North Coast NSW - Travel the Waterfall Way
|Travel the Waterfall Way - Quick Facts|
The Waterfall Way is a spectacular 200km drive that winds upwards from the Pacific Highway near Coffs Harbour to Armidale on the New England Tablelands via Bellingen and Dorrigo.
Beyond the rainforest and beaches of the mid-north coast rises the Great Dividing Range and the windswept Salisbury Plains of the New England tablelands, the jagged edge of which is split by countless jagged-edged gorges where, after rain, rivers rage and tumble over the edge, creating some of the most spectacular - and highest - waterfalls in the state.
Ellenborough and Tia Falls
From Port Macquarie, head west on the Oxley Highway, past the pioneer timber-getting town of Wauchope and take a short detour to Ellenborough Falls, just beyond the mountain-top village of Comboyne. Reputed to be the largest single drop of water in the southern hemisphere, you can take the 642 steps to the bottom or follow the much easier walk through the rainforest to view the falls from the other side of the gorge.
Back on the Oxley, the road winds its way across the range, a slow but incredibly scenic trip through towering tree ferns and dense rainforest. Stop at Gingers Creek roadhouse around halfway for a coffee on the back verandah looking out over the mountains, before tackling the remaining half hour or so of bends until the road spills out onto the high plains beyond Yarrowitch. Tia Falls are just a few kilometres further on, but you'll need to take one of the short walks to get a good view of them. 17km further down the road are Apsley Falls, where the Apsley River spills down a 65m drop into a round circular gorge.
Refuel in Walcha with some break fluid at either the Royal café in the old bank building, or Graze Café on the main street - both serve great coffee - and then take Thunderbolt's Way to Uralla and Armidale. This is Thunderbolt country, and you've as much chance of escaping the clutches of this cavalier bushranger as the police had of capturing him when he roamed the countryside around Uralla in the 1860s. The rocks he used as a lookout are just south of Uralla, there are all sorts of Thunderbolt artefacts in the McCrossin Mill Museum and almost every business in town is pushing the Thunderbolt connection with pies, motels, cafes and monuments all proudly sporting the outlaw's name.
The Waterfall Way
It's just a short drive across the Salisbury Plains and beside Dangars Lagoon to Armidale and there are several lookouts and waterfalls just a few kilometres east of the city centre. Called the Waterfall Way, the Wollomombi road skirts the edge of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, home to two more magnificent waterfalls and rugged gorge country. The steep cliffs, waterfalls and gorges of the escarpment, and extensive areas of wilderness, make for some great photo opportunities. There are lookouts at Dangars Gorge and Falls, Long Point, Wollomombi Gorge and Falls, Apsley Gorge, Budds Mare and Riverside. The most accessible of the gorges is Wollomombi, and the spectacular single fall from the undulating plateau country to the floor of the gorge is at its most impressive after heavy rain. It's often quoted as Australia's tallest waterfall, but this is only so if measured from its highest point, where the land has a much gentler gradient and the water does not truly 'fall'.
The road rolls across the tablelands though open grazing country. In summer the air is cool and dry; in winter expect very chilly conditions, frequent fog and mist and even occasional snow.
Continue east, stopping to stretch the legs at Point Lookout. There is a short walk through the misty, moss-covered high-altitude rainforest to two viewing platforms which provide magnificent panoramic views to the north, east and south. On good days you can see as far as the coast, 70km away, although mist and fog can roll in at a minute's notice.
Ebor and Dangar Falls
At Ebor, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it whistlestop about half an hour down the road, you can picnic on some of the delicious local honey-smoked trout (available at the general store) beside Ebor Falls. At 1500 metres above sea level, the Guy Fawkes River rarely runs dry, making these double falls one of the most reliable of all the falls on the Waterfall Way.
Just before Dorrigo are the stunning Dangar Falls and the eastern edge of the high plateau gorge country, where there is an easy-to-access viewing area from the car park or you can take the 30-minute return bushwalk to the Bielsdown River, but save time for some of the walks at Dorrigo National Park on the other side of town. The Rainforest Centre has an excellent interpretive display and Skywalk is a dramatic boardwalk above the rainforest canopy that leads out over the edge of the escarpment for spectacular views across the rainforest and down to the coast.
From Dorrigo the Waterfall Way winds down through the rainforest to Bellingen, passing several roadside waterfalls and lookouts along the way. Bellingen's historic main street is an eclectic mix of cafes, galleries, restaurants and shops, where free-range and organic seems to be the flavour of the day. It's a just a few minutes drive from here to hook up with the Pacific Highway, just south of Coffs Harbour.
More information - Where to stay:
- Novotel Pacific Bay Resort is a beachfront resort at Charlesworth Bay, 3km north of Coffs Harbour. Nine-hole par 3 golf course, three heated swimming pools, tennis courts, walking and jogging trails and fitness centre and Bayside Spa Centre.
- In Armidale the Cotswolds Gardens is a boutique-style motel within walking distance to the centre of town.
- For breathtaking ocean views in Port Macquarie try The Observatory.
Article by Lee Atkinson. Image courtesy of NSW Tourism.
Thinking of taking to the road and heading along the Waterfall Way? You can break your journey at NRMA's Darlington Beach Holiday Park. Be sure to inquire about special NRMA Member rates when you book!
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