Waterfall Way… Stranded in Paradise

Trip Start Apr 05, 2011
Trip End Nov 15, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Saturday, February 4, 2012

In stark contrast to when we had set up camp in Tamworth (squeezing into a rare gap between two other 'wobblies'), on our day of departure there was merely a sea of green grass with barely a van in sight. The mass exodus had occurred and we were about to join them.

We were making our way back to the coast along the stunning ‘Waterfall Way’ which runs from the inland town of Armidale across to the Coffs Coast.  This is a drive we have done numerous times before, however we have always been restricted for time and never taken the opportunity to explore the spectacular national parks which line this impressive iconic drive.

As with previous days there was a little drizzle and constant threat of a down pour, though we seemed to be keeping ahead of it.  The drive from Tamworth to Armidale was pretty with rolling green hills, rocky outcrops covered in green mosses and a regular sprinkling of grazing cattle.

As much as Armidale is a delightful town, we had just spent a week in a commercial environment and were keen to head back to the bush.  Our first stop along the Waterfall Way was Wollomombi Falls.  Here we were treated to the twin falls of Chandler and Wollomombi, the latter being the highest waterfall and deepest gorge in New South Wales.  Whilst visibility was not at its best they were a spectacular sight with a healthy volume of water cascading down their facades, they looked so dramatic and yet majestic.  The nearby campsite looked really inviting however it was only early afternoon and we had planned something a little more central to use as a base whilst we explored Dorrigo Escarpment.

Not far out of Ebor we checked out a more central campsite; Native Dog Creek on the edge of the Cathedral Rock National Park and whilst I was thrilled because there were some kangaroos milling around, the ground was soggy and it was very close to Guyra Road so we could hear trucks hammering along the road.

Running short on options we decided on the Thungutti Camping Area in the New England National Park.  The road in started off okay, there was a little water over a causeway, a mere trickle, nothing to worry about…  The gravel road surface was firm and traction was good, or at least it was until we came upon a boggy stretch which just happened to be on a slight crest curving around a bend with a drop off to one side, there was nowhere to turn around and so we powered on through slipping slightly as we did so.

Continuing on we scattered a herd of cattle from the track before coming to the park entrance.  As we drove into the campground without warning we came across another little causeway, again a little water, but nothing to worry about…

The camp ground was stunning, surrounded by tall trees lapping at the sky, the ground was covered in a blend of vivid green grass and moss.  Large ferns lined large fallen tree trunks and a babbling brook broke the silence as the spring water made its way down along the creek.  A few shy kangaroos grazed inconspicuously in a far corner, whilst the large barbeque shelter took centre stage.  With only one other family there we were able to park the van in a cracker of a spot, however whilst this was lovely, in the back of our minds we were thinking we could be stuck here for a few days if we have any more rain…

We didn’t sleep… the rain was relentless throughout the night, the constant drops on the roof of the van were loud enough, however I think every drop echoed even louder in our minds knowing that we may not be able to get out in the morning.

We set off early (leaving the caravan at the camp ground) to see exactly what sort of predicament we had gotten ourselves into.  The little creek crossing into the campground had swelled up but was still passable.  We ventured back out the way we had driven in, a mere 11kms to the Waterfall Way.  The road was fine and the boggy stretch was much the same, however down at the causeway the water had raised substantially and there was not enough clearance to get the caravan through.

There was one other alternative route to try; the Forest Way, at 45kms of gravel road back to Waterfall Way it was the long way round, but well worth it if it was suitable to take the van.  It was a scenic drive and as much as the rain had inconvenienced us it made the drive all the more spectacular.  Lush green ferns lined the forest floor whilst long straight trunks disappeared high into the clouds then from time to time low cloud formed a mystic haze across our path, it was just magic. The narrow road wound its way through the forest like a ribbon, and whilst it could be rough and slippery in places for the most part the road was in pretty good condition, just not suitable for the van.

Having rejoined the Waterfall Way we took the opportunity to visit the spectacular Ebor Falls.  A two tiered fall, this is one of the prettiest we have seen and also affords generous views out over the deep gorges below.  With all the recent rain, the water was powering over the rock faces and pounding the rocks below sending up an impressive spray.

Taking the shorter route back to camp we found that the boggy stretch had deteriorated drastically, sending us slipping and sliding, it was now a quagmire.  There had been little rain during the day so we couldn’t understand why it was so churned up.  It was only when we continued up to Point Lookout and saw a full size coach that we realized what had happened to the road!

At Point Lookout, a mere 1564 mts above sea level, all we could see was thick cloud, a sea of white, talking to the ranger back at our camp later he said on a clear day there is a magnificent view of the ocean and down the near vertical escarpment.

The ranger suggested a couple of walks to keep us occupied during this inclement weather and so we set off.  It was along a maintenance track which meant a nice wide trail however it must have been some time since it has been used, maybe bikes would get down there but a vehicle would struggle.  The track was now filled with soggy puddles and temporary waterfalls, as much as we loved walking through the rainforest once the rain set in again we had no choice but to turn back as the track was getting worse as we descended.

Our second night, and it rained all night again… Having accepted that we would be spending several days here we relaxed and just enjoyed the serenity making this our base to explore the area.  We had the place to ourselves and it was so nice to walk around the camp ground admiring the tall trees with vivid green moss covering their trunks as the mist rolled in and out as quickly as we took breaths.  It was simply beautiful, we couldn’t have found a better place in which to be stranded and after all we could come and go, it was only our van that was stuck.

The following morning it was looking clearer so we took a quick run up to Point Lookout, however up there it was still a sea of white.  We set out on our daily check of the road and couldn’t believe our luck… the Forestry Supervisor responsible for the work on the road was just putting up signage.  He said they had been going to fix the road today but now with the rain set in it would be Monday at the earliest!  We proceeded with what had become our daily test run, we slid around through the quagmire and again found the water too high across the causeway.

We decided we needed a night out and it was Thursday night, pub night after all.  We grabbed a bottle of sparkling, a few beers, our dinner supplies and ventured over to the barbeque shelter.  Here we sat and watched the fine misty rain fall over the vivid green grass and stunning ferns… What a stunning kitchen!

The rain abated during the night and the sound of silence was deafening, we had become so accustomed to the constant pitter patter of rain drops on the roof.  Waking to a clear morning we headed into Dorrigo for the day.

After strolling the gallery lined streets of Dorrigo, we visited the lovely Dangar Falls on the outskirts of town before venturing into the Dorrigo National Park.  The Skywalk; a timber boardwalk jutting out high over the rainforest below offered us a stunning panorama over the ranges. 

Our highlight of the day was the Wonga Walk down to Crystal Shower Falls where we swayed across the suspension bridge and circled back under the bridge to walk behind the falls and take in the most spectacular view.  It was a great walk with creek crossings and steep grades, the dark canopy of tall forest and dank aroma of the rainforest once again had us in awe of this natural beauty, it was just amazing and we felt so privileged to be able to experience it.

Heading home, the water was low across the causeway however the quagmire was rough, the cows were back along the road, a couple unwilling to lift their beef onto their haunches and clear the road forcing us to detour around them, as we reached camp a timid kangaroo made a quick exit… are we stranded in paradise…?!

Saturday morning we awoke to a gorgeous blue sky and so we raced up to Point Lookout and tried again to get a glimpse of the escarpment… but alas, mist had rolled in yet again.  The road out was still too sticky and mushy to take the van out and so we went over to Cathedral Rock National Park and did the walk out to Cathedral Rock.  We trudged across boggy heathland, up into sub-alpine woodland, across waterways that may have been little creeks that were now waterfalls, rarely with stepping stones, it was into the water boots and all.  Past an abundance of banksias we were winding our way up, down and around until we eventually reached the base of the climb to Cathedral Rock. It was a steep climb, clambering over smaller boulders to start and then they just got bigger, squeezing between, crouching to go under hauling ourselves over…

Finally we had gotten to the metal chain which is used to hold as you walk yourself over one last rock face…  Being high enough, at this point I retired and Rod took the last couple of steps to the summit.  We drank in the exceptional views… It was just breathtaking, in more ways than one!

Casually glancing down I found I had two leeches on the outside of my boot, I got them off at lightning speed and then found another on my sock, on taking my shoes off I found one had infiltrated and there was a lovely stream of blood coming from the neat little wound!  On the way back down we quickly scrambled up and over, down under and around rocks, it seemed to take forever to get back to the car park, it must have been the constant stopping to wipe the leeches off our boots!

We had enjoyed our first day here without rain and returned to camp to find two camping sites occupied, the first company we had had since the first night.    

When we awoke on day 6 we could hear a chorus of birds singing and as we stepped outside we were greeted with a clear blue sky, glorious sunshine was streaming through the tall trees and a crisp bush scent filled the air.  We ventured back up to Point Lookout thinking it may be clear, however once again it was shrouded in mist.  Taking our daily run out along the Point Lookout Road to Waterfall Way we found that the quagmire had distinct compacted tracks in it now and they were no longer sticky, if we stuck to those tracks we would get the big white beast out…

We packed up and vacated our site in record time!  As much as we had grown attached to our new home we were keen to get clean and dry.

Once again the drive across the escarpment to Dorrigo was spectacular.  Coming down the Dorrigo Mountain we stopped at the Newell Falls, a great decision for we had smoke coming from our brakes!  We enjoyed every ounce of the pretty drive through delightful Bellingen before checking into a park at Urunga Heads.

Highlights of the Waterfall Way:

-          Wollomombi Falls

-          New England National Park, Thungutti Campground – a great venue for an extended stay!

-          The Forest Way

-          Ebor Falls

-          Crystal Shower Falls

-          Cathedral Rock walk (except the leeches)
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lynnev on

Looking foward to the rest of the blog. Have enjoyed reading your adventure we hopefully will be doing the same next year.
Travel safe

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