Located on the mid-north coast of NSW, within Hat Head National Park, Smoky Cape Lighthouse also holds the distinction of being the most elevated lighthouse in NSW rising 140 metres above sea level. From this vantage point, the views of the coastline and surrounding areas are certainly impressive.
From the car park, it is a short but steep walk up to the lighthouse. It is worth noting that while there are no stairs to navigate, it is quite a steep gradient to climb. As you walk up the hill, you will pass by the old stables which now contain some information boards about the history of the lighthouse and its keepers. Further along, you will come to the old Lightkeeper's cottages which are now available to rent for holiday accommodation.
I always like to learn a bit about the history of sites such as Smoky Cape and found it interesting to read that Captain Cook was responsible for the naming of the headland on his trip up the east coast on the Endeavour in May 1770. According to Cook's journal, he saw "great quantities of smoke" rising above the headland (most likely from the fires of the Dunghutti Aboriginal people), and from here on referred to the headland as "Smoky Cape".
The site for the lighthouse was chosen for its proximity to the mouth of the Macleay River, which lies to the north of the lighthouse. The lighthouse itself was designed by colonial architect James Barnet and was built in 1891 with the lighthouse becoming operational on the 15th April 1891.
It is fascinating to learn that the light still operates from the original lens and lantern, even though it was converted to electric operation in 1962.
The octagonal tower is a distinctive feature of the lighthouse
Other interesting features of this heritage-listed lighthouse include the diminutive height of the tower, at just over 17m tall and its unusual octagonal shape. The tower was designed this way as it was actually easier to cast the tower in the octagonal formwork than round formwork. Smoky Cape Lighthouse is widely regarded as one of the last lighthouses to be designed for architectural excellence rather than merely as a functional engineering project like future lighthouses were to become.
Smoky Cape Lighthouse became fully automated in 1988, causing the role of lighthouse-keeper to become redundant in recent years. While the lighthouse itself comes under the authority of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the surrounding public buildings are maintained by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
You can view the scenery and the base of the lighthouse at any time, however, if you are interested in a guided tour, they are available on certain days and bookings are required. Please click here for more information.
The setting of the lighthouse amidst the national park and the views of the coastline are spectacular all year round, but If you visit between May - September, you might be rewarded further by the sight of whales on their annual migration.
Other areas of interest nearby are Captain Cooks Lookout, which is adjacent to the car park. The park offers picnic tables, toilets and information about the area.