Why a lighthouse? Well, I had thought I would be driving from Canberra on my own and was looking for somewhere halfway to break the journey and the thought of staying in a lighthouse conjured up wonderful images. Romantic? Logical. Appropriate? In the circumstances, absolutely! The tempest that was cutting a swathe of destruction through Sydney was sweeping north, buffeting everything in its path with sharp fierce squalls. All day we surfed the storm front as we drove from Kangaroo Valley through Sydney’s morning traffic and on up the New South Wales coast towards South West Rocks and Smoky Cape lighthouse. The driving conditions were so terrible I was pleased that Captain A had decided to join me and share the driving.
Talking with strangers is always a bonus when travelling, and while we munched on a sandwich whilst sheltering under the curving roof of a road-stop information board we chatted to a couple having lunch with their parrot which squawked at us from its cage. ‘We always travel with our bird,’ they explained to me. I guess it is much less problematic than a cat or dog.
Halfway to Brisbane, we passed through the tiny town of Frederickton where we turned off the Pacific Highway and headed north-east towards the coastal ranges and Smoky Cape which was named by Captain Cook in 1770 because of the smoke he could see coming from the Cape. The road follows the wide placid Macleay River weaving through very pretty countryside which reminded me of England with mint green grass and many mint green houses contrasting beautifully against a thunderous sky. I did wonder whether someone had bought a good deal on green paint. Originally the Dunghutti people had lived in the Macleay River valley before timber cutters arrived. Now there are few signs of the huge cedar forests that supported over 200 workers during the 1880s. As we drove, we saw dairy and beef cattle grazing the flat coastal flood plain that John Oxley in 1817 had deemed too swampy to be of commercial use.
En route, our host sent us detailed instructions on how to locate our accommodation. The route leaves the farming community and enters coastal holiday territory with houses hidden behind littoral scrub then quickly rises in a loop around the cape to deposit the visitor at the bottom of the hill
What a treat it was. Our host met us with a small motorised buggy, into the back of which we tossed our luggage and cosily squashed the three of us into the front. It is quite a steep walk from the car park to the accommodation but the view is worth it.
The lighthouse, built in 1861 was the last one built to the design by the colonial architect James Barnet. It is an elegant octagonal tower wrapped by an iron balcony and is the most elevated lighthouse in Australia.
As we were staying overnight, we slept in one of the two bedrooms (with ensuites) in the main lighthouse keeper’s lodge. These look south to Hat Head or north towards Trial Bay that was named for the Brig, Trial which was hijacked by convicts in Sydney and which sank in the bay in 1817. We sat on the front porch, enjoying a convivial white wine, watching the storm approach along the beach. There are two cottages beside the lodge that can be rented. Lovely old cedar furniture including beds, wardrobes and chest of drawers set the colonial theme, complemented by traditional style couches and comfortable chairs. The bedrooms are also decorated in colonial styled patchwork quilts and pictures on the wall. Our substantial breakfast was served on a glassed in verandah overlooking the lighthouse’s service courtyard.
After the storm, we drove into the small town of South West Rocks where we found the local pub had been inundated by possibly every dampened holidaymaker from the beachside camping grounds. The hotel did a remarkably good job in supplying food to such a large and sudden surge of bedraggled customers.
The following morning before driving north to Brisbane, we wandered around the Trial Bay Gaol that was built out of local granite during the late 1880s to house prisoners working on a breakwater at nearby Laggers Point. It was abandoned in 1904 and lay unused until the early years of World War 1 when German internees were housed there. Much of the building material was auctioned off so there isn’t much left of the buildings but it does give you a feeling for the loneliness and hardships these internees had to endure. Many of these men were respected members of their communities and continued to contribute to society even whilst interned. It is worth a visit.