South West Rocks had been on our list for long. It’s a reputed dive site between Brisbane and Sydney with a cave surrounded by grey nurse sharks. We used a long weekend (3 days) to drive down there from Brisbane. We took it as an opportunity to discover new places you’d enjoy even if you don’t dive!
A three-day trip was short but worth it. We had a very good time. I am looking forward to going again though, as there is a lot more to see.
I have written about our itinerary and added tips from our experience – as it can be improved. We’ll go down that way again in a couple of months, so please do not hesitate to share your own experience in the comments below!
Brisbane –> Byron Bay –> Yamba
We left Brisbane on Friday after work and stopped for a long dinner break in Byron Bay. It was very late when we reached Yamba, so we found a quiet spot near the road for the night. It is legal to sleep in your car in NSW, as long as you are parked legally, but many places have signs indicating “No overnight stay”. Be ready for it as it was the case in Byron Bay and Yamba.
You may want to plan to arrive earlier than we did to push a bit further and sleep in a nicer spot in Yuraygir National Park. There are scenic coastal walks there if you have more time than us – or if you get up early the next day!
Yamba is a reputed surfing spot. We had a morning stroll on the beach near Angourie Blue Pool, where we spotted dolphins and enjoyed the beautiful rock formations and dramatic sky. The view from the lighthouse in Yamba is worth the short detour too.
South West Rocks
We decided to go straight to South West Rocks and skip Urunga Boardwalk and Nambucca Heads to have more time to explore Hat Head National Park.
We camped at Smokey Cape, where big kangaroos welcomed us on arrival and in the morning. Not far from the campsite, a short walk to the lighthouse offers fantastic views of the coast on both sides of the cape, including views of the rocks where we were diving the next day.
From the lighthouse carpark, we went down to the beach and scrambled from one secluded bay to another, while watching whales migrating along the coast. They come up along the East Coast during Winter and go down during Spring.
For our next South West Rocks visit, we’ll have a look at Little Bay Beach in Arakoon National Park, via Monument Hill walking track (3-kilometre walk).
Unfortunately, our dives on Sunday were a bit disappointing as the surge was very strong. I won’t give too many details, but to sum it up: I had no idea before that day that I could be seasick during the safety stop. Unfortunately, the call was made that it was too dangerous to swim through the cave as those who had just tried reported ear pain due to the changing pressure from the swell inside the cave.
The team from Fish Rock Dive was lovely, and the site clearly has an amazing potential. Their Facebook post on the day before our visit mentions sharks, rays, and spiders in the cave. The one after shows an underwater shot of a whale. We were definitely unlucky, and we want to go back to try again as soon as possible!
Despite the disappointment of not going through the cave, we still spent a good time down there with the impressive grey nurse sharks and many other fish. My best story for this dive: as I was trying to take a photo of a tiny clownfish, another fish came between me and my camera (blocking me from viewing my screen!) and fell asleep on my hand… Best photobomb ever!
The Waterfall Way: Ebor Falls –> Wollomombi Falls (Oxley Wild Rivers NP)
Going back to Brisbane along the Pacific Motorway – the same way we came down – wasn’t very appealing. We still had 1.5 days, so we wanted to make the most of it!
On Sunday afternoon, after the dive, we drove inland via the Waterfall Way to the Wollomombi Falls campsite. On the way, we stopped at the massive Ebor Falls lookouts and Point Lookout. Both are close to the car park, so no efforts were needed, which was something to consider as we were in altitude after diving (Point Lookout is 1,500m above sea level).
Next time we are at the Dorrigo National Park, we will check out the Cristal Shower Falls (3.5-kilometre walk) and Dangar Falls.
Wollomombi Falls campground was perfect: a large site with a barbecue pit and a place to collect wood for free. It was 3 degrees at night up there (we left Brisbane at 35 degrees!), so the fire made our evening a lot more comfortable.
We woke up early on Monday morning to hike to the Wollomombi Falls (1.5h return) and Chandler Viewpoint (1h return). The gorges are stunning, and the place is also reputed for bird watching. The rain made them shy, except for the three lyrebirds we spotted on the path! I am looking forward to going back in summer to see the gorge with water as the falls are dry in Spring. We left when the clouds started to block the views. The weather didn’t get better for the rest of the day; it was time to head back to Brisbane!
On our way to Armidale, we made a small detour to check out Baker Creek Falls and Metz Gorge.
Aspley and Tia are also recommended spots in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, but it requires going more south. With only one day left to go back up to Brisbane, it was not possible to fit them in.
Way back to Brisbane
The Pacific Motorway along the coast is quite boring. Although it’s longer, we found it a lot nicer to take the inland roads as we had all day to go back up. There are great options to break the drive if you don’t mind arriving late in Brisbane.
The Australian Standing Stones are on the way. To be honest, I didn’t find it interesting, but it’s a better toilet stop than the petrol station. I am from Brittany – where the Celtic culture is very strong. I found it weird to stumble upon fake modern looking stones and a small Excalibur sword. The atmosphere is probably very different when the Celtic festival is on. But like this by itself, it didn’t really make sense to me.
If you haven’t explored it yet, check out the Granite Belt with a walk in Girraween National Park or Bald Rock National Park. Both will give you a different experience than the parks closer to Brisbane. If it’s raining, you may want to revise that plan as granite gets very slippery. Although it’s not the most recommended stop during a road trip, there are wineries in that region too.
We wanted to explore somewhere new, so we made a detour to Gibraltar National Park. Unfortunately, the Raspberry Lookout was completely in the clouds. The short walks to waterfalls ended up being very similar to the scenery we’re used to in the National Parks around Brisbane. I’m not convinced it’s worth the extra kilometres, although the combo forest and waterfalls felt like a good choice during a rainy day and it was nice to see pretty-faced wallabies that are common in this region.
Have you explored these areas? Where did you stop? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is this road trip from Brisbane to South West Rocks?