Places of Interest
Macleay Valley Coast

Macleay RiverUpper Macleay Aerial view of South West RocksSouth West Rocks Big Nobby, Crescent HeadCrescent Head


Within the Kempsey Shire, there are numerous walks that offer enthusiasts many different experiences and opportunities for first hand encounters with our native flora and fauna. Marked trails lead the adventurer through coastal heathland over rocky outcrops to isolated beaches or deep into rainforests in the mountain country to the west of Kempsey.

Suggested walks

Trial Bay Gaol to Little Bay (near South West Rocks)

In the Arakoon State Recreation Area, a steep climb on a formed track takes you past the German Monument and on to the Little Bay Day Visitor Area. The views are spectacular and, during spring, the area is carpeted with flannel flowers and other native plants (20-30 minutes). Return to the Gaol via the Bridle Trail and the old Powder Magazine (20 minutes).

Little Bay to the Gap Beach (near South West Rocks)

A longer walk of about 3km links Little Bay to the northern end of Gap Beach. The track is quite steep and rugged in places but the scenery is spectacular (45 minutes-1 hour). You can then continue along a track to Smoky Cape Lighthouse.

Korogoro Point (at Hat Head in the Hat Head National Park)

The track leads north along the east bank of Korogoro Creek, through coastal rainforest to the arch, a deeply eroded crevice in the foundation rock of the peninsula. Return to Gap Picnic Area on the eastern side of Hat Hill. A detour up the track to the trig can be taken resulting in magnificent views. (90 minutes)

Hungry Rest Area Walk (at Hat Head in the Hat Head National Park)

Follow the track south from Gap Picnic Area to secluded Connors Beach and Third Beach and then around Kemps Corner to the Hungry Rest Area. (120 minutes)

Goolawah Lagoon (at Racecourse Beach in the Goolawah Reserve)

A level stroll along the back dunes on the edge of the lagoon. A birdwatchers delight. Retrace steps or return along the beach. (45 minutes to 1 hour)

Big Hill (12 km south of Crescent Head on the Point Plomer Road in the Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve)

A graded nature walk has been constructed at Big Hill - the track gives access to beaches and a variety of interesting headland vegetation including a littoral rainforest. Offers spectacular coastal scenery. (90 minutes)

Cedar Park (on the Tamban Forest Drive)

A walk through a moist hardwood forest featuring red cedars and massed staghorns, elkhorns, tree ferns and orchids festooning the upper parts of the forest trees. (20 minutes)

Maria River Rest Area (8kms south of Kempsey on the Pacific Highway)

A walk through a moist hardwood forest featuring Flooded Gum, Blue Gum, Tallowwood and Blackbutt trees. (20 minutes)

The Pines Picnic Area (on the Way Way Forest Drive, Yarrahapinni)

A walk through a rainforest bounded by plantations of Hoop Pine and Flooded Gum. (15-20 minutes)

Kookaburra Trail (80km west of Kempsey on the Carrai Road)

A walk through regenerating rain forest to the top of the Kookaburra Falls. (20 minutes)

Further information

Kempsey Tourist Information Centre - 02 6563 1555

Pee DeePee Dee Aerial view of South West RocksSouth West Rocks Big Nobby, Crescent HeadCrescent Head

Forest drives

A pleasant way to spend an afternoon or a full day is to take a drive over some of the 1100km of sealed and unsealed roads in the Kempsey Shire. Maps and a scenic drive handout are available from the Tourist Information Centre and the following suggested drives are just a taste of the short trips that can be enjoyed in Macleay Valley Coast.

Crescent Head and southern beaches

Turn off the highway opposite the Tourist Information Centre at South Kempsey and follow the road to coastal Crescent Head. Picnic and barbecue facilities on the ocean front day visitor area. Beautiful views from Skyline Lookout. Travel south on Point Plomer Road (unsealed) to Goolawah Beach, Racecourse, Delicate Nobby, Big Hill (littoral rainforest walk), Point Plomer and the Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve then return. NB: A four wheel drive vehicle is required to proceed further south than Point Plomer. (Round trip 56km)

Gladstone, Hat Head and National Park

Take the South West Rocks Road on the eastern side of the Kempsey Bridge. Visit historic Gladstone and wander through the craft and antique shops (open Thursday to Sunday; 7 days during NSW School Holidays). Continue driving and turn right at Kinchela for the seaside village of Hat Head. Barbecue and picnic facilities on the day visitor area. Walk through the National Park and enjoy the spectacle of the wildflowers in spring or drive to the lookout and barbecue area. A short trip over unsealed road takes you to the Hungry Head Rest Area where you can observe the spectacular sand dunes. (Round trip 76km)

South West Rocks, Trial Bay Gaol and Smoky Cape Lighthouse

Take the South West Rocks Road on the eastern side of the Kempsey bridge and proceed via Gladstone, Kinchela and Jerseyville (home of our fishing and prawning fleets and the Fisherman’s Co-operative) to the tourist resort of South West Rocks. Drive to the entrance of the Macleay River, the historic Boatman’s Cottage and Trial Bay Gaol, have a picnic or barbecue at Little Bay then proceed to Smoky Cape Lighthouse and James Cook Lookout. Return via Smithtown and Frederickton. (Round trip 100km)

Stuarts Point and Grassy Head

Turn off the Pacific Highway 32km north of Kempsey (onto Tourist Drive 14) and follow the road a further 10km through banana plantations, forests and farmland to Stuarts Point. A short detour south will take you to Fisherman’s Reach. Proceed north to Grassy Head the original mouth of the Macleay River, then continue on to Scotts Head. Barbecue and picnic facilities at both Stuarts Point and Grassy Head day visitor areas. Return via the Pacific Highway. (Round trip 100km)

Yarrahapinni Lookout and Way Way Forest Drive

Follow the Pacific Highway north to Warrell Creek. Turn right onto Rosewood Road and follow the signs to the lookout. Proceed to the Pines Picnic Area, then follow the drive down to Scotts Head Road. Return via Grassy Head and Stuarts Point to Kempsey (Round trip 125km)

Toorooka, Moparrabah and Sherwood

Take the Armidale Road through Willawarrin, then turn left to Toorooka. Continue on this unsealed road to Moparrabah then turn left on the Willi Willi Road to Sherwood. (Round trip 80km)

Toorooka, Kookaburra and Daisy Plains

Take the Armidale Road through Willawarrin then turn left to Toorooka (unsealed beyond Toorooka), cross the bridge then turn right into Warbro Brook Road and then onto Carrai Road. Proceed through the Carrai State Forest to Kookaburra (delightful bush walk and waterfall), then on to Daisy Plains and return. (Round trip 240km)

Way Way Forest Drive

Way Way Forest Drive is a round trip 29km long, taking about 2 hours. It starts 7km south of Macksville where Rosewood Road leaves the old highway at Warrell Creek. From here, follow the Forest Drive markers along Rosewood Road, Way Way Creek Road, then back to Scotts Head Road. Points of interest include the Blackbutt forest, Mount Yarrahapinni Lookout, the Pines Picnic Area and the Way Way Creek forest walk. A brochure is available from the Kempsey and South West Rocks Tourist Information Centres and the State Forest Offices in Kempsey and Urunga.

Please note that the two routes below should not be attempted because a bridge on Hickeys Creek Road is currently closed. The bridge is not expected to be repaired for a considerable length of time.

Taylors Arm

Take the Armidale Road through Willawarrin and turn right to Millbank on the Hickeys Creek Road and proceed to Taylors Arm - home of the "Pub with no Beer". Return the some route (Round trip 160km) or proceed to Macksville and return via the Pacific Highway.

Snowy Range and Millbank

Take the Armidale Road through Willawarrin then turn right on to the Nulla Nulla Road until the end of the tar. Turn right onto Kilprotay Road and follow it up onto the Snowy Range. Turn right onto Hickeys Creek Road and travel through Millbank until you rejoin the Armidale Road. (Round trip 150km)

Further information

Additional information can be obtained from:

  • Kempsey Visitor Information Centre - Ph: 02 6563 1555
  • Kempsey State Forest - Ph: 02 6562 1341
Smoky Cape LighthouseSmoky Cape Lighthouse

Smoky Cape Lighthouse

Smoky Cape light is one of a number of unmanned lighthouses in NSW. The light is shown from a concrete tower 17 metres high, but being 128 metres above sea level, it is the highest light on the NSW coast. Designed to rotate once per minute, the light produces three white flashes every 20 seconds, visible approximately 27 nautical miles to sea. Its geographical position is 30°56'S, 153°05'E, 510 kms from Sydney by road or 210 nautical miles by sea.

Its name originated in Captain Cook’s log dated 13th May, 1770 in which he recorded "point or headland, on which were fires that caused a great quantity of smoke, which occasioned my giving it the name Smoky Cape." The tower is closed to the public however visitors are welcome to wander around the base and enjoy the view.

Additional information can be obtained from:

  • Kempsey Tourist Information Centre - 02 6563 1555

Macleay River Historical Society Museum

Tourist Information Centre and
MuseumTourist Information Centre and Museum

Step back in time and visit the Macleay River Historical Societies’ Museum and Settlers Cottage, Pacific Highway South Kempsey. The museum is open from 10am to 4pm daily and a small charge applies.

Trace the history of the Macleay Valley from the early time of the aborigines to the present day. See displays depicting the Cedar timber trade, a hand-carved bullock team and farm machinery. A restored Dray Cart and Leyland Truck are on display with memorabilia from boats, river droghers and barges.

Other displays include fine clothing, linen, silver, crockery ornaments, jewellery, accessories, sporting trophies, telephone exchange and post office equipment. Our servicemen are remembered with displays of relics, photos, letters and medals. Photos from the Angus McNeil Glass Plate Collection have received nationwide acclaim.

Additional information can be obtained from:
Macleay River Historical Society - 02 6562 7572

Aboriginal performersWigay ParkWigay Cultural Park

Aboriginal culture

Aboriginal heritage and culture are very much apart of Kempsey today. The local museum has an excellent display of aboriginal artefacts and an extensive file on local aboriginal studies. Students are welcome to peruse these files by making an appointment in advance with the volunteers on duty at the museum. Visitors can wander through the Wigay Cultural Park (a traditional food tree park) operated by Kempsey TAFE’s Djigay Centre which is adjacent to the college. This park is being developed by local aboriginal people to increase awareness of Aboriginal culture and preserve their heritage. The park can be visited at any time or tours with an aboriginal guide can be arranged by phoning the centre on 02 6566 2332 during office hours. A small charge applies for this tour.

Aboriginal sites of significance, including a fish trap at Point Plomer, which is one of only three known on the mid north coast, can be found in the area between Big Hill and Queens Head south of Crescent Head. A Bora Ring, near Richardsons Crossing, provides another link with Aboriginal culture.

Evidence of Aboriginal settlement abounds in the Stuarts Point area with some of the largest shell middens on the coast being found nearby. The mounds of shells, up to 3 metres in places, are said to be between 3000 and 11,000 years old. Unfortunately, these middens are not accessible to the public as they are on private land but their presence gives us a glimpse of the lifestyle of coastal Aborigines.

Fish Rock Cave

South West RocksSouth West Rocks

Fish Rock, 2km south east of Smoky Cape, is one of the largest ocean caverns in the southern hemisphere. Thousands of bullseye hang suspended as you enter this 120 metre long cave at the deep end. Swim into the tunnel entrance over huge wobbegong sharks and a bull ray resting on the bottom. You’ll pass by clusters of live cowry shells, a large Spanish dancer, bryozoan lace coral and sea cucumbers before ascending up one of two chimneys. Go up into the bubble cave formed by diver’s exhaust bubbles being trapped at the cave ceiling, take your regulator out and have a chat to your buddy - 8 metres underwater!

The shallow end of the cave is stunning - silhouetted in the deep blue opening are thousands of bullseyes, gorgonian coral fans, trumpetfish, and black cod - it’s a photographer’s dream! This dive is a must for everyone.

Additional information can be obtained from:

  • Fish Rock Dive Centre - 02 6566 6614
  • South West Rocks Dive Centre - 02 6566 6474
Main Beach, South West RocksMain Beach where ferry went ashoreFerry chimney stackFerry remains

Trial Bay ferry story

The rusting remains of the showboat and two vehicular ferries on Main Beach at South West Rocks bring back memories of a saga that occurred in 1972.

On Saturday January 1, 1972, the ocean going tug Polaris took the Sydney Queen and three vehicular ferries, the Koondooloo, Lurgurena and the Kooroongaba in tow and began a 4000km journey from Newcastle to Manilla. All four were to be taken to the Philippines for scrapping or to be used as barges.

On January 3, the smallest ferry, the Kooroongaba sprung a plate and sank in 65 fathoms off Crowdy Head. The tow continued north however further problems were encountered and a decision was made to put into Trial Bay and make repairs. On January 7, the Polaris entered Trial Bay and the ferries were moored to the buoys used by the oil tankers. Local fishermen expressed the view that the hawsers used in the moorings may not be strong enough to hold the vessels in the event of a gale.

Two days later, the weather changed and during the night of January 9, the Koondooloo snapped her moorings and went ashore. All attempts to move her failed and she became deeply embedded in the sand. At 12:30pm on January 12, the Sydney Queen broke her moorings and went aground only 100 metres from the Koondooloo. On January 15, the Lurgurena joined the other two on the beach. She was pulled off once but, by some unexplained mishap, was back on shore on January 16 and the Polaris had departed.

All salvage attempts failed and a long court battle to have the wrecks removed from the beach began. Almost a year later, the Sydney Queen was burnt to enable the engine and boilers to be removed for scrap.

The elements have taken their toll on the wrecks but it is still possible to see a few rusting remains whilst strolling along Main Beach.


Surfboard riders at beach

Surfing and the beaches of the Macleay Valley go hand in hand. Crescent Head is famous throughout the surfing world for its Malibu waves and has played host to the Australian Malibu Titles. Every year in May, the Crescent Head Malibu Classic is held with many surfing pioneers and legends in attendance with their families. All surfers, including bodysurfers, bodyboarders, Malibu riders and shortboarders will find a wave to suit their age and experience in the Macleay Valley, from Middle Head in the north to Point Plomer in the south.

The waves in this region vary - hollow, fast tubing beach breaks; long grinding point waves; and the mellower, softer wave for the less experienced. Even the beginner will find a suitable safe haven to enjoy. The chance of all the variables coming together such as swell size and direction, wind and tides varies with the seasons - but, with some careful calculating, you will score some great waves!

Local surfers will be happy to give advice to visitors on where the best waves are on any given day.

Many of our great surfing spots have good car access coupled with barbecue and picnic facilities. Other spots are accessible by dirt roads and some are only reached by walking in along bush trails.

The NookThe Nook


Canoeing the Macleay River is a pastime popular with families as the river is picturesque and not a stressful waterway. The river has long pools with small gravel races and the odd rock bar and rocky rapids in between. In normal flow, the rapids are at most Grade 2 and easily portaged if inexperienced paddlers are in the group. The scenery is spectacular and the wildlife plentiful - Azure Kingfishers, different species of waterfowl, turtles, the boldly patterned carpet snake and of course, the fish. Canoes can be hired in the area and members of the Macleay Valley Canoe Club are happy to advise visitors on canoeing the river and they have provided a handout on suggested day trips which is available from the Tourist Information Centre.
Additional information can be obtained from:

  • Kempsey Tourist Information Centre - 02 6563 1555