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There is pleasure in the pathless woods

There is rapture on the lonely shore

There is society, where none intrudes

By the deep sea, and music in its roar

I love not man the less, but Nature more

                                        -Lord Byron

Yes, there’s just something about gushing water over rocks that seems to replenish the weary soul.

The rainforests surrounding Waterfall Way in NSW are some of my most favourite areas in the country-if not the world. The ancient buttressed figs, the lush green moss, the ferns that remain unchanged over millions of years, the pure, clean water, the prehistoric landscape, all serve to inspire and humble in a way that only nature can provide. Just look at some of the names on the map-the Promised Land, Never Never Creek-this is indeed a magical place.

Never Never Creek. © Drew Hopper Photography

The Waterfall Way, a 200km scenic drive that runs from Raleigh in Northern NSW, to Armidale, a picturesque country town in the New England Tablelands, is well known as one of the country’s most beautiful tourist drives. It passes through no less than 7 UNESCO listed World Heritage Areas, and encompasses some of the most spectacular waterfalls in Australia.

Waterfall Way passes through, or very close to, a number of stunning Northern NSW National Parks- Dorrigo National Park, New England National Park, Cathedral Rocks National Park and Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. These parks are home to many rare and endangered plants and animals, that live in an incredible variety of habitats.  The parks form part of the Gondwana rainforests of Australia, and when you’re there, it’s easy to imagine what the supercontinent would have looked like all those millions of years ago.

Dorrigo. © Drew Hopper Photography

Besides the stunning national parks on offer, there are many interesting towns dotted along the Waterfall Way. We’ll begin our journey with the first major stop on the Waterfall Way-the funky town of Bellingen.

Bellingen

Bellingen is a traditional looking country town with a cosmopolitan, ‘New Age’ vibe. Chock full of outstanding cafes, vintage boutiques, shops, galleries, and restaurants, you can easily spend a day wandering the streets here, soaking up the atmosphere, and enjoying the sounds of the birds and local musicians. After a morning at the Butter Factory, savour a long lunch at the Federal Hotel (fantastic pub food), then meander past the buskers down to the Bellinger river for a swim in the crystal clear water.  Then collect some organic, local produce from the Bellingen Greengrocers for dinner, before trying your hand at fishing in the Bellinger River. In parts of the river near town, there are some opportunities to catch a decent sized bass.

Bellingen also hosts a vibrant monthly market, showcasing a diverse range of homemade arts and crafts, fresh and local produce, alternative therapies and entertainment for the whole family. The markets are held on the third Saturday of the month.

Sunrise at Bellingen. © Drew Hopper Photography

Dorrigo

Heading past Bellingen now, you will find yourself in the small and serene town of Dorrigo. Dorrigo is well known for its national parks and waterfalls, with Dangar Falls being one of the most visited in the area. The roads to Dangar Falls are signposted, and you’ll find the lookout close to the car park. For the more adventurous, there’s a walking track that will take you down to the bottom of the falls, where you can enjoy a swim in the cool water.

The Dorrigo National Park is easily accessed via the Waterfall Way. The Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and Skywalk is a must-visit, and from there you can take a variety of bushwalks-from the short and wheelchair accessible Skywalk (which has views to the ocean), to the 6.6km Wonga Walk. This walk is well worth it-it leads to the stunning Crystal Shower falls. A suspension bridge takes you over the waterfall to a rocky cavern-where you can dip your feet into the clear, fresh water and then step behind the falls themselves.

Dorrigo Waterfall © Drew Hopper Photography

A word of warning: Watch out for the Giant Stinging Tree! The world’s most painful plant is plentiful along this track-it can pack a very nasty sting, which can stay with you for months. The sting is delivered through tiny silicon hairs on the leaves and fruit. These hairs penetrate the skin, and then break off. I know from personal experience that the pain can be triggered again by just touching the area that has been stung, for many months afterwards.

Once you have finished your walk, head back to the Rainforest Centre. The Canopy Café offers a selection of cakes, coffee, and hot and cold meals.

Dangar Falls © Drew Hopper Photography

Ebor Falls and Cathedral Rocks

Heading further west now, our next stop is Ebor Falls, located in the Guy Fawkes National Park. The Gumbaynggirr people traditionally called Ebor Falls ‘Martiam’, which means ‘the great falls’.  They are certainly impressive, with two tiers cascading over a basalt cliff into a lower tier down the river, which falls into a steep forested gorge below.

Ebor Falls. © Drew Hopper Photography

Ebor is a small rural centre, catering to the surrounding properties with a small general store, a hotel motel, and a roadhouse. Ebor is renowned for its trout fishing, and there’s also a spectacular view over the escarpment at Point Lookout. At 1560m high, it’s the tallest point in Northern NSW. On most days you can see the Pacific Ocean, and in winter, the icicles hang from trees while the waterfalls below the peak are frozen. With 20km of walking tracks, the cool temperate rainforests surrounding Point Lookout provide several days of exploring.

Another park worth checking out, just 5km from Ebor, is the Cathedral Rocks National Park. High on the New England Tablelands, the park features sub-alpine heath lands, tall eucalypt forests, as well the stunning, distinctive granite boulders that give the park its name. Birdwatchers are in for a treat in this area-keep an eye out for wedge tailed eagles on the wing…..

Cathedral Rocks. © Drew Hopper Photography

…..Stay tuned for next weeks blog post-we finish our trip through Waterfall Way and advise on the best campsites in the area. A special thank you to Drew from Drew Hopper Photography for allowing us to use his stunning and inspiring images.

Words by Katie James. Images by Drew Hopper Photography. © All rights reserved.