South West Rocks must be one of the most misleading place names in Australia. If you’ve never been there or been told about it, you wouldn’t be likely to want to visit this lovely town about 50 miles or 80 kilometres north of Port Macquarie. Ask those who have discovered South West Rocks, though, and they’ll tell you it’s one of the best places to go for a thoroughly relaxing holiday.
Just in case you’re still wondering: South West Rocks isn’t a rock pile southwest of some large tourist destination. It’s the name of a beautiful coastal town with a population of about four thousand. The town was first settled as a place to house low-security prisoners in the late 1800s. Their first job was to build a breakwater around the bay beneath the rocky cliffs on the southern end of the settlement. That may be how the town got its name.
At any rate, the breakwater was never completed. The prison was closed in 1903 and wasn’t reopened until WWI, when German and Austrian immigrants were detained there. These detainees, many of whom had lived in Australia their entire lives, were not really considered a threat, so enjoyed some privileges the earlier inmates did not. They were probably the first settlers in South West Rocks who got to enjoy the beach life, since that was where they spent much of their free time before being locked up again at night.
The early convicts and the WWI detainees were housed in Trial Bay Gaol. If it weren’t for its high walls, this well-constructed granite building could be mistaken for a 19th century mansion or resort. It stands proudly above a sheer cliff and commands a million dollar view of the ocean and the surrounding countryside.
While the gaol is one of South West Rock’s biggest onshore attractions, the town’s biggest global attraction lies beneath the surface of an island about a mile off its shores. Fish Rock Cave runs for over 100 yards (125 metres) beneath the surface of Green Island. It is known for its abundance of sea life, including the grey nurse sharks that live and breed in the waters around the island and has been rated as one of Australia’s Top Ten diving spots.
If you’re looking for a great place to just sit back and relax, then you’ll love the village atmosphere of South West Rocks. As soon as you arrive in town, you begin to relax and unwind as you drive down its wide, tree-lined streets. No doubt, the first thing you will do is stop in for an alfresco lunch and cappuccino in one of the many cafes that line the main road.