Captain Cook's lookout

Hat Head National Park

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Overview

Captain Cook's lookout is located beneath the Smoky Cape lighthouse near Kempsey on the north coast of NSW. A great spot for picnics and amazing South West Rocks scenic views.

Type
Lookouts
Where
Hat Head National Park
Accessibility
Medium
Price
Free
Entry fees
Park entry fees apply

For a scenic treat, make your way to Captain Cook’s lookout at the base of Smoky Cape lighthouse. Pause to feel the salty breeze as you gaze out over the Tasman Sea and Hat Head National Park.

Visit between May and July to see southern right and humpback whales swimming past the headland. Or catch them on their return trip between August and October. Playful dolphins can be seen in the area, too.

As well as being an ideal spot for whale - watchers, Captain Cook’s lookout is great for birdwatchers, too. Although you don’t even have to watch anything at all if you’d prefer – just sit back, enjoy the clifftop picnic area and feel on top of the world. If you feel like something more energetic, try Jack Perkins walking track or the longer Little Bay to Smoky Cape.

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/lookouts/captain-cooks-lookout/local-alerts

General enquiries

Park info

See more visitor info

Visitor info

All the practical information you need to know about Captain Cook's lookout.

Getting there and parking

Get driving directions

Get directions

    Captain Cook’s lookout is in the Smoky Cape precinct of Hat Head National Park. To get there:

    • Take Arakoon Road from South West Rocks
    • Turn into Lighthouse Road and follow the signs to Smoky Cape Lighthouse

    Park entry points

    Road quality

    • Sealed roads

    Vehicle access

    • 2WD vehicles

    Weather restrictions

    • All weather

    Parking

    Parking is available at Captain Cook’s lookout.

    Best times to visit

    This park's sweeping beaches are extremely inviting during summer, but its wildlife and walking tracks make it a joy to visit all year round.

    Spring

    A birdwatcher's delight as the heath shrubland bursts into a kaleidoscope of wild flowers and birds come from all around, listen out for the guttural call of glossy black cockatoos.

    Summer

    Take the Connors track beach walk to experience wildflower displays amongst the banksias .

    Winter

    Spot humpback and southern right whales migrating to northern waters between May and July.

    Weather, temperature and rainfall

    Summer temperature

    Average

    19°C and 26°C

    Highest recorded

    41.7°C (1968)

    Winter temperature

    Average

    13°C and 20°C

    Lowest recorded

    4°C (1997)

    Rainfall

    Wettest month

    March

    The area’s highest recorded rainfall in one day

    343.7mm

    Facilities

    Toilets

    • Non-flush toilets

    Picnic tables

    Barbecue facilities

    • Gas/electric barbecues (free)

    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.

    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 - medium

    Assistance may be required to access this area

    • The picnic area here has easy-access facilities and toilets

    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

    Parramatta (16 km)

    Parramatta offers a fascinating insight into early colonial life in Australia. Don't miss a visit to Old Government House, now one of 11 Australian Convict Sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

    www.sydney.com

    South West Rocks (8 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

    Sydney City Centre (1 km)

    No trip to Sydney is complete without spending some time in the city’s beautiful parks. Whether it’s in central areas like Hyde Park or the Royal Botanic Gardens or further out in Centennial Parklands, there’s plenty of green space to go out and enjoy.

    www.sydney.com

    Learn more

    Captain Cook's lookout is in Hat Head National Park. Here are just some of the reasons why this park is special:

    A long story to tell

    Gap Beach, Hat Head National Park. Photo: Barbara Webster

    The park is part of the traditional land of the Dunghutti people and remains a significant place. The sea, rivers and wetlands provided a rich source of food like fish and shellfish and the strong Aboriginal heritage is evident today. The park is culturally important to Aboriginal people as it contains ceremonial grounds, burial sites, shell middens and campsites.

    A place to play

    Views of the beach in Hat Head National Park. Photo: Debbie McGerty

    Hat Head National Park protects an extraordinary amount of landscapes, birds and animals, but also offers countless opportunities for secluded relaxation, recreation and enjoyment. Sweeping beaches, rainforests, impressive dunes, and rocky headlands make it the perfect holiday or day trip for walking, swimming, hiking, bird watching and fishing.

    • Green Island walking track Green Island walking track goes through coastal heathland to a lookout with scenic views to Smoky Cape Lighthouse, offering excellent birdwatching and whale watching.
    • Smoky Cape Lighthouse Hat Head National Park on the mid-north coast of NSW near South West Rocks is a natural paradise. Explore the lighthouse, camp by the beach and go fishing and swimming.

    Biodiversity

    Glossy black-cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami), Hat Head National Park. Photo: John Spencer

    Hat Head National Park is rich with birdlife such as black swans, egrets, herons, fantails, and honeyeaters. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a hawk, falcon or eagle soaring above the cliffs. During the spring, you might catch a rare glimpse of a glossy black cockatoo - listen out for the raucous call of this endangered species as it visits the park to feed on ripe she-oak fruit seeds. Resident wildlife at Hat Head includes red-necked and swamp wallabies as well as grey kangaroos and sugar gliders. You're bound to see butterflies fluttering past you in Hat Head National Park. One type, the regent skipper, is only found in Hat Head National Park and Limeburners Creek National Park. With black wings and a range of yellow and red dots and stripes, you might see the regent skipper feeding on tuckeroos in the park's rainforest.

    • Gap Beach walking track Gap Beach walking track is a challenging walk offering birdwatching, swimming, fishing, and scenic views in Hat Head National Park near South West Rocks.

    Striking landscapes

    Little Bay to Smoky Cape walk, Hat Head National Park. Photo: John Spencer

    Some of the largest in New South Wales, the park's enormous sand dunes can't help but catch your eye. The dunes provide a buffer from the ocean, protecting the land from salty winds and waves. They are slowing growing and moving inland, gradually taking over the park's wetlands. See if you can make it to the top of the dunes - you'll get a bird's eye view and feel like you're on top of the world.

    • Little Bay to Smoky Cape Discover the beauty of the South West Rocks region on the Little Bay to Smoky Cape walk. Hike this 10km coast walk and enjoy sensational views.
    • Rainforest walking track The family will love this short walk in the northern precinct of Hat Head National Park. It offers scenic views, wetlands, wildlife and birdwatching.

    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.

    • Closeup of a laughing kookaburra's head and body. Photo: Rosie Nicolai/OEH

      Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

      Of the 2 species of kookaburra found in Australia, the laughing kookaburra is the best-known and the largest of the native kingfishers. With its distinctive riotous call, the laughing kookaburra is commonly heard in open woodlands and forests throughout NSW national parks, making these ideal spots for bird watching.

    • 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.

    • Echidna. Photo: Ken Stepnell

      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.

    Plants

    •  Black sheoak. Photo: Barry Collier

      Black sheoak (Allocasuarina littoralis)

      The black sheoak is one of a number of casuarina species found across the east coast of Australia and nearby tablelands. Growing to a height of 5-15m, these hardy Australian native plants can survive in poor or sandy soils. The barrel-shaped cone of the black sheoak grows to 10-30mm long.

    • Grass trees, Sugarloaf State Conservation Area. Photo: Michael Van Ewijk

      Grass tree (Xanthorrea spp.)

      An iconic part of the Australian landscape, the grass tree is widespread across eastern NSW. These Australian native plants have a thick fire-blackened trunk and long spiked leaves. They are found in heath and open forests across eastern NSW. The grass tree grows 1-5m in height and produces striking white-flowered spikes which grow up to 1m long.

    Environments in this park

    Education resources (1)

    The view along the coast and out to sea. Photo:Debby McGerty