Trial Bay Gaol, Arakoon National Park, NSW

The views from the camp site over Trial Bay and out to the Pacific Ocean are beautiful. The ocean side has spectacular coastal views with its rugged rock walls and beautiful blue water. We saw a turtle swiming not far out.

The beach of the bay has soft sand and the water is crystal clear. Due to the breakwater the bay has silted up with sand and is now barely waist deep at high tide. It is calm and a great place for children, paddle boards and kayaks. We enjoyed cooling off there every day.

The camp area is narrow and long. Unfortunately the public road to and from the boat ramp and the day visitors picnic area, runs through the centre of the campground and the traffic was constant. It’s the first time we have put up our annex for privacy. Leaving the front wall off we still got the bay view but felt a little less exposed to the passing cars and their fumes.

The amenities block has flush toilets and hot showers for 20c, or more if you want a longer shower. Lots of Kangaroos and rats, not native bush rats, black rats (have you read Tim’s post “Temperature Trouble etc.” on what a rat did to our car?). There are limited sites with power and water, we chose unpowered in preference for a nicer position. The prices were very high compared to other National Park camp grounds. We wouldn’t stay at this particular camp ground again but the gaol is certainly worth a day trip if you’re in the area. It is a beautiful site and has an interesting history. Trial Bay had been recognised as a safe shipping refuge from southerlies ever since its naming after the wreck of the Brig Trial in 1817. In the 19th century, coastal shipping was the main means of transport. Between 1863 and 1866 some 90 ships and 243 lives were lost, forcing the NSW Colonial government to act. The Trial Bay Gaol was established in 1876 as an experimental Public Works Gaol where the inmates would construct the breakwater. Although work started in 1877, it was not completed until 1886 due to difficulties in working the hard stone, inconsistent funding and contractual problems. When the second (southern) wing of the gaol was completed in 1900, electric lights, a new kitchen, scullery, bakehouse, toilets, wash house and weather shed were installed in the complex, strongly indicating NSW Government support for the Public Works Gaol experiment. Yet only three years later work was abandoned and the gaol was closed in July 1903. Severe storms and increasing costs had seen only some 300 metres of the planned 1500 metre break wall completed. External buildings were auctioned in 1904, and after 17 years of use, the abandoned gaol remained as testimony to an experiment with humane prison reform. With the onset of World War 1, the old gaol was given a new lease of life as a German internment camp (1915–1918). After the war, a caretaker was installed and, with no foreseeable future, the gaol was stripped of all movable buildings and materials in 1922, leaving the heritage listed ruin that you see today.

During the gaol’s era as a WW I Concentration Camp, the internees built a monument at the place where some of their fellow internees were burried. It was destroyed soon after and rebuilt again after the war. It is now recognised as a German war grave.

Snorkelling is listed as ‘must do’ in this area, but due to the recent heavy rains snorkelling areas were so dark with tannin and mud from the rivers that visibility would have been minimal so we gave that a miss. However if you’re into scuba diving, Australia’s best dive cave is here, Fish Rock Cave. South West Rocks is the nearest town and patrolled beach so we headed there for a swim at Horseshoe Bay,  the water was dark brown from the run off from South West Rocks Creek near by. We swam but didn’t enjoy it, I accidentally collided with a child because I didn’t see him under the water. There is something uncomfortable about swimming in brown frothy water, even when you know it’s only tannin.

Smoky Cape Light House is not far from Trial Bay, it’s a working light house and worth a visit if you’re in the area. The keepers house and two smaller houses are now a Bed and Breakfast. It would be a fantastic place to stay during whale watching season as the views are fantastic.

Next we visited the town of Hat Head, south of Trial Bay. Hat Head Caravan Park looks nice and the beach is patrolled. Being only 5.25 nautical miles from the continental shelf, it is very popular with fishing boats. It has a boat ramp, but returning during low tide seems to be a little tricky as it enters via Korogoro Creek. It also has the biggest and best fish cleaning facilities we have ever seen. The recent heavy rains had caused the normally clear Korogoro Creek (great for snorkelling apparently) to turn black and the surf beach rolled with chocolate coloured waves. But this is unusual and we would love to stay there sometime, would check the weather for rain first.

We headed out of the town and into Hat Head National Park, which boasts the biggest sand dune in NSW. Getting into the area is via dirt roads, some of which had fords across the streams, but would be quite passable in a 2WD. The small camp area next to the dune has a path to the top of the dune which didn’t look very used as we had to fight our way through undergrowth and BIG spider webs to get onto it, we felt like Indiana Jones. You can see the path behind our car in the photo below. We were in fits of laughter going to the top as the sand was hot, we only had thongs and it was like walking up stairs that kept disappearing under your feet. Tim was much better at scaling up there than I was, I seemed to spend a good amount of time on my bum. But we couldn’t come so close and not have a look. Getting down was great fun, and very fast.

Back in the car we followed the dirt road toward the coast and eventually found a fabulous beach,  South Smoky Beach: the water was aqua blue and crystal clear, the sand soft and silky. The tide had started coming in and as we didn’t know if there were any rips, we swam in an area between the surf and a sand bar, it was deep enough to swim and cool off and felt like we were on a tropical island, there was no one around except for some 4WDs along the beach in the far distance.

It was nice to finish our stay on high note but after five nights we are pleased to be leaving. Not at all happy with the visit from the wire eating rat as we will be doing the trip with no cruise control, no air con, and various other problems which will need to be sorted out once we get to the Ford people at our next stop, Coffs Harbour. Thankfully it is only about 3 hours drive. Until next time, Helen and Tim