Caves Beach is a beautiful sandy beach near Swansea in the coastal city of Lake Macquarie, our backyard. We’ve never actually been before because when we visited in summer, the carparks and street parking were always full. We decided to go recently though, even though it is cold and rainy Autumn. We’re so glad we did!
Just before I jump into it, I’d love to hear from you about a place in your backyard that you’ve discovered recently. Let me know in the comments at the end of the article!
This article is all our own experience. Everything we did was paid for by us, and no part of it was free or subsidised. That said, some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission if you click it and make a booking or purchase. I hope that you’ll use these links anytime you need to book a place to stay or activity! These small commissions help me to keep travelling so I can write and film more travel guides for you. I would never recommend anything I don’t or would not personally use!
About Caves Beach
Caves Beach is unique because, at the Southern end, you can find a network of caves worn out of the sandstone cliffs. These very same caves are the reason for the name of the beach. At low tide, you can access these caves and explore this scenic part of the NSW coastline. We didn’t think to check the tide times before we left, but we were lucky that the tide had been out and was on the way back in when we got there.
Parking during summer can be a challenge, but in Autumn, we were able to get a park close to the Surf Life Saving Club at the southern end of the beach next to Stuart Chalmers Park. This carpark is both the closest to the beach and the caves. The beach itself is a gorgeous white sandy beach with enough of a swell to surf if that’s your thing and more than enough to have fun on a bodyboard.
At the southern end, the sand gives way to sandstone cliffs and rocky outcrops that jut into the ocean. If you look closely at the rocks, there are some fascinating patterns and textures.
Make your way around these cliffs, and you will see the first and largest cave.
Heading into the cave, you’ll find lots of fissures and cracks.
Towards the back is one of the most prominent fissures. It takes you out the other side of the cave. From here you can access more of the cave network. Unfortunately for us, the tide had started to come back in and was flowing freely through here, so we decided not to head through it this time.
You can also head up the stairs to the top of the cliffs where you will find another car park and a lookout where you can take in the beach looking both directions.
There are picnic facilities including barbecues and seating, but these are hard to come by during the summer months.
We found a great little fish and chip shop in town called Caves Beach Takeaway. It’s a little bit more expensive than some, and they only take cash, but they did great fish and chips. You can find them here:
For the dog lovers, it’s important to note that you cannot have dogs on the beach at the southern end near the caves, they are however permitted 300m to the north at Hams Beach.
We went on an overcast day that ended up raining, but we were a little spoiled. We got to watch a rainbow form while we were inside the cave, ending in the ocean just outside. It was so beautiful to watch and such a pleasant surprise to our visit.
Getting to Caves Beach
Caves beach is part of the suburb of Caves Beach, a township in Lake Macquarie City Council. It’s just south of Swansea and Swansea Heads. The easiest way to get here is by car, but there is a bus available.
To get here by car, you can find it by entering Caves Beach in your GPS, or Stuart Chalmers Park. There are two car parks available. The first is at Stuart Chalmers Park; the second is at the top of the cliffs with access from Caves Beach Road.
It’s about 30km’s South of Newcastle, allow about 40 minutes for the trip. It’s also about 130km’s North of Sydney; you can expect it to take about 1 hour and 45 minutes for the journey.
By Public Transport
The only public transport available to Caves Beach is bus or taxi. To get there by bus, take Newcastle Transport bus 29, the Glendale to Swansea Heads service. Bus 29 is the only bus that goes to Caves Beach at the time of writing. You can connect with this bus from Cardiff Train Station. Otherwise, there are some intersecting bus routes at different points along the way 29 takes.
Admission fees and other costs
Parking at Caves Beach is free, and there are no entry costs.
The beach itself is accessible all the time. However, you can only get to the caves during low tide, so check the tide timetable before you go. The beach is patrolled by lifeguards from the September/October school holidays through to the April school holidays.
Hotels near Caves Beach
In spite of how special this beach is and how busy it gets in Summer, there are not a lot of hotels in the immediate area. The main one to consider is Caves Coastal, also known as Caves Beach Resort and Caves Beach Bar and Bungalows. It’s all the one place and is about as close as you can get to Caves Beach. Otherwise, your nearest options are in Swansea or Cams Wharf. You can also find holiday homes in the area listed on Airbnb and Booking.com. You can check what’s nearby using the search box below.
If you are looking for a snorkelling experience in Luganville, this is the one. It’s expensive for what it is, but you get to experience a wide variety of coral, fish and other marine life, including things I’ve never seen when snorkelling anywhere else.
Luganville is located on the largest island in Vanuatu, Espiritu Santo, and is well-known for its dive sites and blue holes. Plain old snorkelling is something you don’t hear so much about, surprising considering the location. Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises frequently include Luganville or Champagne Bay (also located on Espiritu Santo) on their itineraries, and from time to time, so does Carnival Cruises. At the moment Royal Caribbean only really visits the port as an alternative when there is bad weather elsewhere. That said, all four cruise lines offer this Coral and Glam Garden Snorkelling shore excursion in slightly different variations.
We did this excursion from Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas after being diverted to Luganville from Mystery Island. So without further ado, here is my review!
Shore Excursion Details
Duration: 1.5 – 2.25hrs depending on cruise line
Activity Level: Moderate – mostly shallow water, but there can be substantial currents and limited places to put your feet down.
Transport: Non-air-conditioned vans
Here is the info you need to find this shore excursion with each cruise line:
Most of the cruise lines quote different durations, but the only difference between them is the time spent at the coral and clam garden, the rest of the experience is the same.
Royal Caribbean advertises this as a two-hour shore excursion, making it medium-length in comparison to the other cruise lines and it consists of meeting at the shore excursions section of the cruise terminal.
Once the tour operators are ready for you, it’s a 10-15 minute van ride following the Main Street of Luganville to and from the private beach located at the eastern-most end of the city.
This beach is situated opposite Aore Island on the Segond Channel, so it is very protected, but there can be substantial currents, so you need to watch where you are swimming and make sure you aren’t pushed too far down the beach.
One thing that was not made clear either in the excursion or in Royal Caribbean’s information about it is that, according to Princess, this coral and clam garden is not entirely natural. Snorkelling there, it is evident that parts of it are man-made with concrete sections under the water in some places. The Princess shore excursion information says that the landowners, Pio and Evette have actively been developing the garden for 13 years. Beyond the boundary of their land, the coral and marine life continue, but there is a distinct abundance within the confines of their beach area. So it appears this work on their part has indeed contributed to making it a beautiful place to snorkel.
Upon arrival, we were taken down to the beach. It’s a fairly steep slope down with limited steps, and it can be wet, so you need to be reasonably mobile.
Snorkelling equipment is available for you to use if you don’t have your own, and there is undercover seating available if you just want to sit back and enjoy the view for a little while.
All of the shore excursion information indicates drinks are available (Royal Caribbean’s choice of wording could suggest drinks are included, but it isn’t entirely clear, other cruises clearly state that beverages are a separate cost), but nothing was ever offered. I’m unsure whether it is meant to be complimentary or at a price, but you will definitely want to bring a bottle of water with you to keep hydrated.
From the main covered beach area, it’s a few steps down to the beach proper.
Depending on the tide, you might be straight in the water at the bottom of the stairs, or you might have some beach.
Either way, keep an eye out for jagged pieces of concrete, rocks and broken coral.
The beach is covered in broken coral.
I’d recommend wearing flippers to help protect your feet and make it easier to deal with the current. If you aren’t into wearing fins though, definitely make sure you wear reef shoes.
In the water, it is almost crystal clear once you get a few metres from the beach and it isn’t long before you find all sorts of marine life. It’s nearly as clear as Bora Bora.
There are all kinds of fish, sea horses, sea cucumbers, starfish, crabs and huge clams including different varieties I’ve never encountered before and some other creatures we’ve never seen anywhere that we’ve snorkelled including around Australia, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji and French Polynesia.
The snorkel area is designated with yellow buoys.
While it’s unlikely you will get in trouble if you are outside this area, this section is what belongs to the landowners. Swimming out beyond the buoys does get deeper and the coral there has not been fostered and developed, so there is not as much to see.
Due to the abundance of marine life, you do need to be reasonably confident in your swimming ability. While the water isn’t deep in most places, there are not a lot of spots to put your feet down without potentially harming something.
In my opinion, it is easy snorkelling, but the current combined with limited clear places to put your feet down can cause panic if you are not a confident snorkeler. We had a couple of people freak out on our excursion due to some water in their snorkels, and it resulted in a huge sea cucumber being stepped on plus who knows what other damage from the flailing. I sympathise with them, but just be aware of your ability before you get in the water and stay within an area you are confident you can handle and you’ll enjoy the experience a whole lot more.
This shore excursion with Royal Caribbean is way overpriced. Honestly, it’s price gouging at it’s finest. I understand the locals need to make money, and they certainly have every right to charge for the tour and access to their private beach. I also appreciate that Royal Caribbean needs to add a margin on top to cover their shore excursions staff costs and coordinating it all from their end, but we felt it was high when we booked on board.
After writing this blog and discovering it is more than double the price of P&O, Princess and Carnival I think it is obscene. I’m ok with paying a bit of a premium for a Royal Caribbean organised shore excursion, but Royal should be ashamed to be charging that high, and honestly, it’s made us rethink the number of shore excursions we will be booking through them in the future.
That said, the shore excursion itself is fantastic. The amount of time you spend in the water is maximised by the short van ride and the ability to get in the water almost immediately.
You definitely want to spend as much time in the water as you can because the coral and marine life is beautiful and unique.
You get to see more than you could straight in the water at Mystery Island, and you are able to enjoy it with far fewer people trampling everything.
This shore excursion lets you see things through crystal clear water that you just don’t get to see so easily elsewhere.
Would I do it again? Absolutely, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in snorkelling at Luganville.
Would I recommend it with Royal Caribbean though? No. Through Royal Caribbean, it is overpriced and is not worth that amount of money at all.
Princess and P&O cruise ships often visit Luganville in Vanuatu, Royal Caribbean though doesn’t usually go there as part of their scheduled itineraries. We were cruising with Royal Caribbean on Explorer of the Seas when we were diverted to Luganville due to inclement weather at Mystery Island. After speaking to other people, it seems this is a regular occurrence, but I don’t understand why they rarely schedule it as a destination. Luganville is a small city on the beautiful island of Espiritu Santo with some unique attractions including stunning Champagne Bay. The town itself is not modern or wealthy, but it does have a brand new cruise terminal, ideally suited to docking big cruise liners.
One of it’s most famous draw cards are the blue holes, deep, spring-fed freshwater pools that shine brilliant blue in the sun. Royal Caribbean offers the LY01 shore excursion called “Northern Seaside and Blue Hole Tour Luganville” which gives you the opportunity to experience one of these blue holes for yourself. Princess and P&O also offer the same shore excursion to their guests.
Shore excursion details:
This information is current as at the time of writing.
Activity Level: Mild – unless you want to do a lot of swimming, jumping or diving.
Transport: Air-conditioned vans
Tour Operator:Paradise Tours. Note, this tour is different to the regular tours they offer via their website.
Here is the info you need to find this excursion with Royal Caribbean, Princess and P&O:
Shore Excursion Code: LY01
Cost (USD): $92 per person
Shore excursion website. Note, at the time of writing, Royal Caribbean does not list any shore excursions for Luganville.
The Princess website quotes different travel times and times at each destination but the same total excursion time, so I’d say there is some variation. That said, the Princess website is also out of date on a few points including toilets and changing rooms. I believe the excursion is also run in reverse order so that two groups can be running simultaneously.
So, we met our tour guides right outside the cruise terminal and hopped on to air-conditioned vans. After 30 minutes of seeing the beautiful Espiritu Santo countryside with a knowledgeable tour guide telling us about everything we are seeing, the tour brings you to a secluded private beach with a small market, changing room and toilet.
The beach is sandy and very protected with islands nearby. There are small rocks and broken coral under the water in the shallows, so if you have some reef shoes it’s not a bad idea to wear them, but not essential.
We wore our flippers and snorkels, but even without that, it’s really easy swimming, even once you get too deep to touch the bottom.
The location is gorgeous with views to other parts of Espiritu Santo and other islands. It’s worth coming to experience this beautiful place.
That said, there is hardly any coral here and very few fish.
I found that the further out I went the more fish I saw, but they were sticking to the bottom around the limited coral and the water was not very clear.
In the shallows, you are more likely to spot a sea cucumber, but there isn’t a whole lot of them either.
So you aren’t here for the snorkelling but rather the view and to enjoy a swim in the beautiful water.
After 45 minutes here, it’s back to the vans for another 15 minutes to drive to the “Secret” Blue Hole.
This blue hole is tucked away in amongst rainforest. Unfortunately for us, it was an overcast day, and it started raining on the way to the blue hole, so we didn’t get to see it shining bright blue. Even so, it was a deep shade of blue with lighter tones towards some of the edges.
The water is deep and cool. It’s so refreshing in a place as hot and humid as Luganville. Since it’s freshwater, you don’t float as effortlessly as you do in saltwater, so I found I was worn out fairly quickly and had to hop out for a bit of a break. Flippers make it much easier to stay afloat.
If you don’t want to hop in the water, or just want to enjoy the serenity of the place, there is covered seating and open seating surrounded by beautiful rainforest with views over the blue hole.
Freshly cut fruit, including pineapple, is available as well. So if you’ve had enough of swimming, you can just sit back and enjoy.
If you are a bit more adventurous, there is a raised platform you can jump in from, standing 2.5-3 metres above the water level.
No one from our group managed to find the bottom of the blue hole; it’s more than deep enough to have some fun!
While you are enjoying yourself, keep an eye out around the edges and the steps, you just might spot one of the rare freshwater hermit crabs!
After 45 minutes here, it’s back on the van for the 30-minute ride to the cruise ship terminal.
We loved this tour. We were a little disappointed there wasn’t much snorkelling to be done at the beach, but it’s such a tranquil location that is a pleasure to just relax and cool down in the water. Do the Coral and Clam Garden tour if snorkelling is what you are after. I’ll be doing a write up on it shortly.
The blue hole is so gorgeous, I just can’t recommend it enough. Make sure you go see one while you are in Luganville, whether it’s this one or one of the many others.
Our guide was very knowledgeable, spoke excellent English, and all the people involved in running the tour were eager to make sure we enjoyed ourselves.
We had a wonderful time, and I would highly recommend this shore excursion to anyone visiting Luganville on a cruise ship.
It was lovely to wake up just after sunrise and hear the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks right next to the Dongara Denison Big4 Caravan Park. We wandered out to the beach just after sunrise, before most people were up, and the footpath along the shore was just so calming and relaxing. It was a great way to start the day!
Dongara / Port Denison is located on either side of the Irwin River mouth, with Dongara on the south and Port Denison on the north bank. The caravan park we stayed at is south of the river, and towards the southern end of Denison.
We had no plans to see anything here as we had to return the camper van in Perth by 4pm, but as we made our way out of town, we spotted the Fishermen’s Memorial Obelisk.
This monument was first in 1869 as a navigational aid after the loss of the Brigantine Leander which was shipwrecked nearby on November 11, 1853. It also serves as a tribute to the Beagle and her crew who surveyed the coastline of Dongara. Finally, and most recently, it is now a memorial, dedicated to the fishermen of Dongara Port Denison who have lost their lives at sea.
From this monument, you get a clear view across the harbour out towards the river mouth, South Beach and West Groyne.
It actually isn’t very far from Dongara / Port Denison down to Perth, only a four-hour drive from the caravan park to the airport, but there is a remarkable amount to see, and the closer to Perth you get, the more small towns there are.
The first one we stopped at is Leeman.
This is the largest village before Green Head but still does not have much at all. There is a small beach covered in seagrass, the first one like it that we’ve seen on this road trip.
As I’m sure you can understand, it smelled awful!
Continuing on, we arrived at another small, beach town, Green Head.
Green Head is the northern-most point of the Jurien Bay Marine Park and is surrounded by reefs with just a couple of narrow passages for boats to pass through.
As a result, the water here is calm, and looking out from the beach the water is so clear you can see the dark patches of reef and seagrass everywhere.
Within the Green Head area, there are some beaches that you can stop at, including this cute little cove with an explosive name, Dynamite Bay:
I think this would be the perfect spot to have a BBQ and go for a swim when it’s a bit warmer.
There are plenty of sheltered picnic tables, toilets and a lookout, so you could really make a day of it if you wanted to.
We were on the way early, and our goal was to get to Jurien Bay for breakfast.
We made our way into the Jurien Jetty as we had been hoping to snorkel at the man-made reef here after we had breakfast and checked the area out some more. At the jetty, we found the Jurien Jetty Cafe, so we decided to have breakfast there.
This cafe has a great menu and is in an excellent location, just a few metres from the beach.
Unfortunately, the orientation of it means there are no beach views from inside, but the food is still delicious.
I got the “vegetarian big breakfast.”
Wifey got the pancakes.
And we got a couple of hot drinks to go with, hot chocolate for wifey and a cappuccino for me.
After breakfast, we checked out the area a little bit more and found the war memorial just down the road from the jetty.
So after spending a little bit of time there, we came back to the jetty and walked out to the end.
The jetty is still new and has a concrete platform, so it is very sturdy and gives you a decent view of the coastline to the north and south.
Back at the beach is Dobbyn Park, where the council has invested in some entertaining looking play equipment for kids as well as some workout equipment for adults.
Here, you can also find plenty of information about the man-made reef and the surrounding area.
We decided that it was too cold to snorkel, and we probably didn’t have time either if we wanted to see the other sights we had in mind. Even so, it was absorbing to read about the snorkel trail that runs for 120 metres, starting and finishing at the old jetty. Its depth varies from 2.5 metres to 6 metres and has apparently attracted a wide variety of marine life due to the Leeuwin Current that brings warm water and tropical fish down from the north.
The artificial reef was constructed by the local Jurien Bay Community Men’s Shed using 79 concrete ‘reef balls’, some weighing up to 750kg!
Lake Thetis is located at Cervantes, about 28 km’s South of Jurien Bay. Like most coastal towns in WA, this one also has a beach with brilliant white sand at Thirsty Point. However, due to the proximity to the Jurien Bay seagrass beds, this beach has dark seagrass poking through, making it look dirty.
Lake Thetis is unique because not only does it have lots of stromatolites like we found at Hamelin Pool, but it also has an abundance of thrombolites. These two microbial communities are related but manifest themselves in slightly different ways. The lake itself is about 2 km’s out of town, including a short stretch of dirt road (Hansen Bay Road). Once you reach the car park, it’s then a 300m walk out to the boardwalk that will take you out onto the lake to get close up views of these unusual formations.
If you are into walking, there is a 1.5km loop track around the lake, but we opted to just go out the boardwalk.
The boardwalk is actually more of a mesh-walk, but it is wheelchair friendly, even though the car park itself is dirt and full of potholes!
Our last stop before Perth, The Pinnacles. We visited Pinnacle National Park last time we were in Perth, but it’s just so unique that it’s worth going again. There are massive white sand dunes all along the coast here, but once you enter Pinnacle National Park, it all changes. Here, the white sand gives way to vibrant yellow.
With yellow rocks jutting out of the yellow earth everywhere, it’s easy to feel like you are in another world entirely.
Some of the rocks are small, some are massive, and the even cooler thing is: you don’t have to walk through it if you don’t want to!
There is a driving track, so you pay your park entry fee of $13.00 per vehicle, and then you can drive through the pinnacles. If you want to get out and take pictures, that’s not a problem as there are lots of parking spots along the track.
This is honestly the highlight of the day, even though we’ve been there before. If you get a chance to go here, take it.
Back in Perth, we arrived at the Mighty Campers depot at 3:45 pm, just in time to return the camper van. Oddly enough, we couldn’t find any service station that offered gas refills, so we had to pay for a full gas bottle refill at the depot.
From there, we got an Uber to Perth Airport where we picked up a hire car from Avis for the rest of the evening.
We had checked the van over before going to make sure we didn’t forget anything, but somehow, I still managed to miss my GoPro, so we had to race back. Fortunately, they hadn’t shut yet, and I was able to get it out! I had it behind the driver’s seat, so I could quickly grab it every time I got in and out of the van. Unfortunately, for some reason, I didn’t check there when we did the once over. So make sure you check everywhere!
As the adrenalin subsided and my blood pressure returned to normal, we headed out to iconic Cottesloe Beach.
Again, it’s not our first visit, but what trip to Perth would be complete without watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean?
We were fortunate to get a very convenient park and couldn’t help but notice this interesting sign at the yoghurt place across the road!
Dinner at Meeka Restaurant
Last time we were in Perth, we found a fantastic Turkish restaurant in Subiaco, so we decided to see if we could go there for a fancy dinner at the end of our trip. Sadly, they have closed down.
We found another one though, Meeka Restaurant.
Meeka is hidden away and could easily be missed. The food though is superb and well worth a visit. They didn’t have the angel pastry dessert we tried at the other Turkish restaurant, but nevertheless, I’d visit again!
From the menu, I decided to have the fish of the day, salmon.
Wifey got the wild goat tajine.
For dessert, we shared the fennel mousse and almond pistachio orange cake with nut purée, whipped honey, cucumber sorbet, dehydrated fennel, and honeycomb.
Yes, it tasted as incredible as it looks and sounds.
Kings Park War Memorial
After our scrumptious dinner, we decided to visit Kings Park to see it in the dark for the first time and pay our respects at the war memorial.
Perth is a beautiful city, and the Kings Park War Memorial is no exception.
Whether you are here night or day, it’s worth a visit, and don’t forget to experience the Whispering Wall.
It was a long day with an early start and a late night, but at last, we made our way back to Perth Airport for our midnight flight home, arriving into Sydney at 7:30 am.
What a trip. I can’t even begin to emphasise how inspiring, educational, fun, and jaw-dropping this entire 14-day itinerary was.
Have you made a trip like this? Let me know what you liked and what you didn’t in the comments! I’d love to hear your favourite parts.
The further south we travel the more touristy it becomes, but that certainly doesn’t detract from it. Monkey Mia is known for its wild dolphins, and within Monkey Mia itself, there is just one place to stay, the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort.
If there is one thing you do in Australia besides Uluru/Ayers Rock, it’s the Horizontal Falls. Located at Talbot Bay in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia, I don’t think there is anything quite like this anywhere else. For the Kiwi’s, this is like Doubtful Sound, remote, hard to get to, and uniquely beautiful. Unlike Doubtful Sound, though, it’s hot, and the water is full of sharks and saltwater crocodiles, so you don’t want to fall in!
We had dinner here last night. Unfortunately I was too hungry and completely forgot to take photos, but I thought I’d share our experience nevertheless.
My in-laws and my wife are loyal locals and always like to visit the Horseshoe Bay Kiosk whenever they go to South West Rocks. Every time they have tried to take me before though, the kiosk has been closed, but this time it was finally open and I can understand why they like to get food there.
We got burgers, chips, gravy and ice cream for dinner.
One thing to be aware of, especially if you order anything besides chips is that they don’t call orders out based on the number order. For example, we were 87, but they had gotten to 105 before they came back to us. The reason for this is that chips cook faster than burgers. That said, we were waiting about 45 minutes for our order which seems quite a while for a burger. As long as you are aware to expect a wait of that long though then you won’t have a problem. One way around it might be to order chips in one order and everything else in another – that way you at least get your chips earlier to start munching on!
That aside the burgers were pretty awesome. They were a decent size and tasted great.
I had the chicken burger and everyone else had hamburgers. They both had good chunks of meat on them and lots of salad. It took a bit to get our mouths around them, so in spite of the wait, it was worth while.
We were also pleased to find that the chips were fresh, they hadn’t been cooked straight away and left sitting while the burgers cooked, they were cooked later on to coincide with the burgers being ready. They were chunky chips and they went down well with the gravy, though the gravy was perhaps a bit too salty.
For dessert we had ice cream. The Horseshoe Bay Kiosk has a lot of ice cream choices – though unfortunately they had run out of a lot when we were getting dessert. It’s setup like a Baskin Robbins style, but based on Peters ice creams.
Recently Tammy and I made our way down the South Coast of NSW and were blessed with some beautiful days and stunning scenery.
Narooma is a quiet little town situated on the southern side of Forsters Bay and the Wagonga Inlet roughly half way between Bega and Batemans Bay. North Narooma is on the northern side of the Bay and Inlet. The Princes Highway runs through the town, so if you take that route you will pass through it. The bay and inlet are a beautiful blue as you can see in the photo above and looks so inviting.