Waterfall Way // Coffs Harbour to Armidale (NSW)

It ain’t called the Waterfall Way for nothing. The 185km winding stretch of road extends through the Dorrigo National Park between Coffs Harbour and Armidale, cutting through mountains, rainforests, valleys and large open fields and it’s got more waterfalls than you can shake a foraged eucalyptus walking stick at.


Highlights

  • Plunging waterfalls
  • Ancient rainforests
  • Gigantic trees
  • Huge granite boulders to scale
  • Uninterrupted 360 views

The Lowdown

When you are looking to chase waterfalls you could trawl the internet or do a common Google Map search to find one, maybe two decent falls in close proximity to each other. Or you could take my advice, gather up some friends and cruise on down the appropriately named Waterfall Way.

If you drove without stopping you could drive the 185kms of Waterfall Way in just over two hours, but why the hell would you do that? If you have a spare two or three days as I did, there are a ton of Jurassic Park-esque places to explore with equally monstrous falls to photograph.

Being a teacher by profession, school holidays mean I can often explore places over a longer duration than a weekend makes possible. Trouble is everyone else I shoot with is at work. I was determined to chase these waterfalls, but also had my sights set on camping at the top of Cathedral Rocks.

Luckily all of the above fell along this one magical stretch of road.

Dangar Falls, Tristiana Falls and Crystal Shower Falls

The drive from Sydney isn’t exactly short, but at just over six hours with a mandatory coffee and Maccas stop it certainly is doable in a day. Departing at 5:30am, the rather boring drive up the freeway became less mundane as I made the turn onto Waterfall Way. Snaking up the section of Dorrigo Mountain I passed numerous waterfalls cascading underneath the road and passed a couple of epic lookouts to briefly stop and take photos. Keen to see something bigger, I continued driving another twenty minutes until arriving at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre.

I won’t elaborate much on Crystal Shower Falls as a few other great explorers have already written fantastic micro adventures on these places. They are stunning places to check out and also mark the beginning of the major accessible falls along Waterfall Way.

At the completion of the rainforest loop I decided to check out Dangar Falls, a stone’s throw drive outside of Dorrigo. The walk down is marked boardwalk, with some slippery sections towards the bottom. Definitely worth taking your camera as it is very picturesque. I was later told that if you follow the river in the opposite direction you will come to some cascading falls that are rarely visited, apart from the locals. The place was relatively quiet, so I scouted some vantage points to revisit later that night.

Waterfall Way // Coffs Harbour to Armidale (NSW) Matt Horspool, boardwalk, clouds, fence, sky

Around 7:30pm the skies began to clear and the Milky Way was falling perfectly in line with the top of the falls, unfortunately the moon was being a major pain in the arse and casting shadows over half the falls. Randomly, I bumped into a fellow Instagrammer creeping in the shadows named Sebastian, who was sporting an LED bar that stood as high as the man himself. It was actually a great tool to lighten the harsh shadows, resulting in a solid shot.

10:00pm and way past my bedtime, I jumped back in the car and drove half an hour back along Waterfall Way towards Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, making a sharp left at the centre towards Never Never Campground. I quickly set up the air mattress and bunked in the car ready for an early start to try and catch some fog.

Rosewood Creek, Coachwood & Red Cedar Falls

At 5am I strapped the head torch on and headed off on the two hour labeled round trip that is Rosewood Creek Walking Track. I began walking in a clockwise direction, entering at the start of the carpark near the first bend. About half an hour’s walk in I began to hear a lot of water movement and deviated down many of the mini paths that lead to some awesome mini gorges and swimming holes. Not long after I came across Coachwood Falls and with some ungraceful butt sliding and Kung-Fu with painfully sharp vines, I managed to reach the base.

Ten minutes on and I came to the fork in the trail I was after, which too me to Red Cedar Falls. The warning stated ‘Very steep’ with a two hour return trip time. I was confident I could do it in much less time and set off on the descent. It took about twenty minutes to reach the bottom and I was greeted with an amazing site. Being the largest falls accessible by trail in the Dorrigo National Park, I had pretty high expectations.

Waterfall Way // Coffs Harbour to Armidale (NSW) Matt Horspool, waterfall, person, backpack

These expectations were met when I saw a huge pounding waterfall with many rocky outcrops surrounding the pool. Having given my camera’s self-timer a once over, I refuelled and began the climb back out. I consider my fitness to be strong, but each corner continued to ascend up and up and up.

Cathedral Rock

I’d seen pictures of Drew Hopper camping on top of these enormous boulders and knew that would be the next point of call along Waterfall Way. So after the morning hike I jumped back in the car and headed into Dorrigo town to stock up on food supplies at the local IGA. Leaving Dorrigo, the drive itself continued to wind through some awesome landscapes, and I made a quick stop at Ebor Falls to have a look. The wind was unforgiving so didn’t pursue the long exposure shots I was after. Definitely check it out though, as you can drive to both lookouts and get down the bottom with more time.

Driving on a little longer, I reached the turn off into the Cathedral Rock National Park. I’d read that Barokee Campground was the best place to park, sleep and walk from, so I parked the car and reorganised my bag into self-sufficient mode. It was around 2pm and there was some concerning wind at the campground. I asked a family who had just returned from the hike and they said it was howling at the top. When I told them I was planning on camping up there the lady paused and replied, “Ahhhhhh, good luck”.

With my newly acquired confidence boost I set off on the marked trail up to the rocks. It took about forty minutes to reach the turn heading to the ascent of the rocks themselves. Most of the markers were easy to see, but there were a couple that could easily have been missed in poor light.

Waterfall Way // Coffs Harbour to Armidale (NSW) Matt Horspool, man, climbing, boulders, rocks

I had a heap of fun scrambling, squeezing through small cracks, muscling up over larger boulders and climbing a bolted chain to reach the summit. Not far from an outdoor adult gym (minus the soft fall), the giant boulders offered much to a daring climber. Reaching the top, I was rewarded with uninterrupted three-sixty degree views of the national park paired with a solid hit in the face from gale force winds. Skies were strewn with thick cloud and didn’t look as if they were going to pass anytime soon.

Surprisingly there was phone signal at the top and according to Google, sunset would be cloud free. I scouted for a suitable place to pitch the tent but alas there was nothing. Sunset crept in, although you wouldn’t know it as the skies remained grey and the wind was increasing. I made the executive decision to pack up and leg it down before there wasn’t any light left to do so safely.

Smart decision in the end as the winds did increase and the cloud never lifted so there would have been no chance of any astrophotography shots. This is certainly a place that I will come back to when the weather conditions are more forgiving. That one elusive shot I had in mind will always be there and it is wiser not to take unnecessary risks, especially when travelling alone.

There are plenty of other clusters of boulders rising above the tree lines that need to be explored as do the numerous other canyons and falls that line this amazing stretch of road. I highly recommend you hop in the car with some friends next long weekend and see all the amazing Waterfall Way has to offer.

Essential Gear

  • Sturdy footwear
  • Torch / headlamp with extra batteries
  • 4WD or AWD vehicle is preferable but during drier months 2WD is fine
  • Tent
  • Mattress
  • Cooking gear
  • Warm clothing
  • Raincoat
  • GPS & topographic map if heading off walking trails
  • Enough food and water to last. No clean water available at any campsite.
  • Camera
  • Fast wide and zoom lenses for astro shots
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Shutter release cable
  • ND filters

Activities

  • Photography
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Rock climbing

Skill Level

  • Aside from Cathedral rock, most walks are well marked and follow a set trail
  • Solid level of fitness for Cedar Falls
  • Anyone with a sense of adventure and who isn’t afraid of moderate heights on exposed rock faces can complete Cathedral Rock to the summit

How to Get There

Coachwood Falls, Red Cedar Falls

From Coffs Harbour the drive to Dorrigo Rainforest Centre is about one hour. At the intersection next to the centre, take a left towards Never Never Campground. The majority is dirt road but accessible by 2WD. The Rosewood Creek Circuit starts at the carpark near the bend. Red Cedar Falls track veers off to the left of the main track about half way around. It is well signposted.

Dangar Falls

Follow Waterfall Way into Dorrigo, take a left towards the town centre and a right at the centre pole. Continue straight for a few km’s and the falls carpark will be on your right. The walk starts from the back of the picnic area. There is also a private campground you can book next to the falls lookout.

Ebor Falls, Cathedral Rock & Barokee Campground

From Dorrigo continue along Waterfall Way for one hour towards Armidale. You will pass though Ebor, cross a small bridge and on the right there will be a sign to the falls.

Continue along Waterfall Way and make right at Grafton Road. Follow this road for around 2km until you see the sign for Cathedral Rock National Park. Turn right into the park and follow the dirt road for 7km until you see a right hand turn into Barokee Campground. The loop walk starts here.

Waterfall Way // Coffs Harbour to Armidale (NSW) Matt Horspool, map, waterfalls, satellite image


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