Here and there and everywhere: Waterfall Way

Our trips to the mid-north coast tend to get a little samey. In the best possible way, of course, because you don’t really need to stray further afield when you have two amazing beaches a figurative stone’s throw away. Though perhaps it’s inaccurate to say ‘samey’ because one of the things I love about the coast is that even when you visit the same beach, it’s always a slightly different experience. The tide is higher or lower, the sandbar has subtly shifted since the last time, the cloud cover has altered the colour of sea, and so on. So samey is, rather delightfully, never something about which you need to worry.

So perhaps it’s better to say that we’re stuck in our ways. Or that we need to get out more. ‘Out’ in this instance being defined as more than a half hour drive away (when you need to drive 20km for groceries, 65km to the nearest cinema, etc, the definitions of ‘out’ get hazy). And ‘need’ being defined as ‘probably should since you’re in a beautiful part of the world and you’re only experiencing a tiny, admittedly gorgeous, piece of it’.

However you want to describe it, what all of these nebulous emotions boiled down to is: we went for a jaunt. An excursion was had. Snacks were acquired, notes were taken, maps were collected, about a half kilogram of loose sand was vacuumed out of the car, and we were on our way, heading up along the coast for a ways before turning sharply inland to tackle Waterfall Way.

Waterfall Way is a very appropriately named road that links Coffs Harbour and Armidale. The drive is only 185km (I know, I know, “only”, but as Australian road-trips go, 185km is a pretty meagre distance, really) but manages to pack in an amazing variety of landscapes, national parks, and some lovely towns that are well worth visiting. And also waterfalls. Duh.

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We kicked off the trip with brunch in Bellingen, a lovely little riverside town only a short drive inland. The first time I visited Bellingen I was a little confused as to how a small town that wasn’t really that close to anything could maintain a) such an overall impression of being so hip and artsy, and b) its ratio of cafes to residents*. I still don’t really understand but now I just shrug and enjoy it; the food is great, the vibe is chilled out, and it’s just generally a pleasure to be there, however they manage it.

After brunch and a brief post-ice-cream chill out session down in the long grass by the river, we hopped back in the car and pressed on to Dorrigo National Park.

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Dorrigo National Park is a delicious little chunk of World Heritage Gondwana rainforest that’s a (comparatively) short and extremely scenic drive from Bellingen. One of my fellow road-trippers was full of scepticism (and car-sickness) as we drove the last stint to the Rainforest Centre, as by this point there were paddocks on both sides of the road and precious little evidence of rainforest. Thankfully, his doubt was completely abandoned once we got him out of the car and coaxed him out onto one of the walks. There are both long and short loop walks that leave from the Rainforest Centre; we picked the longer 6.6km walk that took us past both of the nearby waterfalls, Crystal Shower Falls and Tristania Falls.

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You can even walk behind Crystal Shower falls. Although I think I must have played too many computer games and/or read too many fantasy novels in my time, because I can never quite shake the expectation that the space behind a waterfall will hold either a secret hideout or a chest with a magical weapon.

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After our walk, the weather started to take a turn for the ominous, so we scurried back into the car and continued west along Waterfall Way. For a whole ten minutes, before we stopped again, because a little bit of rain wasn’t going to stop us from ogling Dangar Falls.

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After clambering – slightly rain splattered – back into the car we drove on to Armidale. After a brief wander and an extremely fancy kebab dinner, we returned to the hotel and passed out in front of a David Attenborough documentary. It’s amazing I didn’t dream of prehistoric fish. I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t, frankly.

The next day we made a brief stop at the visitor information centre, because I am a shameless tourist. I wasn’t sorry; one of the lovely staff members furnished me with a pamphlet about bird-watching in the area (thanks John!).

Our next stop was Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and the Threlfall walking track. This trail follows an historic hydro-electric scheme from the nineteenth century (really!) and then spits you out alongside Gara Gorge.

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It was only a 5.5km loop, so the walk wasn’t too challenging, or wouldn’t have been if not for the fact that we were (foolishly) doing it in the middle of the day in high summer. Doable, yes, but not exactly recommended!

One of the things that is amazing about this part of the country is the diversity of the terrain. Walking this trail, you wouldn’t believe that you are only a couple of hours’ drive from lush rainforest; we were slogging through tinder-dry bushland. Thankfully, the view was more than worth it, and I suspect that evening beers at The Welder’s Dog tasted all the better for having been earned by all of our traipsing through the dust and flies.

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