep slopes above Gap Beach and the ocean, before leading us down to a narrow grassy valley below the forested hills. At the base of a valley, a tiny rocky beach marked the junction with the ocean.

Traversing a grassy ridge above Gap Beach

Here, we had to scout around a bit, before again picking up the track to climb up the steep banksia lined southern slope of the valley and rejoin our outward route on the grassy headland ...... time to have another long break and enjoy the views of sandy beaches and towering light-house capped rocky cape, before retracing our path back across North Smoky Beach and up to the start. This is one walk where the return journey is equally enjoyable as the outward one.

Crossing a grassy gully at The Cobble

Looking towards Smoky Cape

After such a disappointing start, it had ended up a great walk ..... high on our list of Best Coastal Daywalks. There is nothing like having a good Plan B, even if it is improvised on the spot.

Arakoon National Park (3.5 km - 70m ascent - 70m descent)

Arakoon is small National Park adjacent to its larger cousin, Hat Head. Its main purpose is to preserve an historic precinct and the ruins of a gaol built in the 1870s, which first housed prisoners until 1903 and then German internees during WW1, before being abandoned in 1921. Rain was forecast today with 100% certainty, starting around midday with heavy falls. A short walk in Arakoon seemed the best of limited options.

View over the gaol and across Trial Bay

The old gaol at Trial Bay built in the 1870s

Courtyard of the gaol - a German internment camp during WWII

Wandering through the old gaol

First on the agenda was an exploration of the granite block ruins of the gaol set on the headland at the southern end of Trial Bay. The precinct was well-signed with the history of its time as a gaol, a model reformist prison for its time, and then as an internment camp for enemy aliens.

View over Trial Bay

Monument to the German Internees who died at Trial Bay

Enemy aliens during 1915-1918 referring to anyone of German nationality (or ancestry, as you were still considered an alien if you were Australian-born, but a parent or grandparent had been born in Germany). This latter grouping included all of my ancestors, most of whom were first or second generation Australians at the time and one of whom died as 19-year old fighting with the AIF at Ypres (you may detect a certain resentment of the jingoistic paranoia of the times).

Leaving the gaol, we headed off for a short walk .... firstly up to Monument Hill, the monument being a stone column built by the internees in memory of their fellow Germans who died at Trial Bay, then along the coastal ridge to Little Bay, an aptly named inlet in the rocky coastline below the tree-covered slopes of Little Smoky Hill.

Meditating upon thevastness of the ocean

View over Little Bay to Little Smoky Hill

Gap through to the ocean at Little Bay

Out to sea the wind was whipping up white-caps and the slow-moving rain squalls gradually approached the coast. Just as we arrived at Little Bay, the first drops began to fall, so we headed back via a shorter and lower route, sheltered from the wind and protected from showers by the forest canopy.

Returning via the inland route ....

.... through coastal forest

It was good to have been able to get out and walk before the main rain-bands, with their heavy downpours, started moving through. The afternoon would most likely be spent in our rather small cabin, reading books, drinking coffee and eating tim-tams.