Uncovering Its Rich Past: A Look into Smoky Cape Lighthouse History

Nestled amidst breathtaking coastal scenery, Smoky Cape Lighthouse stands as an emblem of history, nature, and cultural connection. Are you ready to dive into the captivating world of this architectural marvel and the stories it holds within? Join us as we embark on an unforgettable journey, exploring the rich Smoky Cape Lighthouse history, its connection to the Dunghutti people, and the natural wonders surrounding it.

Short Summary

  • Smoky Cape Lighthouse, located in Hat Head National Park, NSW, has been a beacon of light since 1891 and showcases impressive architecture.
  • The legacy of the lightkeepers is preserved through its lighthouse complex while the Dunghutti people maintain an enduring heritage to their ancestral land.
  • Visitors can explore Smoky Cape’s diverse landscapes & enjoy recreational activities such as guided tours, walking trails & water-based fun.

The Origins of Smoky Cape Lighthouse

mountain, peak, clouds

Perched on the narrow headland in Hat Head National Park, along the mid-north coast of New South Wales, Australia, Smoky Cape Lighthouse has been a beacon of light since 1891. The name “Smoky Cape” was first used by Captain Cook in 1770. He noticed Aboriginal fires burning in the area and gave this area the name. Today, this fantastic spot offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in history, surrounded by stunning coastal scenery and opportunities for bird and whale watching.

The Smoky Cape Lighthouse complex is home to an impressive array of structures. These include the octagonal tower, the headkeeper’s residence, assistant keepers’ semi-detached cottages, a coach house and stables. The lighthouse continues to guide seafarers, while offering tourists a unique opportunity to stay overnight in the refurbished lighthouse keepers’ cottage and experience a taste of the past.

Architectural Marvels

lighthouse, coast, sea

Designed by the Colonial Architect, James Barnet, and engineered by Charles Oakes, the Smoky Cape Lighthouse tower showcases architectural excellence. Divided into two levels, the tower features iron floors and winding staircases, leading visitors on a journey of discovery. The crown is crafted from granite voussoir blocks, supported on moulded granite cantilevers, and the balcony is adorned with an ornate gun metal railing stamped with Queen Victoria’s mark. This elegant structure stands as a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of its creators.

In 1915, the lighthouse came under federal control with the Commonwealth Lighthouses Act of 1911. It was classified as a coastal light at this time. Today, the Smoky Cape Lighthouse continues to shine its light over the surrounding waters, preserving its historical significance while guiding ships on their journeys.

The Lightkeepers

The lightkeepers of Smoky Cape Lighthouse played a crucial role in maintaining the safety of passing ships. Although their names may have been lost in the sands of time, their dedication and vigilance ensured the smooth functioning of the lighthouse. In 1988, the light was automated, leaving the lighthouse devoid of human presence ever since.

Despite the absence of lightkeepers, the spirit of their work lives on in the beautifully preserved lighthouse complex. Visitors can now stay overnight in the lighthouse keepers’ cottage, experiencing a glimpse of a bygone era and the responsibilities of the lightkeepers who once called Smoky Cape Lighthouse home.

The Dunghutti Connection

The land surrounding Smoky Cape Lighthouse is steeped in the rich cultural heritage of the Dunghutti people, the traditional custodians of the Macleay River catchment. This area, which stretches from the saltwater coastal regions to the freshwater country upstream and the mountain country to the west, has been home to the Dunghutti people for thousands of years. Smoky Cape continues to hold great significance for the Dunghutti people, serving as a reminder of their strong connection to the land.

The park encompassing Smoky Cape Lighthouse contains ceremonial grounds, burial sites, shell middens, and campsites, bearing witness to the enduring cultural artifacts of the Dunghutti people. As we explore the history and natural beauty of Smoky Cape, it is essential to recognize and respect the deep-rooted connection of the Dunghutti people to this land.

Sacred Sites

Burrel Bulai (Mount Anderson) is considered one of the most significant sacred sites in Dunghutti Country. Holding immense spiritual significance, Burrel Bulai is the purported origin of the Dunghutti people’s creation story. This sacred site represents the deep connection the Dunghutti people have with their ancestral land and their spiritual beliefs.

As we uncover the history of Smoky Cape Lighthouse and its surroundings, it is crucial to acknowledge and respect the sacred sites of the Dunghutti people. These sites serve as a testament to their enduring heritage and the importance of preserving their cultural legacy.

Environmental Stewardship

The Dunghutti people’s environmental stewardship is deeply rooted in their traditional knowledge and heritage, passed down through generations. With a profound understanding of the environment and its resources, the Dunghutti people have devised and executed sustainable harvesting practices to safeguard the environment.

Their sustainable harvesting methods ensure the conservation of the environment for future generations, demonstrating the value of traditional knowledge in preserving our natural world. As we appreciate the beauty of Smoky Cape and its surroundings, it is essential to recognize the Dunghutti people’s role as environmental stewards of this land.

Natural Wonders Surrounding the Lighthouse

Smoky Cape Lighthouse is not only a historical landmark, but also a gateway to the natural wonders that abound in the area. From coastal flora and marine life to land-dwelling creatures, the surroundings of Smoky Cape Lighthouse offer a treasure trove of biodiversity. White-bellied sea eagles, laughing kookaburras, and short-beaked echidnas are just a few of the captivating species that call this region home.

The dunes surrounding Smoky Cape Lighthouse serve as a buffer from the ocean, protecting the land from salty winds and waves. As these dunes steadily advance inland, they encroach upon the park’s wetlands, creating a unique and ever-changing landscape for visitors to explore.

Coastal Flora

A visit to Smoky Cape Lighthouse wouldn’t be complete without exploring the diverse coastal flora that adorns Hat Head National Park. This intriguing destination is home to an array of temperate plant species, creating a vibrant tapestry of colors and textures throughout the park.

One fascinating example of the unique flora found in the park is the regent skipper, a type of butterfly exclusive to Hat Head National Park and Limeburners Creek National Park. With black wings adorned with yellow and red dots and stripes, the regent skipper is a captivating sight amongst the coastal flora.

Marine Life

While specific information regarding the marine life surrounding Smoky Cape Lighthouse remains elusive, the broader Hat Head National Park is renowned for its abundant biodiversity, including marine animals. A visit to the park may offer glimpses of the diverse underwater world that thrives in the waters off the coast.

The avian species found in the park are equally impressive, with observations revealing the presence of black swans, egrets, herons, fantails, honeyeaters, hawks, falcons, eagles, and the endangered glossy black cockatoo. The rich marine life and birdlife in the area make Smoky Cape Lighthouse an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts.

Land-Dwelling Creatures

Hat Head National Park, home to Smoky Cape Lighthouse, boasts an array of land-dwelling creatures that visitors can encounter during their explorations. Red-necked and swamp wallabies, grey kangaroos, and sugar gliders are just a few of the captivating species that inhabit this charming region.

The short-beaked echidna, renowned for being one of only two egg-laying mammals in the world, is also found in the park, showcasing its remarkable sense of smell. The diverse land-dwelling creatures of Hat Head National Park serve as a testament to the rich biodiversity that surrounds Smoky Cape Lighthouse.

Recreational Activities at Smoky Cape

In addition to its historical and natural appeal, Smoky Cape Lighthouse offers a variety of recreational activities for visitors to enjoy. From guided tours and walking trails to water-based fun, there is something for everyone to experience and create lasting memories.

While exploring the Smoky Cape Lighthouse area, visitors can partake in whale watching, bird watching, picnicking with a view, and even staying overnight at the lighthouse keepers’ cottage. These activities offer unique opportunities to immerse oneself in the beauty and history of Smoky Cape.

Guided Tours

For those seeking a deeper understanding of Smoky Cape Lighthouse’s history and architecture, guided tours are available on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1 pm. These tours provide an in-depth look at the lighthouse, its complex, and the lives of the lightkeepers who once resided there.

To obtain additional information regarding the guided tours, you may contact 02 6566 6301. Embarking on a guided tour offers an unparalleled opportunity to delve into the captivating world of Smoky Cape Lighthouse and its rich past.

Walking Trails

A network of walking trails awaits visitors at Smoky Cape Lighthouse, providing scenic routes through the area’s diverse landscapes. The Smoky Cape walking track, part of the longer Little Bay to Smoky Cape walk in Hat Head National Park, is a 4.5km return walk that takes approximately two hours to complete.

Another option is the 2.2km loop trail that begins and ends on Lighthouse Rd, guiding visitors through the rainforest and offering breathtaking ocean views. For a more extensive adventure, the trail from Smoky Cape Lighthouse to Trial Bay Gaol spans 4.5km and showcases picturesque views of the ocean.

These walking trails provide an excellent opportunity to immerse oneself in the natural beauty surrounding Smoky Cape Lighthouse.

Water-Based Fun

While the immediate vicinity of Smoky Cape Lighthouse may lack specific water-based activities, nearby South West Rocks offers a hub for water sports and exploration. Visitors can venture to this location to engage in a wide range of water-based fun, making the most of their time in the stunning coastal region surrounding Smoky Cape Lighthouse.


Smoky Cape Lighthouse stands as a testament to architectural ingenuity, rich history, and the enduring connection between people and the land. From exploring its origins and the stories of the lightkeepers, to delving into the Dunghutti connection and the natural wonders surrounding it, Smoky Cape Lighthouse offers a unique and unforgettable experience for visitors. As you embark on your own journey to discover the captivating world of Smoky Cape Lighthouse, may the spirit of its past and the beauty of its surroundings inspire you to create memories that will last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

How high is Smoky Cape Lighthouse?

Smoky Cape Lighthouse stands at an impressive height of 33 metres tall, making it the tallest lighthouse on the Australian mainland. It was built in 1891 on the 300m high granite outcrop that was named by Captain Cook in 1770, when he spied the smoke from the fires of the Dunghutti people.

The walk to its base starts from the nearby lookout point, aptly named Captain Cook’s Lookout.

Where is Smoky Cape?

Smoky Cape is located on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, Australia, near the town of South West Rocks. It lies within the Hat Head National Park and is approximately 40 km (25 mi) from Kempsey.

Smoky Cape provides an idyllic natural paradise for visitors to explore and enjoy its stunning views, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers.

Who takes care of Cape Lookout Lighthouse?

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is now taken care of by the Fort Macon Coast Guard Station, which has been responsible for its maintenance since the decommissioning of the original station located about two miles south of the lighthouse.

This Coast Guard Station is the sole protector of this historic landmark.