Smoky Cape – Lighthouse to Gaol

A walk through forest and heath, with wildlife, coastal views and heritage at Trial Bay Gaol.

Trail information

Smoky Cape – Lighthouse to Gaol

Captain Cook named this 300m high granite outcrop Smoky Cape in 1770, when he spied the smoke from the fires of the Dunghutti people from his ship. Later, a lighthouse was built – the tallest lighthouse on the Australian mainland. We start this walk near the lighthouse, at Captain Cooks lookout.

The Jack Perkins track leads down to the beach, but we take the other track traversing the slopes of Big Smoky. There are cabbage tree palms and ferns in a rainforest gully, eucalypts, casuarinas, tea tree and grass trees on the hillsides.

The route joins Gap Beach Rd for a section. Turning off the road, the track climbs up then descends into heath where there are some lookouts over the coast. We spotted whales and a turtle in the clear water below, from our sunny perch on granite rocks. Below this we walk by the Overshot Dam, built to supply the Gaol and Arakoon, and then reach Little Bay picnic area.

Trial Bay Gaol

From Little Bay, we climbed the hill to the German Monument, built to remember prisoners who died while interned at the Gaol during WW1. The current monument was rebuilt in 1960, after being blown up by returning diggers in 1919.

The first wing of the Trial Bay Gaol was completed in 1886 and housed convicts tasked with building a breakwater. The sea relentlessly destroyed the efforts the breakwater was abandoned. The Gaol was re-established to house World War 1 prisoners.

There are numerous interpretative signs on Monument Hill, and great views of Trial Bay north to Coffs Harbour, and inland over the Macleay valley. We saw a lace monitor on the path and a kangaroo. When we reached the Gaol, we wandered down to we enjoy our lunch at a seaside picnic table in the shade.

Why is it called Trial Bay? It’s not a reference to prisoners or trials by jury. The name predates the Gaol. A group of convicts hijacked the brig Trial in 1816 in Sydney Harbour, forcing the captain to sail north. The Trial was shipwrecked in this bay, but the convicts salvaged some wood and built another boat. Sadly, when they set off the boat capsized and the convicts drowned. Things didn’t go much better for the captain and his crew, who walked south but were never head of again.


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Best Walks on the NSW Mid-North Coast has 40 walks from Port Macquarie to the Coffs Coast and Clarence Valley.

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