Trial Bay Gaol

Arakoon National Park

Overview

For a glimpse into Australian history, head to South West Rocks to explore the historic ruins of Trial Bay Gaol. Make sure you see the view from the sentry’s lookout.

Type
Historic buildings/places
Where
Arakoon National Park
Accessibility
Hard
Price

Adult $11. Concession $8. Family $30 (2 adults and 2 children).

Opening times

9am to 4.30pm daily. Closed on Christmas Day. Self-guided tours are available all day and an entry fee applies. Allow about 1 hour to explore the gaol.

Hire this venue

Trial Bay Gaol is available for events and function hire.

Please note
  • Peak rates apply from 1 December to 31 January and NSW school holidays (excluding winter school holidays).
  • Shoulder period is from 1 February to the start of the Easter holiday break.
  • Between August and September, Trial Bay hosts the annual Sculpture in the Gaol, a public sculpture competition. For more information contact the park office.
  • For more information about the German internees, please visit the Migration Heritage Centre website.
  • Mermaid Pools, near Trial Bay Gaol, is not recommended for swimming. Large waves wash over the area and visitors can be swept off the rocks.

Step back in time on a guided tour of Trial Bay Gaol, soaking up the history and the amazing coastal views that surround it.

The gaol opened in 1886, after 13 years of construction. It must have been a strange feeling building a prison in such a beautiful setting. The prison labourers were there to construct a breakwater to make Trial Bay a safe harbour between Sydney and Brisbane. Unfortunately the scheme failed, however you’ll still be able to see the remains of the breakwater from the guard tower lookout. During World War I the gaol became an internment camp for people of German descent who were feared to be enemy sympathisers.

Today, this picturesque historic ruin stands as a testament to those who lived and died here, with a museum and memorial for visitors to get a better idea of life in those days. Feeling energetic? Try the nearby Powder Magazine walking track or Monument Hill walking track.

For directions, safety and practical information, see visitor info

Current alerts in this area

There are no current alerts in this area.

Local alerts

For the latest updates on fires, closures and other alerts in this area, see https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/trial-bay-gaol/local-alerts

Park info

See more visitor info

Visitor info

All the practical information you need to know about Trial Bay Gaol.

Getting there and parking

Get driving directions

Get directions

    Trial Bay Gaol is in the Trial Bay Gaol precinct of Arakoon National Park.

    From South West Rocks:

    • Follow Phillip Drive
    • Turn left onto Cardwell Street
    • Continue along Cardwell Street until you reach Trial Bay Goal.

    Park entry points

    Road quality

    • Sealed roads

    Vehicle access

    • 2WD vehicles

    Weather restrictions

    • All weather

    Parking

    Parking is available at Trial Bay Gaol, including designated bus parking.

    Best times to visit

    There are lots of great things waiting for you in Arakoon National Park. Here are some of the highlights.

    Spring

    The wildflowers will be out so it's a great time to hike the park's walking tracks During the spring, when the she-oaks produce fruit, glossy black cockatoos come in to feed on the ripe seeds .

    Summer

    School's out and it's a great time for a family camping holiday – spend your days swimming, snorkelling, fishing and exploring the park's attractions.

    Winter

    Catch the whales on their journey north along the coast.

    Weather, temperature and rainfall

    Summer temperature

    Average

    20°C and 26°C

    Highest recorded

    41.7°C

    Winter temperature

    Average

    12°C and 20°C

    Lowest recorded

    4°C

    Rainfall

    Wettest month

    March

    Driest month

    September

    The area’s highest recorded rainfall in one day

    343.7mm

    Facilities

    Amenities

    Toilets

    • Flush toilets

    Picnic tables

    Barbecue facilities

    • Gas/electric barbecues (coin-operated)
    • Wood barbecues (bring your own firewood)

    Boat ramp

    Carpark

    Showers

    • Hot showers

    Maps and downloads

    Safety messages

    Beach safety

    Beaches in this park are not patrolled, and can sometimes have strong rips and currents. These beach safety tips will help you and your family stay safe in the water.

    Boating safety

    If you're out on your boat fishing, waterskiing or just cruising the waterways, the safety of you and your passengers is paramount.

    Fire safety

    During periods of fire weather, the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service may declare a total fire ban for particular NSW fire areas, or statewide. Learn more about total fire bans and fire safety.

    Mobile safety

    Dial Triple Zero (000) in an emergency. Download the Emergency + app before you visit, it helps emergency services locate you using your smartphone's GPS. Please note there is limited mobile phone reception in this park and you’ll need mobile reception to call Triple Zero (000).

    Accessibility

    Disability access level - hard

    Prohibited

    Pets

    Pets and domestic animals (other than certified assistance animals) are not permitted. Find out which regional parks allow dog walking and see the pets in parks policy for more information.

    Smoking

    NSW national parks are no smoking areas.

    Nearby towns

    Kempsey (31 km)

    Kempsey is a historic river town close to national parks and majestic beaches. Kempsey is a convenient place for an overnight stop for anyone driving between Sydney and the North Coast.

    www.visitnsw.com

    Macksville (22 km)

    Macksville is a relaxed fishing and oyster-farming town centre of a rich rural district. It's on low-lying land around the Nambucca River.

    www.visitnsw.com

    South West Rocks (3 km)

    South West Rocks is a sleepy coastal retreat at its barefoot best. It's an oceanfront holiday town on north-facing Trial Bay.

    www.visitnsw.com

    Learn more

    Trial Bay Gaol is in Arakoon National Park. Here are just some of the reasons why this park is special:

    Abundant bird life

    Little Bay, Arakoon National Park. Photo: Michael Van Ewijk

    Birds are abundant in Arakoon National Park. In wetland areas, you might see black swans, egrets, herons and spoonbills. On the heath, there are fantails, wrens, honeyeaters and quails. Hawks, falcons, ospreys and eagles soar above the cliffs and forage along the beaches. During the spring, when the she-oaks produce fruit, glossy black cockatoos come in to feed on the ripe seeds. Despite its small size, Arakoon harbours several threatened species, including the osprey and glossy black cockatoo. You're also likely to spot wallabies and echidnas, and the nocturnal brush-tailed phascogales and sugar gliders. During September and October, you can often see humpback whales just offshore, on their return journey to Antarctica.

    Fascinating heritage

     Trial Bay Gaol, Arakoon National Park. Photo: David Finnegan

    Dating from 1886, Trial Bay Gaol is a unique example of a public works prison. It was also used as an internment camp in World War I and today the ruins continue to intrigue visitors. It'll take you about an hour to wander through the gaol and the museum. The region has high cultural and spiritual significance to the local Dhungatti people.

    • Bridle trail Bridle Trail walking track is an easy short walk offering a glimpse of the historic heritage of Trial Bay Gaol in Arakoon National Park near Kempsey.
    • Dark and deadly deeds: Trial Bay Gaol sunset tour Wander through the old Trial Bay Gaol at sunset. Hear about the prisoners' crimes and deeds here during World War I.
    • Friends of Trial Bay Gaol The historic ruins of Trial Bay Gaol, in Arakoon National Park on the NSW Mid North Coast, are a significant heritage area. Friends of Trial Bay Gaol invite you to volunteer to help in the protection and promotion of this amazing piece of local history, especially during the annual Sculpture in the Gaol.
    • Heritage detectives Help unlock mysteries of the past while exploring historic Trial Bay Gaol from top to bottom. Who were the prisoners were and where did they came from? What crimes did they commit to deserve their punishment and what work they carry out in captivity? This Stage 3 (Years 5-6) school excursion to Arakoon National Park focuses on HSIE. 
    • History mysteries Explore the old granite gaol at Trial Bay and help to unlock mysteries of the past on the History Mysteries school excursion. This is a Stage 2 (Years 3-4) excursion to Arakoon National Park, focusing on HSIE.
    • Monument Hill walking track Featuring stunning coastal views, the easy Monument Hill walk takes in the historic monument built for German gaol internees before finishing at Little Bay picnic area.
    • Powder Magazine walking track Powder Magazine walking track is a short walk near Trial Bay, in Arakoon National Park, offering scenic views and historic heritage.
    • Trial Bay Gaol For a glimpse into Australian history, head to South West Rocks to explore the historic ruins of Trial Bay Gaol. Make sure you see the view from the sentry’s lookout.
    • Trial Bay Gaol: Life behind bars kids tour Come along and find out what life behind bars was really like for the prisoners here. Trial Bay Gaol, in Arakoon National Park, is brimming with stories.
    Show more

    Ideal family getaway

    Trial Bay Gaol Discovery tour, Arakoon National Park. Photo: Rob Cleary/Seen Australia

    Arakoon National Park is in a magnificent natural setting with a spectacular coastline. There are coastal walks with wonderful views and places to picnic and excellent beachside camping and cottage accommodation. If you’re looking for a place to swim and snorkel, head to sheltered Trial Bay and the kiosk is nearby if you’re looking for a relaxed lunch or dinner. The picnic area at Little Bay is popular with young families, offering barbecues and a large grassed area for games.

    • Front Beach Front Beach offers family friendly options including swimming, paddling, liloing and picnicking in Arakoon National Park on the mid North Coast of NSW.
    • Little Bay picnic area Little Bay, a popular beach picnic spot near South West Rocks on the north coast, features barbecues, shaded tables, children’s play equipment and a kangaroo or two.

    Scenic headlands

    Monument Hill walking track, Arakoon National Park. Photo: David Finnegan

    The Smoky Cape Adamellite which forms Little Smoky and the Arakoon peninsula is significant as the only coastal outcropping of granite between Bundaberg in Queensland and Moruya Heads in southern NSW. It was used to construct the prison. The naturally vegetated hillslopes of Arakoon form a scenic backdrop to Trial Bay and the popular holiday town of South West Rocks.

    • Bridle trail Bridle Trail walking track is an easy short walk offering a glimpse of the historic heritage of Trial Bay Gaol in Arakoon National Park near Kempsey.
    • Heritage detectives Help unlock mysteries of the past while exploring historic Trial Bay Gaol from top to bottom. Who were the prisoners were and where did they came from? What crimes did they commit to deserve their punishment and what work they carry out in captivity? This Stage 3 (Years 5-6) school excursion to Arakoon National Park focuses on HSIE. 
    • Monument Hill walking track Featuring stunning coastal views, the easy Monument Hill walk takes in the historic monument built for German gaol internees before finishing at Little Bay picnic area.

    Traditional lands of Dhungatti People

    Monument Hill walking track, Arakoon National Park. Photo: Barbara Webster

    The region surrounding Arakoon National Park has high cultural and spiritual significance to the local Dhungatti People. There are numerous Aboriginal sites within the park of great spiritual and cultural significance, with dreaming stories and cultural learning part of them, still passed on today. These include middens, stone arrangements and spiritual sites. We work with local Aboriginal communities to protect this rich culture.

    Plants and animals you may see

    Animals

    • White-bellied sea eagle. Photo: John Turbill

      White-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

      White-bellied sea eagles can be easily identified by their white tail and dark grey wings. These raptors are often spotted cruising the coastal breezes throughout Australia, and make for some scenic bird watching. Powerful Australian birds of prey, they are known to mate for life, and return each year to the same nest to breed.

    • Humpback whale breaching. Photo: Dan Burns

      Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

      The humpback whale has the longest migratory path of any mammal, travelling over 5000km from its summer feeding grounds in Antarctica to its breeding grounds in the subtropics. Its playful antics, such as body-rolling, breaching and pectoral slapping, are a spectacular sight for whale watchers in NSW national parks.

    • Swamp wallaby in Murramarang National Park. Photo: David Finnegan

      Swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor)

      The swamp wallaby, also known as the black wallaby or black pademelon, lives in the dense understorey of rainforests, woodlands and dry sclerophyll forest along eastern Australia. This unique Australian macropod has a dark black-grey coat with a distinctive light-coloured cheek stripe.

    • Short-beaked echidna in Ben Boyd National Park. Photo: Sharon Wormleaton/OEH

      Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

      One of only 2 egg-laying mammals in the world, the short-beaked echidna is one of the most widespread of Australian native animals. Covered in spines, or quills, they’re equipped with a keen sense of smell and a tube-like snout which they use to break apart termite mounds in search of ants.

    • Grey headed flying fox hanging from a tree branch. Photo: Shane Ruming/OEH

      Grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)

      The grey-headed flying fox is one of several threatened Australian animals and the largest Australian native bat, with a wingspan that extends up to 1m. Known to inhabit woodlands, rainforests and urban regions, these fascinating nocturnal mammals congregate in large roost sites along the east coast of NSW.

    Environments in this park

    Education resources (1)

    School excursions (2)

    Trial Bay Gaol, Arakoon National Park. Photo: Rob Cleary/NSW Government