Hat Head National Park on the North Coast of NSW has loads of stunning coastal walks. You may have noticed that the majority of trails in Hat Head National Park are concentrated in two distinct areas (see picture below). First, there’s a bunch of interconnected trails in the northernmost area of Hat Head National Park, next to South West Rocks. Further south, inland from Kempsey, next to Hat Head, are another collection of adjoining coastal trails. So it’s possible to combine all of the South West Rocks and Hat Head located trails, respectively, to form two incredible Hat Head National Park walks. This guide will provide a thorough review of these two self-made combination trails, to help you plan your own hiking adventure in Hat Head National Park.
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Hat Head National Park
Hat Head National Park is easily one of the best national parks in NSW. Beck and I were blown away by the spectacular coastline here, and as equally impressed with the hiking trails on offer. By following this guide, you could do these two walks over consecutive days, making for an epic weekend getaway in Hat Head National Park. Otherwise, the trailheads for these self-made combination trails are only a 35-minute drive from one another. So if you’re super keen, you could smash out both in one day – it would be a Hat Head National Park hiking extravaganza. Either way, these combination trails are an efficient and convenient way to cover the best Hat Head National Park trails in just two amazing walks.
NSW National Parks has graded each of these trails individually using the Australian Walking Track Grading System. However, considering we have combined multiple trails into each walk, we have personally rated each walk as a whole, with a more in-depth description of difficulty below.
Little Bay to Smoky Cape + Jack Perkins, Green Island Monument Hill and Powder Magazine Walking Tracks: Breakdown & Highlights
Here’s a GPS-guided map of this self-made hike.
1. Little Bay to Smoky Cape + Jack Perkins, Green Island, Monument Hill and Powder Magazine Walking Tracks
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 17.5km
- Time: 4.5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 730m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Little Bay Picnic Area
This South West Rocks located Hat Head National Park combination trail is a phenomenal coastal walk. This route has a marvellous combination of gorgeous natural coastline and interesting historical monuments. In a nutshell, you’ll start from Little Bay, head south to Smoky Cape where you’ll enjoy Captain Cook Lookout and Smoky Cape Lighthouse. Then, begin your return walk via the Jack Perkins Trail by heading across the beautiful North Smoky Beach. Some off-trail coastal walking will then guide you towards ‘The Ledge’, which provides views of Green Island.
You’ll then join the Green Island Walking Track which reconnects with the Smokey Cape Track, which then heads back to Little Bay. After passing through Little Bay, head north through Arakoon National Park, taking the Monument Hill Track to the fascinating Trial Bay Gaol. You’ll then return to Little Bay via the Powder Magazine Walking Track.
As suggested by the name, Little Bay is only a tiny bay, but it is brimming with beauty. Dwarfed by large rocks on either side, the bay is full of character and charm. You could explore Little Bay before you head to Smoky Cape, but there are also the options to check it out mid-way through this walk, or at the end. Personally speaking, we recommend finishing your hike here – this way, you can take your hiking boots off and feel the soft white sand between your toes. Plus, it makes for an ideal lunch or picnic spot. Unfortunately, swimming is discouraged here, although it’s mighty tempting to go for a dip!
The Little Bay to Smoky Cape Track
Heading south from Little Bay, you’ll pass a small dam called the Overshot Dam and a park filled with kangaroos.
You’ll then join a narrow trail that begins to steeply weave its way through the dense bushland. Keep in mind, that if you’re the first hikers on the trail, expect many cobwebs that’ll you have to clear. We found the initial climb fairly tough-going as the trail is quite overgrown in sections. You’ll eventually reach higher ground with less bushland around, and from there you’ll have your first exquisite views facing back toward Little Bay.
There will be more dense bushland trail to conquer before you reach Gap Road – make sure you stay right to continue towards Smoky Cape (the track leading left leads you to Gap Beach). There is a small sense of relief as you reach this wide-open trail, void of cobwebs, that’s very easy to speed hike. You’ll then officially reach the Smoky Cape Track, which meanders its way through dense rainforest-like terrain – watch out for goannas on this part of the walk. The Smoky Cape Track is straightforward to follow and fairly flat, so you’ll reach Smoky Cape quickly.
WHAT IS SPEED HIKING? It’s what Beck and I love doing – it’s fast-paced hiking, which allows us to cover more ground in less time! Give it a go if you’re planning on doing both of the Hat Head National Park walks in a day.
Captain Cook Lookout
You’ll emerge from the coastal bushland trail, onto a vast patch of grass with a paved walking track and sweeping views over North Smoky Beach. Captain Cook Lookout provides some of the best views in Hat Head National Park. There are seats here if you need a quick breather and there are also bathroom facilities. Following the paved path will lead you to the lovely Smoky Cape Lighthouse.
Smoky Cape Lighthouse
It’s a short but steep climb from Captain Cook Lookout to the lighthouse. Built in the late 19th century, the heritage-listed Smoky Cape Lighthouse is interestingly still running as an active lighthouse. It’s certainly a gorgeous lighthouse, making it one of Hat Head National Park’s most visited attractions. Around the lighthouse is another stellar viewpoint, facing towards South Smoky Beach, which seems to stretch for kilometres on end.
Jack Perkins Track
To return to Little Bay, you’ll initially take the Jack Perkins Track down to North Smoky Beach. It’s less than 1km to reach the glorious white sand beach. The track is a gradual descent, partly covered in shade by large trees, so it’s a relaxing stretch of the walk.
North Smoky Beach
Even on the weekend, you’ll find North Smoky Beach is fairly quiet and this only adds to its chilled ambience. North Smoky Beach is a large beach with captivating rocks protruding at its northern end.
Officially, the Jack Perkins Track ends once it reaches the beach. However, you’ll continue north over the rock platforms. Take care as you navigate the uneven surfaces. After passing the rocky outcrops, you’ll be deep into some off-trail hiking where the trails are faint and navigation is tricky. This is probably the hardest part of the entire walk, but on offer, are some of the best coastal views. You’ll eventually reach an area known as ‘The Ledge’ which is where you’ll join the Green Island Walking Track and not surprisingly, you’ll have great views of Green Island.
Green Island Walking Track
The Green Island Walking Track steers you away from the coastline, back towards Gap Road (where the Smoky Cape Track intersects). Please note that there is an option to continue off-trail hiking to Gap Beach instead of heading inland on the Green Island Walking Track, but the trail is even fainter (basically non-existent) and a bit more hardcore. Once you reach Gap Road, you’ll simply retrace your steps back to Little Bay.
Arakoon National Park
After passing Little Bay and the small picnic area, you’ll officially continue your walk in the small but lovely Arakoon National Park by joining the Monument Hill Walking Track.
Monument Hill Walking Track
After conquering the relatively difficult Little Bay to Smokey Cape Track, the Monument Hill Walking Track is a much gentler affair. You’ll have serene coastal views to enjoy and there’s even a gnarly stack of rocks at the ‘The Gutter’ to explore.
Trial Bay Gaol
At the end of the Monument Hill Walking Track, you’ll reach the historic Trial Bay Gaol – the second heritage-listed site on this Hat Head National Park walk. According to NSW National Parks, the sandstone gaol took 13 years to build and opened in 1886. Prison labourers were there to help construct a breakwater to create a harbour, which would be roughly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. Despite the scheme failing, the gaol was used during WWI when it became an internment camp for people of German descent who were feared to be enemy sympathisers!
Because we visited during the COVID-19 pandemic and hadn’t pre-booked tickets, we couldn’t go inside or take a tour, but we’re sure it would be well worth it!
Powder Magazine Walking Track
To finish the first of the Hat Head National Park walks, take the Powder Magazine Walking Track back to Little Bay. You’ll find a fine example of early Australian masonry as you pass a historic powder magazine. Along this track, you’ll cross a small bridge, and catch glimpses of the magnificent Trial Bay coastline.
Connors and Korogoro Walking Tracks + Kinchela Trig Lookout and Hat Head Walking Track: Breakdown & Highlights
Here’s a GPS-guided map of this self-made hike.
2. Connors and Korogoro Walking Tracks + Kinchela Trig Lookout and Hat Head Walking Track
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 13.10km
- Time: 3.5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 395m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Kinchela Trig Car Park (near Hungry Gate Campground)
This Hat Head located Hat Head National Park combination trail is yet another incredible coastal walk. This self-made walking route is all about the stunning coastline, with spectacular scenery and wondrous natural attractions. In a nutshell, the walk begins with a short out and back to the Kinchela Trig Lookout, before heading northwards to the Gap via Connors Walking Track. You’ll then complete the adjoining Korogoro Walking Track loop, where you’ll do a short out and back to Hat Head Summit before taking in the natural attractions of Korogoro Point. You’ll then retrace your steps back to complete the return leg via Connors Walking Track.
Kinchela Trig Lookout
It’s possible to either start or finish this Hat Head National Park walk with the Kinchela Trig Lookout Track. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting lookout, compared with all of the amazing viewpoints along the coastal trails in Hat Head National Park. So you may as well start with this out and back trail, as the lookouts further along this walk will only get better!
Connors Walking Track
After a short steep climb, you’ll reach Kemps Corner where you’ll have awesome views southwards to Killick Beach and northwards to Connors Beach. Connors Walking Track is straightforward to follow and quite flat, but it’s totally exposed, so during summer, it’ll be stinking hot! After passing Third Beach, you’ll eventually descend onto the magnificent Connors Beach and sand walk your way northwards to the Gap.
The Gap, otherwise known as Hat Head Gap, is a tiny bay-like beach, separating the Connors and Korogoro Walking Tracks. This was a quaint area and popular with locals, but we didn’t stay too long as we were keen to start the Korogoro Walking Track.
Korogoro Walking Track
If you thought the Connors Walking Track was beautiful, then you might be surprised that the adjacent Korogoro Walking Track is even better, with more unique coastal landforms. The track essentially loops around the summit of the Hat Head headland, with awesome natural attractions and absolutely breathtaking views throughout.
Hat Head Walking Track
The Hat Head Walking Track is a difficult out and back to the summit of Hat Head. Out of all of the Hat Head National Park’s walks, this short trail is perhaps the most challenging. The faint trail is heavily overgrown, which means the steep climb is quite slow-going with many cobwebs and surely many snakes hiding in the bushes.
Hat Head Summit
Despite the tough climb, it shouldn’t take longer than 20–30 minutes, and you’ll be rewarded with sweeping coastal views. To be expected, the summit of Hat Head is pretty barren and dry, but this doesn’t take away from the mouthwatering coastal views.
After descending Hat Head Summit, you’ll continue the Korogoro Walking Track towards Korogoro Point. Along the track are several side trails leading to amazing rock platform gaps and viewpoints. Feel free to explore the area as Korogoro Point has many hidden gems! Without a doubt, Korogoro Point is one of the most epic areas of Hat Head National Park. The remainder of the track is as equally impressive, with sweeping turquoise waters by your side, as you complete the loop.
After reaching ‘The Gap’, you’ll complete the return leg by simply retracing your steps along the Connors Walking Track. Despite the out and back affair, it’s just as enjoyable, with glorious coastal views as you walk northwards to the trailhead.
Hat Head National Park Walks Recap
These two Hat Head National Park walks are easily the best combination of trails in the area. The South West Rocks and Hat Head based combined-trails take in multiple interconnected tracks, creating longer and more enjoyable hiking routes. Whether you plan a long day of hiking, a weekend or extended trip, make sure to give these Hat Head National park walks a crack!
Getting to Sydney
Flights: Of course, you’ll need to fly to Sydney to do this trip from abroad. If you’re travelling to Sydney from overseas, use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. When flying abroad, we always get the ball rolling with a Skyscanner search.
Also, if you’re based in the UK or US, you should sign up to Jack’s Flight Club for the best flight deal alert service. By simply subscribing to the free weekly newsletter or buying a premium membership, you could save lots of money on international travel. If you’re interstate, subscribe to I Want That Flight for the best flight deal alerts to and from Melbourne. You can usually find cheap flights with Jetstar or Tiger Airways.
Getting to the Two Best Hat Head National Park Walks
Little Bay to Smoky Cape + Jack Perkins, Green Island, Monument Hill and Powder Magazine Walking Tracks
Simply park at the Little Bay Picnic Area to begin this South West Rocks based Hat Head National Park walk.
Connors and Korogoro Walking Tracks + Kinchela Trig Lookout and Hat Head Walking Track
Parking for this walk is not as straightforward. You’ll basically drive through the Hungry Gate Campground and then follow Hungry Road, towards the trailhead for Connors Walking Track. There is a small parking area (3–4 spaces) at the trailhead, which is also known as the Kinchela Trig Car Park. Please be aware that the unsealed roads around Hungry Gate Campground can be rough and bumpy for 2WDs.
Ideally, we would have camped at either the Trial Bay Gaol, Smoky Cape or Hungry Gate campgrounds. Unfortunately, it was school holidays, so all three Hat Head National Park campgrounds were booked out! We visited Hat Head National Park during a month-long trip of North Coast NSW, and the way our itinerary worked out, we ended up staying in Nambucca Heads before, and Port Macquarie after visiting Hat Head National Park. But we never stayed in Hat Head National Park itself.
If you end up staying in the nearby Nambucca Heads, we highly recommend camping at the Reflections Holiday Park. There are glorious lookouts at the entrance of the campground which provide some of the best views of Nambucca Heads. For accommodation in Port Macquarie, we spoiled ourselves with a motel stay after camping for most of the previous month in Northern NSW. We stayed at Excelsior Motor Inn which was well located, good value and, well, bloody amazing after all of the camping! For more details, check out our Port Macquarie Coastal Walk guide (coming soon).
Five Hiking Gear Essentials For Hat Head National Park
For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots – a very comfortable pair of hiking boots that are well suited to the varied terrain of the Hat Head National Park walks.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack – Beck swears by this backpack for hiking adventures.
- Sunscreen – there is little to no shade during the Hat Head based walk, so you’ll definitely need sunscreen.
- Anker PowerCore Portable Charger – always handy to have a portable charger on the go when hiking, just in case!
- GoPro HERO 9 – make sure to capture your epic hiking adventures with the latest GoPro!
By combining multiple tracks to form these two awesome Hat Head National Park walks, navigation can be a little tricky at times. Plus, there is some off-trail hiking during the South West Rocks based walk, so you should have GPS guided directions.
We recommend using our Wikiloc maps for GPS guided directions (South West Rocks and Hat Head-based walks). Because these walks combine many trails together, you might find it hard to find these GPS directions elsewhere. For those not so prepared, if you’re needing navigation help during the hike and don’t have any phone reception, consider using Maps.me. Although you need to have at least downloaded the map of the general area beforehand.
- Take time to explore Korogoro Point: the Korogoro Walking Track map proposed by NSW National Parks skips some of the most epic sections of Korogoro Point. Don’t be afraid to take the odd side-trail to experience all the majestic landscapes and natural attractions.
- Book Hat Head National Park campgrounds in advance: if you’re planning on camping in Hat Head National Park during school holidays, make sure to book well in advance to avoid missing out.
- Feel free to break up these walks into the respective individual trails: if you’re after less intense and shorter walks, please use our guide to pick out the individual trails you’d like to explore.
Are there any other great Hat Head National Park walks? Please let us know in the comments below.