The May / June edition of On The Road magazine has my story on the South West Rocks region of New South Wales and a number of places to visit while you’re there. One site I found surprising was Trial Bay Gaol.
I probably wouldn’t normally put an historic gaol on my list of places not to be missed when looking for a scenic beachside escape but you’ll be missing out if you don’t see this one. The reason Trial Bay Gaol is in such a picturesque position, is due to the fact that it was built to house prisoners who were specifically brought there to use as labour in constructing a breakwater.
Trial Bay is ideally situated between Sydney and Brisbane so in the 1800s when the sea was the link between the two cities, it offered a place of refuge for ships along this east coast route. Trial Bay was named after the ship ‘Trial’ which was wrecked in a storm, so to offer protection for others it was decided to build a breakwater in the bay. The gaol was built over a period from 1877 to 1886, near the point and has scenic coastal views from the guard tower lookout – that would have been a preferred job no doubt. The prisoners were used to build a breakwater but the storms, gale force winds and washaways proved to be too much of an issue and the idea was abandoned. The gaol was closed in 1903 but reopened at the beginning of World War 1 to house around 500 prisoners who were interred as enemy aliens because of their German descent. The gaol was decommissioned in 1918 and lay in ruins for many years until the site was declared a Public Reserve in 1946. From the late 1950s local community groups began working to restore the gaol and today it is managed by National Parks and Wildlife with the help of ‘Friends of Trial Bay Gaol’ volunteers.
The substantial ruins are amazing to walk through today and the sturdy cold thick stone walls and tiny cells tell the story of how harsh conditions would have been. When you visit you can take a self-guided tour beginning by watching a short 10 minute video on the history of the gaol and then walk through different sections of the ruins, reading interpretive signs as you go. Because the ruins are quite open and not closed in with a roof, it’s not all gloom and doom to visit and even better, there is a mob of resident kangaroos grazing in the grounds that come and go at their leisure. Although by the look at the signs you could be forgiven for thinking they’ve picked up some bad attitude on the inside!
The gaol is in Arakoon National Park and after visiting the gaol you can take a walk on one of the many bushwalking tracks in the nearby area. One of the easier ones is the Monument Hill walk which is rated as an easy 1 kilometre return walk. The dirt trail does get a little steep in places, but the moderately fit can manage it without any problems. Keep your eyes open for more wildlife though including snakes. We were surprised by a red belly black snake as it was disappearing from the side of the walking track and into the scrub. From then on our eyes were glued to the shadowy path so there were no more surprises on our trek up and back. The views on the way back make it absolutely worthwhile though.
To really take advantage of this area and the beautiful beaches and fishing opportunities, you can stay in the Trial Bay campground situated below the gaol, with some beach front sites and more local kangaroos. It has non-powered and powered sites with costs ranging, depending on their location and the time of year you visit. The kangaroo visitors come for free and are priceless. You can also stay at nearby Horseshoe Bay Holiday Park at South West Rocks with town facilities within easy walking distance of the caravan park.
For the full story on this mid north coast town in New South Wales, grab a copy of the current ‘On The Road’ magazine.