Trial Bay Gaol: Essential info, Entry Fees for 2024 & Campground

Are you planning to visit Trial Bay Gaol or maybe you’re interested in a staycation at Trial Bay Gaol Campground? 

Well, you’ve come to the right place because, during my recent trip en route to Southwest Rocks, I visited Trial Bay Gaol and this historic landmark left a lasting impression on me – so much so that I ended up staying the night at Trial Bay Gaol Campground. Since then, I have visited several times with family and friends, so I consider myself a bit of an expert!

Trial Bay Gaol Arakoon Kempsey Shire New South Wales Australia
Trial Bay Gaol Arakoon Kempsey Shire New South Wales Australia

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the fascinating history and discuss entry fees, tours, and facilities available at the site, ensuring you have all the information you need for a memorable visit. We’ll also unveil the idyllic Trial Bay Campgrounds, showcasing what makes them an ideal accommodation stop for the perfect ‘staycation’. 

Visiting Trial Bay Gaol: Essential Visitor Information

Is Trial Bay Gaol Worth Visiting?

Trial Bay Gaol is definitely worth visiting due to its unique blend of natural beauty and rich history. If you are planning a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane, I highly recommend stopping by as you travel through the South West Rocks region.

Located in the scenic Arakoon National Park on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales, Australia, the gaol offers stunning coastal views and tranquil walking trails, providing a picturesque backdrop for exploring its historical remnants.

Built as a public works prison in the late 19th century, the gaol’s abandoned breakwater project serves as a testament to the resilience of the people involved. 

It offers visitors a chance to reflect on the nature of confinement, the pursuit of dreams, and the fleeting nature of human endeavours. Whether you’re interested in history, or nature, or seeking introspection, Trial Bay Gaol promises a thought-provoking and unforgettable experience.

Entry Fee and Opening Hours

Trial Bay Gaol opening hours are daily from 9 am to 4:30 pm, except for Christmas Day.

According to NSW National Parks, the entry fee for Trial Bay Gaol is priced at $11 for adults, $8 for concessions, and $30 for a family pass (2 adults and 2 children).

Trial Bay Gaol Outside

How much time should I allow for a visit to Trial Bay Gaol?

For a comprehensive visit, I recommend allowing at least half a day.

This timeframe will give you ample time to explore the gaol itself, including the various sections and absorbing its historical significance.

Additionally, you can enjoy the stunning natural beauty of Arakoon National Park, which surrounds the gaol, by taking a stroll, capturing photographs, or relaxing on the nearby beaches.

Taking the time to immerse yourself in the experience will ensure a memorable trip to this unique destination.

Guided Tours and Museum

There are three different tours available at Trial Bay Gaol;

Twilight Tour

  • Experience the captivating Trial Bay Gaol Twilight Tour, a guided walk that offers a journey of discovery as the sun sets.
  • Learn about the lives of prisoners in solitary confinement, the construction of the break wall, and the captivating stories of villains, heroes, and escapees.
  • As dusk approaches, climb to the lookout tower for breathtaking views of the bay, wildlife sightings, and the opportunity to witness the gaol’s architecture blending with the stunning natural backdrop.
  • Depart with a deep appreciation for the resilience of past inmates and the historical significance of this colonial architectural relic.

Good to Know: Suitable for adults and children 4 years and over. All children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.  You will be walking around on uneven ground so sturdy shoes and a torch are essential!

Entry Fee: Adult $20 per person. Child (5 to 16 years) $10 per person. Children under 5 are free. Family $50 for 2 adults and 2 children.

❗️ Tours run on specific dates of the year, it is essential to phone ahead for tour dates and book a space on the tour. Phone 1300 072 757.

Life Behind Bars Kids Tour

Geared towards kids, however suitable for the whole family, this interactive tour is packed with fun activities, games, and treasure hunting.

  • Using photo cards, embark on a thrilling scavenger hunt to locate special items and discover hidden places within the gaol.
  • Play old-fashioned German games like Kegel bowling and immerse yourself in the daily life of prisoners by building a wall, just like they did.
  • The highlight of the tour is the quest to find the missing gaol keys to earn your release. The whole family can participate in this exciting challenge, fostering teamwork and problem-solving skills.
  • By the end of the tour, you’ll leave with a deeper insight into the lives of the gaol’s past prisoners, enhancing your understanding of history in a fun and engaging way.

Good to Know: Aimed at children aged 5-12 years old. Younger children are welcome with close parental supervision. All children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sturdy shoes are required!

Entry Fee: Adult $20 per person. Child (5 to 16 years) $10 per person. Children under 5 are free. Family $50 for 2 adults and 2 children.

❗️Tours run on specific dates of the year, it is essential to phone ahead for tour dates and book a space on the tour. Phone 1300 072 757.

Walk on the Dark Side Sunset Tour (Adults Only)

Delve into the uncensored side of history on the Walk on the Dark Side Adults Only Tour.

  • Learn about the German internees during World War I and the harsh reality of living in overcrowded cells.
  • Brace yourself for sordid tales, gore, and true stories of bushrangers, murderers, and pirates.
  • Experience the chilling atmosphere of the darkened cells reserved for the worst prisoners in solitary confinement.
  • Remember to wear closed shoes and a warm jacket for cooler conditions.

Good to Know: This is strictly an adults-only tour due to the nature of the topics explored. Remember to wear closed shoes and a warm jacket for cooler conditions. If you’re camping nearby, bring a small hand torch to ensure a safe return to your campsite after sunset.

This tour is not for the faint-hearted, offering a thrilling and immersive exploration of the gaol’s darker history.

Entry Fee: Adult $20 per person.

You can also take the opportunity to visit the on-site museum and learn more about the local Dhungatti people’s cultural and spiritual significance in the region.

❗️ Tours run on specific dates of the year, it is essential to phone ahead for tour dates and book a space on the tour. Phone 1300 072 757.

The History of Trial Bay Gaol

Construction and Purpose

Located in Arakoon National Park, New South Wales, the gaol was first built in 1886 and its initial purpose was to serve as a public works prison. The gaol was constructed to house prisoners who were tasked with building a breakwater to create a safe harbour for ships in Trial Bay.

However, due to various challenges, including rough seas and limited resources, the breakwater project was eventually abandoned. Following this, it was repurposed as an internment camp during World War I to hold German and Austro-Hungarian civilian internees.

Prison Conditions and Roles

As you explore the history of this unique prison, you’ll learn that its structure and layout were built to accommodate the inmates and their roles in the construction project. The gaol had cells, a watchtower, and other facilities designed for both living and working environments. Prisoners were expected to contribute to the breakwater project, and their roles encompassed various aspects of the construction process.

The conditions during its operation as a prison were harsh and demanding. The prisoners were subjected to strict discipline and a regimented daily routine. The roles within the gaol were divided among various groups:

  1. Construction and Maintenance: Prisoners were responsible for building and maintaining the gaol itself, including its structures, walls, and facilities. They used their labour to construct cells, walls, and other necessary infrastructure within the gaol premises.
  2. Breakwater Construction: One of the significant tasks assigned to prisoners was the construction of a breakwater in Trial Bay. The breakwater was intended to create a safe harbour for ships, and the prisoners were tasked with quarrying and moving rocks to build the breakwater structure.
  3. Road Building: Prisoners were often involved in road construction projects in and around Trial Bay Gaol. They worked to build roads and pathways within the gaol premises and the surrounding areas to facilitate transportation and movement.
  4. Quarrying: Prisoners were engaged in quarrying activities to extract rocks and stones for construction purposes. They worked in quarries, breaking and transporting rocks for use in various construction projects.
  5. General Labour: In addition to specific construction-related tasks, prisoners were also assigned general labour duties. This could include tasks such as cleaning, maintenance work, and other manual labour required to keep the gaol operational.

The prison conditions were challenging, with limited amenities and a strict regime. The prisoners endured cramped cells, hard labour, and disciplinary measures. However, the severity of the conditions varied over time, with changes in policies and regulations impacting the treatment of inmates.

World War I and Internment Camp

During World War I, Trial Bay Gaol played a significant role as an internment camp for German and Austro-Hungarian civilian internees. The outbreak of the war led to widespread suspicion and fear of enemy aliens, and the Australian government established internment camps to hold individuals deemed a potential threat to national security.

Trial Bay Gaol was chosen as one of these camps due to its remote location and secure facilities. From 1915 to 1918, it housed over 500 internees, mainly of German nationality. These internees included men, women, and even some children.

The interned individuals were subjected to strict regulations and surveillance. They were confined within the gaol’s walls and closely monitored to prevent any potential acts of sabotage or espionage.

However, the conditions were comparatively better than some other internment camps in Australia, with the internees being provided with basic amenities, access to education, and opportunities for cultural and recreational activities.

The internees played a crucial role in shaping the surrounding landscape. They transformed the gaol’s grounds by cultivating gardens, creating artworks, and constructing recreational areas. These activities helped to pass the time and provided a sense of normalcy amidst the confinement.

After the end of World War I, the gaol gradually ceased its role as an internment camp, and the internees were released. Today, the gaol stands as a reminder of this chapter in history and offers insights into the experiences of those interned during the war.

Post-War and Abandonment

After the war, Trial Bay Gaol returned to being a regular prison, though its importance in Australian history had waned. It was eventually abandoned, and the ruins of the gaol now serve as a poignant reminder of the site’s past. As you delve into the history of this fascinating site, you’ll uncover stories of determination, struggle, and ultimately, a place forever marked by the ravages of war and the passage of time.

Trial Bay Gaol Campground

Trial Bay Gaol Campground is a beautiful spot for a family camping holiday. Located next to Front Beach, it accommodates tents, caravans, campervans, and camper trailers. The campground offers a great spot for swimming, fishing, and enjoying various outdoor activities.

How to get to Trial Bay Gaol Campground

To get to the Campground, you can follow these directions:

  1. From South West Rocks, head east on Phillip Drive towards the Trial Bay Gaol.
  2. Turn right onto Cardwell Street, which leads to the campground.
  3. Follow the signs to the campground entrance.

Alternatively, if you are coming from Kempsey, take a detour from the bustling Pacific Highway onto the scenic Macleay Valley Highway. From there, head east into Plummers Lane, which runs parallel to the picturesque Macleay River and takes you over a bridge. Keep following Plummers Lane until you reach a T Junction.

At the T Junction, make a left turn onto S W Rocks Road, and continue along this road until you reach Arakoon Road. Follow Arakoon Road until you reach Phillip Drive. Take a left turn onto Cardwell Street, and follow Cardwell Street until you arrive at the welcoming Trial Bay Gaol Campground.

Trial Bay Gaol Campground Fees

For a powered site, which is perfect if you need to charge your gadgets or enjoy some creature comforts, the fee is $45.10 per night for up to two adults. Additional adults will cost you $20 each, while kids (5-15 years) are $10 each per night. Children under 5 years old stay for free, so that’s a bonus for families with little ones!

If you prefer an unpowered site to truly immerse yourself in nature, it’s $34.85 per night for up to two adults. Again, extra adults are $20 each, and kids (5-15 years) are $10 each per night.

❗️ Keep in mind that these fees may vary, so it’s always a good idea to check with the park authorities or their official website for the most up-to-date information.

Trial Bay Gaol Campground Facilities

The following facilities are available at the Campground:

  • Amenities block with showers and toilets
  • Picnic tables for outdoor dining
  • Barbecue facilities
  • Boat ramp for convenient boating access
  • Cafe/kiosk nearby
  • Car parking
  • Drinking water available
  • Showers
  • Toilets
  • Electric power supply

With these facilities, the campground provides all the essentials for a comfortable and enjoyable camping experience in the picturesque Arakoon National Park.

❗️ Please note that sites near the boat ramp may experience early morning noise from fishermen from January to April, particularly during marlin season.

❗️Although the campground is located near Mermaid Pools, it is forbidden to swim there due to the presence of powerful waves and the potential danger of being swept off the rocks (people have been seriously injured here) . Additionally, please note that the area leading to the pools is permanently closed, and there is neither public access nor an approved walking track to reach Mermaid Pools.

Is Trial Bay camping dog friendly? 🐾

🚫 Due to Trial Bay Campground being located within Arakoon National Park, no dogs are permitted at Trial Bay Campground or in the national park itself.

Trial Bay Gaol and Surrounding Attractions

South West Rocks on the Sydney to Brisbane Drive
Little Bay, South West Rocks

South West Rocks

Located near Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks is a must-visit destination with one standout attraction: the Smoky Cape Lighthouse. The walk up to the lighthouse is steep, but the effort is truly rewarded.

Once you reach the top, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking views and a wealth of historical insights. Along the way, make sure to pause at the Captain Cook Lookout for stunning vistas of North Smoky Beach. The Smoky Cape Lighthouse is a remarkable spot that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and fascinating heritage.

Hat Head

if you’re feeling adventurous, you gotta check out Hat Head National Park near South West Rocks. It’s like a hidden coastal paradise with stunning beaches, awesome coastal walks, and even rainforest trails to explore.

You can chill by the beautiful Korogoro Creek, take a dip in the refreshing water, or hike the Connors and Gap beaches trail for mind-blowing ocean views and some seriously cool birdwatching. Trust me, it’s a nature lover’s dream come true!

Little Bay

If you’re up for a scenic drive, make sure to head to Little Bay, a delightful destination near South West Rocks. This charming spot is ideal for a leisurely picnic, with ample parking available. The best part? The beach is just a short and easy stroll away.

Once you reach the beautiful beach in this cosy bay, you’ll be greeted by a serene atmosphere and stunning coastal views.

Fishing enthusiasts will also be thrilled to know that Little Bay is a prime spot for beach fishing. So grab your picnic basket, enjoy the picturesque surroundings, and cast your line for a relaxing day by the sea. Little Bay truly offers the perfect blend of natural beauty and seaside leisure.

Final Verdict

Trial Bay Gaol stands as a captivating testament to Australia’s rich history, offering visitors a glimpse into the lives of prisoners and the remarkable architecture of the past.

The haunting beauty of the gaol is perfectly complemented by the nearby Trial Bay Campground, where nature enthusiasts can immerse themselves in picturesque coastal views and indulge in a truly unforgettable camping experience.

Whether exploring the gaol’s intriguing stories or waking up to the serene beach views, Trial Bay Gaol and its campground promise a remarkable journey that blends history, nature, and the boundless spirit of adventure.

Trial Bay Gaol and Campground: Frequently Asked Questions

Similar Posts