Macquarie Pass isn’t your standard canyon, but with views out to the ocean from the escarpment, it sure makes for a ripper day out.


We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Tharawal Nation, the traditional Country of the Tharawal people who have occupied and cared for this land and water for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.


Safety note: Canyoning is a dangerous activity that requires specialist skills and gear. If you want to see if canyoning is your thing, it’s best to join a tour of this canyon first!


  • High exposure waterfall abseiling 
  • Ocean views 
  • Boulder hopping

Finding Upper Macquarie Pass Canyon

We pulled up to the Clover Hill trail car park bright and early in the morning, with grand plans to do all six or so kilometres of Macquarie Pass Canyon. We tore down the Clover Hill trail, shaded by the trees until we took a grassy path to the right, off the main trail.

Access to Macquarie Pass canyon is an interesting mix of property law and choose your own adventure. Access to the top of the cliff line from above is blocked by private landowners who refuse to grant access across their property, so if you want to abseil the pass you’re left with three main options:

1. Follow the base of the cliff line from the large switchback in the Illawarra Highway (but parking is tricky)

2. Reverse the canyon – hike and climb up it. This is quite doable and in parts, the footpad is well worn, but I don’t like the idea of reversing an abseil; it feels like it defeats the point

3. Walk through the bush from where the fire trail forks, following the ridge up to the cliff line and then catch a foot pad to the top of the canyon. We opted to bush bash through the forest, quickly gaining some ground before having to slog through near-vertical scrambles up loose rainforest sticks leaves, and sometimes impenetrable scrub with only a couple of chances to glimpse across the valley below.

Read more: How To Hike Off-Track


Time to Start Abseiling

We finally made it to the top of the cliff line 90 minutes later. Helmets and harnesses went on and we refilled our water bottles from the pools leading up to the first abseil.

Read more: How to Purify Water in the Bush

After a short drop into a pool, just to get everyone cooled off and wet, we found that sticks, logs, and spiderwebs filled the rest of the constriction. As we continued down to the first big abseil of the trip, Macquarie Falls, the ocean came into view.



With views peeking through to the ocean, the first drop of Macquarie Falls is a series of slippery cascades, framed by sheer sides. You have to lean back into the flow of the fall and get wet! The first drop stops on a wide platform, neatly framing the new expansive view of the sea.


Upper Macquarie Pass Canyon Offers Waterfall Abseiling with a View of the Sea, Chris Richards - Abseiling, Canyoning, Macquarie National Pass, Waterfall


We stopped for lunch and ditched the plan to do the whole canyon, settling for the upper section, given we weren’t even halfway through that yet. Next up was the main drop of Macquarie Falls, a 35 metre behemoth where we got our rope stuck and had to scramble up around the side to retrieve it.

Read more: Remember to leave no trace!


The Boulder Field

Rope retrieved and breath caught from the steep scramble, we continued down into the boulders that filled the next section of the creek. This was some of the trickiest route finding through boulders I’ve ever seen. We picked our way through and at times we were able to follow small yellow flags tied to trees, in some places it was clear groups had opted to abseil off trees instead of climbing down.



Exhausted from the bouldering, we reached Clover Falls. Sitting back into my harness as I leaned over the edge to begin the descent the curved wall retreated out of my eye line as I looked down for my next step and saw only the swinging rope hanging below. This huge sheer drop into a pool has some serious X factor. 

A short creek walk with substantially less boulder hopping took us down to Mulangong Falls, the obvious descent off the left of the falls and across the large pool just below was too far for our now damaged rope, so we scrambled around to the anchor on the true right off a tree and made our descent quickly, watching the sun think about dipping behind the trees. 


Upper Macquarie Pass Canyon Offers Waterfall Abseiling with a View of the Sea, Chris Richards - Abseiling, Canyoning, Macquarie National Pass, Waterfall


We finally got to the top of Rainbow Falls and the junction with the Clover Hill track. With the sun setting, we were just in time to look back up at the stunning boulder balanced on the top of the cascade, before we packed it out along the fire trail in the shade of the trees. We made it back to the car just as the sun set, with that exhaustion you can only get from a long day of sending it.

Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes

Essential Gear

  • Rope, harness, helmet and abseiling kit. The longest abseil is 35m
  • Wetsuit
  • Grippy shoes that can get wet
  • Hiking shoes or trail runners
  • Torch
  • Navigation device you know how to use – GPS, map compass, you’ll want more than a phone for this one
  • Lunch and spare food
  • Water
  • PLB
  • First aid kit

How to Get There

Drive to Clover Hill Road on Macquarie Pass, the car park ends about 20 metres off the Illawarra Highway.

Skill Level


Abseiling into canyons is no joke. If you don’t know if you’ve got the skills for canyoning, you probably don’t. But you can join an adventure tour to find out if it’s the kind of thing you’d like to learn. Eagle Rock Adventures run many canyon tours, including one in Macquarie Pass.

Distance / Elevation

6-8km but in reality, you’ll do a fair bit more

300m descent. This trip took us almost 12 hours car to car – we aren’t the speediest canyoners but be ready to change plans if you want to descend the rivulet right down to Jump Rock at the bottom of Macquarie Pass.